Monday, December 30, 2013

A More Campassionate World

This is the time of the year when many people take time to reflect on the past year and begin making plans for the New Year ahead.  I guess it is good that the New Year brings us to a moment of reflection.  My conviction is we spend too little time reflecting upon our lives and the world around us.  Because our culture drives our lives at such a fast pace we seldom slow down enough to think and reflect.

The problem is our moments of reflection tend to be focused narrowly on our own lives or the small spheres where we live.  We make New Year’s Resolutions to improve or change our lives.  We want to lose some of our excess weight.  We want to restart our exercise program.  We want to read a new book each month.  We want to finally take care of some of the things on last year’s “to do list.”  While I don’t want to minimize any of these or the other things on your resolution list, maybe it is time for us to think bigger.

Why not change our world?  A few weeks ago I watched a TED Talk by Karen Armstrong I had not seen even though it was posted in 2008.  Karen Armstrong is a religious scholar who has written more than 20 books on faith and the major world religions.  She has focused on how these faiths have shaped world history and continue to drive current events.   She was the 2008 recipient of the TED Prize, and her wish asked religious leaders around the world to work with the TED community to help her launch the Charter for Compassion.  It is a document and a movement focused on the implementation of the Golden Rule around the world as we work together for peace.  Her premise is the Golden Rule in one form or another is a part of every major world religion.

I believe too much of religion today drives people apart in a world where we need acceptance, understanding, and relationships.  My faith centers in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  He said in Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV) the first and greatest commandment was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  Then he said the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

He also said in Matthew 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”  Karen Armstrong says a lot of religious people would rather be “right” than to be “compassionate,” but I believe we are called to be compassionate.  We are urged to even “love our enemies.”

I realize “world peace” is a tall order for a New Year’s resolution, but if we are going to change the world we have to start somewhere.  I decided to start with me.  I recently finished reading Karen Armstrong’s book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.  I decided my resolution for this year is “to live a more compassionate life.”  I decided to intentionally focus on the incorporation of the Golden Rule into my daily life during 2014.  Any of you who know me well will realize the challenge before me.  I have to pause long enough to reflect on “the other person” and how my actions will impact them.  I have to do a better job of choosing how I live and relate to other people instead of just reacting.  I want to live in a more compassionate world, and I decided I needed to start with me. It is not complicated.  It is just hard to do. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Support the BJC on Giving Tuesday!

Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday and many good causes are available for you to support.  One of my favorites is the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.  I have the privilege of serving on the Board and the Executive Committee for 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 composed of representatives of 15 national, state and regional bodies in the United States and supported by thousands of churches and individuals across the country.  We work 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.  If you are looking for a worthy cause for #GivingTuesday, I would encourage you to consider the Baptist Joint Committee.  

For those unfamiliar with #GivingTuesday, it is a day to celebrate giving and a wonderful opportunity to both give and give back to the nonprofit organizations that mean the most to you. Thank you for supporting the BJC on #GivingTuesday and every day!

For Christians, Human Rights Rooted in Our Faith

Human rights are commonly understood as fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being.  The Baptist World Alliance is promoting Human Rights Day on December 7-8 (depending upon whether they worship on Saturday or Sunday) around the World.  The date coincides with the anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 after the conclusion of World War II. 

The declaration includes thirty articles and states that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth “without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”  The opening statement in the preamble says the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”  I believe the statement is a strong statement and a worthy goal for the global family, but my foundation for human rights is rooted in my faith experience.

It finds its foundation in the creative activity of God, the giver of all life.  We are all brothers and sisters by creation, and we are bound together by our common humanity.  Jesus urges us to “do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31).”  We cannot and were not meant to live in isolation from each other, but in relationships, communities, and societies.  These relationships and the larger communities were to be governed by justice, mercy and compassion.  Jesus’ words in the sixth chapter of Luke make it clear that the standard for how we treat each other is not based on whether we deserve it, like each other, or trust each other.  There is a deeper, more significant foundation for how we treat each other.

In a world where fear and greed become the foundation of many relationships, God’s children are to be advocates for a different approach.  Everyone has the right to life, liberty and personal safety because each person is seen as a child of God.  A Christian cannot accept any type of slavery, torture, cruel treatment, or discrimination because these are incompatible with the teachings of our faith and the nature of God as we know him through Christ.  Yet for a Christian, our understanding of human rights goes well beyond the obvious injustices.  We must lift up the fallen, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, care for the sick, visit the prisoners, speak for the voiceless, and love our enemies. 

What does it mean for the Baptists of North America to promote human rights?  As people of faith we must stand with the oppressed peoples around the world.  We cannot remain silent in the face of injustice and inhumanity.  We cannot allow our greed and lifestyles to be an excuse for the oppression of people in other parts of the world.

Much of the American church has bought into the scarcity mentality and systems of greed in our country which pit people against each other instead of promoting community.  A growing percentage of our own population lives below the poverty level, and many people go hungry in the wealthiest nation in the world.  Millions of Americans do not have access to quality, affordable health care because we have made “health care” into one of our most profitable marketplaces rather than a basic human right.  In our criminal justice system the wealthy and the privileged that are “guilty” are far better off than the poor and the minorities who are “innocent.” 
Human trafficking and slavery are a reality in our country as they are in many parts of the world.  Religious oppression still exists in a country founded upon the principles of religious liberty.  We cannot speak with authority to the world family about human rights until we take a serious look at our own communities.

Jesus called for a radical realignment of human values and relationships.  Americans like to talk about “their” rights, but as children of God we are to stand for the rights of the oppressed and the vulnerable.  Human rights not just an issue in troubled regions of our world.  It is an issue right here where we live every day.  When will the church stand up and say injustice is wrong?  When will the people of God stand up for the basic human rights of “every person” in our communities and around the world?  Jesus’ parable said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  Human rights is not an abstract exercise for conversation, it is the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it should the passion and mission of every person who bears his name.

This article was written for and was originally posted on their site

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, we honor and pay tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the leader in the American Civil Rights Movement and a proponent of nonviolent civil disobedience.

Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address dedicated a portion of the battlefield as the final resting place for those who here gave their lives that the nation might live. He said, It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

As we gather on the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and the transformative “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am pressed to ask myself how can we pay tribute to such a man and the thousands who risked their very lives to stand with him.   

In his speech Dr. King acknowledged that 100 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Black men and women were not free and the promise of our nation was not a reality for people of color in our nation.

My faith demands that I acknowledge that 50 years later we still do not live in a nation where freedom and justice are provided for all.  We live in a country where justice is not blind, and the poor and people of color do not receive the same justice as the wealthy and the white. 

We live in a state where there is great disparity and inequity, and where the economic systems, both private and public, are twisted in ways that benefit the affluent and keep many of our citizens trapped in poverty and hopelessness. 

We live in communities where violence, crime, and mass incarceration are the result of our failure to provide education, opportunity, and a sense of hope for the all our citizens. We still act like some of our citizens do not matter. 

At the core of Dr. King’s speech was a sense of urgency.  He spoke for those who were tired of being told to wait for freedom and justice, when entire generations of their families lived under oppression. The March on Washington signaled a moment when a people said “now is the time.”  It was a critically important moment in a process which led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Has our country made progress in providing freedom and justice for all our citizens?  Surely, we have.  But perhaps the greatest danger we face as we celebrate the anniversary of this historic speech, is to believe we have arrived.  In many respects we have only begun the journey toward justice. 

Fifty years ago a movement for freedom and justice was launched.  Our task is to pick up the torch in our generation and continue the march toward justice for all people.  This is the only meaningful way to honor Dr. King’s legacy and to pay tribute to his memory.  I believe we can and we must do better.  Now is the time!
I shared these remarks at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the 1963 March on Washington and the I Have a Dream! speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. held today at the Missouri State Capitol.  A slightly longer version was also published on Churchnet's Word&Way page this week.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Listening for Justice

I am serving as President of Missouri Faith Voices, an ecumenical and interfaith network of congregations seeking to address needs and justice issues in their congregations and communities across our state.  Missouri Faith Voices is a part of the PICO national network of faith-based community organizations assisting congregations as they put their faith in action in their communities.  PICO stands for “People Improving Communities through Organizing.”  Churchnet is committed to helping congregations engage their communities as they seek to share the hope they have found in Christ.

This past week I had the privilege of participating in the PICO National Leadership Training event at a retreat center in Los Altos, California.  It was a wonderful time of learning and growing as leaders from across the nation shared about their faith, their communities, and the needs God is helping us to see with fresh eyes.  The Community Needs Ministry Team at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City where I am a member is currently involved in a “listening campaign” as we seek to hear from individuals in our congregation and community about needs and concerns.

What do you hear when you “listen”?  The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman last year in Sanford, Florida, brought racial issues back to the forefront of our national discussions.  As tragic as the shooting was, we need to have the conversation.  Our nation has a painful heritage of racial injustice which has its roots in hundreds of years of slavery and incredible brutality. 

While the Civil War brought an end to the institution of slavery, it did little to deal with the generations of pain, fear, anger, and distrust between the races in our nation.  For nearly 150 years since the slaves were freed millions of African Americans have continued to experience repression and at times oppression economically, educationally, politically, and through our criminal justice system.

While I was attending the National Leadership Training last week, I had the opportunity to see the powerful film and tragic story of “Fruitvale Station.”  It is the true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.  Oscar was killed by a BART police officer in another tragic clash of races in our nation.  It is a story repeated way too often on the streets of our nation.  I was moved by the film.
Two days later, Ryan Coogler, writer and director of "Fruitvale Station," met with those of us attending the National Leadership Training.  I had the privilege of hearing his story and talking with him about the powerful message of his film.  He is an incredible young man.  He indicated that he hoped the film would help our nation look at the issues of race with fresh eyes.  

While some progress has been made, we still have a long way to go.  Why should a white person feel ill at ease when they meet a black person on the street?  Why should a black person distrust someone they do not know just because they are white?  How do we overcome the fear, hatred, and anger that lead to these tragic events?  Obviously, there are no simple or easy answers, but if there is any group who ought to be seeking answers it is people of faith.  Somehow we need to find the courage to have real conversations about racial issues with our congregations.

People of faith need to stand up and lead the efforts to help our nation heal its brokenness as we learn to understand and trust one another.  I remember singing the song as a child:  Jesus loves the little children—all the children of the world.  Red and yellow, black and white—they are precious in his sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Churchnet has copies of a documentary about Baptists and Racial Issues produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics.  It is a helpful resource to help congregations begin their discussions about these difficult issues.  Free copies are available for your church.  I hope you will encourage your church to have a conversation.  Are you listening for justice?

This is a slightly longer version of an article written for a Word&Way issue.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Message with the Fruit Basket

This past Sunday I was invited to speak at Third Baptist Church in St. Louis while their pastor was away.  The pastor suggested the lectionary passage for the day as my text—Amos 8:1-12.  I was delighted to spend some time with Amos.  Amos began his ministry in the first half of the eighth century B.C.  He led a line of great prophetic voices through which the people of Israel came to a deeper and more profound knowledge of the nature of God and his purposes. This new understanding came as the people of God were confronted with some of their greatest challenges. 

What was the message of the fruit basket? 

God sometimes speaks through everyday experiences.  Amos is looking at a basket of summer fruit. Summer fruit is obviously fruit that ripens during the summer and is gathered in the fall.  What do you see, Amos?  A basket of ripe fruit.  There is a potential play on words in the question and response.  The word for “summer fruit” sounds like the word for “end.”  The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.  The “end” is near. 

The message is not a warning.  Amos has previously sounded a call for justice, and now he announces an imminent judgment. During the Feast of Tabernacles and the time of harvest, the people would have been gathered for the celebration.  The priest might have appeared and delivered a message of assurance based upon God’s continued provision and blessing. Amos shares a message of doom—the end has come upon my people Israel.  The songs of the temple and festival celebration will be turned to wails and lament.  The fruit basket was a message of judgment.

What was the reason for God’s judgment?

Why does Amos bring this message of judgment?  Why would God deal so harshly with his people?  The oppression of the poor brought God’s judgment upon his people.  The people addressed are those who trample upon the needy and cause the poor of the land to cease.  They are literally exterminating the poor through their greed and exploitation. 

These merchants were trying to squeeze every penny from the hands of the poor.  Their policies were making it impossible for the poor to survive.  They exploited the poor by giving smaller measures than expected, charging very high prices, using rigged scales, and selling corrupted or adulterated merchandise (wheat mixed with the sweepings from the floor).  Amos said that God has sworn not to forget their deeds.  This judgment is the opposite of forgiveness when our sins are “remembered no more.”

I heard about a recent study by a Harvard professor and economist where 5,000 Americans were surveyed regarding the wealth inequity in our nation.  The survey was a cross-section of our population economically, educationally, and politically (republicans and democrats).  Ninety-two percent of those surveyed felt there was inequity in the distribution of the nation’s wealth, but almost none had an accurate picture of the current wealth distribution.

The top 1% of our nation’s 311 million people have 40% of our nation’s wealth.  The bottom 80% have a collective total of 7% of our nation’s wealth, and the bottom 40% (more than 124 million people) have practically none of our nation’s wealth (it is statically insignificant).  Many of these people are living in poverty in the richest nation in the world. 

This trend of inequity has significantly accelerated in the last 20 to 30 years.  The top 1% receive 24% of the nation’s income and own 50% of the nation’s stock.  The average CEO makes 380 times what his average worker makes (his average, not his lowest paid worker).  So his average worker must work more than a month to earn what the CEO makes in one hour.

I wonder what Amos would think?  More importantly, I wonder what God thinks about the economic policies and practices that favor the wealthy and lead to the oppression of the poor in our nation and around the world.  When the people of God fail to speak to the injustice in their communities by our silence we endorse it.  When we refuse to act to correct these injustices, we ignore the urging of a Savior who said when you did it for the least of these you did it for me.

What was the nature of God’s Judgment?

Amos says he remembers our deeds—he remembers our sin.  And, because he remembers, the nation will tremble.  There will be fear and mourning.  There will be chaos and unrest.  There will be darkness.  Their festivals will be turned to mourning.  Their singing will be turned to weeping.  They will exchange their party clothes for sack cloth.  Their heads will be shaven because of their grief and mourning.  The grief will be profound—like the grief that comes at the death of an only son! 

Maybe the most profound judgment coming is the famine.  It will not be a famine of food or drink, but rather a famine of the hearing of the words of the Lord.  There will be no word from God.  No matter how far they search (sea to sea) they will not find it.  From the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea, there will be no “word from God.”

Nothing worse can happen to the people of God than to have no word from the Lord—for men do not live by bread of alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.  The merchants of Amos’ day who thought the sacred seasons and Sabbath observances were a waste of time and kept them from earning a profit, are coming to a day when they will search for a word from God and not find it.

Sometimes our lives are so removed from the world around us that we miss the pain, but it is all around us.  Here are just a few examples:

(1) Bob and Carol are young adults raising their two children in a small town in our state.  They both work hourly jobs, but neither of their employers provide health care benefits.  Bob employer keeps his hours below the threshold which requires them to provide benefits, and the small business where Carol works does not provide health care coverage.  Since our Missouri legislature refused to accept the Medicaid expansion which is a part of the affordable health care act, they will remain without coverage even though they have a child with special health care needs.  They receive too little health care and the pay higher prices for the care they receive.  Our current health care policies imply that the health of hundreds of thousands of Missourians does not matter.  Ten people die each week in our state for lack of health care.

(2) Missouri’s income tax code was last updated in 1931.  Our top tax bracket is $9,000.  While $9,000 was a significant income in 1931, not many of us would consider it adequate today.  What does this mean?  It means that our tax code, which was at one time progressive and fair, has been become regressive and unfair over than last 80 plus years.  It means the poorest 20% in our state pay a much higher percentage of their income in state and local taxes (including sales tax) than the wealthy in our state (nearly twice as high).   In fact they pay a higher percentage than any other group.  This is the group (the bottom 20%) who earn less than $17,000 per year. Is it right for the poor to pay a higher percentage in taxes than we do?

(3) John works for minimum wage and accepts all the overtime he can get to help support his family—his wife Joyce and their son John, Jr.  Joyce also works part-time for minimum wage.  They live in a small home in the city which they have been paying on for 15 years.  When his 10 year old car broke down, John got a payday loan to pay for the repair bill because his bank would not loan him the money.  Without his car John had no way to get to work.  Because our state has almost no restrictions on payday and car title lenders, John is charged more than 500 percent for the loan.  The payday loan industry is permitted to charge over 1,500 percent in our state.  A week after he takes the loan to fix his car he is laid off of his job.  While he works odd jobs to buy food for his family the spiral of debt and interest quickly puts the family in freefall.   They fall behind on their mortgage and lose their home.  Because we have practically no restrictions on campaign contributions, the payday loan industry makes contributions to legislators of both political parties to ensure no real payday loan reform is ever passed.  The people of God cannot be silent in the face this injustice which allows an industry to prey on the working poor in our state just because they have nowhere else to turn.

For most of my ministry I have led congregations to feed the poor, and to provide emergency assistance, but I have done little to lead congregations to work on the systemic problems and unjust systems that keep people trapped in poverty.  In the past ten years I have become involved in several efforts within the faith community to address these injustices including Missouri Faith Voices.  Missouri Faith Voices is a statewide, ecumenical network of congregations organizing to address the real needs and issues in their communities and our state.  The message of Amos is—the time is ripe! The time is now for the people of God to be heard.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

We Are Responsible!

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of co-authoring an op-ed with our Missouri Governor Jay Nixon entitled “Standing in the Gap for Working Missourians.”  It was written in support of providing health coverage to 300,000 working Missourians through the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program.  Under the proposed expansion, low-income Missourians who can’t afford health insurance and earn less than 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level – or $32,500 a year for a family of four – would be eligible for coverage.

The op-ed was written following a meeting of Governor Nixon and the clergy leadership of Missouri Faith Voices and its partners on March 12 in Jefferson City to discuss the moral imperative of Medicaid Expansion.  Clergy and faith leaders throughout the state are leading dialogue with legislative leaders from both parties regarding this important decision.

In the op-ed I referenced the fact that in the prophet Ezekiel’s day, the poor and needy of Jerusalem faced oppression and extortion.  Ezekiel says God “looked for someone who would stand in the gap...and found no one.” Because good people did not stand up for a more righteous Jerusalem, suffering in Jerusalem continued.

One our former Missouri state senators responded with a letter to the editor of Missouri Times in which he indicated that I had inappropriately taken the scripture out of context to support Medicaid expansion.  He went on to say the nation of Israel was a theocracy and implied God’s expectations were different for Israel than they are for our nation.  Incredibly, he said the scripture does not “support the concept that it is the responsibility of any government to provide for the poor and needy.”

I serve on the board of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.  The BJC is an advocate for religious liberty strongly supporting both the “non-establishment” and the “free-exercise” clauses of the first amendment.  I believe in the separation of church and state.  I believe faith should be neither coerced nor inhibited by the state; however, this does not mean the state has no moral or ethical responsibility to care for its citizens.  Nor does it mean the government is not accountable to God for its actions.

I am confident we can all cite examples of governments (democracies, monarchies, socialist governments, and others) who have acted immorally in oppressing, neglecting, or abusing their citizens—especially their most vulnerable citizens.  Throughout the Hebrew scriptures God’s judgment is repeatedly pronounced on both Israel and her neighbor nations (most of which were not theocracies) for their oppression of the poor.

It is wrong to have a state tax code which allows the wealthy in the state to pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than the poor.  It is unfair to offer corporate tax credits and tax loopholes for the wealthy, and then to pay for this corporate welfare by cutting basic human services to the most vulnerable in our state.  It is unjust to build a healthcare system primarily focused on corporate profits, and then to decide hundreds of thousands of your working poor are not worthy of access to basic health services.  It is immoral to keep the minimum wage so low that families must remain trapped in a cycle of poverty, and then blame them for their failure to lift themselves out of poverty.

The former state senator said, “It is the church and individual Christians that are responsible to care for their neighbors.”  I would certainly concur that Christians individually and collectively are responsible for caring for their neighbors, but this does not negate the responsibility of a government and a nation to care for its citizens.  Nor does our failure to accept these responsibilities free us from our accountability to God.  The senator obviously does not read the Hebrew prophets or the teachings of Jesus and hear the call for justice the way I do, but that does not make the call any less real.  Maybe we could just listen to our own state motto—The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.

We are the richest nation on earth and we have more people living in wrenching poverty right now than in any other moment in our country’s history.  How can the wealthiest country in the world not provide the access to quality healthcare services for more than 40 million of our citizens?  The truth is almost every study indicates Medicaid Expansion in our state makes good economic sense.  Across Missouri, non-partisan business groups, including the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, are supporting this effort to strengthen Medicaid. For these leaders, it’s a business decision. They understand that bringing the dollars Missourians send to Washington back home to protect taxpayers, create jobs, and reward work, is good for our economy.

But, even if it were not a sound economic strategy, it is the just and right thing to do.  It is a justice issue for our state.  It is a moral issue.  We are responsible!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Finding a Voice for Justice

Ezekiel 22:28-30 (NIV)
28 Her prophets whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says’—when the Lord has not spoken. 29 The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.
30 “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.

What does God expect of me?  How does he want me to live?  All of us struggle at times as we seek to live our faith? I must confess that I have spent a lot of years in my ministry with a muted voice.  Almost like I pressed the mute button on my television, I have often been silent when I should have spoken.  I have failed to find my voice when I should  have cried out for those who have no voice.  My mother says I was one of loudest of her eight children.  When I was growing up no one had a problem hearing me.  Yet, when I became a man, sometimes at the most important moments I seemed to have lost my voice.

After more than 40 years of ministry I am still learning and discovering what it means to live my faith and to use my voice.  I have preached thousands of sermons and taught hundreds of lessons.  I have tried to care for those in need, and I have sought to lead the churches I served to do the same.  We were much better at direct service ministries than we were at addressing the systemic problems in our communities.  We fed the hungry, but we rarely addressed the systems which created poverty. 

Sadly, I am not the only follower of Christ who has found it difficult to speak up.  Ezekiel speaks a prophetic word when he says, The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.  He says God looked for someone who would stand in the gap...and found no one.  What a sad statement.

So much of religious life becomes hallow and empty when it is not tied to calls for justice in our world.  Maybe there is no clearer statement of this than the words of Amos.

Amos 5:21-24 (NIV)
21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.  22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.  Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.  24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

In the past ten years I have begun to use my voice to call for justice.  I have been mentored and encouraged by several other ministers and friends as I have learned God can use our lives to change our world.  I have been a part of Missouri Impact, an interfaith organization which speaks and acts for justice in our state.  

Over the past few years I have been a part of Missouri Faith Voices, and I am currently serving as president of the MFV board.  MFV is an new state-wide network of faith-based organizing groups and congregations.  We help congregations listen to their congregational members and their larger community as they seek to identify needs and opportunities to work for justice.  We help congregation organize for more effective ministry and advocacy efforts.  We encourage congregations to collaborate with other faith groups to addresses needs and issues in their communities.  

Systemic change is difficult, but God can use people of faith to make a real difference in our world.  If you are looking for a place to serve where you can work on real problems that impact the lives of the most vulnerable in our communities, I encourage you to explore your place in this new faith-based, organizing group.  Our Faith & Families Summit will be held at the Missouri state capitol on Tuesday, March 12th.  Join us as we call for justice rolling like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Leadership Coaching Project
A coaching experience for clergy and church staff 

March 4-6, 2013 (followed by 6 months of coaching)
Churchnet is collaborating with the Transformed by the Spirit Leadership Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary and Pinnacle Leadership Associates to offer a coaching experience for pastors and church staff.

Trainers provided by Pinnacle Leadership Associates
Although attending retreats and conferences are inspirational and restful, few of those experiences result in transformation.  The Leadership Coaching Project is a coaching experience for clergy and church staff designed to facilitate growth and change over a six-month period.  Our goal is to help clergy and church staff raise their leadership effectiveness around specific leadership competencies.
Monday, 2:00 p.m. to Wednesday, 3:00 p.m.

$775/person + $170 Room and Board
$500/person + $170 Room and Board for CBTS Students
Churchnet Scholarship: Churchnet is offering a $275 scholarship to reduce the cost for Missouri pastors and church staff.  Contact (888) 420-2426 or for information.

Savior Pastoral Center
12601 Parallel Parkway, Kansas City, Kansas 66109 (directions)

Visit the event registration page to register online for this learning opportunity, or contact Heather Entrekin, 913.667.5709 or 
Registration is limited, so please register early.   Deadline: Feb 18
$200 deposit due at registration

Participants will gather for a retreat focused on identifying one’s leadership strengths and needs. Participants will:
    Complete PeopleMap Personality and Leadership Style Inventories
    Learn how to apply the meaning of these tools to their ministry leadership
    Learn about Life Purpose Exploration
    Learn how to construct a Learning Plan focused on leadership development
    Participate in group sessions with their assigned leadership coach

When is the right time for a minister to participate in the Leadership Coaching Project?
    Beginning a new ministry placement
    Facing a major ministry objective
    Experiencing conflict in a ministry setting
    One is “stuck” and needs to grow or gain a new vision
    Evaluating a sense of calling to a vocational ministry or a particular ministry context
    Things are going fine – allowing time for personal and professional development
    Entering vocational ministry
    Life is out of balance and a proactive approach for sustainable ministry is needed

Who should participate?
Solo pastors, senior pastors, associate pastors, interim pastors, ministers in transition, all church staff regardless of responsibility, chaplains, denominational and judicatory leaders, ministers with specialized assignments, and seminary students.  The Leadership Coaching Project is open to clergy and church staff of any Christian denomination.

Leadership Coaching
During the retreat, participants will meet their coach and begin the coaching process.  During the following six months participants will meet with their coach two times each month for leadership coaching.  Most leadership coaching is done by telephone, eliminating geographical constraints.  Leadership coaches work with their clients toward reaching the client’s goals.  Participants will find the personalized Learning Plan and Leadership Coaching to be exceptional tools for forwarding their ministry effectiveness.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Essay Scholarship Contest focuses on Religious Diversity and ‘Christian nation’ Claims

I serve on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty in Washington, D. C.  Each year we provide a wonderful essay scholarship contest for high school students to explore a topic related to religious liberty.  The deadline is March 1st.  I am sharing a press release with more information.  I encourage you to share it with students who might be interested in participating.

WASHINGTON— High school juniors and seniors can win up to $2,000 for college in the 2013 Religious Liberty Essay Scholarship Contest sponsored by the Religious Liberty Council of the Baptist Joint Committee. Essays must examine religious diversity in America and evaluate the claim that the United States was founded as a “Christian nation.”

For the 8th annual contest, the scholarship money doubled for the top two prizes. Grand prize is $2,000 and airfare and lodging for two to Washington, D.C. Second prize is $1,000, and third prize is $250.

High school students in the graduating classes of 2013 and 2014 can enter by writing an essay addressing the following topic:

The United States of America was religiously diverse at its founding. Its population included numerous Protestant groups, small Catholic and Jewish populations, those who practiced traditional Native American religions as well as those who practiced African religions. The United States has become even more religiously diverse, yet Christianity has remained the majority faith tradition since the country’s beginnings. Today, some Americans assert that the country was founded as a “Christian nation” while others contend that statement is a myth. Using the Constitution and writings of the Founders, research and evaluate the claim that the United States was founded as a “Christian nation.” Include a discussion of the current implications for religious freedom for all people in a democratic country in which the majority rules in elections and ballot initiatives.

Essays must be between 800-1,200 words, and they must be mailed – along with registration forms – and postmarked by March 1, 2013, to be eligible. Contest forms and details are available online at

Winners will be announced in the summer of 2013, and the grand prize winner will be recognized at the BJC board meeting in Washington, D.C., in October 2013.

Essays will be judged on the depth of their content, the mastery of the topic, and the skill with which they are written. Students should develop a point of view on the issue and demonstrate critical thinking, using appropriate examples, reasons and other evidence to support their position.

Visit for complete contest rules. If you have questions, contact Cherilyn Crowe at 202-544-4226 or by email at

The Baptist Joint Committee is a 76-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based religious liberty organization that works to defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all, bringing a uniquely Baptist witness to the principle that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by government.  Churchnet is a member of the Baptist Joint Committee.