Headlines from First Thoughts

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Turning the World Upside Down #baptistsatwh

In the book of Acts, the church of Thessalonica made such an impact, that the local leaders said they "turned the world upside down." We don't have to look far for examples today.

Jeanette Barnes lived in public housing her entire life; but when a tornado devastated her home in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, one year ago in April, the city did not have enough housing for everyone. What was a city the size of Tuscaloosa, with FEMA and HUD resources at its disposal, to do? They did what governments, neighborhoods, and people have done for centuries. They turned to the church for support.

On March 7, I gathered with Pastor Tim Lovett of Calvary Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa; Robert Parham of Ethicsdaily.com; Ricky Creech of the D.C. Baptist Convention, and 60 other Baptist pastors. They came from every denomination in the Baptist alphabet- SBC, CBF, ABC, Progressive Baptist, you name it. We attended a "White House Briefing for Baptist Clergy," focusing on areas where the federal government works with local congregations and other faith-based groups to deliver aid where it is needed most. The Office of Public Engagement hosted us in the Executive Office Building of the White House. We dialogued about the issues of human trafficking, disaster relief, clean air and water, predatory lending, and immigration. We heard the concerns of the administration, and we shared our concerns as Baptists with the President's staff. It was a healthy, pointed, vibrant, non-partisan, civil dialogue as people working together for the common good.

As I listened, I realized there is so much that churches and government agencies are doing for people in times of crisis. First Baptist has several examples. With immigration, First Baptist has been on the border and with our Latino congregation; in education, we serve through KidsHope USA. In local disaster relief and recovery , we have worked in Macon County and with the Katrina evacuees.

Churches like ours are leading the way in these issues, and we can learn from each other how to impact lives and serve with best practices. Calvary Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa has been at the center of disaster recovery for over a year now. In partnership with the department of Housing and Urban Development, Calvary and the city of Tuscaloosa have repaired or rebuilt 80 homes. Jeanette Barnes was the first recipient of a home. Calvary was recently recognized by HUD for leading the way in disaster relief. Even more significantly, they have found their mission among the residents of the community. A tornado devastated lives; but through the power of the resurrection, they've turned the world upside down.

Picture info: A picture of Jeanette Barnes' community of Rosedale, Jeanette Barnes and the team of Calvary Baptist, Jeanette's home today

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

White House Briefing with Baptists

Greetings from Washington D.C. Today I attended a briefing at the invitation of Robert Parham of Ethicsdaily.com, Ricky Creech of the D.C. Baptist Convention, and the Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership department of the White House Office of Public Engagement. We met in the Eisenhower administration building with sixty pastors and representatives of the broader Baptist family. It was an alphabet soup of people in SBC, ABC, CBF, and other congregations in the spirit of "Goodwill" Baptists. We came not to speak for our churches. We came to speak to the administration about significant issues and to listen to the White House's initiatives.

The topics included human sex trafficking, disaster relief, the housing crisis, lending and mortgage scams, and clean water and air. We heard from each other about critical issues going on in local congregations. We learned from the Obama administration about the faith-based initiatives that are taking root across the country. Fourteen federal agencies have a faith-based office at some level.

By law, the Office of Public Engagement is not allowed to be involved in election year partisanship. We stayed away from politics and focused on Amos's mandate to "let justice roll." We looked for the common good that all of us share.

Here's the original news piece about the story from ethicsdaily.com.

Here's a link to the White House office.

If you have not read the twitter feed, be sure to check it out.

Here are a few takeaways--
Within 48 hours of leaving home, one-half of runaways will be picked up for sex trafficking.

There are ninety Payday lenders in the City of Birmingham-- more payday lenders than Starbucks.

Churches can be actively engaged in declaring a Jubilee for those caught up in the mortgage crisis, student loan debt, foreclosure, and payday lending scams.

I am humbled to be a part of this group. I learned so much about the work going on around the country in churches just like mine. The conversation has just begun.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Fleeing disciples on the path through Lent

“But he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” Mark 14:52

In the Gospel of Mark, the disciples flee Jesus when he needs them the most. They fit a theme, as David Rhoads suggests, that those closest to Jesus tend to be the farthest from loyalty.

The pattern starts with his family. When hearing that Jesus is in town, they try to seize him, labeling him as crazy (Mark 3:21). Eventually Judas, the rest of the twelve, a young man in Gethsemane, Peter in the courtyard of the high priest, the crowds at the trial, and finally the women at the tomb abandon him. All of them fled.

Jesus asked one thing of those around him to “be with him” (Mark 3:13-14; 14:34). They struggled with what that call entailed. The disciples, and many of those in the larger network, were not necessarily against Jesus. They were just never really for him either. They enjoyed the miracles, liked the teaching, admired the character, and took much of his advice. But the sign of the true disciple who was one who in the end was able to “take up the cross and follow me.”

Jesus’ call to discipleship challenges us to be for Him in the same ways that he was for the world: the many places, people, and ways that Jesus lived. This call sends us to touch the untouchable, love the unlovable, and cast out the evil in the lives and systems of our world. It means responding with humility over pride and peacemaking over hostility. When others would call for more war, preemptive strikes, and hostility, the life of Christ as we are reminded in the garden of Gethsemane puts away the swords and surrenders the weapons of power. This life resorts to prayer and sacrifice as the means to true life.

During the season of Lent, we are confronted with those same questions again. What does it meant to be “all in” for Jesus? No one would dare speak against his teachings or life; but if those closest to Mark are any example, we who desire to be close Christ today best be warned. The rare follower stays with him all the way. It’s in this season that God’s grace enables us to remain with him, even if we’re the only one left standing.

Image: James Jacques Tissot (1836-1902), "The Flight of the Apostles". Brooklyn Museum, New York

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