Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Prisoner of Hope

This morning I was reading a blog post by Tony Cartledge whose writings continually inform and challenge me.  Tony is a contributing editor for Baptists Today and a professor of Old Testament studies and other ministry courses at Campbell University Divinity School.  I had the opportunity of meeting Tony for the first time this year at the annual gathering of the North American Baptist Fellowship in Philadelphia.

Tony's current blog post highlights a message that former President Jimmy Carter shared at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion taking place in San Diego this week.  Whatever one might think of Carter's one-term presidency with the lengthy Iranian hostage crisis that marked it, few ex-presidents have done more in the realm of direct participation in charitable organizations than the 90-year old Carter.  Most are well aware of his active role in the work of Habitat for Humanity.  The Carter Center in Atlanta has taken leadership in controlling and eradicating numerous diseases.  It also has monitored elections around the world to help ensure fair and just political processes.  Carter himself has intervened in numerous international settings in a quest for lasting peace.

Cartledge's blog post highlights an address Carter gave at the meeting of the SBL and AAR focusing on the question of violence against women and seeking to address many of the inequalities they face.  I was particularly struck by a response Carter gave to a question posed to him.  When asked how he manages to remain optimistic in the face of so much bad news, Carter quoted Bishop Desmond Tutu, who once said “I’m not optimistic . . . I am a prisoner of hope.”

Last night's news coverage out of Ferguson, MO following the announcement of the grand jury's decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson certainly didn't provide much reason for optimism.  The calls for non-violent protests in the wake of the decision went largely unheeded--at least by those who chose to engage in burning and looting businesses in the town.

Yet even though we don't find justification for optimism as we peruse the headlines and listen to daily news broadcasts, as Christians we can live in hope, knowing that God still reigns.  As we enter into the advent season, we're reminded of His unfailing love for us--a love so great that He sent His Son into our world to live among us.  Jesus revealed to us the depth of God's love for us and in doing so, offers us genuine hope, even when the news isn't encouraging. 

"And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom. 5:5 - NASB).

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Strategy Planning Retreat

I had the opportunity this past Monday to participate in another very productive congregational listening session with Churchnet, this time at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, MO.  My friend Forestal Lawton, the church's administrator as well as the vice-president of Churchnet's board, was fearful that there wouldn't be too many show up on a rainy Monday evening with some other activities on the church's schedule.  We were delighted that 19 of the members showed up for the session that I helped facilitate along with the very capable assistance once again of Heather Entrekin, professor of congregational health at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

This weekend, Churchnet's strategy planning team consisting of the staff, officers, and a number of our board members, will be meeting at beautiful Windermere Baptist Assembly at Lake of the Ozarks to wrestle with the information that has been compiled from these listening sessions across the state as well as on-line surveys and face-to-face meetings with some of our institutional partners.  We'll be seeking to analyze lots of data and information to more strategically organize our work around our first priority which is serving churches.

I'm excited to see what the Lord might choose to do through this time of strategic planning.  We really do want to do all that we can to assist churches as they seek to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.