Thursday, July 22, 2010

Religious Liberty—God’s Gift!

I wrote this article for our "Message" page in Word&Way. This is the time of the year (the celebration of our Independence Day) when Americans celebrate the freedoms our country provides. Obviously, we are grateful for all our freedoms, but I am particularly grateful for the religious freedom we enjoy. You do not need to be a great student of history to know that religious oppression and persecution have been a part of our world for most of our recorded history. Our religious liberty is not something we should take for granted.

I have the wonderful privilege of representing our convention on the board of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. We are one of 15 national, state and regional bodies which are members of the BJC. The BJC's mission is to defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all, furthering the Baptist heritage that champions the principle that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by government.

The Baptist Joint Committee is primarily an educational and advocacy organization. It is a leading voice in Washington, D.C., fighting to uphold the historic Baptist principle of religious freedom. It stands guard at the intersection of church and state, defending the first freedom of the First Amendment. The BJC is the only religious agency devoted solely to religious liberty and the institutional separation of church and state. While primarily supported by Baptists, the BJC fights for religious liberty for all, including Jewish, Muslim and a host of Christian groups, who count on the BJC for leadership.

One of the newer brochures available from the BJC web site (www.bjconline.org) is entitled Religious Liberty is a Gift from God. The brochure states, “Religious liberty is a gift from God, not the result of any act of toleration or concession on the part of the state. It has to do with what we Baptists call “soul freedom” — the liberty of conscience that we all receive simply by virtue of how God created us and chose to relate to us.”

The brochure goes on to say, “God has made all of us free — free to say yes, free to say no, and free to make up our own minds about our spiritual destiny. Religious freedom has theological import. It goes to the heart of who God is and who we are. So, the fight for religious liberty for all is to ensure against government doing what even God will not do: to violate consciences or to coerce faith. Baptists became champions of religious liberty and church-state separation in large measure because we are a people of the Book.”

Many people in the world do not enjoy the freedom to worship God as they choose. It is important for us to remember that this precious freedom is fragile and must be defended for all people. Historically, Baptists have been at the forefront of the efforts to ensure religious liberty for all people. I am grateful we continue to be advocates for God’s precious gift.

Understanding Social Jusice

My son, James, is pastor of Southwest Baptist Church in St. Louis. He recently posted a good article on "social justice". Check it out here.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Caring Ministry

I love to read the Gospels. They provide the opportunity for us to see glimpses of the life and ministry of our Savior. It is not unusual for me to read a familiar story about Jesus and see some new truth or insight that I had not seen before. It is wonderful how the scripture stays fresh and new even when we read passages we have read many times. I have discovered two wonderful truths about Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus was always teaching. Obviously, there were specific times when he was teaching such as “the Sermon the on Mount.” But, I have noticed that he was always teaching. When he travelled with his disciples he used every circumstance of their lives as an occasion to teach them and others about God, the Kingdom, and how they should live. Jesus packed an enormous amount of teaching and instruction into three short years of public ministry. He could only do this by taking advantage of every opportunity.

The second thing that is obvious about his ministry is that he always started where people were. Jesus accepted people—all people—right where they were. He loved them in spite of their sin. The tax collector in Jericho and the Samaritan women at Jacob’s well are just two examples. His universal acceptance of people formed the foundation of his ministry to them. He always began with their felt needs. No matter whether they were blind, hungry, lonely, thirsty, sick or afraid, he met them where they were and ministered to their need.

Our Share Hope emphasis is designed to help our churches become more effective in developing congregational ministries as they seek to meet the needs of people in their churches and communities. Ministry has the potential to open many doors into the lives of people as we care for them in the name of Christ. Someone once said, People will not care about what we know until they know we care. People were drawn to Jesus by his compassion and ministry. He was often able to not only address their felt needs, but he was also able to lead them into a new relationship with God. I encourage you to read the Gospels again with me and see the fresh and wonderful way Jesus ministered to people. Maybe we should do the same.