Friday, August 31, 2012

Speaking of Freedom: How About a Strong Separation of Church and State?

Dr. Dennis Herman

Until recently, most Baptists have adhered to a belief in a distinct and strong separation between Church and State. We Baptists believe that the State has no right to dictate how we worship in our homes and church buildings. Likewise, we Baptists have long insisted that the State functions remain functions of a government that represents all of its people, its religions, or even those of no religion. We have insisted, and rightly so, that the State not meddle in the affairs of Church. Some Baptists, however, are arguing that a strong separation of Church and State is no longer important. Some pulpits have become election campaign platforms; and some church people, including pastors, have taken to endorsing candidates who would accommodate their own Church’s position on social issues.

Such a change is a danger to both Church and State. Before we jump on the bandwagon of popular religious slogans like “bring back prayer to school,” we would do well to ask in this pluralistic society, “whose prayers are we bringing back?” Are we to be led in public forums, schools, and government meetings by Muslim prayers? How about Buddhist chants? How about prayers in the name of St. Francis or the Blessed Virgin? How about Wiccan prayers? And if we live in certain parts of the country, we would perhaps be led in prayer by a Mormon, or Unitarian Universalist, or a Campbelite minister.

I don’t like being told how to pray, or to whom, or even being led in a prayer whose theology voices a different understanding of God’s love than mine. So I’ll just continue to pray like I’ve always been taught to pray in my heart. No one can tell me not to pray. Others might not hear me, but God will. In fact, I wonder if God might hear the silent and heart-felt prayers we sincerely offer, rather than prayers in the public forum which tend to persuade or impress. Just wondering…

Dennis Herman is the interim pastor at Oxford Baptist Church in Oxford, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Forecaster.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Don’t Be Afraid of the Nudge

by Rev. Randy Carter

For years, I have used the word “nudge” to convey the reality of the work of God the Holy Spirit upon our lives. It is certainly not original to me; I am sure I read it somewhere though I cannot remember where or I would give proper credit. Nevertheless, the nudge that comes from the Spirit is that moment when you sense God leading you toward an action, a word, or an internal decision. Most of us can describe this nudge with both a spiritual sense and a body sense. That is, we know God is nudging our spirits and we feel it in our bodies as well. It can be a weird feeling in your stomach, like butterflies in the stomach causing you to be nervous. It can be a quickening of the heart rate accompanied by deep breaths trying to remain calm. Sometimes is a physical feeling of peace, lightness, that confirms for you that the Lord is leading your toward something.

When we get that holy nudge, there really is only one proper response: obedience. But, if we are honest, we are very often afraid. Is this really God nudging me? Is this truly the Lord leading me or just my own thinking? Could God be directing me toward this or is my lunch being disagreeable with my stomach? We are very often afraid to accept the nudge, act on it, and trust that God is leading. It is all too easy to talk ourselves out of doing anything with the nudge. I know I have done this many, many times in my life. “Not right now, I am right in the middle of work.” “No way, I’d look crazy if I did that.” “Let me pray on it for a little while longer.” Even when we have a deep sense of the Holy Spirit’s nudging, it is easy to dismiss it.

The interesting thing about these holy nudges is that the more we dismiss them, the easier it becomes to keep dismissing them. And, the more we act in obedience, the easier it becomes to act in obedience. Further, the more we act in obedience, the better we become at discerning the Spirit’s nudges. Obedience trains us to hear and detect these nudges more readily, and obedience helps us discern the Spirit’s nudges from impulses that do not align with the purposes of God.

Paul tells the church in Ephesians 4:30 not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God and in Ephesians 5:18 to be filled with the Holy Spirit. When we brush aside the holy nudges of the Spirit, I think we grieve the Spirit of God that delights in using our lives for His glory. When we dare to act in obedience to the holy nudges of the Spirit, I think we are filled with the Spirit to do the very thing we have been nudged to do. So, let’s take the chance on the next nudge that God is at work. Dare to take a step in obedience and see how God leads. Do not be afraid of these holy nudges, even the ones that at first seem outlandish. Check the nudges against what you know of God through the Scriptures. Share the nudge with someone whose faith you trust. And, then take the chance on obedience!

The Lord be with you all, Randy

Randy Carter is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Hillsborough, NC. This article first appeared in their church newsletter, The Messenger.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Who Is My Neighbor?

Sikh Temple in Fremont, CA. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Edwards
By Rev. Elizabeth Edwards

I had just arrived at the Y on Sunday when I saw the news scroll across the screen: MASS SHOOTING AT SIKH TEMPLE. Two weeks before, I would have responded the way many of us have who are dreadfully accustomed to hearing about such shootings: a feeling of sadness and shock, a prayer uttered for the victims, and a return to my routine. But Sunday was different. I stood holding my breath. Eleven days earlier, the Lakeside pilgrims had visited the Sikh Temple in Fremont, CA. I won’t say it lessened the horror of the event when I saw Oak Creek, WI, appear on the screen, but I did feel a sense of relief that the people who had welcomed us so warmly were safe: people who had brought their children to the Temple for a program akin to our VBS, people whose faith obligates them to defend anyone who is being attacked even to the point of risking their own lives, people who expressed to us concern over being mistaken for terrorists because of their dark skin and head coverings, people gathered for fellowship and prayer.

Youth & adults from Lakeside Baptist at the Sikh Temple in
Fremont, CA. Participants visited many communities of faith
to learn about different worship, beliefs & devotional practices.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Edwards.
On Monday, I received an e-mail from Rick Sample, the CBF missionary in Fremont who had made the visit with us. He and his wife Lita had taken food to the Temple and had expressed their prayers and support on behalf of CBF and their Christian neighbors. Rick was surprised to learn that they were the only Americans who had reached out to their Sikh neighbors.

The past few days have convinced me more than ever that making an effort to know and understand our neighbors of all colors and languages and faiths is not only important for fostering respect and cooperation but also vital to the health of our communities and a response that our faith in Christ necessitates. Our pilgrimage experiences were a significant first step in opening our hearts and minds to others. Perhaps because of the encounters we had in California, some of our youth will be inspired to devote their lives to reach across lines of religion and race and economic status to work for peace. Or perhaps one of us will have an opportunity to speak up when we hear hate-filled or misinformed speech. But we shouldn’t have to board an airplane to realize our responsibility.

It is not acceptable that we have come to tolerate or even expect violence, whether in Colorado or in a Sikh Temple or in the streets of Rocky Mount. It is not okay that I don’t make the same effort to know and understand my neighbors across town when I have traveled across the country to do so. Each of us is called to do our part to wage peace in the face of such violence and hatred. The example of Christ, and that of our Sikh neighbors, demands it.

Elizabeth Edwards is the Associate Minister at Lakeside Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Link.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Living Between God’s House and God’s Acre

Dr. Bob Setzer

Knollwood Baptist in Winston-Salem is beginning a capital renovation, starting with the sanctuary. This newsletter article by Pastor Bob Setzer, Jr., sought to set that initiative in its proper context.

It is two miles from my new home to Bethabara Park, the site of the first Moravian settlement in North Carolina. Inside the park is a lovely trail that meanders for about a mile through a canopy of trees. A couple of times a week, I run to the park, complete that loop, and run home. It makes for good exercise for the body and the soul.

During one recent run through the park, I wandered off the running trail to follow a narrow foot path. Eventually, the path opened into a small, quaint cemetery nestled in the woods. Above the entrance was posted the signature Moravian title for a graveyard: “God’s Acre.”

I was familiar with this epitaph from the beautiful Moravian cemetery in Old Salem. I even knew the theological meaning of the phrase, namely, that these buried saints are “seeds” of the resurrection yet to come (a la 1 Corinthians 15:37). But after running through a mile or so of stunning wooded beauty, I found the phrase annoyed me. After all, wasn’t that glorious expanse of good earth I just ran through “God’s Acre” also?

The same criticism could be leveled at the expression, “God’s House.” What sort of God lives in a “house”? Surely not one worthy of our worship! A God who can be contained in such a flimsy construct, be it a storefront church or a soaring cathedral, is far too staid and stodgy to challenge and transform our lives. There is a strong prophetic tradition in the Bible that says as much (Acts 7:47-49). Yet Jesus delighted in worshiping and learning in his “Father’s house” (Luke 2:49) and longed and labored for the day Jerusalem’s temple would be a “house of prayer for all people” (Mark 11:17).

Perhaps the way beyond this seeming contradiction is to recognize that the phrase “God’s House” is not telling us something about God, but about us. This is that space made sacred by presence and prayer and practice where we go to be awakened to God’s presence in all the world. Similarly, “God’s Acre” is the place we go to confront the reality of death, both that of those we have lost and our own. Hence, in some measure, the Christian journey is lived out in the space between “God’s House” and “God’s Acre.” And at Knollwood, we are blessed to have both sacred spaces on our lovely, natural, tree-lined campus: not only a sanctuary, but also a quiet, serene Memorial Garden where we can go to reflect and remember.

This summer, God’s House on the wooded knoll where we gather, will be refurbished to enhace our church’s worship, service, and witness. So long as that remains our passion and focus, I believe God will be pleased and glorified by what we are about to do.

Bob Setzer is the pastor of Knollwood Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, Expressions of Knollwod.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Glad Prisoners of Hope

By Dr. Lee Canipe

During the long struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, journalist Ted Koppel interviewed Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu on Nightline. Koppel asked Tutu, himself a black South African, if the situation in that country was hopeless. “Of course, it’s hopeless from a human point of view,” replied the bishop. “But we believe in the resurrection, and so we are prisoners of hope.” An odd way to put it, perhaps, but also wonderfully accurate: Once we put our faith in something as preposterous as resurrection, it’s impossible to look at the world again in quite the same way.

If we can believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the grave, then it becomes hard to believe that any situation is ever beyond redemption, that any relationship is ever beyond reconciliation, that any person is ever beyond the reach of God’s powerful love. To believe in resurrection is to be captured by a hope that simply doesn’t conform to reason and, in fairness, can sound awfully foolish—especially given the fact that there’s nothing at all common-sensical about resurrection. If we can believe in resurrection, then even in our most cynical moments, the hope that holds us will find a way to whisper in our hearts: “Yeah, but with God, nothing is impossible.” The nineteenth century English poet Francis Thompson likened resurrection hope to being chased by the “hounds of heaven.” It’s hard to get away from—and aren’t we glad of that?!

And so, what does that mean for us? Well, for starters, it means that the Holy Spirit has given us the power to do the work of Jesus—and, in fact, says Jesus, to do “greater works than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). People who believe in resurrection look for where God is moving and then join God there, trusting that what the Lord has blessed will indeed bear good fruit. Sometimes this requires a leap of faith, stepping out into the unknown and trusting that God will be there—which, really, is the very essence of resurrection hope. May it be so with us. Alleluia!

The exchange between Koppel and Tutu is from From Our Christian Heritage, ed. Douglas Weaver (Macon, Ga.: Smyth & Helwys, 1997), 365.

Lee Canipe is the pastor of Murfreesboro Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Messenger.