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Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

I am holding onto my theme for the New Year. Gratitude sums up how I feel about my life. I have so much to be grateful for. All I need do is look around me and I know that I am blessed. I have a loving wife, children and grandchildren that I am proud of, a sister and brother-in-laws that bring joy, and nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews that are wonderful. I have friends that keep me centered and that spur my spiritual and mental growth. They are wonderful story tellers. I am surrounded by creative people. My neighbors are thoughtful and kind people.

The church I attend has sustained me through the deep valleys in my life. The writing group I attend encourages me to try new things. Although no one enjoys going to see the doctor, we like and trust ours. Brandy and Jan, care givers for Carol and helpers to me, are simply wonderful.

My friend, Dr. Monty Knight, recently said when speaking of the motion he has lost in his right arm, “I am not unhappy that I can no longer do these things. I am happy that I got to do them.”

As another year approaches I want to develop an attitude of gratitude and practice it more lavishly. For one who was not supposed to survive, I am here looking forward to what lies ahead. Yes, there are still things on my bucket list, but I am grateful for the buckets I have already filled and for all of those wonderful people that helped me fill them.

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Friends and Family Give Life to Living

“I don’t complain about what I can no longer do. I am thankful that I got to do them at all. I have enjoyed so many blessings.” This was my conversation with my friend Dr. Monty Knight on our way to lunch with our lunch buddies. He has blessed my life in so many ways. This is what friends do. They are there when you need a friend to remind you of what you believe.

Several years ago, my son Michael, downloaded a group of my favorite hymns. He gave me the collection, “The Gospel According to Dad.” What a gift. I can play it while I am at my computer and be reminded of what has been given to me. Faith passed down through the generations grows stronger as the years mount up. It is amazing that my son knows me so well. He chose the selections.

When the telephone rings just after 9 a.m. every morning, I know without looking that it is my daughter, Suzanne, just checking in to see how my morning is going or to reassure herself that I made it through the night. By the same token my friend, Gene, will call about 9:15 in the evening. My sister checks in on a regular basis.

When my friends Bob and Rose Boston were on their way to Mt. Pisgah to celebrate their wedding anniversary, he called to let me know that they were passing the signs to Woodruff, my home town. He said that they have a big sign posted, “Home of Mitch.” Preachers can tell some mighty whoppers.

I can count on my friend, Joyce, to call to tell me about an unusual word or a great quote she has found. She and I share a great love of quotations. I look forward to her uplifting conversation. Every Christmas my friend Sally will send me the big print edition of, Daily Guideposts Devotionals. What a treasure.

If I miss being in church, I know that Clyde will call to tell me how much I was missed. His calls almost make it worth missing an occasional Sunday.

From time to time just when I need it Carol, my wife, will tap me on the shoulder and say, “You’ll be alright, Mitch or she’ll sing, “You are My Sunshine.”

I pray that you have some of these folks in your life. These are the angels that we are promised. They bring joy and thanksgiving to the heart.

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Hamrick Lectureship Check Presentation to the Ministerial Scholarship Fund

FBC Lectern for FurmanJanuary 17, 2016, would have been Dr. John A. Hamrick’s 100th birthday. We chose this date to honor him by turning the remainder of the funds in the Lectureship Fund to the Ministerial Scholarship Fund. I presented the check to Dr. Malcolm Clark chair of that fund. These are my remarks.

“Some of you did not know or experience Dr. John Hamrick. He was the most influential South Carolina Baptist of the last one hundred years. He was an outstanding preacher, a serious theologian, a Biblical scholar. He was a visionary with a keen ability to get things done. He loved Baptist history and was a leader in Christian education. Most of all, he was a man of great faith. He often said, “If God gives you a job to do, he will find a way for you to do it.”

The Hamrick Lectureship was a fitting tribute to him because of his love of our history and his devotion to Christian education; therefore it gives me great pleasure to honor his devotion to Christian education by presenting this check which represents the remainder of the lectureship funds to the Ministerial Scholarship Fund in the amount of 3,699.11.”

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The Urgency of Mercy – Rev. Dr. Molly T. Marshall* – Baptists News Global

Learning to deal with other as God deals with us.

Pope Francis is in the news once again; actually, is he ever not in the news? He has declared the coming year to be a Jubilee Year, a year where mercy triumphs over judgment. Walking through the Vatican Holy Door with his predecessor, symbolizing the pilgrimage undertaken by the church, he proclaimed the desire to “rediscover the infinite mercy of God who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.” In a time of fear, he proclaims mercy.

Rather than waiting the customary 25 years for a year of Jubilee, he called for this new one just 15 years after the previous one. What a wondrous thing to think of the urgency of mercy! Like the father of the prodigal who cannot wait for him to get all the way to the house or even finish his confession, this spiritual leader is eager to acquaint all with God’s forgiving embrace.

“How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy,” he said. “We have to put mercy before judgment.” Far too often we have reversed this ordo salutis (order of salvation), not only for others whom we deem only fit for condemnation, but for ourselves.

This past week I had a meaningful conversation with one I consider a spiritual friend. He recently had the opportunity to visit with Jürgen Moltmann over dinner at a meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. He sought to convey to this towering theologian the impact of his writings on his own persistence in faith. My friend quoted a favorite citation of Moltmann’s about Christ bearing our sins and the significance this held for him. To this Moltmann added, “Not only does God bear them and claim them as God’s own, but overcomes them.”

“I felt really saved,” my friend reflected. The extravagance of God’s grace washed over him, and he felt a deep sense of gratitude well up in him.

It requires humility to believe that we “good folk” need saving and, even more, to accept God’s lavish mercy. We often judge ourselves harshly, and we continue to think of God keeping a tally of our sins. Martin Luther saw through this form of legalistic self-righteousness and wrote, “God’s wrath has been submerged in mercy.” Luther also described mercy as the “first work of God.”

Do Baptists need a Jubilee year, also? I think so, for many of us cling to old wounds and refuse to receive or extend mercy. Persons of my generation bear some scars from our participation in a controversy that rent a part of the Baptist family. Many friendships did not endure, and the tendency to anathematize opponents has perdured far too long. What might it mean for the impulse of mercy to suffuse how we regard former colleagues?

Forgiving those who have spoken ill of us, and forgiving ourselves for the heated or cynical remarks we have made over the years, would be liberating. I remember a Benedictine monk advising, “You must forgive these people, Molly, or you will bind them to you and you will never be free.”

Mercy and forgiveness are closely linked, as Advent teaches us. Even the thundering voice in the wilderness preached a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” and opportunity for all to change direction so that they might recognize and welcome the coming one.

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,” the canticle of Zachary intones (Luke 1:78). By shining forth in mercy, God awakens us to the ways we still sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Refusing to forgive the trespasses of others erodes the soul, and we live at too great a distance from God’s merciful desire. The hardest temptation we struggle against, according to the desert monastic Dorotheos, is judging our neighbor.

I recently learned of a moral failure of a person I have deeply admired over the years. After astonishment and a brief inward smirk, I was chastened in spirit to recognize kinship with the sinner and eschew any pleasure at her personal betrayal. None of us is in a position to judge others from a position of superiority, and mercy flows best from humility. And we must go beyond refusing to judge another, Roberta Bondi writes, “one must also protect the sinner from the consequences of the sin.” That is truly merciful.

Mercy is not an optional expression of being a Christian; it is learning to deal with others as God deals with us. Mercy does require us to hold possessions more lightly, grudges more briefly and self-protection more rarely.

In a time of fear, let us embrace mercy. In a season of Advent, let us welcome God’s tender mercy breaking upon us. It is urgent, indeed.

*Molly Marshall is president of Central Baptists Theological Seminary. She was a favorite speaker at the John Hamrick Lectureship at First Baptist Church of Charleston.

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