Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thankful He Came

I wrote the following article for this week's Message page in Word&Way:

My Thanksgiving will probably be very much like many of yours. Our sons and their wives and our grandchildren are coming home and our family will be together. My wife’s parents always spend Thanksgiving with us. We have a great time visiting with each other and catching up. Like many we will have too much good food, but we enjoy the fellowship. We will talk and laugh and watch some football.

We also give thanks. At our Thanksgiving meal time we invite each family member present to share one thing for which they are especially grateful. It is always interesting that no one normally mentions any "things." Most of the family expresses thanks for people, family members, and the blessing of being together. In reality, when we get serious, it is our relationships and the time we have together that we value the most.

This week also leads up to the first Sunday of Advent and the celebration of the coming of our Savior. I am reminded that our most important relationship is Christ. He is the one who enables us to put our lives in perspective. He is the one who forgives our sin and gives us hope for the future. Most of all we are grateful for our Savior.

If your house is like ours, Thanksgiving launches our preparation for Christmas. We normally begin our decorating for Christmas in the days following Thanksgiving. It some ways it is very appropriate to begin our preparation for the celebration of His coming at Thanksgiving. The gift of our Savior is our primary reason for giving thanks.

The Christmas season is hectic for many people. It is important as we move into the season to remind each other about the significance and purpose of Advent. It is a time of preparation. It is a time for reflection as we examine our lives and prepare to allow Him to "re-decorate" our lives according to His plan.

It is a time not to be overcome with the commercial nature of the secular celebration of Christmas, but a time to rediscover the opportunity to give. In a real sense we are never more like God than when we give to those in need. A number of years ago my brothers and sisters decided to end our tradition of drawing names and exchanging gifts. Instead we contribute funds and allow one member of our family to take the lead in providing for a family in need at Christmas. Many families help their churches do similar things each year.

Maybe there is no better way to give thanks for God’s gifts than to share these gifts with someone in need. As we gather to give thanks and move toward the Advent celebration, I am thankful he came! I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Different Books, Common Word"

EthicsDaily.com has produced another timely documentary. If ever there was a time when Baptists and Muslims needed to begin genuine relationships and dialogue it is today. In 2007, 138 Muslim scholars and leaders issued an open letter to Christians. The letter was called "A Common Word Between Us and You," and it sought to improve relations between Muslims and Christians in all parts of the world. Click here to read the letter from Muslims. In 2009, the Baptist World Alliance, the largest body of Baptists, wrote a response to the letter. Click here to read the letter from Baptists.

The EthicsDaily.com website says, From Boston to the Bible Belt and from Beaumont to the nation’s beltway, Baptists and Muslims are changing history with the way they change each other. Tired of being defined by extremists, some Baptists and Muslims in the United States have sought and found common ground: the common word in both traditions to love God and love neighbor. The courageous Baptists and Muslims in “Different Books, Common Word” will surprise you.

I am grateful for the leadership of the EthicsDaily.com staff in producing this documentary. I hope you will watch your ABC listings for the times when it will air in your area. The program will be supplied to ABC-TV stations beginning in January 2010 through an arrangement with the Islamic Society of North America, the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission and ABC. You will also be able to order "Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims" on DVD in January 2010.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Stewardship of Life

I wrote the following article for our Message page in the next issue of Word&Way:

I have always loved the fall with its cooler weather and beautiful autumn colors. Every year I wish it would last a little longer. It seems the leaves just reach their peak colors and then they fall and fade away. Bettie Jo and I have been riding bicycles on the Katy Trail this fall and the colors have been wonderful. I guess I also enjoy watching football games in the fall, too. I enjoy all the seasonal changes, but I must admit this is my favorite.

I also enjoy the weeks leading into a season of Thanksgiving.
Incredible as it seems, we are only a few weeks from our annual Thanksgiving holiday. I am not sure how much time we spend “giving thanks.” When I was serving as a pastor I almost always shared a series of messages during November on Christian stewardship. Sometimes I even have a chance to preach on stewardship during an interim pastorate. I know it may seem strange, but I have always loved to preach on stewardship.

My father always preached on Christian stewardship.
I was in seminary before I discovered that many pastors are hesitant to preach on stewardship. In reality stewardship is an outgrowth of Christian discipleship. To be a Christian means to bring our entire lives under the rule and reign of Jesus Christ. Christian stewardship is a recognition that all of life is a “stewardship” given to us by God. We are accountable to God for how we use our lives—time, talents, energy, gifts, etc. I am pretty sure that includes our finances. I learned at an early age that God was not just interested in what I gave to my church through my tithes and offerings, but he was just as concerned about how I used the rest of my resources.

Each of us is a steward of life and responsible for our choices.
Just as we hold the charitable causes we support accountable for how they use our gifts, we are also accountable. Churches are also accountable. Our convention is also accountable. We are accountable to the churches we serve and to all those who support our ministries. Ultimately, we are accountable to God. Maybe the best way to “give thanks” to God is to use wisely the resources he gives us. Given the difficult economic conditions we are confronting this year it is a particularly important time to be good stewards.

I regret that some believe using tithes and offering to fund litigation against faithful Baptist ministries in our state is a wise use of these resources.
Our convention leadership has a different perspective. We want to invest our resources in these ministries rather than attempting to control them or harm their ministries. If you are looking for a way to channel your gifts, we are available to serve you. The Baptist General Convention of Missouri forwards all gifts as instructed by churches and donors. None of our resources are used for litigation. Our mission is to serve churches and church leaders as they fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. We would love to partner with your church as you live out your stewardship of life.