Truth to Power

Jim West pastors the First Baptist Church of Petros, Tennessee. We were at Carson-Newman together a few years ago. Jim sounds like an old timey preacher with his latest post .  It is refreshing to hear Baptist preachers advocating for the those on the margins of this current economy. Thanks Jim

Advertisements

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.

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.

Pat, don’t blame the Devil.

Often times, when something bad happens, God gets blamed for it. When something really bad happens, the devil gets blamed. The earthquake in Haiti has been attributed to a curse that resulted from a pact that the people of Haiti made with the Devil in their effort to gain their independence from France. While their is no evidence that such a pact was ever made, the history of Haiti is certainly one marked by tragedy and turmoil.  The devil though is undoubtedly given too much credit in the matter.

The devil was not responsible for the nearly complete annihilation of the islands original inhabitants one hundred years or so after Christopher Columbus first landed their in 1492.

The devil did not import and enslave Africans to provide the labor for the islands coffee and sugar plantations

When Haiti won independence from France in 1804, the Devil did not cause the United States to wait until 1862 to recognize Haiti as an independent and sovereign nation. The idea of nation born of a revolution led entirely by African slaves was too much for a still slave-owning America too acknowledge much less figure out how to relate to diplomatically.  President Thomas Jefferson argued that it was best to “confine the plague to the island.”

The devil did not demand that the new nation of Haiti make reparations to the tune of 150 million gold francs (roughly 21.7 billion in today’s dollars) this insuring that Haiti would always be a debtor nation.

The list of events and actions that have impacted Haiti’s history not perpetrated by the devil could go on and on.  Centuries of exploitation and oppression from other nations and from brutal dictators has caused Haiti to appear to be cursed.  The spiritual principle that seems to be tragically at work in the nation of Haiti is that of sowing and reaping.  From the first European to the last dictator, the seeds of justice and mercy have found few places to take root in Haiti. Yet, exploitation, corruption and cruelty have sprouted like so many weeds in a wet, hot summer after wet, hot summer.

Today the people of Haiti need blessing not cursing. They need blessing not just for the enduring and surviving of this latest tragedy, they need blessing for the tragedies of centuries that have left them worn, weary and appearing cursed.  May God’s grace and mercy be may evident to them by both the deeds and the words of those who profess to know God.

Happy Advent

Bill Nieporte is a friend from my seminary days, and currently the pastor of Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. This week, he is toying with the idea of creating a “John the Baptist” line of Christmas cards.  So far, here is what he has produced:

Outside card: “From Our House To Yours This Holiday Season…”

Inside: “Merry Christmas you brood of vipers.”

Outside card: “Let’s all pass the cup as we gather round the Yule log…”

Inside: …which burns like the unquenchable fire of hell that is soon going to consume you for all eternity…With Love, John”

Outside card: “Season’s greeting to you from across the miles…”

Inside: “Hey, who told you to flee from the wrath to come?”

This is, of course, straight out of scripture, but not so very Christmas sounding.  John’s words change our focus.  If Christmas is about renewing our hope in the idea of peace on earth and goodwill among all people, John reminds us that we are to be an integral part of bringing such an idea to fruition.   If Christmas is about God taking on flesh and coming to live among us humans, John reminds us of our need to turn our lives toward the One who is coming to us.  If Christmas is about God assuming the vulnerable form of a human infant, John reminds us that being vulnerable to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and open to the weak and vulnerable among us, is how we embrace this infant being born into our lives.  If Christmas is wise men traveling from afar, angels singing, and shepherds being astonished and afraid, John reminds us that our joining the cosmic and timeless celebration means confessing our failures, owning our weaknesses, and seeking healing for our wounds.

Christmas can be a confusing time for many folks for a variety of reasons.  In the midst of difficult economic times, money for presents will be limited for many.  If the focus of Christmas is buying, then, no doubt, there will be some who are feeling like they have not had much of a Christmas. If Christmas is about family, and a family member is ill, away from home, deployed overseas, or has passed away, Christmas will be different at best and impossible at worst.

What John does for us during this advent season is to focus our attention on what the most important item is on our list of things to do in order to get ready for Christmas.  With laser precision, John calls us to look at our own lives, our relationships with God and the ways those relationships impact how we live our lives.  For, you see, if Christmas is to happen, this time it will not happen in a far-away, long-ago stable.  No, if Christmas is to happen, it will happen in the lives of women and men, boys and girls who are ready to invite and embrace the birth of a new experience of the reality of God in their lives.  December 25th will appear on the calendar in just a few more days.  Christmas will come. What John wants to know is whether or not Christmas will happen in you?  Are you getting ready?

What was Prevaiz Masih Thinking?

His name was Prevaiz Masih.  He was the janitor at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan until October 20, 2oo9.  On that day two suicide bombers attacked, one on the women’s side and the other on the men’s side of the campus.

An attacker dressed as a woman shot the school security guard then approached the women’s cafeteria where Masih was working.   Masih intercepted him at the door and told him that he could not enter because there were women inside.  The two argued and the attacker detonated his bomb outside the cafeteria killing Masih.  Three women were also killed, but many more would have died had Masih not met the attacker at the door.

Prevaiz Masih was a Christian.  Standing in the cafeteria doorway, he was protecting the lives of between 300 and 400 young Muslim women.  “Despite being Christian, he sacrificed his life to save the Muslim girls,” said professor Fateh Muhammad Malik, rector of the university.  I cannot help but wonder if maybe it was because he was Christian that Masih acted to protect those women.  What if he did what he did not in spite of his Christian faith, but because of his Christian faith?

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells this parable:

As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.  So he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return.  He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’  But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us’’  When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading.  The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’  He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave!  Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’  Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’  He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities.’  Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound.  I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’  He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave!  You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow?  Why then did you not put my money into the bank?  Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’  He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’  (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds’’)  ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.  But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’”

From time to time someone will say to me preacher, we need to run the church like a business.  I am inclined to agree with those folks, especially when I read this parable.  The slaves in the story are given money.  The nobleman who gave them the money expected them to do something with it.  The expectation was real.  The message was clear; take this money and do something with it.  I believe Jesus told this story, at least in part, to teach us that we have been given something and we are expected to do something with it. If I remember correctly, Clarence Jordan suggested that money is not the currency of the Kingdom of God.  Ideas, convictions and principles are.  Jesus says to us take this idea of grace out into the world and trade with it.  Take this notion of mercy out into the marketplace and do business with it.  Set up shop and stock the shelves with justice, compassion, love, understanding, acceptance, peace and forgiveness.  Do business with these ideas.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, Prevaiz Masih had been given these same ideas.  He possessed the currency of the Kingdom.  I do not know if he was thinking about his faith when the attacker showed up. Was he asking himself the question, what would Jesus do?  I do not know.

He had just started the janitor’s job making barely $60.00 a month.  He lived with seven other family members in a crowded, one-room apartment.  By our standards, he did not have much. Yet, he had compassion.  With compassion for those who would be harmed, even killed, he acted to protect them.  Many are alive today who would have been dead if Masih had not done what he did.

Thankfully, we will rarely, if ever, have the need to practice our faith in such a dangerous environment.  But we should not let the relative safety and security that we enjoy keep us from offering what we have been given to those who have need of it.  We, who have been given grace and forgiveness, might seek out those who are hungry for it. We, who have experienced compassion and mercy, might seek to give that experience to others.  We, who have found acceptance and hope, might point the way for others who are still searching.

Not many people in Pakistan expected a Christian to act on behalf of the safety of a room full of Muslims. Masih’s action surprised a number of people in his country.  What unexpected act can you do that might cause someone to look at Jesus in a new light?

A Hungry Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  The memories of long ago gatherings of family, food, and football at my grandparents’ house are some of my fondest.  These days we go to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving, trying to give to our children their own memories. This year, we are breaking our tradition of frying the turkey.  My brother-in-law wants to try to smoke it.  I feel a new memory in the making.

Recalling fond memories and making new ones is not all that makes Thanksgiving my favorite holiday.  In fact, memories take second place to the reminder that Thanksgiving gives to us to be, well, thankful.  While every day is filled with opportunities to give thanks, this holiday gives us a chance to slow down and take a whole day to reflect and be grateful.  Nurturing gratitude in our lives moves us toward a more mature walk with the Lord.  Gratitude in the face of adversity often indicates a life that is resting in God’s grace.

Some of you may remember me telling the story that my Uncle John told of my grandmother making biscuits and gravy with water and flour for supper when he was a boy.  She did that because that was all that she had to put on the table.  He will always remember that time, and I will always remember his telling of it.  For me, it is a story, not a memory.  I have no memory of times being that hard.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I recall that story.  Rather, it comes to me, not as if I have to exert any effort to think of it.  When I think of things I am thankful for, I cannot help but be grateful that the biscuits I ate at grandmother’s table were always made with milk — buttermilk if she had it — and she often did.   Even more so, I am grateful that my children do not have such memories.

Not all children are so fortunate.  A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study showed that a record number of families had difficulty obtaining sufficient food at some time last year.  The number of people living in U.S. households that lacked consistent access to adequate nutrition rose to 49 million people in 2008.  That is 13 million more than in 2007.

On a global scale, the number of hungry people is staggering. The United Nations reports that more than a billion people face starvation.  That number represents an increase of about 100 million people over last year.

In the face of such need, I am grateful not just for the basic blessing of food and shelter, but also for the many people and organizations who work every day to alleviate the suffering caused by hunger and hunger-related illnesses.  Many of those people and organizations are motivated by their commitment to Jesus Christ and His teachings.  Some of those people are missionaries that we support in this country and around the world.  They do what they do as an expression of their faith in and dedication to the life and teachings of the One who said, “When you have done it unto the least of these my brothers and sisters you have done it unto to me.”

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to remember and to be grateful.  It is also a perfect time for followers of Christ to recommit themselves to living, giving, and following so that the least of these might also have reason to be thankful.