Casting out Demons in Haiti

People are giving in all kinds of ways to relieve the suffering in Haiti.  Many are giving through their cell phones. Some are giving with credit cards through the websites of various relief organizations. Others are putting dollars into the offering plate at their places of worship.

The sad reality is that when all the millions of dollars are given and used to relieve the suffering in Haiti, Haiti will still be under crushing debt.  Centuries of exploitation and oppression have left Haiti an impoverished and indebted country.

Contributions to relief organizations are needed to help Haiti recover from this devastating earthquake.  Debt cancellation is what is needed to set Haiti free from the demons of greed and abuse that have haunted her for centuries. You can add your voice to those seeking justice for the poor and suffering of Haiti by signing this petition urging the cancellation of Haiti’s indebtedness.

You can be a part of casting out the demons that have tormented the least of these in Haiti.

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Birthday Surprise!

A long time ago I celebrated my eighth birthday.  I remember nothing about it.  My only real certainty about whether or not I even had an eighth birthday lies in the simple chronological truth that one cannot arrive at forty-six without having, at one time, been eight.  What happened the day I turned eight?  I have no clue.  Did I get presents?  Most likely I did.  What might they have been?  I have no idea.

What I am fairly certain that did not happen on the occasion of my eighth birthday was that those celebrating with me were asked to bring canned food and non-perishables to help replenish our church’s food pantry.  In fact, I am pretty sure that the church that my family attended during that time did not have a food pantry.

So this week a mother of a boy who just turned eight sticks her head into my study and requests my presence in the fellowship hall.  In the fellowship hall, there is a round table loaded with canned goods and non-perishable food items.  The children who celebrated Breton Stanley’s eighth birthday brought these items to his birthday party in lieu of gifts. As I looked at the food on the table and realized how it came to be collected, I was both impressed and grateful.  I was impressed that Breton’s friends had contributed so much food, and grateful that it would be available to hungry families who come to our church seeking help.  When I heard Breton talk about the food that had been collected, and heard in his young voice a sense of understanding about what the food would mean to those families in need,  I realized that the food collected was more than just an idea that Mom and Dad had suggested.  He understood that thinking of others and acting on their behalf was a way to give expression to what he had learned of Jesus and His teachings.

Breton's birthday gift

In talking to his mother, I learned that Breton was not alone in putting his faith into action. Other children had done likewise at their birthday parties. Hayley Lovingood had collected items for Family Promise, and Leo Jaramillo had collected food for Second Harvest at their parties. Who knows what others have done?  What children!  What parents!

It is of little consequence, all these years later, that I cannot recall a long-ago birthday present. Yet, what might it mean years and years from now that these children have been shown how to give mercy and to show kindness?  What might it mean that they understand that to have regard for the least of these is to have regard for Christ?  What might it mean that they have learned early to put hands and feet to their faith?  How many lives will they touch as they show compassion to those in need and invite others to join them in living for Christ?

This is happening right before our eyes.  The Bible is being taught and learned.  Step by step, and day by day, boys and girls are living lives shaped by the teachings of Jesus.  It is cause for great hope.  It is more than that; it is also a testimony to the reality of God at work in our church.

Every day there are events taking place in our city and in our world that cause us to question, to have doubts, and perhaps even to feel fear.  When we see our children putting their faith into practice in such a meaningful way, it should be a significant reminder that we are not alone.  With their faithful acts of kindness, they are not only reminding us that the light of Christ is still shining, but they are also becoming part of the reason that darkness cannot overcome it.

Year End Giving, New Life Living

As the year was coming to a close, his church’s income was running behind what the church needed for it to be. In a letter posted on the church’s website, the pastor underscored the urgency of the situation. Their church, like so many around the country, had members who were experiencing the ill effects of a bad economy. Giving to the church had not kept pace with the expense of doing ministry. The letter asked the members of the church to give a gift to help cover the $900,000 shortfall that the church was facing as 2009 ended.

Nine hundred thousand dollars is a large number. I cannot imagine having a deficit that large.  It is almost twice as much as our annual budget.

At their Sunday services on January 3rd, Pastor Rick Warren announced that members and friends of Saddleback Community Church had given 2.4 million dollars in response to the letter. On any given weekend, over 22,000 people will worship at one of Saddleback’s five locations. Pastor Warren described the response as “radical generosity.”

When I read the story of this amazing gift, I could not help but think of the members and friends of Ball Camp Baptist Church. You may remember that at the end of October, our expenses were running $19,000 ahead of our income. Granted $19,000 is a long way from $900,000; but before you said your final farewell to 2009, you gave with “radical generosity.”  We finished the year $3,000 to the good. On top of that, you gave with that same “radical generosity” to our Christmas Offering for Global Missions, so that we exceeded our offering goal.

The challenges faced by their members and friends are most likely not all that different from the challenges that we as a church family have faced over the last year.  In the midst of difficult situations and hard times, I have been so proud of the way you have been church to each other.  Certainly, not all of your giving has been through the offering plate. Some of your most meaningful gifts have been directly to each other. Neither do I assume that I know about all that you have done for each other and for others outside our church. That is the way it is with “radical generosity.” It does not wait to be told how to act, nor does it look for recognition.

From families and individuals in our church, to hurting people in our community, to those in need in Eastern Kentucky, to those hungry for grace in North Africa, and to the uttermost parts of the world, your “radical generosity” has made a difference for the Kingdom of God and in the lives of people.

A writer for the USA Today newspaper described Pastor Warren’s letter to his church as begging for money.  While I understand how someone who is unacquainted with the gospel and with church life could see his letter in that light, I also think that  those who have experienced the grace of Jesus Christ, and the supportive love of a church family, know that there is a different motivation at work. Giving is an opportunity to minister. Giving is an opportunity to share the love of Christ. Giving allows us to become a part of the lives of those we give to in a redemptive and loving way. We give because we have received a gift — that gift is no less than the Son of God.  We give generously because the one who gives us life and hope has given to us with a generosity that we can never match.

Even still, I am amazed when I take note of the ways that you have given your resources, your energy, and your time in this year just ended. Truly, the impact of your giving was felt around the world. Thank you.