My local newspaper recently gained national attention with an investigative report on sexual abuse by ministers in “Independent Fundamentalist Baptist” churches. The study revealed 412 documented allegations of sexual misconduct in 187 churches, based in 40 states and Canada. Let me quickly add that while I am “independent,” and some would say, a bit “fundamental,” and a life-long Baptist, I am not an “Independent Fundamentalist Baptist.” Second, on behalf of ministers everywhere, I’d like to apologize to victims of ministerial abuse. It is never acceptable, nor should it be ignored, or covered up. It is true that many ministers sit dangerously on pedestals, without seat-belts, and when they fall, they deserve correction. While this study focused on one group of churches, it followed a national scandal involving sexual abuse among Roman Catholic priests. So, let me broaden the focus of my comments to include all of those called by God to church-related ministry. As a twenty-two-year Seminary professor, I observed first-hand, the moral and ethical failures of both want-to-be ministers, alumni, and colleagues. This is not a new problem, nor a narrow one. It began shortly after the creation and fall of mankind. Early in my ministry, I memorized a verse of scripture (from the King James Bible, which is all we had back then) as something for which I wanted to strive. It was Paul’s standard, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). I focused on three words: “mark” which was later translated “goal;” “prize” which was an award, often given in the public games of the day; and “calling” which was an invitation, and in the New Testament, always used for a divine call from God. I am not a judge (even though that is the meaning of the Hebrew name, Daniel), and now that I am much closer to pressing toward the finish line than kneeling in the starting blocks, I realize the danger in judging others. However, I pass this verse along to my younger ministerial family, and beyond. Keep your focus on the prize of the “high calling of God in Christ” not the low calling of “the sins of the flesh” (Colossians 2:11). No doubt some have been, and will be again, falsely accused. To those, I repeat what I often told my students, “So live, that when the rumors and the negative reports begin no one will believe them.” In other words, be “marked” by the “high calling.”
During my recent birthday, my social media friends, responded with multiple well wishes. The interesting thing for me was how many different names and titles were used, by those who had known me at different stages of my life, and in different positions of responsibility. I was addressed as Dr. Crawford, Dr. Dan, Dr. C, Brother Crawford, Brother Dan, Dan Crawford, Dan, Dad, Cousin, Bawpaw (used only by my grandkids), Friend, Hermano, Sir, Pastor, Rev, Bro, Neighbor, and probably a few others that I missed. When my brother and I left home for college, our Dad’s parting words were, “remember who you are.” Perhaps he was influenced by the thinking of his day, expressed by Theodore Roosevelt, “The one thing I want to leave my children is an honorable name.” I doubt if my Dad knew who all I would grow up to become. Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?” Names are important. Sometimes names set the course of one’s life. I know. I was named after two Baptist preachers and the Chief of Police. Good names are valuable. The writer of Proverbs said, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1). Somewhere along my way, I realized that my real name/title was “Christian” – meaning “little Christ” and I was to “Grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). In other words, in spite of all the names and titles that people use for you, your assignment is to become more and more Christ-like. There’s a New Year’s resolution for you.
One of the most treasured memories of my pastor-father (Who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this month, were he still with us.) took place annually on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year. Following the sermon and prior to the closing prayer, he would always speak to those who had lost loved ones in the past year, then he would read the following poem. He never read it without his voice cracking with emotion. Having experienced the untimely death of my younger brother, Bob, in the past year, I searched for the poem to read it again. I found several versions of the poem and the author seems to be anonymous. Here’s the way I remember it being read. If you have lost a loved one in the past year, I share this poem with you today.
MY FIRST CHRISTMAS IN HEAVEN!
I’ve had my first Christmas in Heaven,
A glorious, wonderful day.
I stood with the saints of the ages
Who found Christ, the Truth and the Way.
I sang with the heavenly choir,
Just think, I who longed so to sing
And, oh, what celestial music
We brought to our Savior and King!
We sang the glad songs of redemption,
How Jesus to Bethlehem came.
And how they called His name — Jesus —
That all might be saved through His Name.
We sang once again with the angels
The song they sang that blest morn,
When shepherds first heard the glad story,
That Jesus, the Savior, was born.
Oh, loved ones, I wish you had been here!
No Christmas on earth could compare
With all of the rapture and glory
We witnessed in Heaven so fair.
You know how I always loved Christmas.
It seemed such a wonderful day,
With all of my loved ones around me
The children so happy that day.
Yes, now I can see why I loved it,
And, oh, what a joy it will be
When all of my loved ones are with me
To share in the glories I see.
So, dear ones on earth, here’s my greeting.
Look up till the day dawn appears.
Oh, what a Christmas awaits us
Beyond all our parting tears!
“In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11)
Tomorrow is Christmas Day. While the birth of Jesus didn’t happen on the day we call “Christmas” nevertheless, many celebrate His birth on December 25, our Christmas Day. Almost lost in the scripture account of Jesus’ birth is the story of Anna. By any measurement, Anna was an elderly woman. The Bible describes her as follows: “She was of a great age and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years” (Luke 2:36-37). Considering the fact that girls often married in their teen-age years, Anna would have been in excess of one hundred years old. According to the Jewish law (Exodus 13:12), Jesus was brought to the Temple to be dedicated to God. There in the Temple, Jesus was encountered by Anna, “who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:37). At this encounter, Anna “gave thanks to the Lord” (Luke 2:38). She prayed. Significant is what Anna did next. She “spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Anna became one of the first evangelists! Anna showed us that it is never too old for one to have a fresh encounter with the Lord, and it is never politically incorrect to proclaim Him to others. What a Christmas role-model!
Have you ever received a compliment you loved, but knew it was not only untrue, but was a huge exaggeration? As I concluded a recent Interim Pastorate, the person in charge of the reception referred to me as “the Babe Ruth of Interim Pastors.” Before I could glow in that characterization, I remembered that while the Babe was a Home Run king, he also led the league in strikeouts. I love compliments like that, but always try to keep things in perspective. Paul reminded us that one should not, “think . . . more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly” (Romans 12:3). The word “soberly” in other translations, is rendered “balanced.” For me to think “balanced” thoughts about the Babe Ruth compliment, meant I needed to balance home runs with strikeouts. Paul also wrote, “If anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:3). “Balanced” thoughts keep one from deceiving themselves. However, balanced thinking, should not hinder one from striving to be the best, even to live up to the over-rated compliments of others. After all, it was the Babe who said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”
Back in the day, when Monday Night football meant listening to Howard Cosell and Dandy Don Meredith, my favorite part came when the game was almost over, and it was obvious who was going to win, and Dandy Don began to sing, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over. They say that all good things must end.” As I conclude a wonderfully challenging Interim Pastorate of seventeen months, I’ve been singing that same song in my head. I have colleagues who don’t like serving as Interim Pastor. Just about the time you make really, good friends, their loyalty shifts to their new incoming pastor, and your party is over. I love being an Interim Pastor. This was my twenty-fourth such time to serve in this capacity. Perhaps it is because my Pastor-Father moved our family every few years, and just about the time I made really, good friends, good things ended. I learned to enjoy that lifestyle rather then protest it. I had a lot more friends than my peers had. So, I move on, having added another group of friends, watching another church from a distance, as they begin to revitalize and grow healthy again. As much as I enjoy Dandy Don (and Willie Nelson’s version) sing about the party being over, I also enjoy Robert Earl Keen, Jr. singing, “The road goes on forever, and the party never ends.” After all, God told Samuel to “walk before Me forever” (1 Samuel 2:30). So, like Samuel, I will walk on to another place of service, richer in spirit, because of the last stop along my way. Next!
Years ago, I found myself in charge of an organization that was deeply divided. Every decision was challenged. Every vote was split. As I struggled to lead, a good friend said to me, “Just lead! We will follow!” While not everyone followed, the organization survived. If you have ever been a part of an organization that suffered from a lack of leadership, you know how painful that can be. How agonizing it is to watch a group of people flounder around with no direction, wasting their time in meetings that have no real purpose, and dismissing without accomplishing anything of lasting value. Such is the fate of a leaderless organization. Leadership is crucial. People who find themselves in charge, but have no leadership ability, penalize the people. On the contrary, a gifted leader can lead people to accomplish goals beyond their own ability to envision. Alexander the Great is reported to have said, “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” Observe how the emphasis changes in the familiar scripture passage relating to the Apostle Paul turning west on his second missionary journey. So important was that decision, that some have said, had he not headed west, along with his entourage, we in the west might have been receiving missionaries today, rather than sending them. “A vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:9-10). “He” (Paul) saw the vision, but “we” went to Macedonia, with the conclusion that God had called “us” to go. Leaders lead. Minus that truth, organizations suffer.
Thanksgiving is coming. By news report, another forty-six million turkeys will be consumed. Calories and memories will remain. As I reflect on Thanksgiving, I am thankful for at least three things, and they come from a rather unusual source. In Genesis 16 Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar had made a mess of God’s plans. Hagar was in the process of running away, when she discovered three things. (1) – “the angel of the Lord found her” (Genesis 16:7). (2) God directed her to “return. . . and submit” (Genesis 16:9) and (3) God was “the God who sees” (Genesis 16:13). Like Hagar, I am glad God found me. I wasn’t running away, but I wasn’t that easy to find either – large city, large school, large church, following the, “be seen and not heard” theory of child raising. Still at age nine, God found me, saved me, and then at age sixteen, called me to serve Him. I’m thankful. I’m also thankful, like Hagar, that God directed and re-directed me. Once God begins to direct us, correction and re-direction is a part of the plan, but I am thankful. Like Hagar, I am also thankful that God could see beyond what I could see. Had I seen where God would lead me, it might have scared me into disbelief. But God knew, I followed, and I am thankful. William Bradford, arriving on the Mayflower, then becoming the first Governor of the Plymouth Colony, wrote: “Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean.” Approaching another Thanksgiving season, I join Hagar in lessons learned and re-learned, and I join Bradford’s pilgrims on my knees in thanksgiving for God’s leadership in my life.
Thanksgiving is over. By news report, another forty-six million turkeys have been consumed. Calories and memories remain. As I reflect on Thanksgiving past, I am thankful for at least three things, and they come from a rather unusual source. In Genesis 16 Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar had made a mess of God’s plans. Hagar was in the process of running away, when she discovered three things. (1) – “the angel of the Lord found her” (Genesis 16:7). (2) God directed her to “return. . . and submit” (Genesis 16:9) and (3) God was “the God who sees” (Genesis 16:13). Like Hagar, I am glad God found me. I wasn’t running away, but I wasn’t that easy to find either – large city, large school, large church, following the, “be seen and not heard” theory of child raising. Still at age nine, God found me, saved me, and then at age sixteen, called me to serve Him. I’m thankful. I’m also thankful, like Hagar, that God directed and re-directed me. Once God begins to direct us, correction and re-direction is a part of the plan, but I am thankful. Like Hagar, I am also thankful that God could see beyond what I could see. Had I seen where God would lead me, it might have scared me into disbelief. But God knew, I followed, and I am thankful. William Bradford, arriving on the Mayflower, then becoming the first Governor of the Plymouth Colony, wrote: “Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean.” Having made it through another Thanksgiving season, I join Hagar in lessons learned and re-learned, and I join Bradford’s pilgrims on my knees in thanksgiving for God’s leadership in my life.
My role models have all been workaholics. Many of these have also been perfectionists. This is a dangerous mixture. Trying to justify such a lifestyle, I searched the scriptures, until I discovered Jesus saying in His sermon on the mount, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Then I learned that Jesus is here setting a goal, that is certain to be impossible. The pursuit of perfection is important, even if the attainment of it is impossible. The legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi said, Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” What about the workaholic idea? Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). In other words, “Get ‘er done before dark.” On one hand, I am tired from working toward perfection. On the other hand, I have accomplished much more than those who are content with simply working an eight-hour day with average production. Am I sorry that I became a workaholic perfectionist? Not for a minute. Do I recommend it for others? Only if you are at least partly crazy.