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.