Tuesday, January 25, 2011

True Power in an Angry Age

by Dr. Steve Bolton

Our country has again been shocked and grieved by senseless murders and mayhem. Does it not seem that America is afflicted and even infected by violence? Hardly a month goes by that random citizens aren't victimized by some miserable, angry young man with a gun who feels justified in wounding and destroying human life. Anger and insanity have always been at work in the world and, certainly, in this country. Our nation has too often suffered the tragedy of cold blooded assassinations: Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and others. Politics and racial hatred have always incited violence. Yet, today, there is evidence of an unnamed, but seething rage bubbling just below the surface. Since the University of Texas massacre in 1966, there have been over 100 school shootings in the United States, with Columbine High (2004), the Amish School (2006), and Virginia Tech (2007) murders among the most senseless and shocking. America suffered eleven school shootings in 2010, and already in 2011 another has occurred in Omaha, Nebraska. These troubling situations point to an epidemic of anger. How easily we escalate and intimidate. Too often retribution is justified and revenge glorified. It seems as if America has become addicted to anger and the false sense of power that using angry words or dangerous weapons gives us.

I recall a story about a man who was held up and threatened with death by a bandit if he didn't give him his money. As the robber brandished his sword in his face, the man confessed that he had no money. But pointing at a nearby tree he said, “But if you are going to take my life, grant me two dying wishes. First, cut off the branch of that tree.” The thief swung his sword and the branch fell to the ground. “Now what?” he asked. “Now put the branch back again,” the man said. “You must be crazy. No one can do that!” the bandit said. Then the would-be victim replied, “On the contrary. You are crazy to think you are mighty because you can wound and destroy. The truly mighty are those who know how to create and heal.” As the story goes, this caused the bandit to spare the man. It’s only a story, but there’s truth in the statement that the true power in life is not to be found in either anger or violence, only in healing and creating.

For Christians, these violent events are not cause to despair...only reasons to witness to true Power. We who follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace, have the creative power of His healing touch in our hands and hearts. There are many situations where we, as servants of Christ, by acting with His compassion, self-control, and patience can bring healing and life. It is time for Christians to quell destructive anger, control our tongues, wage Christ's peace, promote God's goodwill, proclaim and exhibit the power of God's love and forgiveness. In every public and private discourse this wounded world desperately needs a Christian witness of reconciliation and an example of Christian kindness. Therefore, in an angry and violent world, let us be instruments of His peace.

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

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

                                                          by Rev. Laura Barclay
 Yesterday, I attended a Martin Luther King, Jr., march in downtown Winston-Salem. We sang songs along the route from Mount Zion Baptist Church to Winston-Salem State University. It would have been easy for us to end there, pat ourselves on the back for getting together as a community and call it a day. Instead, the march led us to the first-annual program sponsored by the Martin Luther King, Jr., Coalition (made up of several local non-profit groups). This group realized that we could take some extra time to further MLK’s dream of a just and equal society.

We all filed into Anderson Auditorium and listened to community leaders talk about problematic issues in our neighborhoods before we broke up into workshops. One leader shared that while the 2008 infant-mortality rate was at an all time low in North Carolina, it was at a 15-year high in Winston-Salem. The workshops covered topics from the Racial Justice Act to inequities in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Public Schools. Once the brief educational sessions concluded, attendees helped leaders come up with action plans to move forward on the issues. People made commitments to continue to meet, contact city leaders, and increase parental involvement in their schools. Additional meetings will take place throughout the spring with a progress report meeting in May.

This group realized that it’s easy to remember and be grateful for Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s even easier to think that we’ve already accomplished his dream. The challenging work is to roll up our sleeves, become educated about problems that effect people in our community, and work toward positive change. What is your community doing to make King’s dream a reality? What can you do to help?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Missional Renaissance, A Review

by Dr. Larry Hovis

Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church, Reggie McNeal, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 224 pages

Much of my professional reading in recent years has been on the Missional Church. I truly believe it is not only the most authentic way to understand the Church of Jesus Christ, but this vision of the church provides the greatest hope for free and faithful Baptist congregations who are trying to find their way in these changing times. Unfortunately, most of the books on the Missional Church I have read are either too academic, or too "non-Baptist" to be accessible to most of the folks with whom I work. This book is, thankfully, a huge exception to that rule.

In this work, McNeal uses language and concepts that are familiar to Baptists (after all, he worked many years for the South Carolina Baptist Convention), but accurately and compellingly shares a new vision for the church based on missional theology. Eminently practical and thoroughly readable, I think every pastor, staff minister and lay leader should purchase and devour this book.

In general, McNeal argues that effective ministry in our time requires that churches and church leaders make three major shirts: from internal to external, from program development to people development, and from church-based to kingdom-based. For each shift, he suggests practical ways to change the scorecard so that churches can measure what matters when it comes to our efforts to pursue the mission of God in the world.
These three shifts call for a new scorecard for the missional church. The typical church scorecard (how many, how often, how much) doesn't mesh with a missional view of what the church should be monitoring in light of its mission in the world. The current scorecard rewards church activity and can be filled in without any reference to the church's impact beyond itself (p. xvii).
We must change our ideas of what it means to develop a disciple, shifting the emphasis from studying Jesus and all things spiritual in an environment protected from the world to following Jesus into the world to him in his redemptive mission (p. 10).
Larry Hovis is the Executive Coordinator of CBF of North Carolina.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What Are You So Worried About?

by Rev. David Stratton

I think we received more requests for a recording of the sermon of this past Sunday than any sermon I've ever preached. I'm not convinced the sermon was all that good. It just took up a topic that is a struggle for many people: worry.

Sunday's sermon was the second in a series on the story of a leper named Naaman found in 2 Kings 5. In this installment we focused on verses 4-8 in which the King of Israel received a request that he misinterpreted badly. Naaman was the commander of the military forces of neighboring Aram and he received word that there was a prophet in Israel who could cure him of his leprosy. He went to the King of Israel with a note from the King of Aram requesting healing for Naaman.

Somewhere in the chain of communication there was some confusion because the note from the King of Aram asked that the King of Israel rather than the prophet to cure Naaman. When the King of Israel received this request that he could fill he assumed the worst. He tore his robes in an expression of grief and stated his conviction that this must be part of a plot to start a war.

Well, that wasn't it at all. This was no prelude to war. Naaman just needed some help and he heard that he could find that help in Israel. The King of Israel was very worried about what might happen. He was worried about a threat that did not exist. He thought there was a threat--a very serious threat--but he was wrong.

When Elisha the prophet heard about the King's response to the note, he sent a message to him in which he asked, "Why have you torn your robes?" (2 Kings 5:8, TNIV). Again, the tearing of the robes was an expression of grief and, in this context, it was specifically an expression of the King's worries about what might happen. So, in essence, the prophet asked the King, "What are you so worried about?"

The truth was the King had nothing to worry about.

As we saw on Sunday, this episode points us in the direction of several New Testament teachings that make us aware that the followers of Christ should not be worriers. One of the most significant passages in this regard is this word of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount: "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt. 6:34, TNIV).

Don't worry about tomorrow. Don't worry about what might happen in the future. This is the teaching of Jesus to his followers. He didn't say that we won't have any troubles, for we will have troubles. He didn't say that we won't experience pain in this world, for we will experience pain. But the Lord did indicate that we must not worry about such things. Can we do that? Is it realistic?

Do we believe the Bible?

The King of Israel was worried about what might happen but things weren't nearly as bad as he thought. That's often the way it is with the things we worry about. But the really good news is that, even if things are as bad as we think or even worse, Jesus indicates that we still must not worry.

The thing that really gets me about Jesus' saying that we must not worry about tomorrow is that he was on his way to the cross and he knew it. And the cross was really horrible. Still he said, "Don't worry about tomorrow." In other words, no matter what you face, don't worry about tomorrow. The promise of the resurrection made Jesus that confident.

Do we trust him? Then what are we so worried about?

Dave Stratton is the Pastor of Brunswick Islands Baptist Church in Supply, NC, and he serves as Chair of CBFNC’s Wealth and Poverty Task Force. This article originally appeared on Dave’s blog, David’s Deliberations.