“Baptist Postures toward Francis of Assisi”

On Tuesday, May 21, 2024, I presented my paper, “Baptist Postures toward Francis of Assisi” at the annual meeting of the Baptist History and Heritage Society in Raleigh, NC. I am not posting the article here as I need to clean it up a bit and as I am submitting it for possible publication to a journal. However, I did want to post the audio here.

The paper would have taken me 45 minutes to read aloud as it stands and I had 25 minutes to present. So please forgive the rushed nature of this.

Philippians 3:12–16

Philippians 3

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

I had a dear friend who passed away some years ago. I miss my friend. He loved the Lord, was bold in his witness for Christ, faithfully served the church, and was a great encouragement to me. He spoke the truth in love to me and I came to value him greatly as a brother in Christ.

I will never forget what he told me one day. He told me that before he came to know Jesus, he lived a very rough life. He did the kinds of things that many folks do before they come to know Jesus. And then, in part through the ministry of his pastor, he was radically saved. He came to know Jesus and turned from what he used to be. And for years and years he sat under the ministry of this pastor.

He told me that he loved his pastor but that his pastor had a bad habit that used to really hurt him. His pastor had the habit of saying to my friend, “You know, I remember what you used to be like. I remember how you used to be. I remember how rough you used to be.”

My friend told me that he would say this to him consistently over the years: “I remember what your used to be like. I remember how rough you used to be.”

And my friend said that he came to dread the comment. It hurt him. It embarrassed him. And it also showed him that no matter how much he served and tried and grew, his past was still brought up to him.

He said that one day his pastor said to him, “You know, I remember what you used to be like. I remember how rough your life used to be.” And my friend said that on this occasion he heard the voice of Jesus telling him: “I don’t. I don’t remember what you used to be like. I don’t remember how rough your life used to be. You are forgiven. You are free.”

I want to talk about letting go and pressing forward toward Jesus.

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Matthew 26:47–56

Matthew 26

 47 While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. 51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. 56 But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.

One of the vintage protest songs of the 1960s was Bob Dylan’s 1963 “With God on Our Side.” It is a song about how America and ostensibly all nations tend to think that God is on their side whenever they go to war. It is, again, a classic example of the protest music of that era.

Oh my name it is nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that the land that I live in
Has God on its side

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side

Oh the Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
l’s made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side

Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side

When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side

I’ve learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war starts
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we’re forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side

Then, Dylan’s song takes an interesting turn:

Through many dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side[1]

In my opinion, this is brilliant. It is one thing for different nations or peoples or individuals to claim divine sanction in the sometimes-murky waters of international or interpersonal conflict. But surely not every conflict that has two sides can claim God, right? So Dylan appeals to one conflict in which the listener must clearly conclude that, in point of fact, it is possible for somebody to act, believing they are doing what is right, and yet be very far away from God. And the example Dylan points to is the example of Judas. The point is clear enough: If Judas did not have God on his side, then it might just be that we do not have God on our side when we think we do!

It is the premise of Dylan’s argument that I want to applaud. It is a premise that Dylan seems to believe is utterly unquestionable and self-evident. And he is right: Judas did not have God on his side! Dylan believes that anybody listening to his song, even in the turbulent days of the 1960s, will agree with him. Whatever Judas thought about the rightness of his cause, he was devastatingly wrong. God was not with him and, in fact, he was acting directly against God in his betrayal of Jesus!

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Philippians 3:4–11

Philippians 3

4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

I am intrigued by the late-12th/early-13th century Christian Francis of Assisi.

A lot of the world is intrigued by him as well. Francis was a wonderfully strange and fascinating man who tried to imitate the life of Jesus as literally as he could as he understood it.

He was born around 1181 and died on October 3, 1226. That he died in 1226 makes one particular painting of Francis very interesting indeed.

This particular portrait is situated “[i]n the Chapel of San Gregorio in the lower church at Subiaco” and is very likely dated before 1224 AD.[i] Others date the image to 1228–29. What that means is we very possibly have in this painting a fairly accurate depiction of what Francis actually looked like, as it was painted either before or very shortly after his death.

Francis grew up popular and loved and in affluent circumstances. He was not necessarily rich, as we would think of it, but probably something like upper middle class. His father, Pietro Bernardone dei Moriconi, was a hardworking and successful cloth merchant and businessman.

Francis was loved by his French mother, Pica di Bourlemont, and, apparently, by all who knew him. He was fun. He was the life of the party. And he was happy.

Then, Francis, along with the other men of the region, went to war in one of the local skirmishes of that area and time. He was imprisoned for a season and seemed to have returned a changed man.

He was troubled. He began to seek for God. And he grew discontent with who he was inside.

Francis said that he heard the voice of God telling him to rebuild His church. He took that to mean a literal rebuilding. So he took some of his father’s cloth, sold it, took the money, and tried to give it to the priest of a dilapidated little church.

His father was furious. Francis never asked his permission to take and sell the expensive cloth. His father essentially sued him and drug him before the bishop of Assisi, Bishop Guido. There, Francis acted out one of the most famous acts of renunciation in all of Christian history. There, before his father and the bishop and an onlooking crowd, Francis said that his father was no longer his father and that only God was his father. He removed his clothes before the shocked crowd and went out into the world to become the man we know him to be today.

As I say, it was a stunning act of renunciation. Why did he remove his clothes? It was not just to be dramatic. Rather, cloth, clothing, silks, and garments had defined not only Francis’ comfort but his old life. The family lived well off the sale of such clothes. So in removing them, Francis was saying that his old life was over. It was gone. Now he was going to live a new life, the life of Christ.

But he was saying something even deeper than that, really. He was also saying that he had changed in terms of what he valued, in terms of what mattered to him. What mattered to him now was Jesus and Jesus alone and he would spend his life to walk with Jesus.

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Philippians 3:1–3

Philippians 3:1–3

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh

Some years ago, some of us went on a mission trip to Mozambique, Africa. Near the end of the trip we were able to go on a wild game safari at Kruger National Park in South Africa. One of the really fun things about the wild game safari was trying to spot the big five apex predators of Africa: the lion, the leopard, the rhino, the elephant, and the buffalo. It was really an amazing experience.

At one point during the safari, our truck stopped on the road along with some other trucks. Walking along the side of the road were some small to average-sized looking wild dogs. I commented on them to our driver, who was extremely knowledgeable. What he said surprised me. Looking at the little pack of “painted” dogs, as they are sometimes called, he said: “Most dangerous thing out here.” I said, “What?” He said, “Most dangerous thing out here.”

Now, let me repeat the list of the apex predators of Africa: lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo. Not to mention how deadly hippos are! But here the driver was calling these dogs the “most dangerous” thing in the whole park?

“How can that be?” I asked.

He explained. He said that the wild dogs were the most dangerous thing out there not because they were big but because they were unrelenting. They never stopped. They hunted in packs and were fast but, above anything else, they could keep going. Many of the fast animals in the park could hit great bursts of speed, but for only so long. These average-looking dogs could keep running and running and running until they flat wore their prey out. And when their prey fell down in exhaustion, it was over. They also have very sharp teeth!

In short, you do not want to be hunted by a pack of African wild dogs.

Beware the dogs!

Oddly enough, Paul will say the same thing in our text: “Look out for the dogs!” And his reasons for warning the Philippians about these dogs were the same as the warnings of our driver: the dogs are unrelenting, they will not stop, and they are deceptively deadly in their bites.

Who on earth is Paul talking about? Let us consider the marks of empty religion. Let us consider the marks of true faith.

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Philippians 2:19–30

Philippians 2

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. 25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

In their book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, R. Kent and Barbara Hughes quote the following words from Hugh Evan Hopkins, the biographer of Charles Simeon, the famous British minister.

When in 1808 Simeon’s health broke down and he had to spend some eight months recuperating on the Isle of Wight, it fell to Thomason to step into the gap and preach as many as five times on a Sunday in Trinity Church and Stapleford. He surprised himself and everyone else by developing a preaching ability almost equal to his vicar’s, at which Simeon, totally free from any suggestion of professional jealousy, greatly rejoiced. He quoted the Scripture, “He must increase; but I must decrease,” and told a friend, “Now I see why I have been laid aside. I bless God for it.”[1]

Charles Simeon’s response to the successful preaching of Thomason in his absence is powerful. In seeing it as God’s will and in being willing to embrace second place, Simeon demonstrated:

  • that he considered the church more important than himself;
  • that he considered the effective preaching of the gospel more important than his own advancement;
  • that he loved the body of Christ.

I would propose that these truths apply equally to the Apostle Paul, and it is in the book of Philippians where this becomes most evident. Here, in verses 19–30 of chapter 2, Paul talks to the Philippians about two people who are with him: Timothy and Epaphroditus. In doing so, Paul demonstrates that these brothers also demonstrated the same kind of humility and love for the body of Christ. What is more, Paul helps us to see in the example of these two friends what true servants of God look like.

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Philippians 2:12–18

Philippians 2:12–18

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Thomas Merton tells the story of two monks who shared a monastic cell and lived together in peace. In fact, such was the peace they shared that they never argued and, believe it or not, actually forgot how to argue, how to have conflict! Merton tells us what happened next:

There were two elders living together in a cell, and they had never had so much as one quarrel with one another. One therefore said to the other: Come on, let us have at least one quarrel, like other men. The other said: I don’t know how to start a quarrel. The first said: I will take this brick and place it here between us. Then I will say: It is mine. After that you will say: It is mine. This is what leads to a dispute and a fight. So then they placed the brick between them, one said: It is mine, and the other replied to the first: I do believe that it is mine. The first one said again: It is not yours, it is mine. So the other answer: Well then, if it is yours, take it! Thus they did not manage after all to get into a quarrel.[1]

Now, there is something astonishing about this. I wonder how many of us are tempted to see this story as fictional, to find it to unbelievable? I suppose more than anything, we might just find it almost other-worldly…and, in a sense, it is.

The kingdom of God is not like the fallen world and when Christians actually start living out the life of the kingdom it is disorienting to the world and, sadly, sometimes to the church as well.

The New Testament calls this having the mind of Christ. Strange things happen when we truly start taking on the mind of Christ. That is what the first part of Philippians 2 is about: the need for us to have the mind of Christ. And now, beginning in verse 12, Paul is going to spell out in concrete terms what a church would actually look like if it had the mind of Christ.

Like the example of the monks above, the church would seem quite strange to the world were we to take on the mind of Christ! And yet, it is a strangeness that the world needs to see.

What would our church look like if we took on the mind of Christ?

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Ephesians 1:15–23

Ephesians 1

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

In a fascinating article for Christianity Today, Franco Jacomini wrote about how the government of Uruguay effectively removed Christmas and Easter from Uruguayan society. He writes:

Uruguay was one of the first countries in the Western Hemisphere to constitutionally separate church and state, and nowhere is secularism more apparent than in the nation’s rebrand of Christian holidays. In 1919, the government legally changed December 25 to the Fiesta de la Familia and Holy Week to the Semana del Turismo (“Tourism Week”), during which time the capital city holds Semana Criolla.

Jacomini explains that Semana Criolla (“Creole Week”) is

a series of festivals honoring the country’s gaucho heritage. Many come to watch Uruguay’s national sport, jineteada, where riders attempt to stay on the back of untamed horses. Few of the activities, which also include traditional music and dancing, acknowledge the Christianity calendar, except when it comes to eating asado criollo.

Vendors sell the country’s local barbeque throughout the week, except on Thursday and Friday, a nod to the country’s Catholic heritage.[1]

My goodness! The mind boggles.

In Uruguay, Holy Week becomes tourism week.

The great spectacle of Holy Week becomes watching people attempt to stay on the back of untamed horses.

And the only possible nod to Christianity is not being able to eat barbecue on Thursday and Friday, which is “a nod to the country’s Catholic heritage.”

I repeat: My goodness!

Church, Holy Week is more than tourism.

And the great spectacle of this week is not an untamed horse with a rider on it but a tomb without a Jesus in it!

In Ephesians 1, Paul lays out beautifully the amazing implications of this day, of the resurrection of Jesus.

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What Does It Mean to Be A Father?

A young man at Central Baptist Church recently asked me this question. I wrote the following in response.

What Does it Mean to be a Father?

Wyman Lewis Richardson

March 2024

To be a father is to reach the end of yourself.

To be a father is to allow the overwhelming privilege and weight of the stewardship of another life to drive you into the arms of Jesus.

To be a father is to protect without suffocating, to safeguard without stymying, to watch over without overwatching.

To be a father is to grow alongside your child.

To be a father is to say yes.

To be a father is to say no.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to be silent.

To be a father is to refuse to be silent.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to recognize that our own “fatherhood” is necessarily derivative of the Fatherhood of God without seeing that derivation as a functional replacement. You are not God, though you, like God, are a father. “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” Matthew 23:9

To be a father is to see the great gulf between your own “fatherhood” and that of the Father: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11

To be a father is to lead your child to the cross without presuming to force the cross upon your child. They must own the faith…but through your stewardship as a father they should know well the faith they are called to own. This means exposure without indoctrination, immersion without the crushing of the intellect or will, and modeling without coercion.

To be a father is to be a pastor…not a cult leader.

To be a father is to listen and to answer…and to answer you must truly listen.

To be a father is to say, “I do not know.”

To be a father is to say, “I do know.”

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to see your child as created in the image of God and not to demand that they be created in the image of you.

To be a father is to say “I am sorry” when your child deserves to hear it.

To be a father is to not say “I am sorry” when they do not.

To be a father is to trust and to give space.

To be a father is to not trust and not to give space.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to allow.

To be a father is to forbid.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to comfort.

To be a father is to create discomfort.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to accept anger without being moved.

To be a father is to surprise with lavish liberality that is undeserved.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to never stop fathering…though to let your fatherhood grow with the needs of your child.

To be a father is to never stop seeing the child in your adult child…but to not treat your adult child like a child.

To be a father is to allow space for error.

To be a father is to not allow space for self-destruction.

To be a father is to step back and allow consequence to be the teacher.

To be a father is not to bail out.

To be a father is to step around the corner and weep.

To be a father is to weep openly with no shame.

To be a father is to laugh with your child.

To be a father is to listen to the voice of God speaking through your child.

To be a father is to realize that your child, no matter how wise, is not God.

To be a father is to refuse to idolize.

To be a father is to refuse to devalue.

To be a father is to not exasperate your child. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger…” (Ephesians 6:4)

To be a father is to have your child find you exasperating.

To be a father is to be thought uncool by your child.

To be a father is to be thought the coolest guy in the world by the same child.

To be a father is to put yourself between your child and the devil.

To be a father is to train your child to withstand the devil.

To be a father is to be ready to preach.

To be a father is to refrain from preaching.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to model what a man should be.

To be a father is to acknowledge you are not the man you should be.

To be a father is to provide.

To be a father is to prepare your child to provide for himself or herself.

To be a father is to pay the tab.

To be the father is to occasionally allow it when your child insists on paying the tab. They want to say “I love you” back just as you did for your parents. Allow this.

To be a father is not to dominate every conversation.

To be a father is to realize that you might be wrong in some of your opinions.

To be a father, however, is not to have your own convictions made malleable or amorphous or changeable in the name of loving your child.

To be a father is to say, “You are wrong.”

To be a father is to say, “You are right.”

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to let your child develop his or her own interests.

To be a father is not to look down on your child’s youthfulness. “Let no one despise you for your youth…” (1 Timothy 4:12)

To be a father is to accept that some of your child’s music might be as grating to you as some of your music was to your parents.

To be a father is to play.

To be a father is to stop playing.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to ask your child if they would receive Jesus as Lord.

To be a father is to recognize that you cannot force this moment.

To be a father is to see your child’s weaknesses.

To be a father is to recognize that most of your child’s weaknesses are your own.

To be a father is to forgive.

To be a father is to need forgiveness.

To be a father is to protect with ferocity.

To be a father is to let your child fight his or her own battle.

To be a father is to know when to do either.

To be a father is to let go.

To be a father is to never let go.

To be a father is to give away and give space.

To be a father is to never abandon your fatherhood, to never stop being “Dad.”

To be a father is to face your own death with the knowledge that if you have loved that child rightly, you can die in peace.

To be a father is to have another person on the planet say, long after you are gone, “My dad loved me. My dad did not hurt or abandon me. My dad valued and treasured me. My dad led me to the cross.”