Tuesday, April 17, 2012

From the T. B. Maston Lectures at H-SU's Logsdon Seminary

I'm writing this from Abilene, where I've spent the past 2 days attending the 12th Annual T. B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics at Hardin-Simmons University's Logsdon Seminary.

This year's lecturer has been Dr. Neville Callam, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. Dr. Callam, a native of Jamaica, lectured Monday evening on Ethnicity: Establishing Borders of Exclusion. He spoke prophetically about how people use the language pertaining to ethnicity to categorize, stereotype, and exclude others.

Dr. Callam's theme this (Tuesday) morning was Communion: Celebrating Inclusive Community. We cannot honestly call the ordinance of communion "the supper of the Lord," he said, unless our practice of it is characterized by "fellowship in spirit and action, and loving concern for each other." He encouraged our sensitivity to"the capacity of the Lord's Supper to help us overcome rampant divisiveness."

Videos of these lectures will soon be available on the Logsdon Seminary Web site, and I will link to them through both the Maston Foundation (www.tbmaston.org) and Texas Baptists Committed (www.txbc.org) Web sites, as well as both the TBC Midweek Baptist Roundup e-newsletter and the T. B. Maston Foundation E-News.

In addition to Dr. Callam's challenging and thought-provoking lectures, a highlight for me has been meeting the Young Maston Scholars, students selected from Baptist universities across Texas, as well as other students attending the Lectures. I am consistently encouraged by meeting Texas Baptist students. Without exception, those I have met display a hunger to make a difference in the lives of those in need. They want to be given opportunities to serve in meaningful ways, and they want to be heard.

Please pray for our Texas Baptist universities and seminaries, and the outstanding people who lead and teach at those houses of learning. Give as you can, and start listening to these young people. If they are given a "place at the table," the future of Baptists is a bright one.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Death at Easter?

Whoa, what’s wrong with this picture?
Death at Easter, indeed.
Aren’t you forgetting something, pal.
Easter is when He arose, not when He died.
Besides who wants to think about something so gloomy.
It’s Spring and, depending on how the weather cooperates,
You’ve got sunshine, beautiful blossoms, birds singing
And heck, you’ve even got the Easter bunny
What’s this nonsense about death at Easter, anyway
Death is so final, so morbid, so … well, real.
You see it occurred to me that you can’t really have a resurrection
Without someone or something dying first
Now those of us who profess to have faith
Or those wish that they did
Or even those who’d like to be able to believe in something or someone
Will buy in on some level that something happened that first Easter
People of faith, such as myself, believe that God simply raised Jesus from the dead
(Simple for God but far from simple for us)
Death is enemy numero uno and, as has been quoted endlessly --
“Nobody gets out of here alive”
But Jesus did – at least that’s how the story goes
And that’s also my story and I’m sticking to it
My story?
Well, yes, in a way.
You see, getting back to this death at Easter thing,
Dreams can die, hopes can die, faith can die
And like all things dead, they get buried
But they don’t have to stay dead
They can be brought back to life
Not by wishful thinking or sheer willpower or clever maneuvering
They can be made alive again by … (are you ready for this?)
The grace of God
The unfailing, unearned, totally free grace of God
The kind of grace that can restore that which is broken
Or heal wounds too deep too imagine
Or shine the light of forgiveness on a dark and troubled soul
Or raise a man from the dead
That’s right.
God’s been in business of resurrection for a long time
And He’s still at it.
Death at Easter – Merely a Prelude
But one we’d do well not too ignore
Because as Abbie Huff, minister and wise woman, declares
“Look to the Broken Places. If it’s resurrection and new life
you’re looking for, the broken places are where we start”
Amen and amen.
Happy Easter
George Gagliardi

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Trusting God to do His work through us

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:44-47, NIV)
We have a hard time letting go of control over our spirit. It's not so much a trust in ourselves as it is a hesitancy to trust God. Jesus was divine, but he was also human . . . very human. In the garden, he gave voice to his humanity, asking the Father, "if you are willing, take this cup from me."

Remember, this isn't yet the resurrected Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father. This is the very human Jesus who wants to obey his Father but must summon every ounce of faith to do so. Yes, I believe that's what it took at that moment on the cross for Jesus to let go of his life and trust his spirit to the Father . . . faith. But not blind faith. Rather, a faith born of a relationship bathed in constant communion - and communication - with his Father.

I don't believe Jesus had any guarantees. There are no guarantees when you're human, because you don't yet know the outcome. No, what Jesus had was a promise, the same as we have. A promise that the Father would, in the end, raise him up.

When Jesus realized that his mission to humankind was completed ("it is finished"), he willingly committed his spirit to the Father, trusting his Father - whom he knew intimately - to keep His promise.

But it wasn't the first time he had "committed" his spirit to the Father. Far from it. He committed his spirit to the Father in the desert when he was tempted . . . and whenever broken bodies or broken spirits were brought to him for healing . . . and when the people turned to him for a word from God . . . and when he was unjustly accused by religious leaders and government authorities . . . and I could go on, but you get the idea. Committing his spirit to the Father wasn't simply a final act for Jesus . . . it was a way of life.

Last year, I produced a series of Baptist Briefs videos on the Youth Revival Movement for the Texas Baptists Committed Web site. No book has ever moved me as much as the late Bruce McIver's Riding the Wind of God: A Personal History of the Youth Revival Movement. What moved me most was the faith of a group of Baylor students, among them Bruce McIver, who started that movement in the mid-1940s. They almost immediately realized that the vision that God had given them was too big for them to accomplish, so they spent hours . . . and hours . . . and more hours . . . in prayer. They were often up 'til 2 or 3 in the morning, praying together in their dorm rooms.

In Chapter Six, Bruce McIver tells about Hudson Taylor, a missionary to China in the mid-1800s. He quotes Taylor as listing "three echelons, or levels, of praying" that he had discovered in his missionary experience:
First: "O, God, let me do your work."
Second: "O God, let me help you do your work."
Third: "O, God, do your work through me."
"A century later," McIver goes on to write, "hundreds of students at Baylor moved through these same echelons. . . . In a deep sense that can only come through prayer, there was a quiet cry, 'use me' or make us 'usable.'"

A miracle is simply God doing His work through people. Miracles are not rare if you know where to look for them . . . or how to pray for them. But it takes faith born of an intimate, daily relationship with the Father. And it takes people who, with no guarantees - but with a promise of the Father's presence - will pray, "O God, do your work through me" and then "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."