Monday, October 25, 2010

God Teaches Us to Trust

The Psalmist wrote, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7 NIV). Psalm 37:5-6 (NIV) urges us to “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” The people of God are to trust God. The command seems simple enough, but in reality it is extremely difficult to do. We are so prone to trust ourselves, and we are so hesitant to trust anyone else.

The writer of Proverbs encourages us to, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV). Several years ago I read a book written by Patrick Lencioni entitled, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Later I read several of his books including one entitled, Death by Meeting. I sometimes tell people it is a “Baptist” book. He is an interesting author of leadership books. He calls them “leadership fables.” I like to think of them as modern day parables. They are stories about people like you and me.

I was particularly intrigued by his book about the dysfunctions of teams. The first dysfunction is the absence of trust. While the author discusses the other “dysfunctions” that make teamwork difficult—fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results—I am convinced he correctly identified trust as the foundation for real teamwork. Without trust it is impossible to form a real team, partnership, or collaborative effort. I believe trust is the foundation for Kingdom work. In the parable of the trustworthy servant in Luke 19:17 (NIV), the master said, 'Well done, my good servant! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.' We are to be worthy of trust. Our relationship with God, who is completely trustworthy, should enable us to become trustworthy as we learn to trust each other.

I have many opportunities to work with churches and church leaders. It amazes me how often I meet with congregations where it is obvious the members do not trust each other. Sometimes members do not trust their pastor or other church staff. Sometimes staff members do not trust church leaders. Sometimes we have misunderstood the meaning of trust or misused the term. It certainly does not mean we always agree with each other. Lencioni’s book says in the context of building a team, trust is confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group. This confidence in the intentions of others allows us to be genuine, honest, and transparent in our relationships with each other. It allows us to accept each other with all our flaws and weaknesses as children of God saved by his grace.

I have learned in my own life to trust God more and more as I have come to know him better. The better I get to know God, the more I trust him. One of the tragedies in many of our churches is that we do not “know” each other. Our failure to invest ourselves and genuinely share ourselves with each other has kept us from getting to know each other and that has prevented us from developing relationships of trust within the family of God. Do you really know the people who are a part of your Bible study class? Have you been willing to be vulnerable with those who are a part of your committee assignment? Are you willing to invest the time to get to know those who sit near you in worship services? Real relationships build trust within the body of Christ and enable us to serve together more effectively in Christ’s Kingdom. Building relationships of trust is a Christian discipline. Let’s start building trust.

This article was written for the "Message" page in this week's Word&Way.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Defending Religious Liberty

I serve on the Board of Directors of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. I participated in our annual Board Meeting earlier this week. 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.

Primarily an education and advocacy organization, the Baptist Joint Committee 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.

Churchnet (or the Baptist General Convention of Missouri) is one of 15 national, state and regional bodies in the United States which are a part of the BJC. Our work is supported by thousands of churches and individuals across the country. The BJC works with a wide range of religious organizations providing education about and advocacy for religious liberty. 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.

A proven bridge-builder, the BJC provides reliable leadership on church-state issues as it leads key coalitions of religious and civil liberties groups striving to protect both the free exercise of religion and to defend against its establishment by government.

On Monday afternoon our board had the privilege to meet with Barry Clayton Black, U.S. Senate Chaplain. Chaplain Black, a retired Rear Admiral, Chief of Navy Chaplains, and twenty-seven year veteran of the U.S. Navy, was elected the 62nd Chaplain of the Senate on June 27, 2003. It was incredibly interesting to hear Chaplain Black describe his work and ministry to a Senate family of approximately 7,000 people including some of the most powerful leaders in our country.

He affirmed his belief in and commitment to defending our religious liberties and the principles of the first amendment--Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Our Religious Liberty requires a delicate balance between these two principles of non-establishment and free exercise. I am grateful for the privilege of serving on the board for the BJC. I encourage you to visit the website to learn more about the work of the Baptist Joint Committee.

Be a Voice for the Poor

I continue to sense a worsening crisis for the poor in our state. At the very time when the most vulnerable in our state are in need, our budget crisis continues to result in budget cuts which ultimately mean fewer services for those with the greatest need. Our current state tax code was adopted in 1931 and has become one of the most regressive in our nation. When will we begin to live out the meaning of our state motto? Missouri's motto is The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.

The prophet Isaiah wrote: "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." Isaiah 58:6-7, 10

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his speech Strength to Love in 1963 said, The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.

Friday, October 1, 2010

How should we respond to World Hunger?

Our world is filled with hungry people. Hunger is a term which has three meanings (Oxford English Dictionary 1971):
  • the uneasy or painful sensation caused by want of food; craving appetite. Also the exhausted condition caused by want of food
  • the want or scarcity of food in a country
  • a strong desire or craving
World Hunger refers to the second definition, aggregated to the world level. The related technical term is malnutrition. Malnutrition is a general term that indicates a lack of some or all nutritional elements necessary for human health. Estimates indicate there are over one billion hungry people in the world. Most of these people live outside the developed parts of the world.

However, that does not mean there are no hungry people where you live. The following statistics summarize hunger in the United States.

Poverty Statistics in America
  • In 2009, 43.6 million people (14.3 percent) were in poverty.
  • In 2009, 8.8 (11.1% percent) million families were in poverty.
  • In 2009, 24.7 million (12.9 percent) of people aged 18-64 were in poverty.
  • In 2009, 15.5 million (20.7 percent) children under the age of 18 were in poverty.
  • In 2009, 3.4 million (8.9 percent) seniors 65 and older were in poverty.
I serve as chairperson for an ecumenical advocacy group called Missouri Christians Against Racism and Poverty. Over the past year our group has repeatedly received information regarding the increasing number of hungry people in our state. The economic downturn has forced many families into poverty. What is our responsibility? How should a Christian respond to the hunger problems around the world?

This year we have begun a new level of partnership with the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. We are collaborating with our brothers and sisters in Texas to promote our World Hunger Offering. Some of the funds we receive will ultimately help to meet hunger needs here in our state of Missouri. They will also help to address needs across our nation, and through the Baptist World Alliance we will also help to meet the global hunger needs.

Traditionally, we have promoted our World Hunger Offering during October; however, beginning next year we will be providing resources to help our churches learn about poverty and hunger needs throughout the year. We cannot meet the challenges of world hunger with an offering we promote only one month a year. As we seek to Share Hope with our state and our world, I want to encourage you to explore new ways to challenging your members to find ways to get involved in eliminating the poverty in our state, our nation and the world. We have to find ways to do as Jesus did—feed the hungry. Watch for information regarding new resources for promoting your World Hunger Offering during the coming year.

This article was written for our month e-newsletter (The E-Message).