Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A. Jase Jones, part 1: Surrendered to God's Call

I've been thinking a lot about my Daddy the past few days. He passed away 4 years ago this week at the age of 93. Father's Day brought to mind our family's last visit with him. We celebrated Father's Day with him a day early that year, on Saturday. He died exactly a week later.

That last visit was a precious gift from God. Although Daddy had struggled in his last years - as so many do at that age - with a fuzzy memory and mental faculties that weren't as sharp as they once were, that Saturday he was truly his old self. He was recalling family memories as if they were yesterday, and he was laughing and joking with us - and we had a wonderful time together as a family that day.

As the rest of the family said goodbye and started toward the door to allow workers to take him back to his room, my son Travis and I lingered behind for one more goodbye. I had a pretty strong feeling that I might never see him again in this life. One more time, I told him how much I loved him, and he told me the same - and how proud he was of the man I had become. What a gift! Thank you, Lord.

Dr. A. Jase (Atwood Jason) Jones was a special man. Most people - even Baptists - don't know his name, because he was never prominent in national leadership. Yet he spent 22 years (January 1957 through December 1978) with the SBC Home Mission Board's Department of Interfaith Witness, leading the department's work in about a dozen midwestern and southwestern states.

Daddy surrendered to the ministry in the late 1930s, only after struggling against God's call for quite a time. When he finally surrendered to God's call, he was a rising young assistant manager in the F. W. Woolworth chain. In fact, he was told he was being transferred to a store that everyone knew was the final stepping stone to being promoted from assistant manager to manager.

Unfortunately for Woolworth, their timing was all wrong. Daddy had recently decided to stop fighting God's call to the Gospel ministry. When he told his manager that he couldn't in good conscience accept the transfer because he had decided to go to seminary to study for the ministry, his manager laughed at him and said, "You're going to be a preacher? There's no money in that!"

But now Daddy was the one who was laughing. "Don't you think I know that?" Money, he explained, had nothing to do with his decision; it was all about being faithful to God's call.

Daddy had graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1936. He was a Texan through and through, having been born in Corrigan in 1913 and grown up in various Texas towns.

Daddy married my Mother, Vivian Louise Otting, in January 1938, and they would soon be starting a family (my sister, Patsy, was born in 1941), so a Woolworth manager's salary would have made life more comfortable, but that wasn't what Mother and Daddy were about. They would trust God to provide what they needed.

Read part 2: Seminary Student; Pastor; Home Missionary; and Chaplain

Read part 3: Maston Foundation; and At Home with His Family

A. Jase Jones, part 2: Seminary Student; Pastor; Home Missionary; and Chaplain

Mother & Daddy with our kids, Alison & Travis (1991)

Daddy began study at Southwestern Seminary, but his study was interrupted when, in early 1943, he enlisted in the U. S. Army as a chaplain. For the next 2 years, he served under General George S. Patton's command in the European Theatre of Operations.

In the summer of 1945, after victory in Europe was achieved, his regiment returned home on the Queen Mary. They were expecting only a brief stay at home, for they were scheduled to ship out for the Pacific in the fall. Only Harry Truman's decisive actions, leading to Japan's surrender, changed those plans, meaning Daddy was home to stay.

He soon resumed his seminary work while pastoring small churches. He received his Master's degree from Southwestern in 1948 and decided to pursue a doctorate in theology, with a major in Christian Ethics under T. B. Maston.

In fact, my connection with Dr. Maston goes back to my birth. Daddy was scheduled to take his spring 1951 oral exam on March 16, but Mother was expecting, and the due date was right around the time of his exam. Although he was studying diligently (while also carrying out his pastoral responsibilities and working a part-time job with Foremost Dairy), his mind was preoccupied with taking care of Mother and preparing for the birth of their second child. So he requested an extension from Dr. Maston, and Dr. Maston granted him an extra month, rescheduling the exam for April 16. I was born on March 14.

Daddy received his Th.D. in Christian Ethics from Southwestern Seminary in 1956, just months before his 43rd birthday.

He continued pastoring small Texas churches until January 1957, when he began work with the SBC Home Mission Board. His work was co-sponsored by the Dallas and Tarrant Baptist Associations, and – for a time – by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. He had offices at both the Dallas and Tarrant Baptist Associations.

At that time, the department was known as the Department of Jewish Evangelism. He began studying the Jewish culture, the Jewish faith, and the Jewish people, and he developed a special lifelong love of - and admiration for - the Jewish people. In fact, in 1973 he and Mother spent a 6-month sabbatical in Israel, where he studied at the Institute of Holy Land Studies, and he obtained a working knowledge of the Hebrew language.

In 1962, we moved to Kansas City. He was still with the Home Mission Board, but his work was now co-sponsored by the Kansas City Baptist Association (where he had his office) and the Missouri Baptist Convention. In 1974, he and Mother moved "home" to Texas, and he spent his final 5 years with the Home Mission Board officing from their home in Marble Falls.

Through the years, in addition to his daily work as pastor and then home missionary, Daddy remained in the U. S. Army Reserves as a chaplain attached to hospital units, attending monthly meetings and performing his annual required 2 weeks of active duty (including a stint in 1963 as chaplain in the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth). Shortly before retiring from the Reserves at age 60 in 1973, he attained the rank of Colonel, an achievement of which he was especially proud.

Read part 1: Surrendered to God's Call

Read part 3: Maston Foundation; and At Home with Family

A. Jase Jones, part 3: Maston Foundation; and At Home with His Family

Thanksgiving 1998: We're all wearing caps commemorating the recent reunion of Daddy's WWII regiment, the 398th Engineers. (missing - Michael, Patsy & Palmer's son)

L to R: Daddy; Alison; Travis; Patsy; Stephanie's husband, Jim Markgraf; Joanna; Stephanie; and yours truly

Jim is holding the cap belonging to Palmer McCown, Patsy's husband, who is taking the picture.

Over the years, Dr. and Mrs. Maston and Tom Mc, their elder son, were visitors in our home on several occasions. Daddy always considered Dr. Maston his primary mentor and influence in his own ministry, but they were also close friends and stayed in touch regularly by mail and by phone.

A vision eventually began to form in Daddy's heart and mind - a vision of an entity that would keep Dr. Maston's life and teaching alive, long after Dr. Maston and his students were gone, as a legacy for generations yet unborn. When Daddy retired from the Home Mission Board at the beginning of 1979, he was able to focus more directly on this vision. He had already begun talking about the idea to some of his friends - fellow Maston students like Bill Pinson, Jimmy Allen, James Dunn, and Foy Valentine. In 1979, he flew to San Francisco and met with Bill Pinson - then president of Golden Gate Seminary - to discuss funding.

The T. B. Maston Scholarship Fund was born, ultimately becoming the T. B. Maston Foundation. In 1987, the Foundation held its first biennial Awards Dinner and honored Foy Valentine with the inaugural T. B. Maston Christian Ethics Award. Dr. and Mrs. Maston were in attendance. Dr. Maston died the following spring.

Daddy chaired the Foundation's Board of Trustees from its inception until 1992, after which he continued to support the work of the Foundation throughout his life. At the Foundation's 1993 Awards Dinner, the Board honored A. Jase Jones with the T. B. Maston Christian Ethics Award. I doubt that any recognition or award ever meant more to him than this one, because T. B. Maston had been the major influence in his life and ministry. In the years following, as Mother's failing health and then his own required him to step back from active involvement, Daddy remained pleased to see the vitality and work of the Maston Foundation.

I've tried to share just a little bit about Daddy's ministry - barely a nutshell view. But that doesn't even begin to tell the story of A. Jase Jones.

Father's Day reminds me of the caring Daddy who was patient and understanding when I lost my faith during my college years. He was the major influence in helping me to find my way back to Christ. Father's Day reminds me of the caring Granddaddy who doted over his grandkids - first Stephanie and Michael (Patsy's children) and then Alison and Travis (our kids), and then his great-grandchildren Jon Michael and Christopher (Stephanie's boys).

Father's Day reminds me of the loving husband who insisted on keeping Mother at home where he could personally take care of her day and night after she had become unable to care for herself. For him, the blessed marriage that lasted 59 years and ended only with her death in 1997 seemed much too short.

And last night, as I sat rocking our second grandchild, Anderson James Clements (born yesterday afternoon), in Alison's hospital room, I couldn't help but think how much Mother and Daddy would have loved Anderson and his sister, Avery Lin, if only they had lived to see them.

Above all else, they were loving parents, and Patsy and I - and our families - know how very blessed we've been. Thanks be to God.

Read part 1: Surrendered to God's Call

Read part 2: Seminary Student; Pastor; Home Missionary; and Chaplain

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Of Slippery Crowns and Wobbly Thrones

A prominent Baptist leader recently called Barack Obama "the worst president of the United States that Israel has ever had." But that was only one of what I consider to be a series of careless, thoughtless proclamations.

Here are a few of them:
  • "The reason I am a social conservative is because I believe the Bible."
  • "President Obama and his policies are pro-Palestinian."
  • "America and Israel are founded on the same basis, the word of God."
  • "If we want God to bless America, then we have to bless the Jews."
  • "God blesses us when we obey him, and he doesn't bless us when we disobey him."
Some of you are probably asking, "So what's wrong with that?" And that's fine - if we all agreed on everything, then there wouldn't be any reason for a blog . . . a dialogue . . . a conversation.

On the other hand, before you take me to task, please consider carefully the basis of my concerns with these pronouncements.
  • "The reason I am a social conservative is because I believe the Bible."
The speaker allows no room for disagreement. If we disagree with his brand of "social conservatism," then we simply don't believe the Bible.

The members of our Sunday School class constantly challenge each other. We disagree widely over the meaning of practically every passage of Scripture. But we never question that everyone in that class "believes the Bible"; we just have different understandings of it, and we learn from each other.

  • "President Obama and his policies are pro-Palestinian."
The speaker allows no room for compromise. The accusation that the president is "pro-Palestinian" is likely based on Mr. Obama's reported call for a return to pre-1967 borders. Yet what he really called for was "mutually agreed swaps" - in other words, compromise, a position that every U.S. president for the past 20 years has taken. So why does the speaker single out Mr. Obama?

Compromise is at the heart of Mr. Obama's position - the point that, as long as rigidity rules on either or both sides, peaceful coexistence will be impossible to achieve. Between nations, if there is no compromise, there is only one ultimate solution: war. To tell you the truth, I'm weary of old men stubbornly resisting compromise, then callously sending young men and women to die on their behalf.

  • "America and Israel are founded on the same basis, the word of God."
No, these United States were joined together on the basis of the Constitution, a secular document binding us together under common understandings, one of which is religious liberty for all people, even those who reject belief in any supreme being. Years ago, Brent Walker of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty listed the arguments made by the "Christian America" crowd and explained - clearly and definitively - why each of those arguments is without any basis in fact. To read Brent's essay, click here.

  • "If we want God to bless America, then we have to bless the Jews."

  • "God blesses us when we obey him, and he doesn't bless us when we disobey him."

  • The speaker is promoting a works-based relationship with God, in which blessings from God are merited; we receive them only because of our obedience. My experience - and my understanding of the Bible - tell me that God blesses us because He loves us, not because we deserve it. Furthermore, we should seek to bless all people - without regard to ethnicity or nationality - because God has blessed us, not to earn God's blessing.

    That's not to say that our obedience doesn't bring us closer to God. Of course it does, and the blessings are surely greater and deeper when we are close to Him.

    But he who says "He doesn't bless us when we disobey Him" has put himself on the throne (and apparently deposed God from it). I guess that's what you get when you combine unerring biblical interpretation with obedience that has earned showers of blessings.

    But he'd better watch out - his crown is slipping, and his throne is wobbling!

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    OPINION: Growing up Baptist in a pluralistic world

    NOTE: This article was originally published on June 10, 2011, on the Associated Baptist Press Web site.

    Written by J. Zachary Bailes, an M.Div. candidate at Wake Forest University Divinity School and editor of the blog Crazy Liberals . . . and Conservatives

    In his Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, George Washington wrote in 1790: “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

    Growing up Baptist, if someone had told me that Washington had written a letter assuring safety of a “Hebrew congregation,” I’m not sure I would have believed it. This is because I was either explicitly or implicitly taught that Christians and Jews are not to mingle. Yet in Rhode Island, it was Baptists who created the space for Jews to worship as they pleased.

    Today, fundamentalist viewpoints have conflated Israeli identity with Zionist belief. As the record will show, Israel does not demonstrate the most tolerant attitude when it comes to other religions. And, yet, it was Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission this past week that advocated for America to “bless the Jews” so that God will “bless America.”

    Land’s words are neither constructive for the Middle East peace process, nor do they reflect the highly held value of religious liberty. Land’s thought conflates theology with public policy in a disastrous manner. Indeed, his words stir the boiling pot of militant activity. His theological belief creates political action that demeans the religious identity of Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

    It is at this point Land stands against his Baptist heritage . . . . . .

    Click here to read the entire article.