Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sharing the Wealth

Open Windows: Southern Baptist Guide for Personal Devotions is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. As part of that celebration, selected daily devotions are being republished from past issues. Today’s devotion (March 5, 2011), for example, is a reprint of a devotion written by Dr. James L. Sullivan in 1947, six years before he became the president of the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (now LifeWay Christian Resources), the publisher of Open Windows.

When I was at Howard College (now Samford University), the Ministerial Association planned a trip every other year or so to visit the Sunday School Board. The Ministerial Association had a school bus that was used to transport budding preachers to “H-Day” preaching events in Alabama Baptist associations, and that bus also was used to transport us on trips like the visit to Nashville and the Sunday School Board.

My senior year (1965), I drove the ministerial students from Birmingham to Nashville on that bus for that visit. (I recall that only stretches of I-65 were completed at that time.) About a dozen of us made the trip that year, but the only aspect of the visit that I remember was personally meeting Dr. Sullivan. I find it remarkable, in retrospect, that the chief executive officer of the largest and most influential institution in the Southern Baptist Convention took time from what must have surely been a busy schedule to meet personally with our group of ministerial students. We were invited into Dr. Sullivan’s office on the 7th floor of the Sullivan Tower (later named after him, I'm sure). He shook hands with each of us, chatted with us leisurely, and then gave us an autographed copy of one of his books published by the Sunday School Board.

That visit became especially significant to me in 1994 when I was in my 17th year as an employee at the Sunday School Board. That year I assumed the position of Curriculum, Editorial, and Resources Coordination Specialist, Office of the Associate Vice President, and my office adjoined the office on the 7th floor of the Sullivan Tower where Dr. Sullivan had visited with those Howard College ministerial students almost 30 years earlier. My office actually had been his secretary’s office, and it had a private door to the old President’s office.

My reminiscences today, however, are prompted more by what Dr. Sullivan wrote in 1947 that what happened in 1965 or 1994. In his republished devotional thought from Open Windows, Dr. Sullivan commented on Luke 3:11, where John the Baptist confronted the crowds who came to him to be baptized. John urged them to produce fruit in keeping with repentance, and then spoke the words on which Dr. Sullivan focused: “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” On that passage, Dr. Sullivan wrote: “John refused them baptism and demanded outward evidence of an inner change. He asked that the spirit of sharing be demonstrated to prove a change of heart: ‘share the wealth’ voluntarily as evidence that greater riches were already theirs. If this test were put to Christians today, how would we measure up?”

Obviously many Baptists in 1947 had a sensitivity for the poor that somehow has escaped too many of us today. "How would we measure up?" indeed!

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