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Saturday, April 7, 2012

The SIGN ABOVE ALL SIGNS

By David E. Crosby, pastor
First Baptist New Orleans
Easter Sunday, the Year of Our Lord 2012

One of the Onion Boys (email for explanation) asked me a few minutes ago by email about the meaning of Easter. I was happy to explain to this Muslim friend halfway around the world why Easter is the greatest celebration of our Christian faith.

The disciples asked Jesus about the signs of the end of the age. His critics had previously asked him for a sign to prove that he was the Messiah. He told them that an “evil and adulterous generation” asks for a sign, and that no sign would be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah. Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights, and the Son of Man would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The only sign would be the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Easter is the day we remember the Sign above all signs. On this day, God raised Jesus from the dead. This is the message that Peter preached to the crowd on Pentecost Sunday in Jerusalem seven weeks after the crucifixion of Jesus. This is the message for which Stephen was stoned by the Jewish Council. This is the message that Paul preached in the synagogues across Asia Minor. This is the message that called together and constituted the early church. “He is risen!”

A new believer asked me why Jesus stayed in only a small region of the earth when he could have gone to all the different countries and continents. It is a thought-provoking question. My answer is this: the gospel was best-served by having a handful of people who were completely persuaded that the resurrection had occurred and that Jesus was the Messiah. These people would be intimately acquainted with Jesus and his teachings. They would be witnesses to the miracles, the sermons, and the behavior of Jesus of Nazareth. They would see for themselves the execution and the burial. They would go to the empty tomb, and they would see Jesus in his glorified body. With this core group of people who knew Jesus and knew the truth, human history could be changed and people would come to faith.

We stand on the shoulders of Peter and John today. They arrived breathless at the empty tomb that first Easter morning as we do now every Resurrection Day. And all of our lives are changed forever.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

No Candidate for Public Office in the Pulpit at FBNO

By David E. Crosby, Pastor
First Baptist New Orleans
April 3, 2012

Rick Santorum, Republican candidate for president of the United States, spoke to three packed Southern Baptist worship centers during his sweep through Louisiana. First Baptist New Orleans was not one of them, and for good reasons.

I do not personally endorse candidates for public office as pastor, and I do not allow select candidates access to our pulpit. We do host forums upon request where various candidates may debate and pitch their platforms. An informed electorate is important in a democracy such as ours.

I believe in the wisdom of separating the institutions of church and state as described in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I support the tax-exempt status of churches as entities that help our communities and do not serve as platforms for political parties.

Office holders of any political party may bring greetings to our congregation from time to time. We are commanded in Scripture to pray for them and support them. Their presence in our sanctuary is not an endorsement of their policies but recognition of their ordained mission and their importance to our common life.

Helping favored candidates by giving them pulpit time confuses people about our message and the nature of our churches. We respect the officeholder and gladly support those who seek to do good through government. But I am not the pastor of a Republican church. I am not a Democrat or Republican as pastor. Our church is not about any political party or platform.

When one Baptist church is identified with a political party, it affects all Baptist churches in some measure. This course is a departure from our Baptist history, and it is dangerous to the gospel which we preach.

Do we really want to entrust the gospel to a candidate in hot pursuit of a nomination? Is this our idea of the good news? Let’s not feature candidates in our pulpits as a way to get our church work done. And if it’s not church work, then why do it on Sunday morning?

Any candidate is happy to get the time in our pulpits. He risks nothing. The publicity is free. He is not under any obligation to the pastors or churches that endorsed him. Politicians of all stripes are willing to use any church and pastor that is willing to be used.

Many pastors love to be near the power brokers. Some even consider themselves politically powerful, and maybe they are. But the power of political office has never been the power of the cross of Christ. Christ rode a donkey into Jerusalem and told his disciples to put their swords away. He told the Roman governor, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

I pray as Jesus taught me, “Thy kingdom come.” But I am not under the illusion that God’s kingdom will be delivered from Baton Rouge or Washington, D.C. Rather, I work for the coming of the Kingdom by loving my neighbor and my enemies, caring for the poor, preaching the good news, and following the footsteps of Jesus into the trouble of my world.

The preaching of the cross may seem powerless and foolish when compared to presidencies and congressional delegations. But the cross of Christ represents both the power and wisdom of God. And it is a power and wisdom that goes way beyond what any political office can possibly achieve.

I know some people see doomsday in the current state of affairs. They think they have lost their country, and in their minds they are fighting to get it back. But civil government has never been strong enough to bring the Kingdom of God. Let’s not give up on the gospel.

Myself, I see no enduring city here. Instead, like the writer of the Book of Hebrews, I am looking for a city that is to come, that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Meanwhile, as the word of God instructs, we pray and work for the blessing of this city, knowing that we pray to a God who makes all things new.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lost Down Payment

Her name was Love, this 12-day-old infant, and she was not supposed to be occupying space on the planet.

Baby dedication services during this holiday season included her, Love J’Dore, quiet in her mother’s arms before the congregation.

I introduced the baby, youngest among a dozen dedicated, and prayed for her and her family along with the other children and parents standing before us.

Her family promised that day, a week before Christmas, to teach her the truth of the gospel, and our church promised to help. This is how our church follows the example of Mary and Joseph when they came to the house of worship to present and name their newborn baby, Jesus.

Baby Love’s mother made an appointment and a down payment on an abortion when she learned that she was carrying this child. Brittnay, pregnant for the third time, felt that she could not endure another pregnancy nor care for another baby. She made her way, heavy-hearted, to the clinic in her neighborhood at the designated time for the abortion.

The clinic was closed permanently, she discovered when she arrived. She turned away from the shuttered clinic thinking about these things—and very aware of the tiny life inside her womb. She decided that this was a message from God to her and that this child growing inside her was important and precious. She gave that baby the gift of life, carried her full term, and when the baby was delivered, weighing almost 7 pounds, she named her Love.

I learned these things later, after Baby Love had already been presented to the church and after we all had spoken our vows. This child, at risk of termination before she drew her first breath, remains in my thoughts and prayers. We presented her to the Lord that day of dedication. We promised to help her mother and grandmother.

She made it into the world, Love did, but what will happen now? Will we keep our vows to her? If we keep our promises, maybe she will fulfill the promise she is to us.

Baby Love has been entrusted to us, her family, friends and community. Our responsibilities only began when her mother chose to cherish her rather than abort her. If she is ever to know the full import of her name we will need to nurture her in our playgrounds, schools, and clinics. She must sense a surrounding presence of protective care as she becomes aware of her own being in our world.

Our community is rife with violence in this new year. The cries of bereaved parents and siblings and friends rise up to heaven, and Baby Love lies in a crib in the middle of it all. Only despair and hopelessness compounded by fear and sorrow could bring such wanton slaughter to our streets. Somehow we have forgotten the promise and wonder in every new life.

We push back the darkness when we receive with faith and hope the life that God gives from the first flicker to the last dart on the EEG. The heavy responsibility accepted will be returned with immeasurable joy.

Life is a divine gift. Our own existence—and that of those around us—is a sacred trust. We announce this to our friends and family members each time we receive with joy the inconvenience and expense of a new life. Embrace each human life—the least, the little, and the lowest—and you bless us all.

Our entire community must respond to the hopelessness and despair that fosters the violence. Every single person can do so by reaching out to the frail, the infirm, and the most at-risk among us whether captured in the amniotic fluid or imprisoned by the culture of death.

If we give them love, these least among us, we unleash in them the promise of life. We crush the lie of hopelessness that ignites and feeds the hate.

Love gives its rich blessing and reward. And love makes its perpetual demand. Love cannot sit idly by while others struggle and fall. Love makes a way where there is no way. Love never turns away, never turns aside, never turns hopeless.

Love never fails.

Brittnay spared her baby, named her Love, and took on the expensive assignment of lifelong concern and care for another person on the planet.

Nothing in human experience is better and stronger—and filled with more promise—than this. Among the spectrum of human endeavors and occupations, the greatest is love.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Let Nothing You Dismay

The death of a family member in and around the holiday season may accentuate the sense of loss that families feel. But the death may occur at any time of the year and change our experience of the holiday season. In some ways, we miss our departed loved ones most on these special days.

This year the sense of loss is very personal. It will be my first Christmas without my father who died December 2.

Many of us grew up celebrating Christmas with rich family traditions and wonderful meals together. We cherish vivid memories of father bringing in the Christmas tree and mother preparing the meal. We left milk and cookies on the fireplace Christmas Eve, woke up early, ran to the Christmas tree, and there discovered the gifts that Santa Claus left us overnight.

Christmas is all about the children, and the kids know it—and love it. Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, turn their attention to creating pure delight one magical morning.

The gifts were unwrapped each Christmas morning at the Crosby house in a storm of flying paper and bows, squeals and shouts. All mysteries were uncovered in 15 minutes, and the rest of the morning was a leisurely float through the package debris sporting new outfits and playing with the coveted gifts that topped the list.

Hence the giant hole that the death of a dear one creates in the family at Christmas. Their chair is vacant, their role unfilled. I will never again see my father at the family Christmas gathering, and the thought of it makes me sad.

I know this is not a loss for which I will find a substitute. I must now adjust my expectations of the holiday season. However, I want my words and deeds to foster peace and faith within the family, and I intend to fiercely protect and preserve for younger family members the surprise, delight and joy of Christmas.

An old man named Simeon is part of the Christmas story though he shows up eight days after the birth of the babe in the stable. He expressed to Mary and Joseph a perspective on death that ought to be considered by every grieving heart at Christmas. Simeon took that tiny infant in his arms and said, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace” (Luke 2:29).

The benevolent attention of God is a central truth of Christmas. Our Creator watches over us with tender care. He intervenes on our behalf. He intends to do us good, not harm. This perspective makes the comfort and cheer of Christmas possible. Simeon expresses it by addressing God as “Sovereign Lord.”

Simeon’s hands are wrinkled and spotted with age as he holds the infant. He knows that his own death is near. That is fine with him now. He is ready to be dismissed. He has worked like a soldier at his post. He has been faithful and attentive. He has endured the hardships that life inevitably brings. He is at peace with his impending departure.

This reminds me of my father, so full of faith and song, ready to be dismissed, living in the promise. We sang to him as he was dying. For hours we gathered around the bed, mother lying by his side. We sang to Dad because he was the one who taught us to sing, to embrace life as God’s good gift.

“Peace on earth,” the angels sang at the Christmas birth announcement in the fields of Bethlehem. It is not a pipe dream, this peace. It can prevail in the believing heart that embraces the goodness of God even in the process of dying. Simeon was ready be dismissed in peace by the God who announces peace to the world at Christmas and creates that peace day by day and year by year as we learn to trust him in both the wins and the losses, the good times and the bad.

Death at Christmas is like everything else at Christmas. It is bathed in the light of God’s grace and set in the context of his promise. “All is calm, all is bright.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sunbeams Down the Path

Our lifelong friends, Mac and Mary McDermott, were killed in an automobile accident near Gatesville, Texas, shortly after they left my father’s funeral. Mary died at the scene, and Mac died yesterday never having regained consciousness. Please keep their family in your prayers as they plan memorial services.

Mary was a young teenager in my father’s first pastorate in central Minnesota. She lived with us during a brief stint in Maryland.

The family met Mac, a soldier stationed at Fort Bliss, when we moved to El Paso. He was a member of the church where Dad was pastor. He helped my father build our home on the outskirts of El Paso from the stones and gravel they found in the arroyos.

My match-making mother invited Mary for an extended stay in El Paso and pushed her up the stairs at a fellowship meeting, insisting that she meet Mac. They fell in love, had a whirlwind romance, and were married for 51 years and had four children.

I saw Mary for the first time in nearly 50 years at the 60th wedding anniversary of my parents last year. Mary is the one who bought me the sailor suit I was photographed wearing as a five-year-old.

I saw Mac and Mary in the crowd as the family exited First Baptist Church of Gatesville after the memorial service for Dad. I stepped up to them, put both my arms around their necks, and hugged them close. I said, “Thank you for loving us when we were little. It made a big difference.”

Think of the ways we touch the little ones. This very Sunday we have 18 children who will be part of the parent/child dedication service. Our foster care ministry will bear fruit for generations on this earth as well as forever in heaven. The Early Learning Center and Bible study, missions, and music programs for the children are some of our most important work. Our efforts to bring Peace on the Playgrounds focus on the needs of children.

We send sunbeams far down the path when we love the little ones.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Can See My Father Singing



My father, Russell Bryan Crosby, took off on his last adventure the Sunday before Thanksgiving. He and Donna, his bride of 61 years, packed the car and left without telling a soul. “I’m dying,” he told mother. “Let’s see if I can breathe better where it is hot and dry.” They left before 6 a.m. and were nearly to Fort Stockton in far West Texas before anybody knew. Mother was behind the wheel, and Dad was navigating with waves and nods.

They traveled to El Paso, admired a rare rainbow, and stayed with a man who lived in our home as a teenager in trouble. Then they headed north into the mountains on a course that we often traveled when I was a boy. They crossed the high mountain pass at Cloudcroft, N.M., ate some fresh apples from an orchard, and admired the towering peaks draped in snow. After 1,350 miles on the road, they made it back to the family Thanksgiving gathering.

My mother knew it was crazy for them to travel so far when he was so sick. But she told us all how delighted she is that they made that trip, their last fling together.

I was singing with my family around the deathbed of my father just a few days later. Mother was lying beside him holding his hand, and he was breathing but no longer responding.

I leaned over and thanked him for making me sing when I was a boy. Dad insisted that I sing with my brothers, even though I protested loudly, and he taught me how to do it. Song became such a great part of my life.

Singing together as men around the deathbed of our father was such a healing, helpful, joyful, and sorrowful experience.

Dad gathered us boys when we were preteens. He stood the four of us oldest ones in a row with hymnbooks in our hands. He taught us how to sing the harmonies. He did it patiently, persistently, until we got it, learned it, and loved it.

We sang together for ten years, my brothers and I, and it was formative and magical for each of us. We grew in our musical skills beyond Dad’s ability to help, and that was okay with him. We picked up instruments that Dad never learned to play. We wrote songs. Dad pulled us together, focused our energies, and helped us understand the power and beauty of song.

I picture Dad standing behind the pulpit, head thrown back, eyes half closed, singing about Jesus with a passion that no one could miss. His love for the Savior never waned through all those years. Right up the last, he wanted to sing and talk about Jesus.

I hear him calling us together for suppertime with a baritone voice booming through the hall: “Jesus has a table spread where the saints of God are fed. He invites his chosen people come and dine.” We joined him in his song until, through the years, it became a chorus of a hundred voices. It is one of the songs our family sang as friends passed by the coffin in their last tribute to our father.

I do remember my father preaching, of course. He towered above us as children, delivering God’s word in creative and interesting ways with vivid pictures and stories that made the text come to life. He instilled in us a love for God’s Word. We learned it by rote from the time we could talk.

I see him, Bible open in his lap, sitting on a stump in the forest with sunbeams dancing around his perch, getting his Sunday sermon ready. My father meditated deeply on the Scriptures. He always had a thought he was toying with, an intriguing notion, a perplexing puzzle or paradox. I picture Dad, choked with emotion, carefully retelling the story of his text.

I also see my father heaving heavy stones to shoulder height, building our rock house in the desert of El Paso, always accompanied by tiny people under foot.

My earliest memory is a train ride with my parents. I remember standing next to the bench seat on the train with a bag beside me. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are the trips we took as a family. By the time I was 16 years old I had been in 27 of these United States.

We had several station wagons during my boyhood. The two I remember best are a big red Chevrolet and a smaller tan Buick. “How did so many of you travel in that station wagon?” I have been asked.

My reply: “You’d be surprised how many kids you can get in a station wagon if you stack them right.”

My second earliest memory is a snapshot from the hallway of the parsonage in El Paso. I woke up in my father’s arms as he carried me from the living room to my bed. The memory of being suspended and secure in his embrace stayed with me all these years. This memory may be the one that captures best how I understand and experience the Heavenly Father. Maybe trusting God comes easier when you know the strong arms of a loving earthly father.

My father’s life was all about Jesus—serving, exalting, and pleasing the One who went to the cross and accomplished such an amazing rescue for sinners like us. He experienced a powerful spiritual transformation when he asked Christ to save him as an 18-year-old. That experience was the emotional and spiritual centerpiece of his life. He found his personal foundation in Christ alone, and he anchored his family in Christ as well.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Needy Others

God gives good gifts to us. In fact, every good gift comes from God (James 1:17).

We misuse God’s good gifts. The Bible actually has a word for the twisting of the good—“iniquity.” God does not prevent the squandering or evil use of his good gifts.

God continues to give to us despite our misuse of his good gifts. In fact, we are surrounded every day by the good gifts of God who provides all things for us to enjoy.

I cannot fathom this amazing grace of God though I experience it every day. I “wonder how he could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean” (from the hymn “I Stand Amazed in the Presence” by Charles Gabriel).

I have discovered this kind of undeserved love to be the greatest and most powerful force in my life. God sends his refreshing rain on the just and on the unjust, as Jesus said. This truth about God compels us to love our enemies and do good even to those who do evil toward us (Matthew 5:45). In fact, the good giving of God to unjust people is a core teaching of Christ and the Bible.

Sometimes I imagine myself a deserving recipient of God’s amazing grace, and I sense my own generosity withering like paper in a furnace of pride. Those in need around me I imagine as less deserving than myself. I find no good reason to transfer my hard-earned and well-deserved resources to those around me with such glaring moral failings.

I want to follow in the footsteps of the divine Giver, but I hesitate in fear that my own good gifts will be wasted or misused. Acts of charity sometimes appear to be counter-productive. How can I give in this environment of uncertainty and sin?

Love is tough as well as tender. All parents experience this truth. All human giving occurs from one needy person to the other. The needs of the giver may skew the giving so that it harms rather than helps. This is no fault of love. This is just more evidence of the caregiver’s limitations and needs.

The gift of good intention may be misused through the moral failings or limited understanding of the recipient. No caregiver can be absolutely certain that their expression of love will not be twisted for some evil purpose.

We do not escape this potential moral failure by giving to institutions. Individuals and institutions alike are susceptible to the temptations of greed and sloth.

I myself am comforted by the moral accountability of the recipients of charity. The giver of the gift is a moral partner with the recipient. I feel both sides of this responsibility as the pastor of my church. I will give an account on judgment day of my own generosity or lack thereof. I will also give an account of how I used the gifts of others.

The act of charity involves two parties, and each has their own unique opportunity and responsibility. Neither one can be held morally accountable for the other.

The closer the gift is to my own hand and eyes the more likely I am to evaluate correctly the impact of my gift. If I give my money where my hands are working, I know with some measure of comfort what my gift will do. We encourage our working volunteers to support with their money what they support with their time and energy.

Sometimes we feel compelled to respond to urgent needs far away. But we should always request—and even require—minimal financial accountability from those institutions we support including budgets, financial statements, and financial endorsement by watchdog groups (e.g., the seal of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability).

The loving gift is not minimized by asking hard questions about its use—it is affirmed and enlarged. Resources are limited. Therefore we are obliged to evaluate carefully the direction of our giving in order that we may do the most good with what we have to give.

May this holiday season find us generous of heart, active with helping hands, and wise in our loving gifts to those in need.