What We Leave Behind… The Power of Sacrifice

Last week as I made my way across campus, I encountered an older woman, tightly clutching her purse, who seemed a bit confused and distressed.  I identified myself as a Belmont employee and I asked if I could help her in some way.  She began to tell me her story.  She was on campus to “pay for her grandson’s tuition.”  She explained that he was an incoming freshman who would be enrolling for fall classes.  She then said, “I sold my house to pay for his college education.”  She was worried that she might have to wait until the semester began to pay his bill.  “Do you think that I can pay for it today?”  And I assured her that she could and that I would be glad to walk her over to the campus location that handled such matters.  She looked down at her purse and said, “I will be so glad to get all of this money out of my purse.  I have been afraid to put it down anywhere all day.”  I then began to realize that she had the actual cash proceeds from the sale of her house in her purse!  She was walking around campus with thousands and thousands of dollars in cash.

I was certainly shocked by the realization of the situation, but perhaps even more taken with the narrative that was being written in the life of that family.  She knew the importance of education.  She coupled that with the love she had for her grandson. Did she have somewhere else to live? Did she keep enough of her equity to survive for the remainder of her life?  Did she even stop to consider the enormous sacrifice she was making?  My guess is that she probably thought through all of those scenarios, but counted them of little concern when contrasted with the surpassing great joy of sending a beloved grandson to college.

The Power of Sacrifice is an amazing tool.  With a willingness to sacrifice, impossible dreams are brought to reality, insurmountable mountains are scaled with relative ease, freedoms are offered to the oppressed, and distant visions become as sight.  The story of such sacrifice is told thousands of times a day in the lives of ordinary people.  How many single parents sacrifice time, energy, enjoyment, and even their own dreams in order to create a path for their children to succeed? How many teachers drain their personal accounts to buy school supplies for their woefully ill-equipped classrooms so their “kids” will have the opportunity at learning?  How many fathers will work two or three jobs to put food on the family table?  How many mothers will clean another woman’s house or take in laundry in order to make ends meet?  How many soldiers will go off to war so that the nation lives in relative peace?  How many missionaries will sacrifice health and family ties so that others might hear the Gospel?  How many couples do without so their children can have the opportunity to play a team sport at school or march in the local high school band? How many grandmothers will gladly sell a house to send a grandson to college?

It is my belief that most noble endeavors… most deeds of lasting significance… most decisions that change the trajectory of someone’s future are all forged on the anvil of sacrifice.  It is not the coerced sacrifice that is meaningful, but the ones gladly made that are the most poignant.  The opposite of sacrifice is surely selfishness.  For until we are willing to forsake ourselves, our comforts, our securities, or even our carefully saved finances, will we be in a position to make a transformative difference in the life of someone else.  The question is difficult.  What are you willing to sacrifice so that someone’s life is made better?  What are you willing to leave behind, cast aside, or release from your grasp that will make a difference?  It may be your lifestyle, your materialistically-manipulated value system, your pride, your opinion, or even your power and influence.  Maybe it’s as simple as giving away your own life.

At the end of the day don’t we all share a desire for our lives to matter?  Don’t we want our lives to count?  I don’t know about you, but when it is all said and done, I want to leave with an empty tank… I want to empty every ounce of my energy and every breath in my lungs.  I want to know the exquisite joy that can only be experienced by the sacrifice of self in order to make life better for someone else.  Maybe the better question is not, “What will I sacrifice in the future to make a difference?”  But instead, “What can I sacrifice today to create a transformative investment in someone else’s life?”

Someone once said that humility is not thinking less of yourself… it is thinking about yourself less. There are a lot of problems in our culture and world that need a solution.  Some of those solutions begin with your willingness to live a life of sacrifice.

– Dr. Jon Roebuck, Executive Director

Will the Real Evangelicals Please Stand Up?

What it means to be an “evangelical” has certainly morphed over the past few years. When I was young, to be an evangelical was a good thing with a good identity throughout the world.  There was no baggage, no partisan politic, no bullying, and no anger.  To be an evangelical was to embraced the Christ of the New Testament in both word & deed and attempt to make Him known.  Evangelicals were not mean-spirited, nor were they hate-mongers, nor were they judgmental.  They shared a love of Jesus and had a passion to tell His story to the world.  In fact, go to Merriam-Webster and look at how the word is defined.  “Evangelical: of, relating to, or being in agreement with the Christian gospel especially as it is presented in the four Gospels.”

What, in fact, is the good news of the four Gospels? What is the image of Christ portrayed in the pages?  What is His ethic, His passion, His priority?  Once, the disciples of John came to Jesus and asked Him if, He was in fact, the Promised Messiah.  This was His response: “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Luke 7:22). Look closely and you will see Jesus doing things like lifting up the oppressed, welcoming the marginalized, giving access to the outsiders, loving His enemies, forgiving sinners, and inviting the lonely, the poor, the desperate, and the lowly to follow Him. He was inclusive, loving, giving, sharing, and welcoming.  That’s the Jesus I grew up longing to serve.  That was the Jesus of the evangelical community.  That was the Jesus whose story we wanted to share with a loving truth and not a judgmental, elitist attitude. There was something about the story we told that was contagious, life-giving, and destiny altering. The story filled churches, inspired leaders, and changed lives… because it really was good news.

So what happened?  Did the Gospel message suddenly change?  Did the story get re-written?  Did the priorities of Jesus shift?  Maybe the Gospel didn’t change… maybe we did.  Maybe our story of Jesus’ love got co-opted.  Maybe we lost sight of what it means to love Jesus so much that we compassionately love the world He died to redeem.  Doesn’t it make sense that if evangelicals are “in agreement with the Christian Gospel” that we should at least, in some way, reflect it?  If we are His ambassadors then shouldn’t we represent that which is important to Him and not chase after our own narrow-minded social agendas?  In the eyes of the world, evangelicals are now defined in a very different way than they once were.  Now evangelicals have to vote a certain party line.  They have to crusade for the unborn but end programs that support those same children when they come into the world.  They have to hate Muslims and love guns.  They worry about transgendered persons using the wrong bathroom but keep silent about child molesters who serve in public office.  They declare that Jesus matters, but black lives don’t.  They want the right justices, but care little for real justice.  They pray in church but post the most un-Christian rhetoric on-line as though the two can somehow be reconciled.

Let’s be honest when we talk about being an evangelical. If your passion and your priorities are not fully surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus, then please don’t use the name.  You’re just confusing a world that is already skeptical of the “Christian” message. Jesus said that His true followers would be known by their love for one another, not by how abusive they would be towards anyone that doesn’t accept every misguided and twisted point of their theology.  It’s time for “real evangelicals” to offer a better witness to the world.

-Dr. Jon Roebuck, Executive Director

Podcast: Leadership Interview with Dr. David Gregory

This podcast, sponsored by Belmont University’s Institute for Innovative Faith-Based Leadership, features a leadership interview with Dr. David Gregory, Dean of Belmont’s School of Pharmacy.  In this episode, David discusses leadership from a faith perspective and what it takes to create a culture of ethics, authenticity, and professionalism.

The Long Arc of Racism

Let’s be honest, racism is alive and well in our nation.  And I’m not sure that recent events, political decisions, hate speeches, and angry tirades have made it any more so, they have just helped us all see the problem with fresh eyes.  I have to admit that it is not always easy seeing the world through the perspective of someone else’s experience.  What may have seemed like an issue with progressive thought and some semblance of resolve to some, is still a very real and raw and dangerous issue for others.  Those in the majority, with privilege, wealth and access, may have quickly dismissed or even forgotten the plight of the marginalized, the oppressed, or the under-represented.  Ignorance of another’s plight is no excuse.  Neither is turning a blind eye and deaf ear an option.

I grew up in the deep south… in the 60’s… in times that were racially divisive.  And yet, much of the tension and inequality of that day were shielded from me by virtue of a privileged status that back then I’m not sure I fully appreciated nor understood.  My parents were people of authentic faith who taught me to love everyone and to treat others as equals.  The Jesus ethic of loving your neighbor was reinforced by both action and teaching.  I never heard my parents use the “N” word, nor even express a prejudicial attitude and they certainly would not have tolerated it, if such things were found in the heart and mind of my brother and me.  I truly believe that people are taught and conditioned to hate, and by the grace of God I grew up in a household where such teaching was never offered.  That doesn’t make me better nor morally superior to those who grew up differently… it just makes me grateful and maybe even more determined to be intentional about the world we pass on to the next generation.

It was as I grew older that I learned more about hatred and ugly, racial division.  My hometown of Rome, Georgia went through the racial tensions that many southern towns experienced in the mid to late 60’s.  There were some riots, some threats, some broken windows, and some arrests.  It was all a little crazy to me at the time.  I went to a public elementary school that was integrated.  African-American boys and girls in my grade were among my friends.  I still remember Reginald, Alvin, and Sarah nearly half a century later.  It seemed odd that friends with whom I learned to read and write, friends who shared the playground, friends who listened to the same teachers, and ate at the same table with me, were people that according to the racial ethic of the day were people I should avoid.

I went to a private high-school that was mostly white.  Unlike some private schools of that era that were established to avoid “the coloreds,” my school, created in 1903, was focused on academics and Christian values and was open to any who could afford to attend.  And though the cost of admission afforded me a great college-preparatory education, it certainly excluded others.  It robbed me in some ways of the rich experience that diversity offers.  Please don’t misunderstand… I am very grateful for all the sacrifices through both high school and college that provided me with a good education.  All I am saying is that in some ways I was shielded from the pain of racial inequality that plagued many of my generation.  It has taken years, (and the process in my life is not complete), to understand the complexities of racial inequality, injustice, issues of access, and discrimination.  But I have learned the value of intentionality.  Issues that plague our culture are not changed without intentional effort.  Issues that plague our cities are not resolved without dialogue and understanding.  Issues that plague our hearts are not settled until we make conscious choices to both acknowledge the issues and take positive and practical steps to engage them.

I work at a University that takes on diversity as a priority.  Boundaries of race, ethnicity, and gender are being constantly assaulted with each hiring decision and admission acceptance.  It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but at least we, here at Belmont, are moving in the right direction.  No, we can’t change the heart and mind of everyone around us, but at least we are striving to raise the important issues and conduct our actions accordingly.

But let me remind you that our society is only as good as we make it become.  We cannot afford the luxury of time, thinking that in some miraculous way, racism will automatically be erased as the years role by.  No.  Big issues take courageous people to solve them.  It is by our fidelity to the vision of a better, brighter world, that change will come.  Be intentional about the issue of race.  If you are not a striving to be a part of the solution, you may well be part of the lingering problem.

-Dr. Jon R. Roebuck, Executive Director

The Elusive Christmas Spirit

Most of us struggle to find it, to feel it, to know, to experience it… that special feeling of Christmas when there is a sense of joy in the air, peace in the heart, and benevolence in the wallet.  The Christmas Spirit is elusive in the midst of the hectic pace of modern life.  It’s sometimes hard to capture, even harder to hold for more than just a moment in time.  It seems to me that it was easier to lay hold of as a child.  There were school plays and gift exchanges and constant reminders of the season with each carefully-crayoned winter landscape or every hand-made construction paper ornament.  The excitement built through the month of December until the glorious release of Christmas break when the schedule altered and the focused turned to the presents collecting under the tree.  Ask any kid how many days till Christmas and they will answer with exacting measurement.

But it’s different for adults.  It’s hard to escape the stress of the season long enough to capture a moment or two of its glory.  Maybe it’s because the “success” of the season rests more on our shoulders than it once did as children.  We have to consider things like budgets, travel, meals to prepare, houses to clean, and presents to wrap.  It’s easy to let the Spirit seep away without ever holding it for very long.  When I was a pastor, the Christmas season was intense.  There were sermons to write, services to plan, hospitals to visit, and articles to author.  In fact, I often found myself settling into my recliner late on Christmas Eve, after the final Service of the season was put to rest, before I actually relaxed and let the Spirit wash over me.  Sometimes the Christmas Spirit would find its way into my life in the midst of the craziness of the season.  Somewhere in the writing of words, or structuring of a service, or the listening to the music of season I would find it.  But not always.

It is interesting to me how most of us strive to capture the season in our hearts.  We listen non-stop to Christmas music.  We decorate the house to excess.  We shop until both our bodies and purses are exhausted.  We bake.  We wrap.  We eat.  But still, so often we find ourselves a day or so after Christmas morning wondering how another year passed us by without our ever really getting into the spirit of things.  Charlie Brown once mused to Linus about the “commercialization” of Christmas… and that was decades ago when the 30-minute cartoon presentation first came on the air.  Even now when I watch those old reruns, I get a little nostalgic for the simpler days and the slower pace.

My wife and I do a few things to put ourselves in the Christmas mood.  She bakes a lot of really good pumpkin bread and it brings her joy to give it away to family and friends.  This year she made Christmas cookies with our oldest granddaughter, Hannah Rae.  It brought both of them a lot of gladness.  One of the things I enjoy doing is taping all of the Christmas cards we receive to the wall outside our kitchen.  It’s nice to be reminded of family and friends.  I also like to set out the Christmas china on the dining room table.  Can’t explain why that brings me some joy… maybe a reminder of the way my mom always set the grandest table at Christmas.

I’m not sure there is any one “set-in-stone” answer for capturing the Christmas Spirit.  But the most fool-proof answer that I can offer is bound up in the idea of giving yourself away.  Perhaps we are most like our Father each Christmas when we value the satisfaction and pleasure it brings us to give something important to someone in need.  It may be that you give your spouse a special, well-thought out gift that is much appreciated but unexpected.  Maybe it’s the check you write to a non-profit that is making a difference in your community.  Maybe it’s in the time you offer as a volunteer this season to brighten someone’s day.  All I know is this… until you offer the gift of your heart, your life, your energy, and your resources to bring hope, encouragement, or peace to a troubled life or situation, you will never fully capture the Spirit of the season.  So, think outside of yourself… think outside of the box… think outside of your comfort zone, and see if the joy of the season doesn’t sneak up on you in some special and mysterious way.

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director