Things I See Differently Now

The pastor was having his final pre-marital counseling session and rehearsal with a couple. The groom was especially shy and nervous about the ceremony the next day. When the pastor pointed out the moment in the service when he was to kiss the bride, the young man declined. "Preacher, if you don't mind, let's just keep it simple."

The wedding hour arrived. With the swelling music, the fragrance of the flowers, and beautiful bride standing beside him, the groom startled everyone in attendance by blurting out: "Preacher, I've changed my mind!"

And he promptly planted a kiss on her lips. To the relief of Grandma and everyone else.
Over the years I have changed my mind on a few things. Not a huge amount since I have been your pastor these 16 years—but fairly significantly over the 48 years that I have been in the ministry. George Bernard Shaw said: "Those who cannot change their minds, cannot change anything.”

RELAX—on no major doctrine of evangelical Christianity have I changed my convictions. I am as strongly committed to the inspiration of scripture, the Deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection, and salvation by grace through faith, and the other "fundamentals," as I have ever been.  The changes have come on other things.

 A partial list that I don't mind telling you about--

For example, I have come to see that people the world over are basically the same. They want the same things, whether they live in an African hut or a Hollywood mansion. To have meaningful work, a roof over their head, and a future for their children. To live at peace with their neighbors. It is world leaders who cannot seem to get along, not usually their people.

I am more skeptical about the things I read or hear in the media, too. When I was younger, I was prone to accept “conspiracy theories" that divide people into tribes and pit them against one another. Now I check original sources and verify stories before I pass them on. And, if they do not help make us better people, I don't pass them on at all.

My sermons have changed. They are briefer than when I first started and thought I had to tell the congregation everything I knew about my subject. Now, I try to finish talking a minute or two before you stop listening. And I want to inspire hope—what I believe everyone needs a lot of these days.

I tell more stories than I used to. That's what makes the sermon come to life—not so many points and sub points in an outline. It is the stories that people remember, after all.

I realized awhile back that that is how Jesus usually preached—in parables. And if it was good enough for Him...

The role of women in church is something I see differently, too, and that's where I am not your typical Southern Baptist pastor. I came to this position over thirty years ago and have seen it most clearly played out at First Baptist, Alexandria. Women as Deacons and pastors works beautifully here. And even before I came here, I had already had the privilege to work alongside women in ministry who were as effective as any man was. God "calls" and equips those He wants.

I love immigrants and believe that they make our nation stronger not weaker. That comes from living in such a cosmopolitan place, I'm sure. And also, certainly because a precious member of my family has come to us from another place. I do not condone illegal immigration, but I understand better why desperate people do that.

I want to err on the side of grace and give people every benefit of the doubt. The more I know myself, the less interested I am in judging others and the less inclined I am to do so. That just comes with age, I suppose. Now I want to try to gently persuade, and not to beat you over the head with the Bible. To use my words to encourage and build up. To give equal place to both parts of the scripture: "Speaking the truth—in love" (Ephesians 4:15).

My favorite room in the house we just sold was the dining room. I've realized the sacredness of the table, and how sitting around it with people brings opportunities for healing, inspiration, and transformation, just like sitting on a pew in church does. In fact, magical things can happen.

I am more interested in giving compliments than in receiving them now. The power of well-timed and positive words to lift up those who are down and feel defeated. I love seeing their eyes light up!

I love history and politics and talking about how government works, but I no longer believe in political saviors. That's from the Right or from the Left—and at various times in my life I have swayed across that spectrum. Politicians almost always use religion toward their ends, and it is almost always religion that loses when the church gets into bed with them. The fact is that no party or leader embodies the total message of the Bible. Best to stay away from the bandwagon and emphasize the words of Jesus instead. To participate in the process, certainly, but with a bit of healthy skepticism.

The list of things I will argue with you about has gotten shorter and shorter. Lively debate—sure, but you won't be my enemy and you certainly won't be the Devil if we come to different conclusions. Life is too short for that.

I heard Fred Craddock say something many years ago that struck me as so profound. I have never forgotten it and I have gradually come to the place where I believe it just as much as he did--

"When I was in my late teens, I wanted to be a preacher.
   When I was in my late twenties, I wanted to be a good preacher.
   Now that I am older, I want more than anything else to be a Christian.
  To live simply, to love generously, to speak truthfully, to serve faithfully,
  and to leave everything else to God."




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