Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Responding to Hurricane Harvey

Disasters can bring out the best in us; despite what you see in post apocalyptic dramas. Neighbors helping each other and the professional first responders displayed selfless heroism in the face of the storm. They were soon supported by growing numbers of people bringing relief. Among those was Baptist Temple member, Armando Acosta, who repeatedly drove his HEB truck loaded with much needed items into the disaster area.

Texas Baptist Men (TBM) quickly sent 175 disaster relief volunteers who set up mobile kitchens to feed first responders and evacuees in shelters. By the end of the first week, Baptist disaster relief workers from six different states brought laundry and shower for the relief effort,. As the flood waters receded, chainsaw crews, heavy equipment operators and recovery crews began the clearing process. TBM childcare workers, chaplains, crisis responders and comfort dog teams ministered to the evacuees and workers at the shelters.

Other Baptist groups are making plans for the ongoing recovery effort. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas are gearing up for ongoing recovery efforts with a focus on rural areas. Bounce (Texas Baptists’ student disaster recovery program) plans to send volunteer teams to the Gulf Coast during spring break and summer 2018. Buckner International is donating 12,000 pairs of shoes collected through its Shoes for Orphan Souls initiative to survivors of Hurricane Harvey.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Extra Grace Required

One reality of urban ministry is that we encounter some “extra grace required” people. Folks living with mental illness, poor manners, a shady past or all of the above. Maybe, folks with shabby clothes and poor hygiene that reflect their financial poverty. They require a measure of tolerance, patience, love and extra grace. At times they will need to be gently corrected or quickly rebuked. Often, they will need to be forgiven.

Some fear that “extra grace required” people will chase away the “right” people. There is a measure of truth in that. They disrupt the religious club vibe that we often confuse with koinonia. That's why they are made to feel unwelcome in many churches. That's why many inner city church members look different than the surrounding community.

Jesus was criticized for hanging out with the “wrong” people. He was called a “friend of sinners” for spending time with prostitutes, Samaritans, tax-collectors and others outside of polite society. His Apostles included a tax-collector and a terrorist but no high society folks.

James (2:1-9) warns us about showing partiality to the “right” people who enter our assembly while ignoring those who appear to be less successful. Throughout the Bible, God demonstrates his choice of people that would be overlooked by the standards of the world to carry out his plan. He chose Jacob over Esau and David over his older brothers. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” - 1 Corinthians 1:27 (ESV)

God sends “extra grace required” people into our lives to teach us how to love. They, too, are part of the Body of Christ. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” - Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

Sometimes a church will pray for God to bring them people and, then, complain about the people God sends but an effective inner-city church brings people who are living in darkness into the light of Jesus' love.

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

We have reached a new low in public discourse

We have gone from attacking a politician's ideas, to attacking the politicians. Now we attack the people who voted for the politician.

We are becoming increasingly polarized. People on opposing sides of issues have taken irrevocable stands. We have moved from arguing a position to attacking people who disagree with us. Now we launch preemptive accusations based on what we assume others might say. Are we losing our minds?

Social media has magnified the hate. We post things we probably would not say to someone's face. Can you imagine explaining to a time traveler from the sixties that we have a device that we can hold in the palm of our hand and access all the knowledge in the world but we use it to insult strangers. We have lost our minds!

A person who identifies as a follower of Christ should not be a participant in such hate-inspired, soul- destroying acts. The Bible teaches, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:9-12)

A favorite song of mine is “They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love
Peter Scholtes (1968)

Are you known as Christian by your love? Or do the words you type betray your true nature? Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

Jesus said that being a peacemaker is a mark of His followers. (Matthew 5:9) Does that describe you? Or do you forward emails and share Facebook posts that make others angry?

Before we speak or post Christians ought to be mindful of our call to glorify God and bear witness to His love.

Before we speak or post Christians ought to be mindful that our words can spark a fire strong enough to burn a forest. (James 3:5)

Before we speak or post Christians ought to be mindful that a gentle word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

Before we speak or post Christians ought to be mindful that on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. (Matthew 12:36)

Before we speak or post Christians ought to be mindful that Jesus said, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44).”