Sunday, February 9, 2014

In Memory of a Friend

Dr. Ira “Doc” Vinson Birdwhistell died Friday, February 7, 2014.  He was known to his students as “Doc.”  To those of us who met him in an earlier era, he was “Jack.”

Jack Birdwhistell was Dr. E. Glenn Hinson's Garret Fellow at Southern Seminary when I enrolled in 1973. He was my first and one of two of my favorite Church History professors.  Long before Baptist Seminary of Kentucky was needed, Jack was an innovative professor who encouraged us to be both creative and practical in the writing of papers.
In the years since seminary, Jack became a friend and a peer. He was one of the first of my peers to affirm my decision to remain the pastor of a small-town church.  As he had been as my seminary instructor, he remained an encouraging and motivating force in my life.  Besides ministry, we shared a passion for baseball and good books.  He was an avid Facebook user, and his use of it enhanced the lives of those of us whom he befriended. 

For the past couple of days, Facebook has been filled with comments by peers, current and past students, and strangers who were introduced to “Doc” via his “Doc’s Books” page on Facebook.  From those who knew him the longest to those who were only recently introduced to him, the comments have been true and very similar.  Jack was Jack and we are blessed to have had him among us.

Reading back through my sermon this morning, I thought about the ways in which Jack’s life, flawed as all lives are, reflected so much of what Jesus urged in his sermon.
  • Jack knew his need for mercy; and having received it, he acted mercifully toward others.
  • Jack knew his heart; and out of that purity of heart, he drew close to his friends, and particularly to his students.
  • Jack was a man of peace . . . at least to be in his presence was to leave more at peace than you came.
  • Was Jack persecuted?  Jack would need to answer that, but my guess is that in whatever way he was, he would pass it off as part of life, forgiving those who persecuted him.
In the manner in which we use the word “saint,” Jack was not one, which is why I chose this morning to connect his life with the Beatitudes.  Jesus was not setting goals toward which we should strive.  He was reminding us of a standard to which we are held.  Jack’s life and ministry reminds me that the standards are attainable.

Science vs. Religion

(I wrote this on February 2, 2014 and published it as a Faithful Reader Note, which is a note I include with sermons that are emailed to folks who have signed up to receive my sermons by mail.  A slightly altered version appeared in Faithlab, and another will be published in the Henry County Local newspaper.)

For all my adult life, I’ve begun my mornings with a cup of hot, black coffee and a newspaper.  I may have to give that up for Sunday mornings.  If not, I need to get Donna to pre-read the paper for me and to tell me what articles to skip. 

It was a good morning.  I was sipping my coffee, just after finishing a deliciously sweet grapefruit—a gift from my mother—and enjoying the Sunday Courier-Journal.  The sermon was finished and all that awaited my attention was the writing of this note.  I hardly ever know at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday what I will write.  I just wait until the breakfast routine is over, go up to my study, sit before the computer, and begin to write.  I’m sure, under normal circumstances, I would have written something about the sermon series I’ve begun from the Sermon on the Mount.  Oh, well.

There was an article in the paper about an upcoming debate between “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and Ken Ham of the Creation Museum.  I am so tired of this debate.  It is not new.  It was going on when I was a kid and when my parents were kids and when their parents were kids . . . .  Enough already!

We embrace science on so many levels.  I’m writing on a laptop computer that amazes my simple brain.  Many of you reading this received it in your homes seconds after I pressed “send.”  I can watch the Olympics live from halfway around the world.  With lasers, doctors are now performing surgeries that were unheard of and impossible just a few years ago.  Children are living today who would never have survived birth a few years ago.  All of this made possible by SCIENCE.  But when it comes to understanding beginnings, we don’t want to listen to science.

God gave us brains and surely expects us to use them.  Finding out the how of our origins and the origins of other things is not a threat to belief and faith in a living Creator God.  I am anxious to know what else science can tell us . . . about anything and everything.  But I already know what science can neither prove nor disprove: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”  I know this through faith manifested in my walk with Jesus.  Oh, I know something else which science can neither prove nor disprove: A “new heaven and new earth is being created," and “behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.”  It’s enough!  Science doesn’t scare me nor threaten my faith.  Science has made and is making my life better.

Why do we spend so much time focused on science vs. religion?  Is it because it is easier to affirm Genesis 1 & 2 than to embrace the hard teachings of Jesus as we find them in the Sermon on the Mount?  Perhaps we think if we make enough noise we will divert attention from the hard sayings of Jesus.  It won’t work.  We are not Christians because we believe and embrace creationism as the only truth of our origins.  We are Christian only to the extent we follow the Christ.

Skip the debate and read the Sermon on the Mount.  The debate will still be going when you are gone, and it will not have aided you in living or in preparing for where you’re going.