Monday, June 23, 2014

Feeding Hungry Children

“We are providing free lunch and snacks for 180 children every day, plus nearly 100 free breakfasts,” reports Associate Pastor Dan Trevino, “This includes 60 children at the Rosemont Apartments.”

This is Baptist Temple's sixth year offering free lunch to the children of our community through the USDA's summer feeding program. In 2009, we served lunch three times a week for five weeks. This year we serve breakfast, lunch and a snack all week at the church and set up a satellite location.

Over 90% of the children in our neighborhood are eligible for free or reduced lunch during the school year. They can receive a nutritious breakfast and lunch during the school week but are at risk for hunger on weekends and during the summer.

A 2012 Feeding America study discovered that Texas leads the nation in the number of hungry children. According to the San Antonio Food Bank one out four children in Bexar County live in poverty and struggle with food insecurity. Food insecurity means that when food is prepared, it is usually of poor quality or an unbalanced diet leading to malnutrition and health problems.

God cares about the hungry.
  • Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen… Is it not to share your food with the hungry… Isaiah 58:6-7 (NIV)
  • John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." Luke 3:11 (NIV)
  • When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. Deuteronomy 24:19-21 (NIV)

Baptist Temple is concerned about the hungry, as well. The summer feeding program is one way we fight hunger in our community.

Arise, cry out in the night,
At the beginning of the watches;
Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord.
Lift your hands toward Him
For the life of your young children,
Who faint from hunger at the head of every street.”
Lamentations 2:19

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Water Holds Life and Death

We prayed for rain at my first prayer meeting in San Antonio. I soon learned that water is serious business in South Texas. Drought magnifies the knowledge of our reliance on God for all things. Even for water, a substance so abundant that it covers 71% of the earth's surface. However, like most things, water is not evenly distributed. In San Antonio rain generates as many tweets and texts as a Spurs win.

Conservationist, Andrew Sansom, Executive Director of The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, reminds us that, while most of us get clean water from a tap, it is not so easy for others. On a global scale, a woman will walk an average of nine miles daily to get water for her family. The water itself can be of questionable quality. Every 20 seconds someone in the world will die from a waterborne illness.

Sanson says that, in Texas, there is a tension between environmental protection and economic development related to urban growth. Part of the problem is that the majority of the population lives in urban areas and lacks a spiritual connection to water. They have rarely seen it in the “wild” nor have suffered from it's scarcity.

Water is essential to life. It composes 57% of the human body. We could not live more than five days without. We seek it in space as a sign of extra-terrestrial life. Yet, we fail to show it appropriate honor.

Professor David Jensen (Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary), provides a theological perspective on water. He points out that water is present at creation. God's activity made it useful.

In the Genesis flood we see the destructive power of water. We see it again in the parting of the Red Sea. In both cases one's relationship to God made the difference between life and death.

Through the act of baptism, Christians use water to symbolize the death of the old self and rebirth.

Water has some awesome qualities that point to God. These include the vastness of the oceans, the pristine stillness of a mountain lake and power of a white water river. At the micro level, water is found in every living cell.

Jesus identified himself with life giving water. He said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38)

Water is a source of blessing. Jesus said that giving water to the thirsty was ministry to Himself and that a cup of cold water given to a disciple shall be rewarded.

It is difficult to be thankful for something that seems as abundant as air but, if we are mindful of the scarcity of clean water for some people and the power of life and death that water caries, we can drink to our health with gratitude.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Praying Before Meals

"Lord, bless this stick of gum that I am about to chew. May it give my breath an aroma pleasing unto you."

Could our prayers before meals become a little to mechanical?

Once, at a church function where snacks were to follow the service, the benediction included a blessing of the refreshments (two prayers for the price of one). In the fellowship hall the snacks were blessed again, possibly out of habit.

After the function, a small group went out for coffee and dessert. It was suggested that we pray over the coffee and bread. Someone even considered praying again when more food was brought out.

We pray before meals to show our gratitude for God's provision. Dinnertime can be a good time to pray together as a family. When the extended family gathers at a meal to celebrate a special event such as a holiday, birthday or graduation, prayer can be particularly meaningful.

However, we must guard against our prayers becoming empty and repetitious, said more out of habit than gratitude. Sometimes people pray before meals out of superstition. They are afraid that God will be offended and that something bad may happen to them. "I hope you don't choke on that," is a comment I've heard directed at a person who did not wait for grace to be said before filling his mouth.

Sometimes people pray before a meal to impress others around them with their spirituality. They take this opportunity to work the room and, maybe, correct an errant soul.

"It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord," declares Psalm 92:1. Let us remember to pray before meals as God leads us but let our prayer come from the heart. God is not so easily offended that he will punish us for not praying before a meal but he does want his children to be grateful. When we do pray before a meal we make God a part of our daily life and that, too, is good.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bread is More Than Gluten and Carbohydrates

A Rabbi once told me that keeping kosher (following Old Testament dietary laws) made him think about God every time he prepared food. I like that. We say grace before meals to acknowledge God as the source of our daily bread.

At the same time, I thought the Old Testament dietary laws were health-related. The timeless lesson being that we watch what we eat to optimize our health so we can honor God with our bodies. I now realize that there is more to it than that.

As a soldier and competitive athlete my relationship with food had always been performance based. I knew how to get the right amount and type of calories for my body. If my body fat percentage or blood chemistry was out of range, a few adjustments would get me back on track.

However, a healthy diet and exercise has not prevented me from deadly health related diseases. In 2009, a section of my colon had to be removed following an attack of diverticulitis that perforated my colon. That year I was diagnosed with diabetes (family history). Over the last year my diabetes and high blood pressure required greater amounts of medication and, last week, I had quintuple coronary by-pass surgery. Factors other than diet and exercise have been at play.

Early one morning I was making breakfast while the rest of the house slept. I do everything in slow motion these days so I was mindful of my movements. I gathered my ingredients and utensils in silence with the care given a Japanese Tea Ceremony. I recalled the health benefits of each ingredient as I mixed my super-healthy oatmeal together. I ate slowly and with gratitude, not only for the healthy breakfast but, also, for the health to prepare it.

We eat to live but Jesus said, “It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone...'” (Matthew 4:4)

Jesus reminds us of the connection to the God who sustains us. Meal times, whether we eat in community or solitude, offer an opportunity to slow down and remember the connection between our physical and spiritual needs. Life (animal or plant) gives life and labor (ours and that of others) placed a meal before us. Our physical health is improved when we are mindful not only of what we eat but how.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.
Whoever comes to me will never go hungry,
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
John 6:35 (NIV)

Monday, June 02, 2014

Freed People Free People

Dr. Tomi Grover, author of Compelled
Freed people free people,” said modern-day abolitionist, Dr. Tomi Grover speaking at Baptist Temple this past Sunday. Dr. Grover is the Executive Director of TraffickStop, which serves to educate, advocate, and engage people on the issue of human trafficking, and the author of Compelled.

More than 27 million people are enslaved around the world; half are children. According to Polaris Project, there are 100,000 to 300,000 children prostituted in America.

At an estimated $32 billion a year, human trafficking is the world's second largest criminal enterprise (drug trafficking is #1). People are lured with false promises of employment and, then, held against their will to work in the sex industry or provide free labor. In San Antonio, 22% of the contemporary slaves are forced into prostitution. Seventy-eight percent are forced to work as domestic servants or labor at farms and factories.

Baptist Temple's campus sits on Interstate 10; declared by the Texas Department of Justice to be a human trafficking superhighway. It connects four of the 10 largest cities in America (#2 Los Angeles, #3 Houston, #5 Pheonix, #7 San Antonio) and is the closest east-west corridor to the Mexican border. More than 20% of identified trafficking victims in the US are found in Texas.

Using the story of Moses at the burning bush, Grover outlined a plan for a Christian response to human trafficking.

  1. God is aware and cares about human trafficking.
I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” (Exodus 3:7)

  1. God responds.
So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey...”(Exodus 3:8)

  1. God sends his people.
So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10)

Jesus is concerned about human trafficking. Quoting Isaiah, he proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19) As people freed from the slavery of sin, we are compelled to free those who are enslaved today.

Grover cautions against taking direct action. Human traffickers are violent people and probably won't hesitate to harm a person who is interfering with their business. Suspicious activities should be brought to the attention of local law enforcement. Furthermore, you can call the national hotline: 888.373.7888.

Churches and individuals can become educated and raise awareness.