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…

 

IGNITE!

I am truly excited! Tonight is the launch of FBC Cave Spring’s IGNITE Ministry.  What is IGNITE?IGNITE_FBCCS_LOGO1.png

IGNITE is First Baptist Church’s approach to Wednesday/mid-week ministry.  Year-round, we have Wednesday evening classes available for all ages, but during the school year, we have a special emphasis on children and youth.  Each Wednesday evening begins with a fellowship meal @6PM, followed by prayer, then dividing into age-appropriate groups for activities and Bible study.  At the end, there is a closing time for all children and youth to bring the evening all in to focus.

But why am I excited about tonight in particular?  Actually, there are several reasons for my excitement – the first being it is my first time since coming to FBC to participate in the launch of a ministry (even if it isn’t a totally new ministry). The second reason I am really pumped up about tonight is that we have worked together as a leadership team to really focus in on what we are going to do, and where we would like to go with this ministry.  This focus was much needed and gives us the opportunity to reach, accomplish, and grow as never before.  And one more reason I am truly looking forward to this all beginning: my own passion for discipleship.  As part of the changes made for this year, we have arranged for a great deal more relationship-building and interaction opportunities where older, more mature Christians will have the chance to invest in our younger participants and their lives. From sitting in mixed groups at the dining table, to visits from more seasoned Christians to to the classrooms where the younger groups will be meeting – to opportunities to see the Christian life actually lived out on mission, we have an opportunity to make a truly eternal difference in the lives of those who come.

As to the WHAT will be studied – The “IGNITE ADULTS (which actually meets year-round) is currently engaged in an Old Testament Survey, where we are looking at the tapestry of the Old Testament as God’s revelation of Himself and His plan of redemption through Jesus Christ.  It has already been amazing just in our walk through Genesis, Exodus, and the start of Leviticus, to see the Cross of Christ foreshadowed and demonstrated in so many miraculous ways!

The younger groups (K-2nd, 3rd-6th, 7th-8th)will begin with Creation and proceeding through several Old Testament Prophets, and will be investigating the idea of God’s creative working and provision, while always bringing it back home to how what the Bible has to say really does apply to us – giving us direction and reason to celebrate, serve, and worship God.

Our Student group (9th+), led by Ms Cheryl, will be progressing through several studies also with the focus on how what we study really is applicable to our lives today – and how we can draw from God’s Word help and direction to face life in the world – and how to make good decisions based on what we study.

With solid teachers in place, and a firm vision of making disciples and ultimately making a real difference in the lives of those we minister to, things are truly worth getting excited about!

Tonight is IGNITE Open House

Have some dinner, meet those who will be leading, teaching, and helping, and enjoy the evening as we get fired up for IGNITE!

Supper is at 6PM.  See you there!

Churches, Pastors, and a Problem

I nearly forgot that I set up this blog! I’ve been using my other for some time (though not as regular as I should), and realized I really needed to post here. But it is with a sad heart that I pick this subject on which to post.

The name of this blog is “Contending For The Kingdom”, and that is exactly what I intend for every post to be geared towards. Issues of Kingdom work – observations and experience related to ministry, the Church, and the Gospel.

In this case – I was brought to remembrance of something that has weighed on my heart for some time.  Churches and their pastor(s).  Biblically, we see in the New Testament, elders/pastors basically appointed by the faithful to lead local congregations. Those men were entrusted with “feeding” Christ’s sheep. They were appointed to be leaders who literally ran the affairs of each local church. Church members (saints) were expected, so long as that elder/pastor remained qualified and faithful to the work, to submit to their authority, and to serve along side them willingly and with joy in the Kingdom work.

But there is a sad reality that has grown worse over the years of history, particularly among congregational-rule churches (as most of us Baptists are). The church issues the “call” to a man to pastor, hopefully after bathing the decision in much prayer and after doing do-diligence to find the man God has chosen for the important position. Even though the local church issues the call (usually after a congregational vote with a stipulated margin to consider it a successful call), that pastor is not, biblically, beholden to the congregation first, but to God.

Scripture clearly spells out the framework a pastor is responsible to fulfill. The most important being the ministry of the Word (this is why deacons were called – to take some of the load off the elder/pastor so they could spend more time in that study and preparation of the Word). And while visiting church members and seeing after the sick might not be a biblically-mandated job for a pastor, most of us actually are blessed to be able to carry out this form of ministry as time allows.

Sadly, some church have a great deal out-of-place. They have placed the pastor into a category of little more than an “employee”. Many such churches have lengthy lists of the required “duties of the pastor” that often bear little resemblance to the biblical model. Equally many churches like this have a “ruling body” in the church that leaves out the pastor. This body, often labeled “deacon board”, must approve even move, and hold the pastor under a microscope. Sadly, this is 100% outside the biblical role of the deacons.

Certainly any pastor/elder who has half a brain would LOVE to have a group of men who are godly, spiritually mature, servant-hearted workers to be able to discuss things, to work along side, and to consult with on issues within the church. After all, the biblical qualifications of a deacon are nearly identical to those of the pastor!

Sadly, many in churches have taken upon themselves, either because they have some kind of “seniority”, because of the size of their giving, or the above mentioned title of “deacon”, feel they have the right to exercise ruling authority over the church, with the pastor being the chief (expendable) part of that equation.

I have watched this unfold in several churches, though thankfully not in a church that I have pastored. I have friends who have been flat-out abused by their church, demoralized, and crushed under incredibly un-loving (and un-biblical) actions.

Let me pause for a moment and say this: There are times when a pastor must go. When a man begins to walk outside the clear requirements of a pastor found in scripture – say he is found to be an adulterer, their, or criminal in some other format – obviously he is disqualified and must be put out. Or, if the man occupying the pulpit is not “rightly” handling Scripture, and teaching/preaching spurious, heretical garbage, he should be put out. But even in these extreme cases, there is a process that the Word of God gives us to deal with them – to be addressed “man-to-man”, then take a couple of mature Christian witnesses, then bring it to the church.

Nowhere in the Bible does the Lord say to oust a man from the ministry because he hurt your feelings by preaching against your pet sin. Nor does the Lord indicate that ousting a man for not being able to make it to see you in the hospital. And one the is particularly saddening – when a pastor is bringing in lost people and ministering to them – but members of the church says they don’t want “those people” in the church…

I have been an eye witness to an older pastor, who had endured many health issues of his own, who had recently lost a son to the same health issue, and who was still reeling from it all, when his church, having the un-Scirptural “annual call”  saw a significant (though minority) number vote against him.  How many had actually gone to him to express any concerns they had or any problems that had arisen? To my knowledge, none.  He was blindsided and resigned days later.

Another, more recent case is a personal friend of mine who is one of the most kind, pastoral-hearted men I’ve ever known.  He is biblically-sound and a pretty good preacher who is faithful in His service to the Lord. Yet some of those “leaders”didn’t like that this pastor had disagreed with him (with a biblical response), and was further angered by not being allowed to run rough-shod over the church. This leader (yes, a deacon) pressed for the ousting of my friend. No actual charge was made.

Had my friend been biblically disqualified, had he been teaching or preaching something in error and refused to repent of it, or had he been ignoring his responsibilities as a pastor/elder to “feed the sheep”, I would have been in agreement with the church. Instead he was ousted based on one man’s agenda, who didn’t like the truth (even when spoken in love), and who was offended that those pastor would minister to folks of a different background.

And here we are a few months later, my friend is still hurting – literally wounded in his spirit and heart, and who is drifting in his own world trying to find some clarity. That church had no right to inflict this kind of harm. And I firmly believe that the individual who led this campaign, as well as those who were willing to be pawns in the game, will give answer before the Lord.

In a world of consumer-driven, disposable product, my way mentality, the last place this should be manifest is in the local church. We as a local church are called to be better than that – to be a lighthouse, to offer the world love in place of pain, hope in place of despair, and grace instead of vengeance. In fact, this is exactly what Peter was writing to believers about:

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

When you genuinely love your brethren, as Jesus said we would if we are His, then that love helps you to overlook or in love, to address issues with a person. And is there anyone in your church that needs more grace and understanding that your pastor, who wakes up each morning with the knowledge that he will give account before God almighty what he has done in the role of pastor as a caretaker of the Bride of Christ?

So – first of all, I would encourage you to love and pray for your pastor. Instead of praying for a new pastor, how about praying for the one you have? Second, if you do think there is an issue, won’t you take the biblical path and go to him. Express your concerns. You might just find that you are the one with the misunderstanding.

But even more important is to address spiritual issues within your church, beginning with yourself. Generally a church that will unjustly oust a pastor has other symptoms of spiritual disease. Often it is a membership that is more flesh-minded that Spirit-minded. Usually there is malcontent no matter who the pastor is. And sadly, there may even be the bigger problem of unregenerate membership – meaning that there are people on the church role who don’t REALLY know the Lord. They base their salvation on their attendance, giving, and position, not on their personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  Jesus told His disciples that they would be known by one, very specific, character trait: their love one for another. Do the members of your church really love the brethren? This includes your pastor!

And all this extensive blustering, yet I also am aware of churches led by men who should have been ousted long ago, yet they continue one, exercising a near dictatorial reign over their church. I even knew a pastor who had a reputation for calling people who disagreed with him to the parking lot (apparently to punch them out). Again I say – false teachers and those walking in unrepentant sin must be dealt with, and quickly. But we have to quit hurting good, qualified men of God, because ultimately you are hurting the Church. I wouldn’t want to stand before God and try to explain why I harmed the church!