Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A New Year’s Resolution

by Rev. Laura Barclay

This is the time of year when we frantically realize December is coming to a close and we haven’t yet made our resolutions for the coming year. Whether it’s joining a gym, losing five pounds, or eating better, we think this will be the year. According to research done by the professors at the University of Scranton and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, around 40-45% of adults in the United States make New Year’s resolutions. Only 46% of these resolutions are maintained six months later. My longest New Year’s resolution, to work out at a gym three times a week, lasted for eight months one year. Most likely, this was because I had fear motivating me to fit into a wedding dress.

What is it about us? We like fresh starts and new beginnings, a chance to get it right this time. It’s only natural. Perhaps instead of or in addition to the usual resolutions, we should resolve to listen to God in our lives. The more we spend time trying to discern where we see God in our lives and our communities, the better disciple we can be. If we spend a few times a week in silence for 15 minutes, perhaps we’ll begin to notice people and places we neglected before because of hectic routines and schedules. We might find our perspectives moving from stressful inward worrying to productive outward care and mindfulness.

Here are some possible questions to process as you pray or meditate, some of which we’ve discussed in my workplace as a guide for our ministry:
Where is God working in my life?
Do I know anyone that needs extra care?
How do I exhibit the love of Jesus in my daily life?
Where is God working in the community?
What are some concerns I’ve seen in my community?
What kind of community does God intend us to become?

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t make it through the New Year with your goal. That same study showed that those who do make resolutions are 10 times more likely to achieve their goals than those who do not. And though I don’t still go to the gym three times a week, I have drastically changed what I eat and stay more active than before. Hopefully, remembering this can help motivate me to spend more quiet time with God, even if I fall short of my goal. Have a blessed New Year, and may your resolutions be fruitful!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Lessons from a Toddler

by Rev. Laura Barclay
 We all have multiple titles and identities, but the one of which I’m the most proud is the role of “Aunt Laura.” My sister, Jeri, and brother-in-law, Hans, have been intentional about closing the 400-mile gap between us by sending photos and videos of my niece, Téa, on a weekly basis. In watching these videos, I’ve been fascinated by her sense of wonder at Christmas. The lights and sounds are affecting her as if she’s conscious of them for the first time. When I came home for Thanksgiving, I was eager to see what she said about each holiday.

As her mother and I were explaining Thanksgiving and Christmas, she understood that one of them was Jesus’ birthday. We kept working to distinguish the two and told her that we would start to celebrate Jesus’ arrival after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Day came, and Téa sat at the table, eating her food and looking from face to face. She got down from her chair after eating, ran around playing, and gave out hugs. Soon Téa laid down on the floor, crossed and elevated her legs, clasped her hands and looked up at the ceiling—an exercise she’s done since before she could walk that we’ve affectionately dubbed “baby yoga.” She seems to do this when she’s thinking or wants to relax. Téa looked at Jeri and asked, “Where Jesus? I thought we see him today. He come see me?” After a moment of “awwws” from the family, my sister explained that Jesus was always with her and loved her very much. She looked up at the ceiling, resuming her “baby yoga,” and thought for a minute. “He love me?” she asked. “Yes, Jesus loves you very much,” my sister replied. After a few more minutes in thought, Téa resumed her play time and commands of Uncle Ryan to “be a giant” and chase her. Before the week was out, we had built Téa her first fort and invented games she played for the first time as if they were magic.

This childlike wonder at the world, with its close by-product of hope, was infectious. As much as I am annoyed by many of the commercial aspects of Christmas, I’ve struggled to come to terms with it and stake a claim on the meaningful aspects of the holiday. As Christians, we must do this in order to honor the reason we celebrate. It may be as simple as finding a child to remind you to look for that star in the East as a sign of hope, rather than to be consumed with the bargains of Black Friday. That child might inspire you to look for the newborn that shall be called Emmanuel, God With Us, who will show us a new Way and let us know that we are truly the beloved of God. How is the hope for a new Way exhibited in your life? How will you let others know that they, too, are loved? May you have a blessed and hope-filled Christmas.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A New Kind of Christianity - A Review

by Dr. Larry Hovis

This book shares a similar title to McLaren's first big "hit", A New Kind of Christian. Since the publication of that book, he has written many others, with his more recent releases challenging traditional thought to greater and greater degrees. This book continues that trend. In the second half of the book, he tackles such challenging topics as homosexuality, eschatology and pluralism. But for perceptive readers, his most radical proposals come in the first half of his book, in which he questions our most basic assumptions about theology and the Bible.

Specifically, he suggests that the overarching storyline which has guided Christian thought since Augustine is not the only way to view Christianity. This storyline develops in six stages: perfection, fall, condemnation, and then choice: hell/damnation or salvation/heaven. He then shows that there is an alternative meta-narrative which, if followed, drastically alters conventional Christian thought. He also argues that Christians have traditionally read the Bible as a constitution, when it should be read as a community library.

I think many free and faithful Baptists will readily embrace McLaren's second point about the Bible, but will struggle a bit more with his first point about the overarching narrative by which we interpret the Christian story. While I'm still thinking through, arguing with, and pondering the meaning of this book (and by no means accept every word at face value), I am grateful to McLaren for his courage to show us what he believes is a "more excellent way" and for doing so with grace and humility."

As a follower of Jesus and a devoted student of the Bible for many decades, I certainly believe that in a unique and powerful way God breathes life into the Bible, and through it into the community of faith and its members, and into my soul. And I certainly believe that the biblical library has a unique role in the life of the community of faith, resourcing, challenging, and guiding the community of faith in ways that no other texts can. It is uniquely valuable to teach, reprove, correct, train and equip us for love and good works, as the apostle Paul says. It provides a kind of encouragement that is central and unique to the community of Christian faith (p. 83).

Larry Hovis is the Executive Coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina. For more information on A New Kind of Christianity, click here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Can Christians Reclaim Our Saint Nick?

by Jason Williams

Gift giving is one of the chief practices of Christmas in our culture and the principal gift giver is Santa Claus: a white-bearded, rotund ‘saint’ clad in red with a big sack of toys whisking around the earth on Christmas Eve to shoot down chimneys and deliver toys to children of all ages.

The figure of Santa Claus is traced back to Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra during the fourth century. What we know about Saint Nicholas is limited and mostly from legend. He was a man of great compassion and concern for the poor. Tradition tells us that he inherited a large sum of money from his parents when they died while he was still young. He used this money to practice charity and help those in need. Beth Bevis relates the following legend:

A family in his community was desperate; the father had lost all of his money and had been unable to find husbands for his three daughters. The daughters were in danger of being given over to prostitution or another form of degradation when, one night, Nicholas appeared at their home. He tossed three bags of gold into the open window (or down the chimney, in some versions) – thereby saving them from a terrible fate.

Though a connection to our current practice of gift-giving is found within such a tale, we must question how gifts such as iPods, candy canes and legos faithfully reflect the practice of charity seen within the stories of Saint Nicholas. Surely Nicholas was not canonized because he gave dolls and toy trains to children who had their basic needs met!

Over the past 200 or more years, the faith and practice of Saint Nicholas has been co-opted. In the US, 17th century Dutch settlers first brought legends of Sinter Klaas (Klaas is the Dutch short-form of Nicholas), a red-vested bishop who brought them gifts on his feast day. Then Clement Clarke Moore, a wealthy scholar, elaborated upon the Dutch tradition in his 1823 poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas (more commonly known as The Night Before Christmas). Liturgical vestments became the fur garments of an elfish peddler. Secret charity for the poor became expected toys for those affluent enough to purchase ‘kerchiefs and dream of sugar plums. The faithful practice of a sainted bishop became masked by rosy cheeks and tiny reindeer.

In 1863, Harper’s Magazine began to publish the first pictures of Santa Claus. Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist, illustrated the pictures based on Moore’s poem and through them created the popular image of Santa. But Nast’s illustrations were not merely pretty pictures. In an 1863 image, for example, Santa is robed in stars and stripes and offers a special gift: a dancing doll depicting Jefferson Davis hanging by a noose. Yes, Santa is pictured as lynching the President of the Confederacy. With this image, the man once associated with charity, which sustained the lives of the poor, had become political messenger and herald of victory for a nation at war.

In 1931, Coca-Cola used a human-sized version of the jolly old elf in a series of advertisements. Eight years later Montgomery Ward invented Rudolf and his shiny red nose. Santa Claus became associated with his famous Coco-Cola red suit and songs about magical creatures and fanciful toys for children who were good. I imagine daughters about to submit themselves to prostitution to feed and shelter their families would not fall on the “nice” list of the newly imaged Santa, bishop of Coca-Cola and saint of corporate America.

The Santa Claus of which we sing today is not the fourth century Saint Nicholas. Santa Claus is a cultural icon formed and shaped by salesmen, political cartoonists, and the poetry of the wealthy elite. As such, Santa Claus has more to do with consumerism, nationalism and sentimentalism than any kind of saintly life, most especially one centered on charity.

Can Christians reclaim our Saint Nick? Within our current practice of Santa Claus, I have little hope. But when our gift giving turns from toys and treats to charity and almsgiving for those whose basic needs go unmet, then perhaps invoking the name of Saint Nick will teach us all what it means to follow the Christ child born on Christmas day.

Jason Williams is a graduate of the Baptist Theological Seminary of Richmond and a member of Hyaets, an intentional Christian community in the heart of the Enderly Park neighborhood of Charlotte, NC. A verson of this article is taken from their Advent Guide, "Christmas Is Not...Advent in the Apophatic Tradition," which can be found on their website: http://www.hyaets.org/.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Practice of Friendship

by Dr. Rick Jordan

Editor’s Note: Rick Jordan went on sabbatical this summer for 13 weeks and journaled about his experience . His hope in sharing his journal entries is to encourage churches and faith communities to offer their ministers a sabbatical for rest, reflection, and a renewed commitment to their work.

The week after our trip to PA was to be a week at home, doing bills, chores and maintanence. We began on Monday with a day of painting. As I was cleaning up, around 8 PM, Susan got a phone call. It was a friend, Cecil. His wife, Resa, had been in an accident in the Myrtle Beach area. It was a single car accident, she was in the hospital and Cecil was leaving to see her. He wanted Susan to email their Sunday School class to ask for prayers. As the call was finishing, I whispered to Susan, “ask if he wants me to go with him.” I knew that would be a long 4-5 hour drive alone, just thinking about what he would be facing. He said yes.

Cecil swung by the house that we are renovating to pick me up. I jumped in the car and we took off. I had not had a chance to talk much with Cecil about my sabbatical thus far, so that took up a lot of our time. There was also discussion about the accident, about his job and there were periods of silence.

When we got to the hospital, Resa was awake and alert. She’d passed out while driving. The major concern not not her few bumps and bruses, but the reason for passing out, so many tests were scheduled to be run the next day. Cecil and I found a hotel near the hospital and stayed the night. The next morning, he and I went to the car lot where Resa’s car had been taken. As he was collecting items from the car, I called Susan to give her an update. “You’re going to have to come get me,” I told her, “because Cecil is going to need to be here for several days.” I had no extra clothes or toiletries, etc. So, Susan made plans to bring me a change of clothes and to pick me up.

When I told Cecil of that plan, he said, “Why don’t you plan to stay the week? The condo we rented has two bedrooms.” I called Susan and we worked it out! Resa was released after a couple days. We got to eat meals together, relax on the beach together and just enjoy being together.

Cecil said at the end of the week, “Thanks, I couldn’t have done this without you,” which surprised me, but made me feel good. But actually, I was appreciative, too. I was glad to have a week away from the renovation. I was glad to have an unexpected week at the beach. Most of all, I was glad to practice being a friend.

Rick Jordan is the Church Resources Coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina. You can read more about his sabbatical on his blog, Rick’s Reflections.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Thanksgiving Reflection

by Rev. H. Michael Johnson

When I come to Thanksgiving each year and begin to meditate upon my blessings, I have to give thought to what is “a blessing?” What should I count first as a blessing? It is the little things that count most. Most folks would join me in thanksgiving for their family. What others don’t know about my family is the love my wife gives as she makes sure I get the drops in my ailing eyes on schedule no matter how far she has to go to get the drops. Others don’t know how much it means for our son to call as he travels to update us on his life or our daughter’s efforts for months to pick out the right gift for a special occasion.

The blessings we each receive, we may never know the cost to others. No one sees the hours spent in raising children. No one hears the quiet conversations spent in building a marriage. No one knows the worry business people put into doing the right thing for their employees' well being. No one knows the hours and tears that teachers devote to students or the extra effort service persons put into getting our needs met without a thought by us. No one knows the commitment to detail that laborers a world away have put into the clothes we wear or the stuff we enjoy in our lives every day while we pay as little as possible.

Which does God treasure more—that which everyone sees and applauds—or that which is unseen or done because it is right and in the fiber of one who will do the “right thing” regardless of notice or acclaim?

Give thanks to those around you who love you and care for you. Show your appreciation in tangible ways when possible. Humbly give thanks to God always for his grace that comes through the lives of all kinds of people because you never know all that has made your life better or how you could possibly thank those who have been God’s channels to you.

Michael Johnson is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Rowland, NC. This article first appeared in the November edition of their church newsletter, First Baptist News.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Are We Answering the Right Questions?

by Rev. Mark Mofield

So I heard a story the other day about a Christian search engine called Seekfind.org.

(OK, I’ll stop right here to explain that a “search engine” is what you use to find information on the Internet. If you have heard of Google or seen ads for Bing or Yahoo, these are search engines. Yes, I am a geek.)

Anyway, there is this search engine called Seekfind.org. It helps you find information on the Internet, but it limits its searches to those websites that, by its own definition, advocate and support a Christian worldview. The story said that if you did a search for “Democratic Party," the first result to pop up was a web page about socialism. (When I tried, it was actually the second result). When I checked it out, I thought I would try some other searches. I did a search for “Duke Blue Devils” and got a whole bunch of results, only 2 of which had anything to do with sports at Duke University, and both of which were articles about the Duke Lacrosse scandal from a couple of years ago. Then I did a search for “bologna sandwich” (I was still a little hungry after lunch). The first result was a website about a children’s game and the second result – and I am not making this up – was a web page about witnessing to atheists.

I never knew how short a jump it was from my favorite lunch meat to evangelizing the world. I thought I needed to be more specific, so I typed in “making a bologna sandwich”. The first result was a web page about the accounts of the trial of Jesus in the gospels and the second result was an article entitled, “Is God Making a Difference in Hollywood?”

Seekfind.org states that its purpose is to “provide God-honoring, biblically based, and theologically sound Christian search engine results in a highly accurate and well-organized format.” It seems to me, though, that in their desire to proclaim sound Biblical truth they are overlooking that there are people who might be looking to put together a really good sandwich. The search engine is providing answers to questions not being asked and not answering the questions that are asked. While the purpose is good, the result is frustrating and ultimately unfulfilling because you have to ask the questions the search engine wants you to ask.

I wonder if this is why people sometimes tear down the church for being “irrelevant.” I wonder if we as Christians sometimes grow too quiet because we wait for somebody to say just the right word to let us know we can talk about faith. Or sometimes we think evangelism has to mean taking every conversation and ending it with “Let me share with you God’s plan for your life.” Relevance doesn’t have to mean accommodating the gospel to the world. I think relevance can mean simply being willing to answer the questions that are asked, being willing to listen and to speak. Sometimes someone may ask us how to make a bologna sandwich. So we tell them how to make a bologna sandwich. If our desire to serve and relate to others is authentic, those questions can establish a foundation of trust for other, more spiritually profound questions.

“God is calling us to be a church that is compassionate, serving, and accepting. God is calling us to minister in ways that are honest, loving, respectful, and faithful.” These values demand that we be relevant, that we listen to what is being asked of us by God and by our community, and that we answer in the love and grace of Christ so that Christ might ultimately be glorified.

Mark Mofield is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Elon, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, "The Courier."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Church in the Inventive Age - A Review

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Church in the Inventive Age, by Doug Pagitt, is a book that aims to help American readers understand the changes happening in their church and world, and give them tools, examples, and options to not only adapt, but also to thrive. Pagitt posits that we have been through three ages already in America: the Agrarian, Industrial, and the Information. We are now delving into the Inventive Age, when everyone can be producers information through social networking sites. This age is also marked by people who care deeply about relationships, but who also recognize and encourage major shifts in authority. Pagitt explains each of the four ages clearly and concisely, covers current rifts in the church and provides hope for a way forward, and then advises churches on three different ways to serve proactively in the Inventive Age. Miraculously, he does it all in only 111 pages, and it only took me 2 hours to read it (including note-taking and underlining)!

Pagitt’s explanation of the four ages helps the reader to understand their history, as well as parts of our culture that are stuck in the past. He makes clear that elements of past ages still exist and are still the reality for many people in various parts of the United States, but his generalization of ages helps us to understand shifts in culture. The Agarian Age is everything before the mid-1800s. Communities were more homogeneous and rural, and the church was a small parish church that valued having a shepherd as a leader. The Industrial Age followed, from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s. Many moved to the cities to find jobs and found themselves working side by side with more diverse people. There were many churches in one neighborhood to choose from, many catering to particular ethnicities or groups. The lines between denominations became more clear, and many churches modeled the magnificent buildings being built around them. The Information Age began in the mid-1900s, with many WWII veterans moving out of the city to own farms and create suburban communities. More people could read than before, and more schools were opening. Education wings were more widespread in churches, and it became an important cultural value to see churches as “learning centers” through Bible studies, programs, and classes (23). The pastor was, and still is in many churches, valued as a CEO type of minister, where people join and stay because of pastoral teachings and passive learning (mega churches are a good example of this model). Pagitt posits that we are now in an Inventive Age, with people increasingly comfortable creating their own content on the internet and deconstructing hierarchical structures. Authority is found in relationships. This is already leading to more conversational, emergent sermons with the pastor being the facilitator.

Pagitt helpfully points out that currently, neither the mainline or evangelical sides of Christianity have a good model. The evangelical group is willing to embrace new technology and ideas about where they meet for worship, but tend to be rigid on doctrines and values. The mainline group is more accepting in values, but is rigid in liturgy. Both could learn from one another, and embrace the cultural marks of the Inventive Age to move past their weaknesses.

Pagitt gives three models of churches with examples for how they can relate to the Inventive Age: churches for the Inventive Age, churches with the Inventive Age, and churches as the Inventive Age. These churches are essentially on a scale from welcoming those who think differently to fundamentally changing how to do church. One new church start hecites meets entirely online in a program called Second Life, with real people making avatars of themselves to meet and talk in a virtual church. Moreover, there are good examples of how this church has been redemptive to people who had been previously scarred by bricks and mortar churches.

Pagitt's ideas are valuable in this age of rapid change. He affirms the place of churches that fall into each of these categories, giving each type of church ideas on how to preserve their traditions while not becoming obsolete. Pagitt also gives churches hope for the future by encouraging them to be ahead of the cultural curve instead of lagging behind, as we so often tend to do. I would encourage pastors and church leaders to read this in a peer learning group or book study and have a discussion. See what kind of church you will be in the Inventive Age!

Doug Pagitt is a missional community leader, professional speaker, author, and radio host. Find out more about his book, Church in the Inventive Age, here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

An Update on Church-State Separation

by Rev. Dr. Charles P. McGathy

As national political fires heat up, the subject of separation of church and state once again becomes a topic of intense debate. We Baptists may belong to different political parties or prefer to vote as independents, but we ought to be clear when it comes to the separation of church and state that there is historically one consistent position for Baptists. Our faith is founded upon the notion that there should be religious freedom for all people and that the separation of church and state is a biblical principle supported by Jesus. When he taught his followers to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s,” he established a wall that we should understand and respect.

Our Baptist forbearers understood this. As Baptists they were frequently the recipients of unfair treatment of a church-dominated state, both in the old world an in the fledgling American colonies. That is why Baptists like John Leland are so important. He demanded an absolute separation of religion and government. Leland argued to men like James Madison who framed the U.S. Constitution:
Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks (Muslims), Pagans and Christians.
I mention John Leland intentionally because he would be mortified to learn that the award that bears his name has just been awarded by the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Commission to Alan Sears. Alan Sears who heads up the Alliance Defense Fund has actually advocated the removal of a wall of separation between church and government. He has said, “One by one more and more bricks that make up the artificial 'wall of separation' between church and state are being removed, and Christians are once again being allowed to exercise their constitutional right to equal access to public facilities and funding.” Surely John Leland would be turning in his grave, where inscribed upon the tombstone it says:
Here lies the body of John Leland, 1754-1841, who labored sixty-seven years to promote piety and vindicate the civil and religious rights of men.
Perhaps such Baptist capitulation to the demagoguery much in vogue these days inspired the political candidate who recently proclaimed that the idea of church and state separation did not come from Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, but from Adolph Hitler. Glen Urquhart (candidate for House of Representatives from Delaware) addressed a crowd of supporters when he made this startling announcement:
Do you know, where does this phrase “separation of church and state” come from? It was not in Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists. …The exact phrase “separation of Church and State” came out of Adolf Hitler's mouth, that's where it comes from. So the next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of Church and State, ask them why they're Nazis.
Actually he is quite wrong. As James Evans points out:
Hitler was, in fact, a great promoter of the union of church and state. One of the main features of his consolidation of power in Germany in the early 1930s was the effort to nationalize the Christian church. And for the most part he was successful. Whether out of loyalty or fear, many if not most of the churches in Germany signed on to Hitler's vision as expressed through the Nazi Party.
The fact remains, however, that such irresponsible statements are made with increasing regularity and actually supported in essence by the very ones who should speak most clearly on religious liberty. As Free and Faithful Baptists, we will not succumb to the temptation to retreat from our founding values. Let us advocate for religious freedom for all. That means that no religion is favored by the state. God’s church does not need the state to interfere or to assist in her mission. All real Baptists know this.

Chuck McGathy is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Madison, NC. This article originally appeared in their October church newsletter.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bullying: An Unacceptable Reality

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Last week, a study published from Clemson University showed that one in six school children have experienced bullying. Many respondents felt that teachers had done little or nothing to stop it. The study also showed that as children get older, they are more inclined to engage in bullying. In the wake of the teen suicides of Tyler Clementi, Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, and others because of anti-gay bullying, I think it is important to reflect on what our children might be subjected to in our schools and become part of the solution.

In the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, teens have started a chapter of the Interfaith Youth Core and chose bullying months ago as the single issue on which they wanted to act. Many of these children told their stories at a C.H.A.N.G.E. assembly in April comprised of 54 faith communities and neighborhood associations. I was shocked by what these children had experienced. One Jewish girl told a story about swastikas being drawn on her desk and money being thrown at her feet, and a Jewish boy said a group of guys asked him why he was at “their school,” saying, “I thought you all died during the Holocaust.” A Muslim boy told a story about being called a “terror baby,” while a Catholic boy shared that he and his friends were called “gay” during the accusations of sexual misconduct among some priests. One Latino Christian described his fear of succeeding in class, saying that the gangs would bully him for being a nerd if they knew how smart he was. From sexual harassment to racial discrimination, it was truly heart wrenching to hear the stories of our youth. In a group of Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Unitarian youth, every single child had, at the very least, witnessed some form of bullying or discrimination in their school.

According to a report compiled by the US Department of Justice from worldwide studies, Australian researchers discovered that children who were victims of weekly bullying “experienced poorer health, more frequently contemplated suicide, and suffered from depression, social dysfunction, anxiety, and insomnia.” When they grew up, they had an increased likelihood of having children who would be subjected to bullying (pg 12). It’s a problem that has long-lasting effects.

So, what can and should we do? First, we need to become more educated about what our children face in their schools (check links below to start). Second, find out what you can do to stand with those who are bullied. To show immediate support, many celebrities, political figures, and regular folks like you and me have been making short videos and posting them to YouTube to say that “it gets better,” both as you get older and as time progresses and views change about gender, race, and sexuality. Parents can work to be more engaged in the schools, listening to their children and reading between the lines. Teachers can respond and stop the bullying when it starts. Churches and their members can mentor schools and students, and be safe havens for children and teens who are being bullied and contemplating suicide.

Each of us is a child of God, made in God’s image and deserving of love and respect. Gen 1:27-31 states, “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them…God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.” We can and should show our children that their lives are precious, and that their potential is great. Jesus tells us not to be “a stumbling block before one of these little ones” and to “become humble like this child” in order to be “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (NRSV, Matthew 18). Let us commit to love, stand with, and speak out for these children in Jesus’ example. That these kids can’t see tomorrow for all the pain of today is a tragedy we shouldn’t be willing to let continue.

Additional Resources:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Bullying Initiative: http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/kids/

The National Center for Bullying Prevention:

Stomp Out Bullying:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Proof of Faith

by Rev. Jack Darida

A recent poll demonstrates public confusion concerning President Barack Obama’s faith. President Obama consistently professes to be a Christian. However, poll numbers demonstrate a change in public perception. In 2009, 11 percent of the public believed the President was Muslim. This year that number increased to 18 percent. Why is this? Maybe it is because these people do not like his positions and refuse to embrace his Christian profession. The White House claims there is a concerted effort to distort the President’s faith. I choose not to get into the middle of this controversy. If the President professes faith in Christ, I take him at his word. Nevertheless, the confusion over President Obama’s faith brings up a significant question. If people who know you were polled, how many would question your Christianity?

How do you tell whether someone is a Christian? Jesus told His disciples that the world would know they were His followers by their love. Love is the quintessential mark of the Christian. If you are a loving person, your friends might recognize you as a Christian.

Another acid test for Christianity is your belief system. If you believe the Bible is the Word of God, and live your life according to its principles, your friends might recognize you as a Christian. True Christians are serious about living out their faith. Doctrine is not dry and meaningless. Doctrine comes alive through the life of the believer in Christ.

Followers of Christ also have a habit of talking about Him. Christian speech is salty, sometimes causing unbelievers to take notice. When you are in a loving relationship with someone who means everything to you, you can’t help but include him in your conversations.

What about the church? While attending church does not guarantee you are a believer in Christ, the committed believer in Christ will be committed to His body. A couple of years ago, the Barna research group discovered that over half of professing Christians in the United States do not attend church. Dan Kimball reflects this in the title of his book about a new generation of believers: “They Like Jesus but Not the Church.” In spite of the trend, it is important for believers in Jesus Christ to worship, fellowship, learn, grow, and experience life together. The majority of the New Testament applies to a community and loses its force when directed only to the individual. Observable Christians actively plug themselves in to Christ’s body, the church. Perhaps consistent video clips of President Obama leading his family to church for worship would lay any questions to rest.

Someone once asked the question, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Christ-like love, living what you believe, salty speech, and a commitment to church togetherness would all stand up nicely in the court of public opinion.

Jack Darida is the pastor of Quaker Gap Baptist Church in King, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Messenger.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Baptimergent - A snapshot of a new century of faith

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Baptimergent: Baptist Stories from the Emergent Frontier is a compilation of essays published by Smyth and Helwys and edited by Zach Roberts. The 13 authors are a mix of new and established Baptist leaders who identify themselves as Emergent Baptists. These Baptists value a new way of practicing faith which has the following characteristics: reconciliation over ideological fighting; reclaiming ancient spiritual practices; a strong desire to follow Jesus in newer and deeper ways; a commitment to Baptist principles; and an open mind in following Jesus and encountering others.

The diversity of writing styles and perspectives among the essayists is refreshing. For those who want to delve into a more theological approach, Tripp Fuller encourages us to rethink our concept of power within Christianity in the opening essay, The Time Is Now, The Place Is Near. His piece reads like a deep theological work, mulled and mused over many a long night of discussions with friends, and ends with a call for the church to renew its commitment to the gospel and the hope found in God, identified as Abba by Christ.

For a great piece on the difference between Generation Y and The Greatest Generation, read Wanda Kidd’s Give Us Ears to Hear. The essay challenges us to “create opportunities for conversation across generational experiences for storytelling and name recognition.” She notes, “Community is a bankrupt concept if the exchanging of ideas, dreams, hopes, and promise is held only within one segment of the people” (62).

Those who want to learn more about ancient spiritual practices like lectio divina and walking the labyrinth will want to read Cathy Payne Anderson’s 21st Century Ancient Practices to discover how she integrates those elements into her life.

The piece that resonated most with me was Christina Whitehouse-Suggs’ Making Space at the Table. Her piece courageously recounts her navigation of complicated ministry situations outside the church and in diverse settings—which is familiar territory for many Generation X and Y ministers. Her triumphs and failures, which exude a conversational honesty, read like a guidebook for a new minister or Christian. She concludes that we must always err on the side of Christ-like grace and continue to make “space at the table” for all (87).

All the essays included in the book are well chosen and address some of the major problems or issues I see facing the church, our culture, and our faith in the coming century. A familiar theme for many of the authors seems to be growing up in a conservative Southern Baptist church and realizing at some point that the God of exclusion preached from the pulpit was at odds with the God of love they knew in their hearts or saw exhibited in the actions of another.

Based on my own similar experience and that of many others in my generation, I believe this book will resonate with many who are devoted to the Baptist principles of the priesthood of all believers, church autonomy, religious freedom, and the centrality of Scripture. As Tim Conder notes in the closing, these same Baptists are seeking new ways to practice their faith relationally against the individualism, consumerism, and nationalism that can plague our culture. And for those who are firmly rooted in the traditional Baptist liturgy and practices of the last century, this book would be a great resource to begin dialogue with other generations and encourage the true listening community. As Wanda Kidd states, “We are called to hear and respond to those who surround us, and it is a mighty calling” (67). Amen.

Baptimergent: Baptist Stories from the Emergent Frontier is available from Smyth and Helwys Press. For more information, visit their website: http://www.helwys.com/books/baptimergent.html

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lesson from a Tree

by Dr. Roger Gilbert

Last night, our grandchildren, Jessie and Jacob, spent the night with us. Bedtime is a story time, so I told them to each pick out a book and I would read to them. Jessie, who is eight, said she wanted to do the reading from her book. So, while I read to Jacob, Jessie read to Deidra.

The book Jacob chose is a long-time favorite, The Giving Tree. It is the story of a boy and a tree. When the boy was little, he loved to climb the tree, swing on the branches, and eat the apples. Both the boy and the tree were happy. But, as the boy grew up, he had other interests. He wanted money. That, he said, would make him happy. So, the tree suggested he pick the apples and sell them so he would have money. The story states that when the tree gave the apples, "The tree was happy."

Some time later, the boy, now a young adult, came back. The tree was delighted, but the boy was not interested in climbing or swinging. He wanted to build a house. The tree gave him her limbs so that the boy would be happy. But, again, the story says that when the tree gave the limbs, "The tree was happy."

A long time went by before the boy came back again. This time, the boy, now obviously a middle aged man, wanted to build a boat so he could sail away. The tree told him that he could cut down its trunk, make a boat, and sail away to be happy. So, the boy cut down the trunk of the tree, made a boat, and sailed away. The story says, "The tree was happy. But not really."

The next time the boy came back, he is obviously a very old, tired man. The tree is sad that she has nothing else to give. Perhaps that is why the giving of the trunk left her not really happy. The boy, now an old man, states that he is too old and tired to do much of anything. He just needs a place to sit down. Suddenly, the tree has an idea. She straightens up as best a stump can straighten. A stump makes a good place to sit. So, the boy, now the old man, sits down. The story ends, "And the tree was happy."

The message of the children’s book is profoundly true. Over and over again it is the giving tree that is happy. In the first part of the story when both the boy and the tree are enjoying their mutual give and take, they both are happy. But after that period, not once does it say that the boy is happy. It is always, "And the tree was happy."

Ben Gill in his book, The Joy of Giving, says in the opening paragraph:

"My life has been spent helping people to learn the gift of giving. After twenty-five years in this pursuit, I come now to tell you that one fact has become increasingly clear: the happiest people on earth are the people who have learned the joy of giving."

Much of our world is obsessed with the pursuit of temporary happiness, missing the basic truth that genuine, lasting joy is the product of giving, not getting. Giving is not limited to contributions of money, but rather is a lifestyle that encompasses one’s whole personality. It is a lifestyle perfectly exemplified in Jesus Christ. It is the product of the Spirit of Christ functioning as the Lord within us.

May the grace of Christ produce the joy of Christ within each of us.

Roger Gilbert is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Mount Airy, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, "The Announcer."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Answering the Door

by Rev. Laura Barclay

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article entitled “The Power of Persistence,” which I cut from a sermon I delivered recently. The whole point of the entry was for Christians to encourage themselves to live out an active prayer, answering the door when our neighbors knocked and were in need. Somehow, I’ve always found that my sermons have a way of challenging me either when I’m writing them or in the weeks after, but I’ve never faced a more direct challenge that I did a few weeks ago.

It was a late Saturday night, and my husband and I were exasperated with some home projects that including putting up a very complicated ceiling fan and light fixture. It was now 11:45pm, and we’d been at it for a few hours. Parts of all shapes and sizes were strewn about our dining room table with confusing directions to piece it all together. All of a sudden, the doorbell rang. We hesitated for a second, wondering if we should answer the door. It was late, the streets were deserted, and we were tired. After a few more seconds, Ryan and I went down the steps and opened the door to a man who looked both tired and upset. “Do you have a problem with black people?” he asked. My husband, a community organizer, answered no and said, “What do you need?” He continued by talking about his experiences with some local non-profits that had treated him very poorly and refused him services. Before long, he was sitting on our step, pouring his heart out about how badly people treat him on a daily basis. He had asked for a little bus money somewhere in the conversation, which we gave him (we don’t usually do this—we’d rather direct people to services or give food), but he still stayed, telling his story.

Pastoral listening ensued and my tiredness and fear of answering the door at night abated. As children, we are taught to fear strangers and not answer the door, which is healthy and appropriate to some degree. For some reason, that fearing of the stranger seems to be hard to let go in our adult life, and can keep us from embracing fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

After about a half hour of discussion, we encouraged him to visit a local church that had a good homeless ministry. He nodded approvingly, and said he wanted to be around people that would treat him as an equal and not look down upon him because of racial or economic prejudice. He walked off toward the bus station, but his impact stayed with me. I turned to Ryan and said, “We both wondered whether or not to answer the door, and I just preached on this a few Sundays ago!” Ryan responded that my sermon was the first thing he had thought of when the door rang, and that’s why he’d answered it.

I don’t say this to pat myself on the back. On the contrary, I am humbled and alarmed at how close any of us are to turning our backs on others simply because we are tired. At any point in our lives, we can find ourselves playing the various roles portrayed in Jesus’ parables. Though we might try to be that Good Samaritan, we might find ourselves playing the role of the priest passing by the wounded man on the road. This was a helpful lesson in humility to me to practice what I preach!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Facing Life's Challenges: Thoughts from Inside the MRI Machine

by Rev. Jayne Davis

All I could think about as I entered the tube of the stark white MRI machine was Toy Story 3 - Woody, Buzz Light Year, the Potato Heads – all grasping for metal objects so they would be sucked up by the powerful magnet and avoid the fiery furnace at the city dump. I was certain the myriad of fillings in my mouth would be ripped right from my teeth by the pull of the “strong magnetic field” that the ‘Caution’ poster in the dressing room warned me about. My morning had been frustrating enough already. I really didn’t need this kind of stress.

The MRI was for my shoulder – nothing life threatening. Just some eye watering pain when I reach too far into the refrigerator. I’ve put all of the high fat foods way in the back in a Pavlovian effort to train myself not to want them. It’s amazing how much pain a person can bear.

I didn’t want to be in the doctor’s office or dealing with my shoulder. Life’s challenges are always an interruption to the way we’d like things to be. Sometimes they’re an annoyance. Sometimes they shake the very foundation of our world. However serious, however sudden, however uncertain… some thoughts from inside the MRI machine may help you as you face the challenges in your life.

1. Don’t let the chaos drown out the music.

The technician gave me a pair of headphones and my choice of music stations – [80’s] - to drown out the loud noise of the machine. Between the screeching of what sounded like dental drills and the pounding of my heart in my chest, I had to strain at times to hear Twisted Sister on the radio.

In the midst of it all, there is music still playing in your world. Listen for it.

2. Open your eyes along the way – even when it’s scary.

Life is fascinating. There’s always something interesting to be seen, maybe even something inspiring. When I finally got up the courage to open my eyes during the MRI, I was amazed by … nothing. There’s nothing visible going on inside the tube. Smooth white walls. No zig-zaggy neon radio waves flashing across my body. Just like God at work in my life, so much was happening that I couldn’t see, but had to trust to be so.

This season of struggle is not an intermission until your real life begins again. This is the journey. Open your eyes. Live it.

3. Don’t over think it.

If I’d known ahead of time they were spinning the protons on my hydrogen molecules, I’d have been itchy the whole time. And dizzy, as they altered my magnetic field. If you have a renegade imagination, don’t allow it to dwell on the fact that the MRI machine looks like a giant blood pressure cuff that you’re precariously smack in the middle of.

We cannot control what thoughts come in to our minds, but God does give us the power to choose which ones we allow to take up residence there. Choose wisely.

4. Be grateful for the small things.

Sometimes God’s grace takes the form of a pillow under your knees, the kindness of a technician, the chance to close your eyes and rest in the middle of a Monday.
Notice these small graces and you recognize what abundant life feels like.

5. Take the blanket.

It’s cold in there. You’ll need it, even if you think you don’t need anything.

People want to help. Let them.

6. Focus on the important things.

Nothing culls down a prayer list like being strapped to a table to keep you from moving. God’s peace and presence. Family. Trust. The essentials.

Now is not the time to be carrying unnecessary baggage. Give it to God. He’ll dispose of it for you. If it’s really important, he’ll give it back to you when you’re ready.

7. Wiggle your toes every now and then.

Sometimes life’s challenges can keep you stuck in one position for a long time.

Wiggle your toes and remind yourself that you’re still there. Whatever helps you to feel alive… and keep your legs from going numb. You'll smile... and probably catch the technician off guard.

8. Sometimes you have to be still until it’s over.

We can’t fix everything. We can’t control everything. Sometimes we have to ride it out and trust that Jesus will guide us safely to shore.

“Be still and know that I am God."

Jayne Davis is the Minister of Spiritual Formation at First Baptist Church of Wilmington, and this article originally appeared in her blog.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"This Is What a Preacher Looks Like" - A Review

by Rev. Laura Barclay

This is What a Preacher Looks Like: Sermons by Baptist Women in Ministry is a wonderful compilation of sermons from amazing female ministers. The book, published by Smyth and Helwys and edited by Pamela R. Durso, is divided into two sections. The first section, entitled “Sermons by Baptist Women at Historic Moments in Baptist Life” has homilies by noted women who gave courageous sermons during crucial moments in our Baptist history. Nancy Hastings Sehested’s sermon, “We Have This Treasure,” was delivered in 1983 at the first meeting of Baptist Women in Ministry. She likens the path of women in that moment to the Israelites being freed from Egypt, and needing the faith, fortitude, and courage to keep moving forward.

The most compelling sermon in the first section, however, is a sermon that was never given. F. Sue Fitzgerald was an alternate to give a sermon at the 1996 Baptist State Convention, entitled “The Kingdom of God Is Among You.” The elected male preacher, while having many personal difficulties, attended the convention and gave his sermon instead, leaving this inspiring homily to remain unpreached. Fitzgerald implores us to hear that the Kingdom of God is among us, rather than inside us, which encourages hard communal work over the individualism of personal spirituality so indicative of American culture. She attempts to heal the wounds of the time by encouraging listeners to acknowledge their pain and choose the love and power of God over “the power rooted in our desire to make something happen a certain way” (23). Her healing way with words, charming personal anecdotes, and deep rooted wisdom leave the reader sad that sermon was not preached.

The second section, entitled, “Sermons by Women from Beginning to End” contain sermons preached by women from texts throughout the Bible. Humorous, powerful, and challenging, these sermons demand the reader’s attention. Amber Inascore Essick’s text from Genesis 18 calls us to make time for strangers and make room for hospitality, despite our fears and of vulnerability. Essick states, “To open ourselves to the other is scary and risky. But it just might hold redemption and life for us” (37). Amy Butler delivers her Exodus 14-15 sermon as Moses’ sister, making the message of God’s eternal presence all the more realistic and meaningful. Isabel N. Docampo connects the Luke passage of the hemorrhaging women, oppressed by societal views on cleanliness, to her chronic illness and the treatment of minority women in society in “Women: Beloved, Brave, Bridge Builder.” She encourages listeners to tell their faith story, which will build bridges to peace and progress. Molly Marshall pushes us to proclaim truth, faith, and freedom from fear in a post-9/11, MTV generation world in “Living in Our Own Time…Wisely,” as she weaves together texts from Chronicles and Matthew. Lisa Thompson encourages us to participate in God’s redemptive story in, “Yes, God,” grounded in Isaiah 6:1-13. Bonnie Oliver Brandon shares the good news of “A Homeless Jesus," preaching from Matthew 8. The good news keeps on coming with sermons from Pamela R. Durso, Andrea Dellinger Jones, Suzii Paynter, Julie Merritt Lee, Joy Yee, and others.

From beginning to end, this book brought me on a journey through the faith and strength of these ministers. My only wish was that this work was published years ago before I ever went to seminary (I’d never heard a women preach before my years at Wake Forest University School of Divinity), so that I could be more confident in my path. I hope that many of you will get to enjoy this fine book, and that our notions of what a preacher looks like are continually expanded. In my lifetime, I have found that God has no limits for who God can use to bring a message of salvation, renewal, and announcement of the kingdom of God, if we are willing to have faith and listen.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Reflection on Immigration

by Rev. Laura Barclay

A few weeks ago, a heated political issue took on a very real human face for my co-workers and me when one of the pastors in the CBFNC Hispanic Network of churches was arrested. Rev. Hector Villanueva was arrested at his home on the morning of Thursday, August 19, simply because he applied to become a citizen. Though he has had a green card and a social security number for decades, he once served time for trying to cash a bad check when he was homeless in California 15 years ago. Because of an inane law in US immigration policy, anyone who isn’t a US citizen can be deported if they have been convicted of a felony, regardless of whether or not they have paid for their crime.

Shortly after his arrest in California, Hector became a Christian and worked hard to share his love and ministry with others. He moved to North Carolina, married a US citizen, had four children, and is currently in the process of adopting two more. Hector started churches with the help of Rev. Javier Benitez, CBFNC’s Hispanic Leader Coach, and exhibited love for his neighbors. My co-workers and I have written character reference letters to encourage the judge to grant a petition for bond, which he did last week. Hector will now await his trial at home with his family, but I think we all still feel relatively helpless against such a confusing, overwhelming immigration system. Hector’s wife, Martha, has remained a rock to her children throughout these weeks, and I’m always amazed by her strength and composure when we speak.

One night after speaking with Martha, it occurred to me the level of privilege I have. In high school and college, I had friends get arrested for possession of drugs, driving drunk, failing subsequent drug tests and still not serve any time. Moreover, they had it expunged from their records. We see “stars” like Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton, Mel Gibson and others get slaps on the wrist for repeated crimes and misdemeanors. I find it difficult to understand why there is a law stating that any non-citizen who serves time for a crime, even though they have paid their dues, can be deported years later when they have clearly been bettering society for years through their actions.

Perhaps it is time for lawmakers to stop worrying about poll numbers, reelection, and belittling their opponents and come together to work for truly important policy like immigration reform. I think the only reason immigration reform is a divisive issue is that politicians have chosen to make it a wedge issue. There are many aspects of immigration policy that both sides agree are bad, but politicians are so busy spinning the truth that they won’t sit down to address actual problems.

Let’s ask our politicians to come to the table and do what we elected them to do—solve problems. I would much rather see Republicans and Democrats sitting down to discuss the issue, having respectful agreements and disagreements, than waste Americans’ time hurling insults at one another. Frankly, we have a lot of work to do to see the Kingdom of God flourish, and I’m tired of excuses--especially when one of our ministers recently sat in jail and still faces deportation because of our government’s unwillingness to cooperate in a bi-partisan manner.

So, I would ask you to get to know Hispanics in your area and exhibit the love of Christ to those who are treated like the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40). Learn more about how police and immigration officials operate in your area. What is your church doing to reach out to Hispanics? What are the concerns of Hispanics in your area, and what can you do to help? May our hearts and minds always remain open to fulfill Jesus’ summation of the law that we should love God and love our neighbors.

Further resources:

Bible study curriculum on immigration by Interfaith Worker Justice and compiled by the NC Council of Churches: http://www.imym.org/immigrationintervisitationproject/imymintervisitationimmigration/foryouwereonceastranger/view

Article on the browning of America by Tom Ehrich, Episcopal minister: http://www.biblicalrecorder.org/post/Time-for-a-little-honesty.aspx

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Build the Mosque, Build Good Will

by Dr. Tony Cartledge

The proposed construction of a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero has reached "scorching" on the hot-button scale of controversy. Political conservatives almost uniformly oppose the mosque, arguing that it encroaches too closely onto the sacred soil where thousands of Americans were killed by Muslim extremists. More moderate and liberal folk, including President Obama, say the issue is a matter of religious freedom and point out that it was fanatical members of Al Qaida, not Muslims in general, who carried out the attacks.

Opponents of the planned mosque, people who often like to fly the flag of patriotism, are hurting their cause and their country with their ill-conceived opposition. I suggest several things to consider:

1. Violent extremist groups such as Al Qaida recruit true believers by convincing them that Americans hate Muslims. The rabid opposition some have shown to the mosque's construction plays into their hands and works to the extremists' favor.

2. Any number of violent, senseless, and terroristic acts have been undertaken in the name of Christianity. Untold thousands of Muslims (and people thought to look like Muslims) were killed during the Crusades, including women and children. The Ku Klux Klan, which brought a reign of terror to blacks in the American South, claimed to be Christian. Even domestic terrorists like Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing, were strongly influenced by supposedly Christian beliefs. Arguing that a mosque near Ground Zero is an offense to the "hallowed ground" where the attacks took place, if followed to its logical conclusion, suggests that churches located near places where Christian-related acts of violence were committed should be torn down. That would include all the majestic churches built by the Crusaders to symbolize Christianity conquering the Muslim world.

3. Have you been to the neighborhood near Ground Zero lately? If anything, a new mosque would be an improvement over the bars, strip clubs, and porn shops that now populate the area. Do those honor the dead?

4. America is indeed built on a foundation of religious freedom. If the people who want to build the mosque own the land and meet the local zoning requirements and building codes, they have the right to build a mosque, or a temple, or a synagogue, or a church -- and denying that right is just wrong.

Tony Cartledge is the contributing editor for Baptists Today, and also teaches Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School. This post originally appeared on his blog at http://www.tonycartledge.com/.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Live Simply That Others May Simply Live!

by Dr. Dennis Herman

It’s tomato season again. This year I have again fought drought and deer to have a few tomatoes to harvest. My tomato plants are, again this year, in my front yard. It’s the only sunny spot in my yard and I am convinced that it is more important that I grow some food, no matter what the neighbor’s say about “Dr. Herman’s front yard, overgrown veggie patch.”

Why fill the yard with vegetables rather than petunias? For one, I want to remember where my food comes from. And I want all the kids on my street to see that food actually grows on plants and just doesn’t “appear” in the produce department. I am hopeful that the kids on my street (unlike the young clerk at the supermarket where I shop) will someday know the difference between a tomato and a turnip.

I am defying my professional yard “fertilizers” and going to a natural lawn care service. I am attempting to eat less meat because the way our meats are raised and processed tend to, well, turn my stomach. I don’t like the fact that poultry cannot breathe or even walk where they are raised, or that beef is injected with any number of hormones and antibiotics, or pork is...well, you get the picture.

No, I’m not a rabid animal “rights” person, or a tree-hugging environmentalist, or a fanatic about every health fad that comes along. But I am seriously trying to understand “Christian stewardship” as being about more than giving to the Church. It’s about how we treat our earth, our animals, our humans, and our food and water sources.

I believe some resources of our earth are limited and others, while limited, are replenishable. I believe there may just be enough food and resources for all of us if some of us don’t mess it up or use it up! And I believe that good stewardship calls me to live simply that others may live.

This is a counter-cultural idea and you may not agree. But if you can’t get any tomatoes or basil, come by my house. I don’t mind sharing.

Dennis Herman is the senior Pastor of Greystone Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. He will be retiring next week. This article originally appeared in the church newsletter, Greystone Today.

Monday, August 16, 2010

God Is Present

by Dr. Marion Aldridge

On Thursday, June 17, 2010, I was in a bad wreck. The people at the scene of the accident could not believe that I survived my car taking a direct hit from a logging truck. But, thankfully, I did. A week after the wreck, I have only one small scratch remaining. People told me how “lucky” I was. They mentioned that I had been protected by my guardian angel. “God is not finished with you yet,” was a frequent phrase. I don’t intend to argue with any of those sentiments.

My primary thought and emotion has been one of gratitude. As a pastor, I know how many dumb things people say after a tragedy. They may be well-meaning, but there is a lot of bad theology that surrounds heartbreaking disasters. Be careful with your words in times of crisis.

The two sentences that made the most sense to me are these:

• I say my Alleluias softly, and
• God is present.

I am happy to be alive. I am grateful that on July 3, 2010, I was able to walk my baby girl down the aisle and present her to the man who is now her husband and my son-in-law. All four of Julie’s grandparents are dead and my best friend, her second dad, passed away this past year. I am grateful that I was there for Julie and Tom, and not in a hospital room or in a grave! I am glad that I am still here to cuddle with Sally at night. I am thankful I can still take my other daughter and her husband and my grandson to a baseball game. More than ever, I appreciate peach cobblers, roses, jazz, waterfalls, and good books. I love my friends. I am grateful to be alive.

But I do say my Alleluias softly, because everyone who has been in a wreck did not survive and/or thrive. Many sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, dads and best friends have been seriously injured or even died in tragic accidents. I don’t think God loves me more or that my prayer life is better. Anything that credits my survival to my good works is probably bad theology.

As I was sharing this perspective with two friends at our recent Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, I discovered that one of them, my seminary buddy Don Garner, had indeed lost a son in a car wreck about a decade ago. God loves and loved Don and his wife and their son as much as God loves me. Don told me that their “lesson” during their awful grief is that God is always present. God is present when I survive my wreck, and God is there when Don’s son did not survive his wreck. God is present.

Those are lessons enough for me.

Marion Aldridge is the Executive Coordinator of CBF of South Carolina, and has written several books and hundreds of articles for South Carolina Wildlife magazine, Tennis magazine, Church Administration and others. This article originally appeared in CBF South Carolina's magazine, Fellowship.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An Altar on the World - A Review

by Rev. Laura Barclay

An Altar on the World by Barbara Brown Taylor takes a meditative look at how we divide the sacred and the profane. Taylor encourages the reader to view the world as an altar, a place to encounter God, a temple without boundary. She encourages us to do so with frequent reminders of biblical passages – Jacob encountering the ladder out in the wilderness, Moses stopping on holy ground to speak to God in the form of a burning bush, and Jesus asking us to consider the lilies of the field. In a series of chapters about different practices or senses that should be awakened, the author hopes to show us that we have everything we need within us and around us for a fruitful spiritual journey with God.

Taylor’s spiritual practices might not be ones of which you’d readily think, but they show the depth of a person who has tried to find ways to dedicate her whole life to God. She cover practices like “Paying Attention”, “Getting Lost”, “Encountering Others”, “Living with Purpose”, and “Saying No.” Her chapter on encountering others is a prescription for people to overcome their differences by seeing God in each other. She quotes Jonathan Swift who said, “We have just enough religion to make us hate one another, but not enough to make use love one another” (99). As Christ’s followers, we must love both God and our neighbor, because we are all created in God’s image (105).

I resonated with her chapter on prayer, because she admits to feeling like a failure in this area. I have often felt like my way of praying is not how others pray—to stop and stare at the sky and marvel at creation, to become enraptured at watching a National Geographic special about another culture and be thankful for the diversity of God’s people, to be silent and still, or do some sort of action trying to live out the example of Jesus. I’m not a spontaneous pray-out-loud kind of person. To hear her feel like a misfit in this spiritual practice reaffirmed my calling, and reinforced to me that everyone has their own way to come before God. She states, “Prayer is more than my idea of prayer and…some of what I actually do in my life may constitute genuine prayer” (176). I love the idea of prayer being both contemplative and a way of life or actions we choose to take.

She ends the book with a chapter on blessings, encouraging everyone to take the time and opportunity to pronounce blessings on one another. Taylor encourages us to realize that everyone can do this, not just clergy or certain types of people. She points out that “pronouncing a blessing puts you as close to God as you can get,” because you “learn to look with compassion on everything that is” (206). Taylor encourages us to imagine a world where more people are eager to do this.

The strength of this book is the uniqueness of the spiritual practices she covers, which are readily accessible and encourages the reader to look for God in everything from gardens to dumpsters. This book is an inspiration to adopt a sense of mindfulness in the world and be ready to, as God told Moses, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (pg 66).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Church as a Healthy Community

by Dr. Steve Bolton

The church, in spite of her ideals, has not always been a healthy environment. Too often personal politics, dysfunctional family and community dynamics, and failure to follow scriptural guidelines create dissension and division in the body of Christ. Parker Palmer wrote a book back in 1980 entitled, "Going Public," in which he outlined his vision of the ideal community and how it should function. It seems to me that when talking about any ideal community one has to consider the community of faith, the church, and her successful and not so successful efforts over the centuries to provide a people and a place where Christians from all walks of life can join and feel that they belong. Loren Mead (The Once and Future Church, The Alban Institute, p. 179ff) has suggested that Palmer's principle characteristics of an ideal community are relevant to any church, and in fact, may only be possible with the gifts which the Spirit of God has provided His people. See what you think. According to Palmer, in a healthy community:

1. Strangers meet on common ground. In a world where children are taught not to speak to strangers and people are suspicious of "new folk," Christians have a deeply seated tradition of practicing hospitality, welcoming new people, and making them feel wanted. Even more so, Christians are called to the kind of openness and friendliness that crosses social and cultural barriers to meet needs and engage people on behalf of the good news of Christ. Healthy congregations always resist their community paranoia and prejudices about others not "like us." They face up to their fears of the stranger and risk a relationship based on mutual faith in Christ and His Lordship.

2. Scarce resources are shared and abundance is generated. In a world where its every person for him or herself, where it seems the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the healthy church is a generous and a giving fellowship. Everyone gives generously in proportion to their resources out of a heart of gratitude for what God has given and done for us in Jesus Christ. Giving and meeting needs for the common ministry and mission of Christ is a way of life for healthy churches. The generous church becomes a blessing to the world and such a church is blessed because of its members' open hands and open hearts.

3. Conflict occurs and is resolved. We all are aware that the public arena can be a seething cauldron of perpetual conflict. With different ideas, different ways, and different personalities conflict is inevitable whenever two or three are gathered together. Fighting seems to go on forever between persons, clans, races, and political opponents. Some fights are the knock down, drag out, and win-lose kind. Others become the seething, long-term grudge bearing types of broken relationships. The healthy congregation has learned, however to listen carefully and to treat each other with respect. They always try hard to communicate caring, and, with God's help, use their energies to seek and find forgiveness, working toward consensus and reconciliation rather than competition.

Steve Bolton is the pastor of Oxford Baptist Church in Oxford, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, "The Forecaster."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Power of Persistence

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Most people think ministers have a solid prayer life. When I envisioned my call to divinity school, I couldn’t help but picture cloistered little monkish students squirreled away in their rooms or libraries juggling thick books on the history of the church, stopping their study every so often because they are overwhelmed with the urge to pray. Divinity school, as many of you know, is nothing like that. The image of monkish little cloisters was destroyed by the reality of theological arguments and all night study sessions fueled by copious amounts of coffee and cookies with the fear of failure hanging thick overhead. Many of my former classmates are now ministers, and I know we are just like most people--busy, running about, answering emails, talking on our smart phones, trying to figure out how to squeeze in a pastoral visit when we are also supposed to attend a committee meeting. Trying, like all of us, not to let anything slip through the cracks.

It’s hard to get all the chatter out of our heads when we pray. We are busy people, with spouses and children, work and deadlines, school and soccer practice, and all sorts of crazy and new-fangled types of social media like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, LinkedIn, and so on, with countless requests to join one more thing that will take up our time.

This past Lent, I tried to take 15 minutes a day and listen to a guided prayer meditation produced by Benedictine monks in England, but I kept missing days. Once I missed because of a CHANGE meeting where we discussed the creation of disaster response teams from churches, negotiating with banks to put foreclosed properties on the market, and pushing forward on education reform. Another day I missed because I was helping organize racial reconciliation and social justice workshops at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina General Assembly. One night I missed because I fell asleep early. I had dinner with friends visiting from out of town another time. Once, I went on a long walk and just forgot. I’m not very good at being still when I’m supposed to.

Jesus tells us in Luke 11:5-8, part of the lectionary text for this week, that we must be persistent in our prayer. He gives an example of someone who has unexpected company and goes next door to ask for food, but his neighbor won’t answer the door. Jesus encourages him in verse 8 to keep knocking, for, “even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” This persistence passage tells me that prayer isn’t always a passive activity, but an active response to make something happen. Like the anecdote about the praying man who was drowning and passed up two ships and a helicopter because he thought God would save him and still died, we know we should use what God gives us to make change. The real blessing occurs when we do this not only for ourselves, but for the good of others. We know from many of Jesus’ parables that “other,” “neighbor” and “friend” stretch our mindset for our day-to-day frame of reference for church relationships (think of The Good Samaritan story in Luke 10, where Jesus gives a parable about a total stranger in need as an example of “neighbor”).

Everyone has talents and gifts through which he or she can persevere in a life lived as prayer. What gift, talent, or resource do you have to offer your community? I encourage you to pray about it, and then act on it persistently.

Let us challenge ourselves to always answer that knocking door, knowing that in doing so we are living into our calling as children of God, disciples of Christ, and agents of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Separate but Equal

by. Rev. Darryl Aaron

Traveling abroad really does take one out of his or her comfort zone. Early on during my recent travel abroad it was clear that I was stepping into unfamiliar territory. The mission of the trip was titled, “Going into Hard Places: Trips That Make a Difference.” Actually, I welcome the opportunity to enter hard places. However, all too often some who enter hard places enthusiastically come away from these tough territories highlighting the differences between “them and us” and thereby increasing, rather than decreasing, the chasm between God’s people. Traveling to Moldova and Bucharest took me more than a few miles away from home, but the distance covered could not erase the eternal imprint which I made upon each different person that I met. Throughout our journey I encountered experience after experience that validates this truth.

When my traveling partners and I arrived at our destination, our host and his young son met us. Later on that evening at their house both miles and mores were linked by the simple act of a father shoving his kid in the right direction. Specifically, the dad asked the son to play the piano for us but the boy wasn’t interested; he didn’t like to play the piano even though he had excellent skills. After a little coaxing (and eye-balling) from his dad, the boy eventually did what all young kids do when parents have made positive investments into their lives. The reluctant adolescent slowly meandered over to the piano and artfully displayed his gifts through song after song. His music alleviated the fatigue which resulted from our long excursion and reminded us that God’s gifts in each of us sometimes need a little push. The dad of this young boy has done what parents all over the world have always been doing: sacrificing so that the rooms for their kids will always have high ceilings. The father’s persistent insistence reminds us of the wedding at Cana where Jesus’ mother had to ignore her son’s reluctance to exercise his gifts so that the guests could discover that joy was available and burdens could be lifted. Sometimes many years and many miles separate us, yet we still find ourselves on the same plane—separate but equal.

Various experiences in Bucharest and Moldova underscored the truth that we are separate but equal. These experiences ranged from discerning that pastors everywhere want to be successful at what they do, to realizing that ministry everywhere is ebb and flow, to understanding that marriages are both rewarding and regretful, to seeing that universally people really are trying to be good witnesses, even while stumbling and falling. However, there is one incident that provided the strongest impetus for my putting these thoughts on paper.

One morning we visited a college in Moldova where we met and worshiped with a group of students. During lunch the professors were discussing the students’ curriculum and the discussion proved to be lively and stimulating. Noting that there are more than 12 nationalities represented in the college, the professors shared how specific missionary methods were given to exclusive students for “hard places. “ The professors said that because many of the diverse cultural mores and folkways of their pupils do not overlap, students are separated into groups where individual needs can best be addressed. Hearing this, I immediately thought, “Separate but equal!” In fact, as soon as I heard this concept of separating students in an academic setting voiced, history erupted from a soft spot within me and spilled out of my mouth in these words, “To me this sounds like separate but equal.” Right away, all of the Americans at the table knew the connotations of my remark. Sadly, although I had lost my luggage and my claim check somewhere along the trip, I was still carrying some “baggage.”

The College is sending young Christian missionaries back into Islamic regions with a thorough knowledge of both Christianity and Islam, and yet I was afraid that their backpacks might also be filled with the old burdens of racism and prejudice. If there is ever going to be authentic reconciliation among people, then all walls must be torn down. Dilemmas and controversies are best resolved when we all sit at the table and reason together. Differences are more readily recognized and celebrated when partitions are eliminated. Miles and mores can easily separate us but we can never be equal unless we believe that each of us must learn from one another. I can never really love my neighbor unless I sit at his table and eat his food. The professors learned of the baggage inherent in “separate but equal” because we were at the table together. There we exchanged disappointments and dreams—we touched each other’s marks of Christ.

I am grateful for the chance to have gone to another hard place and to have had God reveal himself one more time in the hard and soft spots. It is my hope that all missional efforts provide opportunities for God’s people to come to the table to simultaneously acknowledge our separation and affirm our equality in the kingdom of God. Amen!

Rev. Darryl Aaron is the pastor of First Baptist Church East Winston on Highland Avenue in Winston-Salem, NC. He wrote this reflection after a trip to visit CBF field personnel in Bucharest and Moldova, led by Rob Nash of CBF National and Pat Anderson of CBF Florida. Rev. Aaron was also a featured preacher during Dr. Charles Bugg's "Preaching the Missional Journey" workshops at the 2010 CBF General Assembly in Charlotte.

Monday, July 12, 2010

“The Missional Church & Denominations” – A Review

by Rev. Laura Barclay

I recently read The Missional Church & Denominations: Helping Congregations Develop a Missional Identity, edited by Craig Van Gelder. This book pulls together essays of denominational and religious leaders who speak to the importance of transforming our communities of faith from being reliant on attractional, programmatic thinking, into missionally-minded congregations that are following God’s call beyond their walls and into their communities and world. Reading their comments, I cannot help but be excited about what this century holds for Christianity. In this age of pluralism and diversity, Christians have the opportunity to build relationships that reflect the dynamic calling of Christ who wanted followers to go out into the world.

Authors comment on various aspects of the need for transformation in our religious structures and the challenges that stand in the way of such change. David Forney encourages us to abandon our “institutional idolatry” that value bureaucracies over the relational work motivated by the Spirit of God (66). He uses the book of Hebrews as a model, both for it’s portrayal of Christian hope and it’s call in chapter 13 to journey outside the safety of the city gate as Jesus did. Alan Roxburgh claims that denominations and churches must accept change as the Jews in Babylon changed under Jeremiah’s mandate to reform themselves in this new place. We live in a secular society where denominational identities, traditional church models, and church attendance records are in flux, and Christians must learn to move past unhelpful and outdated programmatic responses. Denominations can engage in and embrace pathways to new, non-hierarchical, missionally-engaged leadership. Their examples and learning processes can become a resource for churches, when paired with coaching, toward a more community-engaged church with open space for believers to journey together in this new age (101-103).

Writers also use examples from their own denominations for why change needed to occur and how it happened. Daniel Anderson states that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has the idea of the Missional Church in its DNA, based on the fiery example of Reformation leaders. They followed the mission of God to reform the church, but eventually became bogged down in orthodoxy and Pietism. When the ELCA formed twenty years ago, they realized the need to hold it’s tradition of orthodoxy and practice in check with confessional piety. It wasn’t that they needed to do away with tradition, but they did need to renegotiate the boundaries of each strand of DNA. They also try to use their church structure for collaboration rather than hierarchical order, though they sometimes slip into programmatic solutions to missional questions (186-193).

I was struck by the fact that many of the writers of different essays from various backgrounds in this book were saying two very similar things. First, God is a sending God who is on a mission in the world. Churches, as a whole, must join God on that mission, rather than merely thinking programmatically and compartmentally that anything outside the church walls belongs in the outreach or missions programs. Second, the idea of being missional is centered on the idea of a Triune God who is dynamic and relational in the world. In the same way, we must abandon our hierarchical structures for networks--ones that are more communicative and conducive to sharing ideas and gifts. One essay writer, Dwight Zcheile, points out that corporations have already begun to embrace more fluid leadership models, and notes that the church’s tendency to “lag a generation or two behind” accounts for the reason the church as a whole hasn’t yet adopted such transformed structures (140).

Perhaps the greatest summary of what missional is and why communities of faith might consider transformation is articulated by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson of the Reformed Church in America at the close of the book, which he refers to this idea in the context of “God’s calling for our future.” He states:

“A missional church places its commitment to participate in God’s mission in the world at the center of its life and identity. “Mission” places the focus on what God is doing in the world, recognizing that God’s mission is always ahead of us, already active through the Spirit in the world…For the missional church, mission is not an activity or a program; rather, it lies at the center of the church’s identity” (267).