Category Archives: Faith & Life

No rocking chair for me

It is official.

Lord willing, I will retire on September 1, 2013… the same day I celebrate my 20th anniversary on the staff of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

This congregation has been so good to me and my family for all these years. I wanted to return the blessing and help make this transition in the Communication Ministry as easy as possible. That’s why I gave notice at this early date: to allow plenty of time for consideration of the options for the future of this ministry.

To say it has been challenging and fulfilling would only scratch the surface. It will take me all of the next year to find the appropriate words to express my feelings:

  • to God for the opportunity to have some small part of His mission on earth by using my time, talent and energy for more than 30 years;
  • to Jim Flamming for bringing me into this remarkable staff family at FBC;
  • to Jim Somerville for keeping me on after he became Pastor and allowing me to serve as Associate Pastor for Communication;
  • to the crew and team members who have served so faithfully and effectively over the years;
  • and to this loving, generous, energetic, and compassionate congregation for paying me to do what I love to do, for providing all the tools we’ve needed to carry out an effective Communication Ministry, and for taking such good care of me and my family.

I don’t plan to rust out over the coming year… I intend to flame out. We have so much to do.

I hope we will be able to produce The Prodigal Project before I leave. And if we don’t, I’ll continue to work on it as a volunteer, post-retirement.

Over the coming months I will continue to give full attention to our ongoing ministries including the TV program and webcasts, the website, the WebClass, First Things First, and the KOH2RVA stories.

I am optimistic and excited about the future of Richmond’s First Baptist Church and the Communication Ministry. The best days are still ahead.

What will I do in retirement? Well, God willing, I won’t spend my time in a rocking chair in a dark room. I plan to continue, on a freelance and part-time basis, using the medium of video to tell compelling stories.

I’m looking forward to it.

Thinking about religious freedom

I’ve been working on a little video project for my friends at the Baptist World Alliance.

Back in 1988-89, I spent 10 weeks traveling in Europe and Israel, conducting interviews and videotaping sites and artifacts of significance in Baptist history. Now, we’re digitizing that footage to produce some little vignettes for the BWA website.

Baptists in many parts of the world do not enjoy the religious liberties that we in the United States often take for granted. We have the freedom to assemble and worship freely. Our disagreements about the meaning and details of baptism sometimes result in people getting upset and leaving a certain congregation. But I haven’t heard of anybody in the U.S. being martyred for his or her beliefs about baptism in the last couple hundred years.

That’s not the case for Christians in some parts of the world today.

And it wasn’t the case for the Christians in Europe in the 16th century. I was reminded of that while reviewing some of the footage we shot in Switzerland.

We spent a pleasant fall day hiking up the side of a mountain to “Die Tauferhohle” not far from Zürich. The lush, peaceful cave belies it’s history as a hideout for outlawed Christians in 1525.

In that year, the first Anabaptist group was formed in Zürich by Felix Manz and two other reformers. They considered the baptism of infants as practiced by the Catholic Church and the early reformers to be unbiblical. They had themselves re-baptized and their opponents began calling them “Anabaptists.”

Manz associated with and was influenced by the reformer Ulrich Zwingli. But Manz was advocating a more literal reading of the Bible, and a more radical break with the Church than Zwingli could support. The Zürich city council sided with Zwingli and prohibited re-baptism. That made Manz and his followers outlaws. They hid from authorities in Die Tauferhohle and other places. But Manz was eventually caught and, on January 5, 1527, he was punished by drowning in the Limmat River. He died singing.

Zürich-Schipfe quarter : Memorial plate for th...
Zürich-Schipfe quarter : Memorial plate for the Anabaptists, murdered in early 16th century by the Zürich city government: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Makes me grateful to live in a country where freedom of religion is guaranteed. And it leads me to think about those martyrs who gave their lives for what they believed.

Which of my religious beliefs would I be willing to die for?

Makes me think.

Boiling it Down

I’ve been thinking about the fundamentals of the faith lately. Does that make me a fundamentalist?

What is left when you boil away all the institutional, cultural, historical, and personal additives from our Christian faith? That’s a question missionaries face every day.

A cross-cultural missionary is someone who’s communicating the Gospel in a culture of which he/she is not a native. I got to meet hundreds of them during my six years at the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

Before going out to their overseas assignments, new missionaries go through an intensive multi-week training regimen. One of the first things they learn is how to separate their North American culture from their essential, biblical faith. As you might imagine, some have more difficulty with the concept than others.

I remember visiting a missionary in a remote Central American village. There, in stark contrast to the straw and mud huts surrounding it, stood a church building that looked just like one you’d find in any southern U.S. town.

The missionary understood his assignment as a “church planter” to include re-creating the kind of church experience he grew up with… including the architecture. He had convinced his home church in Georgia to contribute money and labor. And the result, like a glaring anachronism, stood amid the simple, humble village houses: a gleaming white frame church building with columns in the front, a high-pitched roof, and a steeple on top.

I don’t want to be too hard on the missionary. I wonder if I do any better job as a missionary in my own culture.

The doctrines, traditions, and liturgy that have been handed down over the years from our spiritual ancestors provide essential context for interpreting the scripture and for understanding our own spiritual experiences.

Pulling the cultural wrapper off the essentials of our faith is not easy. But it is essential, especially for those of us who work in “the media.” If we want to embody and communicate what it means to be a Christian, we have to understand the core essence of our relationship with God.

This has been on my mind lately as we’re working on the second draft of the screenplay for the Prodigal Project. It has forced me to define exactly what it is that I want to say about my faith: what is the core belief burning in my soul that is driving the story forward?

I can express it best by describing a scene that might play out in the movie:

The protagonist is frustrated and dejected. It is the low point of his character arc. At that moment God gently places His hand on his shoulder and says, “You know, you don’t need to do anything grand. I made you and I love you. All I want is for you to love Me… and love My children. If you want to show the world what it means to be a Christian, live your life the way Jesus lived his: bring hope and love and joy to those around you. Turn the other cheek. Forgive. Smile. Have courage. Don’t condemn, don’t judge – that’s My job. I like your movie… I really do. But it would suit Me fine if we could just sit and talk for a while every day. Maybe you’ve been too busy making a movie to think about that.”