Observations on Life, Faith, Media & Technology

The Best Gift

If you travel in the mountains of North Georgia between Gainesville and Cleveland, you might pass by a church with the unusual name of Dewberry Baptist Church #2.  If you drive on a little while longer, you will come upon another church called Dewberry Baptist Church.  When I first encountered these two churches years ago, I asked a friend of mine who was the unofficial Baptist historian for North Georgia about it.  His face lit up.  “Oh, that’s a great story.  That church split over a chicken leg.” 

Dewberry Baptist Church #2
Dewberry Baptist Church # 2

As you can imagine, I was hooked by that intro and had to hear the rest of the story.  It seems that in the mid-1800s a controversy arose among the congregation of Dewberry Baptist Church over predestination (imagine that, Baptists fighting about the sovreignty of God). 

About half of the congregation had strong deterministic feelings and the other half had very strong feelings about human freedom.  At the height of the controversy, the two main proponents of the two points of view were sitting next to each other at a covered dish dinner.  At some point in the meal the non-predestination ringleader turned to the predestination ringleader and said, “You mean to tell me that before the beginning of time it was predetermined that I was to eat this drumstick?” 

“Yes, brother, you were” replied the other.

The non-predestination leader then said, “HA!”, threw the chicken leg across the room and walked out.  About half of the church walked out with him.  They started a new church, but did not want to give up the church name to “those people,” so they named their new church Dewberry Baptist Church #2.

Today, many years later, the controversy is long forgotten and all that remains is the funky name.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is for us to allow ourselves to get sidetracked by things that aren’t even a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of eternal consequences?  We all can tell stories we’ve either heard or experienced of churches splitting apart over the color of carpet, the chandeliers, the pastor’s salary, building programs, the style of music, or non-essential areas of theology.

This is exactly what motivated the Apostle Paul to write one of the most, if not the most beautiful passages in the entire Bible: I Corinthians 13.  We know these four paragraphs of Paul’s letter as “the love chapter,” but many people don’t realize the context in which it is placed.  The gist of I Corinthians 13 is that if we as followers of Jesus Christ do not have love as our overarching goal, aim, creed and passion, then we are worthless to the world and to the Kingdom.

The Corinthian Church had many problems, and one of them was that people were using the gifts of the Spirit, and tongues in particular as some sort of spiritual merit badge.  Those who exercised the gift of tongues felt they were more spiritual than others, which apparently caused other people to seek earnestly after that gift so they, too would be considered spiritual.  In chapter 12, Paul states clearly that God gives a variety of spiritual gifts to people so the church can function well.  Just as the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you” we cannot say that one gift is more important, or spiritual than another.

At the end of chapter 12, Paul says, “I will show you a more excellent way.”  His next paragraph (what we know as Chapter 13) begins with, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal…”

Here is what Paul is saying to you and me in those four brief paragraphs: All of our efforts to advance the Kingdom or to help others are meaningless unless love rules our lives and our actions. Even if we give up our lives for the sake of the gospel, if love does not rule our lives and our actions that sacrifice is meaningless.

Just think about it.  Imagine what we could accomplish if love was our consuming passion instead of issues, ideas and preferences that are of little or no eternal consequence.  Where would we be if we truly, honestly, deeply loved our brothers and sisters in Christ?  What kind of impact would we have on our world if we loved the lost as much as Jesus does?

Here’s where you start:  Desire the best gift.  Let God’s love consume you and guide everything you do.  See the world – and the church – through the eyes of Jesus and with the heart of God the Father.  Love as you are loved. 

That is the most excellent way.

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