Saturday, December 31, 2011

Finding Common Ground

CBS News Religion & Culture produced a video that looks at the history of the "Finding Common Ground" movement and what interreligious cooperation looks like in Reading, Pennsylvania. I did not see the video when it was first released, but a friend shared it with me. It is a helpful report about interreligious dialogue and cooperation. The Jefferson City religious community is in the early stages for creating a faith-based organization called "Jefferson City Congregations Uniting." I am currently serving as a member of the board for the new "Missouri Faith Voices." This statewide network of religious leaders provides an opportunity for faith leaders and congregations to work together to solve community and statewide problems. Click the link below to watch the CBS News video.



Sunday, August 28, 2011

Making the Most of our Moments

In a just a few days I will be attending my 40th high school reunion. I know you are surprised that I am old enough to attend a 40th reunion. I must have started to school early. Maybe not! Events like this sometimes cause us reflect on the pace of our lives and how quickly the years seem to pass. My guess is that most of the people in the room at the reunion (including me) will look old. It will be interesting to catch up with some former classmates and learn about where their life journeys have taken them.

The Apostle Paul wrote the Ephesian Christians (chapter 5:15-17) and urged them to “be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.” He encouraged them not to “be foolish” and to understand “the Lord’s will” for their lives. We spend so much of our lives worrying about the past or getting ready for the future. Sometimes we miss the moments—the present opportunities that are right in front of us. The challenge for us is to be careful how we live. We are most the most of our opportunities. We are to seize the day!

It does not really seem like it has been 40 years since I was finishing high school and making plans for college. I had not yet become aware of God’s call to ministry. I had not yet met my wife, Bettie Jo. I had not begun to think about having a family, and now I am a grandfather. Sometimes we forget that life is made up of individual days and hours and moments. Each of these moments comes with an opportunity. Some of the opportunities turn out to be more important than others. My first day at college I met Bettie Jo who would become my wife and my best friend.

Every day the journey of life brings us in contact with people. Sometimes they change our lives. Sometimes we change their lives. Every day God is working out his plan in our lives. He is leading us, shaping us, and giving us new opportunities. The older I become the more I realize how important these moments and opportunities are.

Over the past few years I have become involved in a number of faith-based organizations which are involved in speaking and acting on behalf of the most vulnerable in our communities. They are the poor and many others we often overlook in the normal activities of life. I volunteer my time and energy because I have come to realize I have a limited number of opportunities to make a difference in the lives of people. What a tragedy it would be for us to live our lives and miss the moments and opportunities God provides. In Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 25:40) Jesus in his parable of “the sheep and the goats” said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Look around. What opportunities is God giving you to make a difference in someone’s life? We are at our best when we make the most of every opportunity.

This article was written for an August issue of Word&Way.

Partners in the Global Baptist Family

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of representing Churchnet at the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. More than 300 Baptists from around the world came together for this meeting of the global Baptist Family on July 4-9. I must admit the trip was a challenge—more than 30 hours traveling each way and a 13 hour time difference. I had just about adjusted to the Malaysian time zone when it was time to come home. But the travel challenges did not diminish the significance of the gathering. These annual gatherings and the Baptist World Congress which meets every five years are unlike any other Baptist gatherings I have ever attended.

The richness of the diversity of the worldwide Baptist family and opportunity to worship, pray, fellowship, work together, and learn from each other is a wonderful experience. I serve on the General Council of the Baptist World Alliance which conducts the business of the Baptist World Alliance during these annual gatherings. I also serve on one of the commissions in the Freedom and Justice Division, and I am a member of the Promotion and Development Committee.

The four Commissions of the Division on Freedom and Justice offer to gifted Baptist Christians opportunity to engage in research and dialogue around assigned areas of concern. Commission members are expected to develop recommendations and resources intended to assist BWA member bodies and churches to live out their calling in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Division comprises the following Commissions: the Commission on Religious Freedom, the Commission on Peace, the Commission on Social and Environmental Justice, and the Commission on Human Rights Advocacy.

I serve on the Commission on Social and Environmental Justice. The Commission on Social and Environmental Justice engages in research and discussion on situations marked by injustice. It suggests ways in which the BWA and its member bodies may bring the values of our faith to bear upon the situations identified. Poverty, creation care and racism are some of the issues of concern to this Commission.

This year our commission heard report on “The Face of the Burmese Refugee Church in Malaysia,” “The Effects of Environmental Injustice in Haiti & Southeast Asia,” and “The Church’s Intervention in Human Trafficking.” The reports were informative and challenging. I also had the privilege of being a part of the first meeting of a BWA Special Commission on Intra-Baptist Relations. This commission will be exploring how the BWA can more effectively engage the worldwide Baptist family in ways that improve our communication, understanding, and collaborative ministry around the world.

One of the highlights of the gathering every year is the opportunity to experience the culture and worship of the global Baptist family. Our Malaysian Baptist friends were wonderful hosts for our gathering, and the worship sessions we shared inspired me to live for Christ and deepened my commitment to being a partner with my brothers and sisters around the world. I am so grateful Churchnet is a part of this wonderful family.

This article was written for a July issue of Word&Way.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Giving Freely to Relieve Suffering

Sometimes it seems there is a natural disaster or catastrophic event almost every week. We read about these incredible events in our newspapers and watch reports on the news. Many times the reports are from other parts of our nation or on the other side of the world. If you are like me you are often moved to respond, but the needs sometimes seem overwhelming. It is difficult to imagine the trauma experienced by those who are directly impacted the events.

Over the past few weeks we have been stunned by the television images and reports of the tornado in Joplin, Missouri. This time the disaster was close to home for many Missourians. Already many have responded with prayers, financial support, water, and a host of other types of gifts. Thousands have already been volunteers for a day or for many days. It is clear the Joplin community will require months and maybe years of support and help to recover from this tragic storm.

Several congregations which are a part of Churchnet have already had volunteers on site in Joplin assisting the recovery process. Our Disaster Relief Chain Saw crews will be working in Joplin beginning June 13th. We are currently making plans through our partnership with Texas Baptists to send more than 100 volunteers in mid-July. Several congregations are also sending teams. If you would like to volunteer to assist our Chain Saw crew with debris removal or participate in the July volunteer projects, contact the Churchnet office at (888) 420-2426.

We are receiving financial gifts designated for the Tornado Relief as well. There are many worthwhile organizations raising funds for this effort. We plan to distribute the funds received through Churchnet through local Baptist churches in the Joplin area. We believe this will provide a wonderful way for Baptists to reach out to those who have lost their homes, possessions, or jobs. If you would like to help you may send your gift designated for “Tornado Relief” to Churchnet, P. O. Box 508, Jefferson City, MO 65102, or you may donate on our website at www.thechurchnet.org.

Relief programs often talk about how people respond quickly and generously in the initial days and weeks following a tragedy like the Joplin tornado. However, it is typical for the initial awareness and compassion to fade quickly as they television news moves on to the latest story. Tragedies like the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan will require years and maybe decades before those impacted begin to recover. The families in Joplin will also need help for years to begin to recover and rebuild their lives.

The faith community should be among the most faithful in responding to help with these great needs. When Jesus sent his disciples out he instructed them, As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give (Matthew 10:7-8 NIV). It is a wonderful image. When we go out in the name of Christ, the kingdom of heaven is present. God goes with us and his power is evident in our ministry. God has been incredibly good to me. I have been blessed beyond my dreams. He has given to me freely, and he calls on me to give freely. This terrible tragedy can become an occasion for generosity and compassion. Thanks for being a people who give.

This article was written for this week's issue of Word&Way.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Finding a Way to Share Hope

It is pretty easy to become cynical in our world. Every day it seems there is a new crisis, a new conflict, or a new calamity. We are confronted with reports from the battle fields and the updates on the terror alerts. People try to cope with rising prices and rising unemployment. Relationship are broken and families face incredible pressures. In the midst of our often troubled world we are call to be people of hope. We have a message of hope. It is a message that has changed us forever. Our generation needs a word of hope. Our world desperately needs the people of God to live out the hope we have found in Christ.

We are fond of quoting the scripture regarding Jesus being “the way, the truth, and the life.” But it is not enough to quote the verse. Jesus called us to live “his way.” The Christian life is essentially a call to live our lives in ways that run counter to culture. As people of faith we believe even when the evidence is lacking, we love even when those we love do not respond, and we live with hope even when the world around us seems dark and discouraged.

Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome to say, May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13). It is a wonderful image—overflowing with hope! We need churches and Christians today who are overflowing with hope. I am certainly not suggesting that we need some type of simplistic or na├»ve faith which responds to life by ignoring the challenges and problems. I am suggesting that mature faith calls for us to learn to face the difficulties of life with the peace and confidence that comes from a relationship with God. Sometimes we grieve with those who grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope.

Maybe we should begin to see these challenging days as days of great opportunity. Everywhere we look we can see people who are searching for hope. Often they seem to be looking in all the wrong places, but still they are searching. As the people of God we have the opportunity engage the world around us with honesty, integrity, love, and hope. My faith brings me new hope each day. On my best days I find a way to share that hope with someone else.

This year’s Annual Gathering will be a Share Hope Summit at Windermere Baptist Conference Center on Friday evening and Saturday morning, April 1-2, 2011. Church leaders will be coming together for worship and fellowship. We will also have the opportunity to explore together how our churches can more effectively share hope. The workshops will include sessions focused on “sharing our faith with friends and neighbors,” “ministering to the needs of individuals and families,” and “speaking and acting on behalf of the poor in our communities.” I believe it will be a great time of sharing and learning.

I hope you will plan to bring a good group from your church. Windermere will be a wonderful place to come together as a network of Baptists. Contact Windermere at 800-346-2215 to make your reservations. Checkout our website for more information—www.thechurchnet.org. Join us as we explore the hope we have in Christ.

This article was written for the Churchnet page in Word&Way.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Finding Ways to Network

The denominational world is changing. I continue to read articles about the post-denominational era and the changes taking place in both national denominations and state-wide religious judicatories. I do not know (and I really do not think anyone else does either) how our changing world will change our denominational relationships in the coming years. I do believe real change has already started. In many respects the churches already know this (at least the healthiest congregations). Churches are exploring and finding new ways to collaborate for ministry. It is not just individuals who are looking at denominational issues in new ways. It is also local churches.

As the globalization of our communities, societies, and nations continues to take place, churches have new opportunities. The world is getting smaller. Communication and collaboration is getting easier. Churches are no longer as dependent upon the denomination as they once felt they were. They are also no longer in the closed denominational systems they once comfortably operated within. Every church is now being exposed to new resources, new ideas, new strategies and new potential relationships. In some ways congregations are becoming a part of a larger Christian community which is often much more engaged and helpful than denominational organizations have historically been.

Now remember, I am the Executive Director for a state-wide Baptist organization. Churchnet is a Baptist network serving churches. Churchnet is a ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. “Churchnet” is much more than a new name. It is an acknowledgment that the world has and continues to change. These changes mean we need to adapt how we serve local congregations. Churchnet is really an expression of our desire to create a new paradigm denominational entity which is not focused on the denomination, but on the churches we serve. Our goal is create an environment that allows congregations to collaborate at a level and in ways they have not been able to before.

Most of the dynamic congregations today look for help from other churches. They are not looking to the denomination for the next great resource or innovation. They are watching and sharing with other churches. We believe our mission is to facilitate this process. Our new initiatives (an online Resource Center, an online Training Events, a Relationship Network to facilitate online discussion groups, a Consultant Source which allows local church experts to help each other, etc.) are all designed to allow churches to serve churches. We believe churches can be more effective as we learn from each other, help each other, and collaborate with each other.

I want to encourage you to become a member of Churchnet by registering on our site (www.thechurchnet.org). It is free and open to everyone. Encourage your church member and friends to register. Let’s build a collaborative community as we serve Christ today. Maybe we can help shape the next generation of denominational organizations. Maybe we can build a network that allows churches to serve each other.

This article was written for Churchnet's e-newsletter.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Caring for a Hungry World

The tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel tells us the story of a man who asked Jesus an important question—Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? People throughout Christian history have continued to ask this question. What does my faith require of me? How can I live out my faith each day? Jesus points the man to the commandments, specifically the commandments which focus on our relationships with each other. The man’s response indicated that he was a “rule keeper.” He knew how to play the religion game, but his legalistic approach to his faith had never brought him peace.

Jesus would not allow him settle for an attempted short-cut to the Kingdom of God. Jesus lovingly pointed him to heart of the Christian faith. You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. We have to get our focus off ourselves and off our possessions. Jesus pointed the man to the needs of the poor.

Many churches promote a World Hunger Offering to provide an opportunity for church members to learn about hunger needs and an opportunity give to meet these needs. “Bread for the World” reports the world is facing a hunger crisis unlike anything it has seen in more than 50 years. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. That's one child every five seconds. There were 1.4 billion people in extreme poverty in 2005. The World Bank estimates that the spike in global food prices in 2008, followed by the global economic recession in 2009 and 2010 has pushed between 100-150 million people into poverty.

Churchnet is collaborating with Texas Baptists through our partnership to promote our World Hunger Offering. Some churches promote their Hunger Offering in the fall, but many churches are beginning to promote gifts to World Hunger throughout the year. We are beginning to develop World Hunger resources for churches on our new website (www.thechurchnet.org). We are also providing an opportunity for churches to apply for hunger funds for local hunger ministries here in our own state. You can visit our site to download the application form for hunger funds for 2012 or contact our Churchnet office. Applications for 2012 funding must be received in the Churchnet office no later than February 14, 2011.

The World Hunger Offering helps to meet hunger needs here in Missouri, across our nation, and around the world through Baptist World Aid. We would love to hear how you are meeting the needs of the hungry in your community. Check out our website for information about ways your church can promote a World Hunger Offering. Our Savior continues to point us to the needs of the poor and the hungry in our world.

This article was written for the Churchnet page in the next issue of the Word&Way.