Friday, November 30, 2012

Why We Do What We Do

Rev. Paul Batson

Nobles Chapel Baptist Church, where I gratefully serve as Pastor, is part of a tremendous collaboration of churches and community organizations called CHEW (Children's Hunger Elimination of Wilson). CHEW was developed last year to meet the needs of school-aged children who likely do not have food in their homes for weekend meals. This organization partners together for buying power to purchase food for these children for their weekend meals at a price that is less than what any church could buy on their own. Buying in bulk, you know? And I'm happy to say that EVERY child that has been identified in Wilson County as food insecure is receiving a weekend meal bag this school year.

Recently, CHEW was faced with a decision about putting encouraging messages in the bags for the kids each week. Do we put general messages in there? Can we include Scripture or references to God? We sought the council of school principals and other administrators and ultimately (probably to no surprise) the decision was made to include messages without reference to God.

Fast-forward to today when I was at a meeting of Wilson area ministers and the issue of "the encouraging messages" came up. This is what I heard one pastor say:

"If we can't put messages in the bag that tell the kids where it comes from or about a relationship with Jesus, what's the point? Maybe we'll just give our money somewhere else."

I've heard these kinds of comments before. In fact, I've heard it from people at every church I've served:

"I don't understand why we keep giving and doing the weekend meal bags when we haven't seen any of those kids and their families come to our church as a result."


"I see people drive up to fill-in-the-blank-organization in nicer cars than I drive to get food, clothes, etc., so I've stopped bringing things when we have drives for that ministry."


"I'd give him some money, but he'll probably just buy alcohol or drugs."

In a culture where people are increasingly skeptical of the Church and Christians and their efforts at evangelism and mission, we have to ask ourselves about the motivation for what we're doing. Sure, we should be about communicating our faith and telling others about the life-changing difference Christ has made in our lives and how we'd love for everyone to know what it means to have a relationship with God. I'm not trying to minimize that responsibility.

But, "what if there was no chance that I'd come to your church or come to your faith. Would you still give me and my family food on the weekend? Would you still donate clothes or money to help me? Would you still be my friend if 'relationship evangelism' will never lead me to faith?"

May I submit to you that if your answer is "no" to any of the above questions, then your motivation for mission is misinformed. I believe that the spirit in which Jesus calls us to give and meet the needs of those around us is because that's just what we do. It isn't to see bigger attendance numbers or even just to see the recipient "get saved". It's because the people of God see a need in this world and they meet that need, regardless of the outcome.

I have to believe that Jesus knew that out of the ten lepers he healed, only one would return to give thanks (Luke 17), but He did it anyway. And I certainly have to believe that God knew that not everyone would accept His son and His sacrifice on the cross, but Jesus died for us anyway. Why give regardless of the outcome? Because that's just what God does.

So give. Give whether you can tell the kids the food is from Jesus or his church or not. Give whether he'll use it on drugs or not. Give whether they need it or not. Give.

Give, because as people of God, that's just what we do.

Paul Botson is the pastor of Nobels Chapel Baptist Church in Sims, NC. This article originally appeared on Paul’s blog,

Friday, November 23, 2012

Shift Happens (Or It Should)

by Rev. Dr. Larry Hovis

Most of us in North Carolina realize that a significant shift has been taking place in recent years, a shift in the relationship between the church and the culture. Earlier in my life and ministry, the church sat at the center of the culture. A majority of people went to church, or at least understood the nature and purpose of the church. The culture supported, rather than competed with the church.  The church enjoyed a privileged place in most of our communities.

That is no longer the case. The place of the church has shifted from the center of the culture to the margins of the culture. Not only do most persons not attend church, but they don't even feel guilty about it! Some have no direct knowledge of the beliefs and practices of the church and don't see how it is relevant for their lives.

This is a relatively new phenomenon for most of our churches in North Carolina, but it has been going on in Canada for a long time. On a trip to Canada during last summer’s sabbatical, I met with Baptists who share our core beliefs and practices and learned how they have been dealing with shift for several decades. As I visited with Marc and Kim Wyatt (CBF Global Missions field personnel from North Carolina), congregational leaders, regional denominational leaders, a seminary professor and the leaders of Canadian Baptist Ministries (a global missions agency), I learned of shifts they are making that are enabling Canadian Baptists to deal faithfully and effectively with the larger cultural shifts that have now reached the Tarheel State.

From Church-As-Community Institution to Church-As-Mission Outpost

In our heyday, churches were viewed as significant community institutions. People understood what churches offered and came to churches to receive religious goods and services (programs and ministries) in much the same way they went to other community institutions to receive the goods and services they provided. Church leaders worked to provide the best programs and ministries possible in order to attract people to the church, who, for the most part, understood what the church was trying to do.

Churches in Canada no longer pretend that the culture "gets" the church. Instead of thinking like marketers or managers or even chaplains, they are learning to think like missionaries. When missionaries move to a new place of service, they don't assume that those they are trying to reach understand what they are doing. They don't begin by creating programs to attract persons to the church. They first learn the language and customs of the community. They build relationships with people to discern their felt and real needs. Then they begin to translate the Gospel of Jesus Christ into tangible need-meeting ministries that connect with people where they live and where they hurt. Bible studies and worship services grow organically out of tangible expressions of the Kingdom of God, not vice-versa. In the future, in order to deal with the changes in our culture, we church leaders in North Carolina will need to think more like missionaries and less like program managers or chaplains.

From Fearing the Stranger to Welcoming the Stranger

Because of an open-door immigration policy, Canada has become a haven for people all around the world who have immigrated there to flee persecution or to seek a better way of life.  The city of Toronto is the most multi-cultural city in the world, and much of the rest of Canada has become very culturally diverse.

I imagine it was difficult, in the early days of a high level of immigration, for traditional Canadian Baptist churches to embrace the newcomers to their communities. The changes in their communities caused most of them to decline significantly in terms of traditional measurements (attendance and money). But in time, some of them began to discover ways to welcome the newcomers to their communities who came to Canada from other countries. And the congregations that have learned to make this shift are growing again.

For example, I was given the opportunity to preach at Bromley Rd. Baptist Church in Ottawa. It's a church that in many ways is very much like North Carolina CBF churches - architecturally, programmatically, and liturgically. But this traditionally Anglo church has reached out to newcomers in the community, particularly immigrants from Haiti and Karen people. They have reversed the decline in membership and attendance, they have more children in their Sunday School, and most importantly, they more faithfully reflect the Kingdom of God.

In North Carolina, our churches haven't always been welcoming to newcomers. Sometimes, often out of fear, we have shut the doors of our churches and our lives to them. A key task facing us is to make the shift from fearing these "strangers" to welcoming them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

From Mission Trips to Global Discipleship

How can we make these two shifts? Canadian Baptists have developed a powerful tool to equip Christians and churches to move in this direction. Like us, the Canadians have been sending church members on mission trips for three decades. But they discovered, as many of us know intuitively, that these trips often have as great an impact on those making the trips than on those we are seeking to serve. So, they have developed very intentional processes to utilize short-term mission experiences as vehicles for missional formation and discipleship development.

By leading mission trip participants through a pre-trip preparation phase that lasts several months, guiding them in focused reflection during the trip, and helping them apply what God taught them on the trip after they return home, church members who take mission trips not only grow more deeply in their faith, but they are better equipped to serve as missionaries in their communities when they return home.

In the coming years and months, CBFNC will be working to develop processes that will help congregations who participate in our mission efforts to make this shift. Not only will it enable us to be better stewards of the significant resources we pour into mission trips, but it may be a vital avenue of spiritual renewal for our churches and Kingdom-transformation for our state.

The church in North Carolina, like the church throughout North America, is undergoing drastic shifts. We may not like it, but we can’t stop it. Thankfully, like-minded and like-hearted Baptists in Canada have more experience in dealing with these shifts than we do. By learning from them and following their lead, we can make our own shifts that will enable us to be faithful to God’s mission in our time and place.

Larry Hovis is the Executive Director of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina

Friday, November 16, 2012

Choosing Thankfulness

by Rev. Len Keever

The apostle Paul wrote to the good folks in Philippi, "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).

All my life I have heard statements like, "Don't sweat the small stuff!" and "Ninety-five percent of the stuff we worry about never happens." When I studied Family Systems Theory we discussed how we spend so much time trying to change others when we only have control over ourselves. In other words, I can work to change me, but only you can work to change you.

Reinhold Niebuhr gave us the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference." This is especially poignant knowing that Niebuhr was an American theologian active in trying to relate the realities of faith to a world embroiled in a Great Depression, the threats of Communism and Fascism, two World Wars, and the advent of nuclear armament. The wisdom to know the difference between what we can control and what is under the authority of God is indeed very valuable.

We worry so much about things over which we do not have control. So many thoughts come to mind when I think about how worry affects us: worry never fed anything but an ulcer; worry is a barren desert where faith can find no root; worry robs productivity and kills initiative. The opposite of trust is worry; the opposite of submission is anxiety (another word for worry). To worry is an attempt to take control from God.

When Jesus taught his disciples in the 6th chapter of Matthew, "No one can serve two masters," he immediately said, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry." Worry can become a false god when we give it a voice to influence us. The Greek word translated "therefore" connects Matthew 6:24 and 25; we can easily say, "You cannot serve God and worry." We are not fully listening to Jesus when we think that only wealth can become our master. There are lots of things that undermine a life of devotion. Worry is one of them.

Eugene Peterson translates this passage in The Message: 

Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It is a wonderful thing that happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

It is no accident that Paul wrote just a few verses later, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances...I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

For those not attuned to Christ, this can be a very anxious time. But for the Christian, it is a time to trust in God, to give our present and future to Jesus. God reigns over all creation. Let us praise God! Let us be thankful! God is still on God's throne. Why worry? Be peaceful!

Len Keever is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dunn. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Builder.

Friday, November 9, 2012

High Anxiety

by Dr. Dennis Herman

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Paul’s words to the Philippians.)

Chaplains and pastors were once taught to be “a non-anxious presence” while ministering to persons in high anxiety and crises. We learned after a few years that such a goal was too idealistic. Now, chaplains and pastors are encouraged to be “a less anxious” presence during times of crises or high anxiety.

We wish we could follow Paul’s encouragement to be anxious about nothing. The fact is, we are anxious. It’s the way we are made. But we are to address that anxiety by the disciplines of our faith, specifically by prayer. Paul simply reminds us to rejoice, to give thanks, and then present our requests to God.

Sometimes we read Paul’s words and we grit our teeth declaring, “I will not be anxious; I will not be anxious; I will not be anxious.” Have you ever noticed the more you tell yourself not to do something, the more prone you are to do it? Like the MRI technician who kept asking me, “Are you claustrophobic? Do you have a fear of crawling into caves? Would you like anxiety medication? Does it bother you to be in a dark, closed space with no air with a dozen monkeys beating on a tin can placed over your head?” (Actually, he only asked the first question a couple different ways, but they all seemed to say, “Be anxious, this MRI will drive you nuts!”) Then he told me “not to move” while lying in what appeared to be an air conditioned coffin. Please, just give me some strong medication next time and forget the verbal encouragement.

We do get anxious. We could count the ways, but the fact is that anxiety is personal. Some folks just seem genetically engineered or environmentally conditioned to feel high anxiety. For all of us who deal with anxiety, here’s a prayer I like. Maybe it will be one you can say in times of high anxiety, low anxiety, or MRI anxiety:

"Embolden my spirit by the presence of Your Holy Spirit within me. Assure me that nothing separates me from Your love. Remind me that you will provide all my needs. If I must be anxious, let me trust that You will not be, and in that relationship of trust may I know that all will be as You will it. Amen."

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

Friday, November 2, 2012

No Magic in the Moving Van

Dr. Guy Sayles

Have you ever tried a geographical cure for your problems? Just move to a new city and leave your problems in the old one.  The difficulties you’ve had and the challenges you’ve faced in the past are the fault of the clueless employers and insensitive coworkers you’ve been cooped-up with for all these years. 

So, get a new job in a new place with new co-workers and everything will be different; you will be different. You’ll shed your pattern of procrastination. You’ll become a morning person who finds it easy to get to work on time—no more tying your tie or applying your makeup at stoplights. You’ll be proactive and positive.  

A geographical cure: a new place and a new you.  A few years ago, I read this tongue-in-cheek story in The Onion:

ATLANTA—All of area resident Brian Shepard's problems, including his fear of commitment, lack of personal direction, and inability to learn from past failures, will be instantly solved this week when the 29-year-old packs up his belongings and moves to a new city. "Moving to Portland is going to make all the difference in the world," said Shepard, who, just by putting 2,500 miles distance between himself and years of destructive behavior, will suddenly turn his life around. "It won't be anything like Chicago, or Boston, or San Francisco. This is exactly what I need right now." Shepard also plans to completely eliminate his dependence on self-denial by ignoring his dependence on self-denial.  (The Onion, December 5, 2008)

Speaking from my own experience, I can tell you that the promises of geographical cure are an illusion.  As I heard myself telling a friend: “Mike, here’s something I’ve learned: Hell is portable.  You take it with you wherever you go.”    

There might be good reasons for taking a new job or going to a new school or moving to a new town, but a new office, a new classroom, and new address don’t automatically make us new people.  There’s no magic in a moving van.  

We can’t, after all, move away from ourselves.  What we need is not a geographical cure, but transformation—a deep healing of the wounds and brokenness which drive the patterns which hurt us and other people; an infusion of confidence that God loves us fully and joyfully, no matter what and forever, and a  thoroughgoing renewal of our gifts and talents.  Geography doesn’t cure us, but God can change us.  

Guy Sayles is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Asheville. This article originally appeared on his blog, From the Intersection.