Friday, January 27, 2012

Some Guidelines for this Election Season

The following are some thoughts I shared in the latest edition of our monthly senior adult newsletter.

Well, just in case you’ve been totally isolated from a television in recent weeks, I thought I’d clue you in that we’re in the midst of an election year.  It seems it’s possible lately to watch a lively debate among presidential hopefuls at least a couple of times a week if one is so inclined.  And that’s before the GOP has even selected its party’s candidate and the real political fireworks begin.  It seems we’re in for a long season of negative attack ads and impassioned rhetoric.

So where does all of this leave us as followers of Christ?  At the risk of being shot at by both sides, let me offer a few guidelines and suggestions. 

1.      Be informed.  That doesn’t mean you have to watch every single minute of political coverage, but learn about the candidates and their platforms in order to vote intelligently.
2.      Vote your conscience.  As much as possible, let your vote reflect support for the individual you feel best embodies sound principles and character.
3.      Recognize that there are no perfect people—including (or maybe especially) politicians.
4.      Acknowledge that God isn’t the exclusive possession or supporter of either major party.  This one may be the trickiest and most difficult, as we tend to assume that God is on our side.
5.      Recognize that other sincere Christians can differ with your political persuasion without being heretics or insane.  This is a logical corollary of the previous guideline.
6.      Leave your penchant for political debate at home when you come to church.  We gather to worship the God of all creation—not a political messiah. 
7.      Pray earnestly for all those elected to serve in the political arena.  That’s a biblical command.

Baptists have been in the forefront historically of the fight to ensure separation of church and state, and we do well to remember that as the political fever rises this year.  Let’s keep our focus on lifting up the Lord and exalting Him rather than the political party of our choice.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Another Great Conference in Guatemala

I had the opportunity this past week to travel once again to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala for another round of leadership training conferences with pastors and leaders in that western region of the country.  My colleague, Verlyn Bergen, and I each led 2 sessions (with me translating for Verlyn in his two), and then we combined for a question and answer time in the final session.  We usually have a lot of dialogue and give and take in these conferences, but this was the first time we deliberately planned into the schedule one entire session for responding to questions and addressing concerns that the leaders raised.

For clarification, we spent a few minutes in the initial session asking them to suggest themes or issues that they wanted us to cover in that final session, so we had at least a few waking hours to think about those concerns before covering them in our final session together. 

Altogether, we had 75 pastors and leaders from 27 different churches and missions represented.  That's about the same total number of participants as usual, but a larger number of congregations present.  As always, the fellowship and camaraderie shared was wonderful.  Many of these men and women have attended every conference for the past 6 years or so.  It's great as well to see new leaders emerging who are attending these conferences.  They are eager learners, hanging on every word and soaking up the content like sponges.  Verlyn talked about 8 characteristics of healthy churches and teaching for results, while I led two sessions talking about the missional church--seeking to define it somewhat and describing the practices of missional churches.  I borrowed heavily from a great book by Milfred Minatrea entitled Shaped by God's Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches.  It's a great resource from Leadership Network that identifies 9 practices of growing missional churches based on research of a number of churches in the U.S.

We returned home on Friday afternoon, fairly exhausted from the travel schedule, but very content with the conference and the opportunity as well to visit the Tabitha Ministry again in Guatemala City that I've spoken of in previous posts.  They are having to vacate the building they currently occupy by the end of February, but it looks like they will be able to secure a house just a short distance away to continue the ministry of providing 2 meals and early childhood education to around 90 children.  In addition, some 50 women who are mainly the mothers of these youngsters are meeting weekly for Bible study. 

All in all, it was another blessed and productive week in Guatemala.  I appreciate the prayers of those who lifted us up to the Lord as we went. 

Friday, January 06, 2012

Seeking Him

I really enjoyed and was challenged by an excerpt from Max Lucado's book, One Incredible Savior: Celebrating the Majesty of the Manger, that showed up in my email inbox this morning as a part of his Upwords weekly devotional.

Here's the excerpt from the book that he shared:

God rewards those who seek him. Not those who seek doctrine or religion or systems or creeds. Many settle for these lesser passions, but the reward goes to those who settle for nothing less than Jesus himself.

I read a couple of blogs where fellow Baptists of many different stripes engage in a lot of heated (often without too much light being shed) discussion about doctrinal systems.  The age-old Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate is one among many others that frequently generates dozens of passionate responses.  It would be surprising and amazing perhaps to see what kind of positive Kingdom impact would be accomplished if just a small percentage of the zeal that's displayed in those debates were channeled instead into pursuing a love relationship with our Savior.  Something to think about as the first week of the new year draws to a close.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Fleeting Time

It scarcely seems possible that another year has come and gone, but here we are in 2012.  While each year we live contains the same 365 days (with the exception of leap year), our perception as we age is that each new year passes more quickly than those that preceded it.  I once heard a mathematical explanation for that which made sense to me.  As a youngster of let’s say 6 years old, the current year represents one-sixth of our lifetime.  As a senior adult of 80, that same year represents just one-eightieth of our life.  So while the number of days and the time span is identical for each, the year seems to have passed more quickly for the older adult since it’s a smaller fraction of his life.

What should we do with the fleeting years that remain for us here on earth?  I like the advice that Moses gives us in Psalm 90:12 where he expresses this prayer to God, “So teach us to number our days that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.”  A wise heart is a gift that we can give back to God.  We can and should continue to grow in the knowledge of God each new year that He allows us to live.  Godly wisdom comes from spending time with God in the Scriptures and allowing Him to speak to us both through the Word and in prayer.

Another verse that comes to mind is Eph. 5:17 that encourages us to redeem the time, because the days are evil.  While we cannot literally buy back time that has elapsed, we can utilize the remaining time we have to love God, love people, and make disciples as our church’s mission statement reads.  That’s a worthy goal for 2012 for each of us.