Remembering Mom

Judy Elaine Harris peacefully transitioned to her her eternal rest in the presence of the LORD at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, MO Wednesday morning, April 22, 2020. Born October 6th, 1946 in Durham, North Carolina to Elaine and John Hunziker.  She graduated from Watson Chapel High School in 1964, and years later after raising her son, began a new journey in education, earning her Batchelor of Arts in English Language from UAPB (1988), and the MA in English Language from the University of Dallas in 1992, then served as a professor of English at El Centro College (Dallas), Oakland University College (Rochester Hills, MI), Schoolcraft College (Lovonia, MI),  and Lone Star Community College (University Park & Tomball, TX)), from which she retired in 2011.

And while Judy was a committed mom and granny, faithfully praying for her son IMG_4688(Michael Battenfield, Highfill, AR), daughter (Tracy Harris, Sterling Heights, MI)43346151_10217450635724014_6701318273721434112_n, grandson (Anthony Fowlkes of Austin, TX), and granddaughters (Anna & Selah Battenfield of Highfill, AR), she was equally engaged in trying to make a difference in the lives of those around her, whether it be her church family (Thank you Stoney Creek Church, Utica, MI), or the great cloud of friends she had accumulated. In fact, most who knew her, knew that once you were her friend, you were thought of as family. Quick to both love and forgive, she often gave far more of herself than she had to give, She also generously supported several causes dear to her heart including campaigns against drunk driving, the arts, and education.

Judy was preceded in death by her parents, John and Elaine Hunziker, and her husband of 26 years, her “Bubby” – William Robert Harris, the love of her life who she so longed to see again.220462_1712803056482_5684683_o In addition to her son, step-daughter, and grandchildren, Judy is survived by her brother J. Emil Hunziker (San Antonio, TX).

But no more important truth about Judy, was her love for Jesus Christ as her very real and personal Savior. Indeed, it was this love for Christ that truly empowered her love for others.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, May 9, 2020 at 1:00PM at First Baptist Church, Cave Springs, AR, and a second memorial service and internment will be held in Michigan as soon as the Governor allows.

For those wishing to celebrate mom’s life, in lieu of flowers, may make a contribution to any of the following:

  • First Baptist Church, PO Box 175, Cave Springs, AR. 72718 or CLICK HERE
  • Stoney Creek Church, 45835 Van Dyke Ave. Utica, MI 48317 or CLICK HERE
  • BMA Seminary, PO Box 670, Jacksonville, TX 75766 or CLICK HERE
  • Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, PO Box 332161, Nashville, TN. 37203 or CLICK HERE

 

I Hate Obituaries

I hate obituaries, and I won’t apologize for saying so.  I do recognize the need for something to combine a death notice with a relatively short life overview that the people who knew the deceased might confirm and acknowledge the loss. Yet I have never read an obituary that has really done justice to the person who has passed away. Some are so brief and cold that there is no indication of who the person was. Others are flowing dedications that essentially try to compliment a person right through the pearly gates, often coming across as pompous. Writing an obituary really is an impossible task undertaken by those who are most emotionally impacted by the passing, and who are really in no position to have to think through and process all that might rightly be included in such a dedicatory piece.

As a pastor, I have often been tasked with reading the obituary in the context of a funeral or memorial service. Time after time, I find myself really no better informed of the person or the life they lived than before the reading. After all, how do you summarize the life of someone who maybe lived 50, 60, or even 73 years as my mom did? How do you honor your loved one without painting a false picture? Yet that was the task before me last week as I penned the above.  And as always, I am disgusted with what turned out. Even after dozens of edits and rewrites, I’ve been unable to come to a point that I am happy with it, but it is what it is.

But I still feel compelled to add a bit – to the person my mom really was.  She was a flawed person – just like me.  She made mistakes.  Just like we all do.  Yet through it all, my mom was one of the most consistent, reliable, and honest examples of unconditional love I have ever known.  Over the last week, I have received phone calls, private messages, and texts from her friends, former students, and others who’s life she impacted with her love.

It was my mom who, from very early in my life, instilled in me blinders regarding skin color and culture. She didn’t care what ethnicity you are. She didn’t care about your background – she had a unique ability to see you for the human being God created you as, and the amazing potential in everyone.  She was an ardent hater… of hate.  And she worked in every part of her life to try to help people to be the very best they could be – a trait that helped make her an exemplary teacher… and mom, granny, bonus mom, and faithful friend.

My mom was one of the greatest examples of a prayer warrior I have ever known – faithfully lifting up each and every request before the throne of God – beginning with me.  Indeed, I credit my mom’s faithful and relentless prayers for me even being alive today – and continue to give thanks for God’s answers to her prayers even as I try in earnest to glorify His holy name in all that I do.

Another unique trait my mom passed on was her heart for those who became her family.  You see, my mom never quit seeing my dad’s family as still “family” and her love for them never diminished, even after my mom and dad divorced and both remarried.  My cousins remained her nieces and nephews. My aunts and uncles were still her brothers and sisters in-law (and the “in-law” part never really meant anything to her). But extending even beyond literal family, was my mom’s undying love for what we refer to in our family as “extended family” – those who may not be blood relatives, but are every bit as much family because… they are equally loved.  Indeed, while I was an only child by birth, my closest friends growing up, including Matthew Haustein and Arthur Owens were 100% as sons in her world, and she was just as protective and concerned for them as she was me!  When I married Diana, my mom didn’t caller her “daughter-in-law”, she was simply her daughter.  The same for my step-sister Tracy Harris – who mom considered simply her daughter.  No ifs, ands, or buts. Anthony, my nephew through Tracy – was never a “step-grandson” – but simply her grandson, for whom she had a love that was as unconditional and absolute as it was for anyone.

I remember the day that I called mom back what seems like forever ago, to share with her the news that I had surrendered to the ministry. I was somewhat shocked when, through her own tears, stated that she was wondering how long it was going to take for me to figure that calling out.  And the joy in her heart was overwhelming –

I remember the call when we found out our first daughter was to be born significantly

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prematurely. And while she was her usual emotional overflow, she was still a voice ofcalm and faith. And from day 1, was deeply in love with her “Precious Angel Baby”.

And no less was her joy when her second granddaughter, Selah was born.  Granny’s IMG_3116little cowgirl was yet another jewel in her heart.

In August of 2011, Mom and Bob moved back to Michigan to write the next chapter in their lives – with a focus on investing in their grandson Anthony. 12074901_10207850028754840_2360553044091934581_n

Even though her devastating loss of her “Bubby” (Bob Harris), her husband of nearly 26 years to the hands of a drunk driver, she still remained the faithful prayer warrior who was passionate about her family.

The Unexpectedly Short Final Chapter

Last year, she began contemplating one more big move – to sell her condo in Shelby Township and move to Northwest Arkansas to write the final chapter of her life – to similarly invest in the lives of her granddaughters.  In February of this year, she sold her Michigan residence and made the big move.  She was able to find a new home, just 6 miles from our own home in the small town of Gentry. Just as she was beginning to settle in, something happened.  The world, and our nation was turned upside-down by a virus the illness it causes known as COVID-19.  This put a damper on life, but its greatest impact was not direct but indirect.  On Tuesday, April 7, mom called needing me to come take her to the ER.  She was experiencing symptoms of a possible stroke (paralyzed tongue, blurred/double-vision, weakness, balance issues), and her doctor’s office told her to get to the ER as quickly as she could.  I dropped her at the ER and helplessly watched them wheel her into the doors (closed to all but patients and staff due to the virus).  On Thursday morning, mom crashed and had to be resuscitated and moved to ICU.  The hospital called to let me know – and allowed me to come see her that afternoon.  While I was there, she was still responsive though weak.  She had about been weaned from the ventilator, and while I was there, they tested her breathing ability and decided to pull the vent.  Unfortunately, in less than a minute, she stopped breathing and again coded and was resuscitated.  From that point, she never really came back.  She was transferred to Springfield, MO for access to a much more comprehensive neurology department. Yet after multiple MRIs, they simply could not find any evidence of a stroke.  They initially began treating her for Myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disorder that her symptoms seemed to match. yet after intensive treatment, there was no improvement (and initial lab work returned negative). Finally, the CDC was contacted with the one thing nobody had considered – the possibility of botulism. The symptoms, including rapid onset seemed to match, and the CDC even sent the antitoxin to be administered, and samples were sent for testing.  Unfortunately, test results became irrelevant as her condition and prognosis made it all futile. Her written directives were clear, and we had to honor that. So at 10AM on Wednesday, April 22, we said our final goodbyes to mom and watched her slip incredibly peacefully into eternity without so much as a sound, sigh, or gasp… but simply a single tear…

 

…because we love the brethren

As the pastor of a relatively small church who is always looking at the condition of not only the congregation I lead, but to investigate the history of churches that have seen divisions, splits, and much more.  Since long before I was ever called to ministry, I have “suffered” from a constant yearning to know “why” and “how”. It is just part of my core being.

As a pastor, I try to grasp the whys and whats of a church’s history – why people join or leave a church, why young people (as much are wringing their hands today over) seem to be leaving churches in alarming numbers, and even why a church might split. Part of that ongoing series of quests is a look at the problem of swollen church membership rolls – that often include names that possibly no current member even knows the identity of! I believe one of the core problems (or diseases) responsible for a lot of these symptoms and issues is a spiritual issue – and in many cases, the problem is unregenerate church membership.

Bear with me for a bit – as this will take a few steps to explain.  You see, Jesus assembled His church – that first local church (as Christ’s Church is nearly always referred to) in Israel – a “church” that moved around following Him until He returned to His rightful place in Heaven. That church settled in Jerusalem where it gained the respect – dare say even admiration from their neighbors (Acts 2:47 records that they had favor with all the people). What inspired this period of favor (that also appears to have drawn people to Christ – and thus to be saved?) – the relationship these members of that first church had with each other – they were:

And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ACTS 2:44-47)

Quite simply, their love for one another was such that they made sure everyone in need had their needs met (through sacrificial giving), worshipped God gladly and sincerely, and were day-by-day (regularly, even daily meeting together including fo worship). This early church was demonstrating what Jesus identified as one of the biggest of hallmarks of being a genuine Christ-follower:

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

The word love here comes from the same Greek word (ἀγάπη – agapaō the same self-scarificing love Jesus demonstrated on behalf of His sheep on the cross!  And this is the exact same term translated as love in the source passage for my tltle today:

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:14)

This is the same love that Peter wrote of in 1 Peter 4:8 to the church under great persecution: Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

I have long chewed on the concept of “love covers a multitude of sins”.  A genuine, personal, self-sacrificing love for your brothers & sisters in Christ overcomes/covers more sins than we can comprehend – just as Jesus’ perfect demonstration of this same kind of self-sacrificing love covered 100% of the sins of every person who would ever trust Jesus alone for Salvation – His sheep. We are called, time and again, to have and to demonstrate self-sacrificing love, beginning with our “brethren”.  It is this same love that drives a God-called pastor to fulfill the charge Paul had for Timothy (2 Timothy 4:2) to be ready in and out of season to REPROVE, REBUKE, EXHORT. Indeed, anyone claiming to be a pastor who is unwilling to reprove (put to the proof – point out error based on proof), rebuke – to boldly address, call out, to put/shut down errors, and to exhort – to call to action/correction – literally to plead with urgency for change. A pastor who loves his (Christ’s) people is willing to stand on Scripture and to take the steps necessary to correct those in error (sin, as well as doctirnal/theological errors).

And out of love for Christ and love for their brethren (including such a pastor), born-again church members should desire and even be glad to receive such correction with a right attitude.

Likewise – even a pastor with the best of intentions can make an error, and should have such a love that he can take correction with gladness.

Within the local church – genuine, intentional discipleship begins when members have this same self-sacrificing love tha they are willing to invest of themselves and their time to walk side-by-side with fellow believers to teach, lead, and help mature those believers.

It is the same kind of unselfish love that will draw together a local church as nothing else will – and will actually attract those around them who need to experience that same kind of love.

And it is this same love that will lead the born-again to regularly assemble together to worship God, to grow spriritually, and to edify their brethren – and lead you to not forsake the assembling together (Hebrews 10:25).

Which brings us full circle to the title verse – and the sobering reality penned by John under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit in 1 John – that we boil down as beign able to identify thsoe who are not abiding in life (Christ) by their lack of love for the brethren.

Do you love your fellow Christians? Does that love cover a “multitude of sins” – aka when they mess up, as humans do? Do you desire to be WITH Christians – beginning with the regular meetings for corporate worship as the local church, but also that you would spend a significant portion of your life with fellow chrisitans sacrificially giving to them of your time and self (disicpleship)? Does the church you are a member of have a pastor who loves you enough to be willing to deal with the real and hard issues and to reprove, rebuke, exhort the body to follow Scirpture?

Or do you abide in death?

Identity Politics, Race, and the Church

What part of Jesus Christ’s ministry, teaching, or preaching played race-identity politics?
 
What, then was the message, both of Jesus’ own words and the rest of Scripture? It’s summed up in Christ’s response to those trying to corner him:
 
The greatest command is to love God with all – your heart, body, mind, spirit, EVERYTHING – first and foremost. The second – to love your neighbor as yourself (with the “love” translated here being the same used to describe God’s love in John 3:16, and the kind of love Jesus inquired Peter about. A self-sacrificing kind of love – a love that considers others (our “neighbors”) literally above ourselves… a servant/humble attitude so perfectly and in every way modeled by our Savior.
 
The love of Christ was poured out in the form of His precious blood for the sins of not one race, not one nationality, not one “people group” – but across all of the above. God has and is redeeming a people for Himself from every tribe, every tongue, and every nation – with no racial, economic, or social distinctions. We have ZERO right to judge others worthy of the Grace of God. And we, as professing Christians, have no right or place to become purveyors of race-identity politics. 
This week, the Southern Baptist Convention, convened in Phoenix, AZ (#SBC2017) approved a non-binding resolution denouncing racism and specifically the alt-white movement.  It is my prayer that the heart behind this was to put a biblically-mandated separation between that denomination and a truly hate-filled, race-identity thriving movement. I don’t have a problem with the spirit of such a resolution – the SBC (and many Baptist denominations) have a long history of very real race issues.  My problem with this particular resolution is that it is a one-sided and fails to even go back to both the Gospel and Christ’s commands. It simply buys in to the media and political Left’s race-identity politics. It continues the white vs. other narrative (the resolution uses the term anglo and non-anglo).  It fails to genuinely recognize and affirm the “#HumanRace, and accepts the overly-broad brush the terms used have become.
And I speak from the view of having been a leader in a church early in my ministry that, while claiming to “love its neighbors”, used terminology such as “those people” and “we don’t want them taking over” in reference to people of a different race. I speak of someone who grew up in a very diverse home town, where race has been a problem for centuries, and where many of us did, indeed, look beyond skin color – something now deemed offensive itself.
I write from the view of someone who is just plain sick-and-tired of race-identity politics and divisions.  Why is it so difficult to just take Christ’s words for what they are: Love your neighbor.  Period.  Our neighbor is anyone other than ourselves.
Racism is an evil that just doesn’t seem to want to go away.  Sadly, after a few decades of attempts to move away from race-identity, it now has come rushing back from all sides.  And it is no accident that politicians from every direction play the game in one form or another: it is all to “divide and conquer”.  The sooner we begin to recognize our neighbors, regardless of what they look like, what they wear, how much money they have (or don’t have), where they are from, and what religion (or lack of) they practice as our “neighbor”, and someone who desperately needs the Gospel – the sooner racism begins to fade.  And the way to that – is the Gospel itself.  It’s pretty hard to love like Christ, when we don’t really know Him.  When we are not made a “new creation” in Christ Jesus.  If we have not received the new heart He promised (Ezekiel 36:26). Until we are born again, not of flesh and blood, but of spirit – we just cannot see and love as Jesus does.
So – to my SBC brethren.  To my BMAA brethren. To my ABA brethren – and to all who genuinely know, believe, and follow Jesus Christ – repent of your sins (including any vestige of hate and racism), distance yourself from those who cling to those divisive race-identity politics, and seek Christ’s Love – and Love your neighbor…

Loving, Christian Parents

A news story crossed my feed this evening, a story that literally broke my heart.  Here is a link:

13-year-old girl who was supported by her Christian parents in living as a transgender boy commits suicide

The title pretty much says it all.  Two parents, who apparently profess to be “Christians” chose to not only allow, but encourage their 13 year-old daughter to live as a boy – to pursue the “transgender dream” of changing her God-given gender. Yet the thrill of becoming the opposite gender from birth, while seeming to be a popular idea today with promise of greater happiness as the “gender one feels”, the statistics prove otherwise.  The suicide rate for so-called “transgenders” is exponentially higher than any other demographic, with the rate among teenagers hitting a staggering 41%+ rate of attempts (meaning 41% admitted in surveys to have at least attempted suicide at least once).

Yet while the heartache over yet another senseless loss of life is predominant, I also am alarmed at the article’s title, and this girl’s parents profession to be “Christian”. And this led me to my soap box for the evening:

How, now, are we defining “Christian parents”? Maybe we should really grasp what being a “Christian” really means – and I’ll start with the base definition: Follower of Christ.

To profess Christ, yet blatantly walk counter to His Word is to live a lie. Yes, we ALL sin and come short of the glory of God. BUT – when one is genuinely a Christian (characterized by not only a verbal profession, but a life changed and a hunger to know our Lord and Savior, and to follow Him closer each and every day – to love Him – and to keep His commands.

As a parent, if your child begins to walk a path of rebellion against God – you don’t hate them. You love them. But loving your child should and cannot ever CONDONE or SUPPORT walking in open rebellion against God. Period. Indeed, to actually ENABLE such behavior is to be guilty of it yourself – and more ugly – is quite the opposite of loving your child.

If you kid were running full-speed towards the busy highway with no signs or desire to stop before running directly into the path of a tractor trailer and certain death, what do you do? Do you encourage him or her to run faster? Or maybe you tell them to enjoy the run? No – of course not, you cry out to them with a warning of the impending devastation. You drop everything and you go running after them to stop them by any means you have at your disposal to prevent them from certain destruction.

Yet why would a parent (professed Christian or not) not only stay quiet, but actually encourage a child to run at full speed into certain death and destruction – and in this case, eternal destruction?

And one last rant before I post this: this is a symptom of “the church” today – not every local church, but the far-too-common version so prevalent today – that preaches and teaches a false gospel, a gospel that does not demand change. A gospel that is so weak as to not even begin to bring about a “new creation” in Christ Jesus. And most certainly doesn’t take intentional, personal, and biblical discipleship seriously.

I pray that this will lead to a much more serious look at the harm being done by encouraging “gender rebellion” as I call it.  And if you attend a church that would be ok with this story and it’s foundation – of not only being accepting of this rebellion, but encouraging of it – then please, flee that “church” and seek one that teaches and preaches the FULL counsel of the Word of God, not one that picks and chooses what is worth following and what is not.  I pray for this family, that this horrible event will shake them to their core in such a way that they turn to the REAL Jesus in their own life – and that God would then use that to wake many up to the truth.

Lest you forget – there are eternal consequences at stake!