Last week I celebrated my 59th birthday, so I thought I would write a column of personal privilege. I don’t know about you, but on my birthdays I always reflect back on what I have accomplished and look forward to what I hope to accomplish in the future. And for some odd reason the years ending in nine have been much more meaningful and life-changing for me than the ones ending in zero.
In 1968 when I was 19, I left the church. Throughout high school I had been very active in MYF (we weren’t united yet) and the church in general. I had entered college the previous year with the intent of going on to seminary, and becoming ordained. Consequently, I was asked to speak during the Student Sunday worship service. I spoke about what I had learned in Sunday school at that church; I spoke against the war and in favor of civil rights; I said war and racism are incompatible with Christianity. No one spoke to me after the service or for weeks to come. I was shunned, so I left.When I was 29, I started running, which I have been doing on and off ever since. I still run between 25-30 miles a week. I know that seems like a small change, but it has kept me healthier than I might otherwise have been.At 39, I again heard the call to ministry, began the process and entered seminary. I felt like I had been on the boat with Jonah for 20 years running away from God’s call. This was a major decision which affected my entire family. We all had to change our lifestyles significantly.
Ten years ago when I was 49, I went back to school to work on my doctorate, out of which came my first book on Faith and Politics, and led to my being more involved in politics.What will happen now that I’m 59? What life-changing decision will I make or will be made for me? How will I serve my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the next ten years?
As I have written previously, I love what I am doing. I always wanted to be a writer and now I am one. I have the largest congregation of United Methodists in Georgia. I reach over 20,000 people twice a month with the columns and stories I write and publish, a lot more people than I ever reached from the pulpit. Fortunately I do still get invited to preach at various churches on Sunday mornings. Of course with that large of a congregation comes the responsibility to be sure I write with honor and integrity, and I pray that I do. Perhaps this is the year I will work on becoming an evangelist. God continues to place on my heart the need to reach out to the least, the lost, and the forgotten in society especially those who, for whatever reason, the traditional church has failed to reach. I feel called to improve the lives of those beaten down by life; to give them hope and something to look forward to. The struggle as I see it is how do we remain true to what we believe, to the Scriptures and doctrines of the faith while at the same time being open, loving, accepting and respectful of those who need to hear our message? How do we reach those who have been hurt by the church in the past, and those who have rejected the church for what they think it believes?