MSU Pride Band comes to UHBC!

It was a great privilege to attend the Global Leadership Summit last week. This is simulcast to hundreds of sites all over the world; fortunately Trey and I were able to take part at a church here in Springfield. This is one of the highlights of my year, and this time didn’t disappoint.

One of the faculty members, John Maxwell, is a former pastor and author on leadership. He has written numerous books on this subject and is widely considered as an expert in this field. He made a comment that has stayed with me all week:

The church has to ask itself a question–Are we going to spend more time on correcting people, or spend more time connecting with people?

This Sunday will be a great opportunity for connection with students. We will be hosting the MSU Pride Band and many other students who will begin or continue their academic careers at schools here in Springfield. I encourage us to do our best to show hospitality to these young men and women, and their parents.

Another important feature about this year’s event is that we will meet Dr. Brad Snow, the new director of Athletic bands and the Pride Marching Band. We are grateful to have him in the Springfield area and wish him all the best in the transition to the Ozarks.

An ongoing effort at connection will be the simulcasting of our worship services on Facebook. We are making investments into our technology to enable us to be more effective in sharing the gospel to those outside our building. I’m especially excited about this development, and believe it will increase our reach into our community and beyond.

I hope you’re using the UHBC prayer guide. It is a useful tool for keeping us “on the same page” in seeking the Lord’s leadership in the church.

May the Lord help us to do more connection with others and less time with correction. Let’s let the Holy Spirit handle that task while we show the love of Christ to those around us.

I’m encouraged by the spirit of renewal in our church. I hope you sense it as well. See you soon.

Praise and Presidential Politics

   One of the most difficult jobs during a presidential election has to be that of a pastor.

Although noticing a number of ministers openly endorsing one candidate or another, I’ve often thought that this action could alienate members of his/her congregation.

If you haven’t noticed, our church is not uniform when it comes to political views. We don’t impose a litmus test to ensure conformity or distribute voting guides to tell our people how to vote.

This isn’t our first election cycle to go through. But, I mention this because I believe we are heading into one of the most heated and possibly most hateful presidential elections in modern history.

I have my concerns about what this can do to the body of Christ.

   Each of us have his/her own opinions. My desire as pastor, however, is to keep us focused on our task as the people of God and allow room for people with different viewpoints. This isn’t always easy, but it is Baptist.
   I came across this wonderful quote in my reading this week:
  “Why is praise so prevalent in Scripture? When praising God, our minds move away from ourselves. We quit thinking about how bad off we are. We drop our ‘poor little me-isms’ and God turns us to focus on His goodness and sovereignty” (Calvin Miller, The Power of Encouragement).
   You’ve heard it said time and again how much we have been blessed. It’s important to keep reinforcing this principle of gratitude in our church; we have the privilege of going through life together in our community of faith.
    Yes, it’s easy to become cynical these days. During these last few weeks, major political parties have held their conventions. There’s no shortage of vitriol and animosity toward others who hold different political or social positions. This will only intensify as our nation moves toward November and the election of our next president.
    It’s discouraging to see statements on social media that very few would make in person to someone else. Some have written things like, “I don’t see how you can be a Christian and be a Republican/Democrat.” Social media can devolve into a cesspool of hatred toward candidates, those who support them, and those who disagree with them. Recently I had to “unfollow” one of my Facebook friends. I just don’t need that negativity on my laptop.
    Regardless of who is elected our next president, it’s important to remember that God is still God. Let’s not go crazy or lash out on social media. We can be passionate, but when things are getting too heated, may we “be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46.10 NIV).
    One of the core values of UHBC is “the separation of church and state.” We believe in a free church in a free state. We agree to disagree without breaking fellowship with each other. Faith will necessarily intersect with politics, but we don’t all agree on how that is to happen or what that should look like. We are a tapestry of different political, social, and theological positions.
    No church is perfect. But, I am so grateful for the spirit and personality of UHBC as we navigate through this political season. As we do so, may we affirm our unity around the only and earliest creed that Baptists should affirm: “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Let us put the Kingdom of God first and foremost, even as we may struggle with differences of opinion that are important to us.
   I hope you’ll join me in “keeping the main thing the main thing” through the remainder of 2016. Good things are happening in our church. I’m looking forward to kicking off the Fall, meeting new people, and serving our risen Lord. Let’s praise God for that and be open to the Holy Spirit’s leadership as we move forward, together.

Pastor’s page: cynicism and C.S. Lewis

We are living in a time of great cynicism. This was even more apparent with the joint appearance of Presidents Bush and Obama at a memorial service. They came together to show support for the five police officers who were gunned down by a sniper and their families.

I’m not naive to the politics and optics. But, it was disheartening to read criticisms instead of affirmations that they came together to show support for the city of Dallas and these families. I’m not sure if this attitude has always been prevalent, or whether social media has brought it more to light.

Discouragement affects us all. In “A Grief Observed,” C.S. Lewis talked about his struggle with heartache as he grieved the death of his wife:

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing him, if you turn to him then with praise, you will be welcomed with open arms. 

But go to him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away.”

The story of Lewis is fascinating and offers many lessons for us. I would encourage you to locate some of his writings or a biography and read them.

We’re continuing our journey through the Psalms this month. I’ll be dealing with a personal and poignant passage dealing with questioning where God is during our most difficult times.

The summer months offer a time for a change of pace and routine. It’s been good to hear from many of you who are away visiting family or simply taking a much needed break. Even though some of us have been away, it’s been encouraging to see guests in our worship services.

I thought you’d like to know that our Payday Loan Relief Program is making an impact not only in Springfield, but around the country. UHBC is receiving notoriety for our creative partnership with the nearby credit union. Just this past week, I received an email from Nashville, TN. This person had heard of our efforts and wanted to know how to begin such a work in their city. We continue to receive local media coverage as well.

The Lord is at work in our church. We are making a difference for Christ in our community. We continue to see guests each week. And, I’m grateful for your willingness to try new things in order to remain effective for the cause of Christ. Your hospitality and prayers are making a difference.

I am grateful we can seek the Kingdom of God, together. See you Sunday.

Another death in Paradise

It’s been a horrific few days in this country. In this era of instant news and communication, we feel connected more than ever and this, I believe, is a good thing.

Events like those in Louisiana and Minnesota seem to be happening with greater regularity. Two more police shootings and how the situations unfolded were captured on cellphones and broadcast on Facebook. Who would ever have imagined this kind of live broadcast?

In response, a protest took place on the streets of Dallas. We have seen these kinds of marches before, another example of our freedom of speech. More importantly, these calls to action have become an avenue to express frustration, fear, and appeals for change. This peaceful protest was interrupted by gunfire and the deaths of five police officers in Dallas. The shooter has been identified as a veteran who served in Afghanistan, and whose motivation involved killing white police officers.

David Brown, Dallas Police Chief, held a press conference to talk about the horrible details of how five of his fellow police officers where killed. He eloquently summarized the sentiment that many people have right now: “All I know is that this must stop. This divisiveness. . . between our police and our citizens.”

As disturbing as this violence is (and continue to be), I find some of the responses to these moments distressing as well. I don’t expect everyone to have the same reactions, but I would hope that we could have a little more compassion and understanding. My friend Stephen Reeves, Associate Coordinator of Partnerships and Advocacy for the CBF, put it this way on his Facebook page: Dear Lord, for our white brothers and sisters in Christ who methodically analyze every angle of a particular incident in order to justify a killing, but can’t be bothered to give a second thought to an unjust system, we pray. 

I’ve become more interested in how these incidents affect the youngest among us. They are the ones who are going to inherit a nation with all its problems, challenges, and hopefully opportunities. Among these challenges will be how we bridge the racial divide. It also relates to the rise of gun violence in this nation. I admire their courage and activism in engaging our communities and calling for more dialogue and action.

My daughter Cally just graduated high school. It has been enlightening to observe how these gun related deaths are impacting her. She posted these thoughts on her Facebook page: We must not turn against each other. Now more than ever we need to love each other and respect each other. All the hateful words I’m seeing on Facebook and Twitter about the BLM movement really troubles me. We have a serious racial problem in this country and we need to work together to fix it. I’m devastated by what happened tonight in Dallas. Its going to be hard to sleep tonight thinking about everything that is going on. All this senseless killing needs to stop.

There will more calls for “thoughts and prayers” to be given to these families, and rightfully so. Grief needs to be observed. We need to call for calm and come together as families and communities. But, we also ought not be dismissive about the causes of this violence nor succumb to hopelessness that nothing will improve or change in this country.

Erin Grinshteyn is Assistant Professor at the School of Community Health Science at the University of Nevado at Reno. She offered these findings in a recent article by CBS News: “Overall, our results show that the U.S., which has the most firearms per capita in the world, suffers disproportionately from firearms compared with other high-income countries. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that our firearms are killing us rather than protecting us.”

I’m concerned about our nation and especially those in the millennial generation who are watching these events unfold before their eyes. It may be this generation of students and young leaders who compel us to do something to improve the way we relate to each other and how we view one another. We need to hear their voices.

I hope I’m wrong though. We can’t afford to wait any longer to come together. In the meantime, I call upon our churches to show our concern and commitment by living out the teachings us Jesus. We need to share life together in authentic community and do the hard work of demonstrating there is a better way. Let’s not let the moment pass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thankful for freedoms this 4th of July

   “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.”
    Abraham Lincoln offered these words many years ago, and supported them with actions that saved our republic. The path was not easy for him, as he suffered many losses and struggled with depression. As we celebrate this 4th of July weekend, let it be with a sincere debt of gratitude for his leadership.
    I want to let you all know how much I appreciated the two months of sabbatical. It meant a great deal to step away from work and routine to spend time for resting, reading, and reflection. I’m especially thankful for all of you who led mid-week Bible Study and Sunday morning worship services. I am grateful also for our church staff as they continued the work that is so important to our congregation and community.
     I’m looking forward to seeing many of you this upcoming Sunday. I’m beginning a four part sermon series from the Psalms, and hope we’ll enjoy spending some time in this special book. It’s a holiday weekend, so we may have some of our church family away. But, if you are able, it would be good to see you again this Sunday morning.
    One of the most precious freedoms we have in this country is the freedom to worship. J. Brent Walker, retiring Director of the Baptist Joint Committee, put it this way: “The point cannot be over-emphasized: we must not exercise our freedom selfishly, but in a way that serves God, respects the well-being of others, honors the government and promotes the common good.”
   May God help us to be grateful for our freedoms, and remember those whose perseverance and sacrifice made them possible.

A few thoughts on the Orlando shooting

Orlando is now known for more than Disney World. It has become reluctant host to the largest mass shooting in the history of the United States. This is a dubious distinction for the home of the “happiest place on earth.”

I have been watching the news video of the shooting and reading related news stories. I’ve been looking at Twitter and following some of the Facebook traffic. I never cease to be amazed at how quickly postings can become personal and deteriorate into attacks and questioning of one’s religious beliefs. Then again, it is social media.

We fall into the same cycle of behavior every time this happens. Shock. Anger. Grief. Blame. A Call to Action. Inaction. Calls for “prayers and support for the victims and their families.” This is appropriate and seemingly the best many of us can come up with under the circumstances. Yet, I still find this lacking.

I’m sure this situation will be politicized. I’ve already noticed the presidential candidates weighing in on the shootings. Not too long ago there was a press conference involving the owner of the gun store where the shooter purchased his weapon. The proper background checks were observed, yet the results are painfully obvious to us all.

In this instance, the victims were those in the LGBT community. Last year around this time we were shocked by killings in an African-American church. This type of behavior has become too frequent. Yes, the Orlando shooting was an evil action and the one who carried out this horrific act was filled with hate. He was inspired by ISIS, yet no direct connection can be made to this terrorist group. However, I’m sure they will take credit for his action. The term being used now is that he was “radicalized.” Sadder still is that this was example of “home grown” terrorism.

America seems to have a corner on this kind of mass shootings. I don’t hear too much about this happening in other countries, at least not with the frequency we’ve come to expect. There ought be a way to enact common sense gun control in this country while honoring the second amendment. In my opinion, there are certain types of military style weapons that have no business being accessible to the general public. It will take courageous politicians and government leaders to bring about the changes necessary to bring down the number of mass shootings in this country.

I’m becoming disillusioned that any real change will come because of this situation. I recall the horror of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Innocent children were made victims. Families grieved the loss then as they do now. If nothing moved us to make significant changes then, it is unlikely to see anything happen now.

There are several examples of gun control legislation brought about in other countries. Change was brought about when the people had had enough with the violence. Perhaps we can keep the discussion on this issue going in this country long enough to see something happen. Yes, it does seem unlikely, but it is possible.

John Howard, former Prime Minister of Australia, offered this rationale for implementing change in his country after they endured a mass shooting:  “Australia is a safer country as a result of what was done in 1996. It will be the continuing responsibility of current and future federal and state governments to ensure the effectiveness of those anti-gun laws is never weakened. The U.S. is a country for which I have much affection. There are many American traits which we Australians could well emulate to our great benefit. But when it comes to guns we have been right to take a radically different path.”

As a pastor, I’m always interested in how the church will respond to people in crisis and pain. I hope the hatred directed at the LGBT community in the killing of 50 people will bring about a thoughtful response from Christians. This is a moment for us to come together in a spirit of cooperation and kindness. Let us join together in living out the prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; 
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

May our thoughts and prayers truly be with the victims and their families. Let us find that common ground where the common good can be realized. And, may we leave room for the love of Christ to do its transforming work to change hearts and minds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Predatory loan meeting in KCMO

debttrap.1

There are more payday/title loan companies in Missouri than Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Wal-Marts. . . combined.

Think about that.

It’s hard to imagine being charged 450% on a 30 day loan for $650, but I saw one of these loan applications for myself. I cannot imagine what it is like for persons who have a financial crisis (which can be something that costs less than $1000), take out a payday loan, and then have to take out additional loans EVERY month to pay for it. It is not uncommon for persons to borrow a few hundred dollars, yet pay thousands of dollars in interest and fees.

It’s not right, and it’s time to do something about it.

This Thursday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is having a field hearing at the Kansas City Convention Center. This meeting will feature remarks from CFPB Director Richard Cordray as well as testimonies from  consumer groups, industry representatives, and members of the public. I’m hopeful that we will hear new guidelines and parameters which will reform the payday/title loan industry.

There is a lot of information available on this issue; go to the Stop the Debt Trap website and read more about the impact of payday loans and how they exploit those who can least afford it.

I did an interview recently where I was asked about the political nature of this issue, and how churches might be reluctant to get involved for that reason. In my view, payday and title loan reform is not a political issue, but a justice issue. It is about fairness. There is nothing about charging 450% interest (and higher!) on a loan that is fair or just. We can do better as a community than this.

There are many causes and reasons for poverty. Springfield has a high poverty rate, despite the fact that rate of unemployment is relatively low. One facet of systematic poverty is the presence of these high interest loan companies. It is not a coincidence that payday and title loan companies saturate low-income areas of cities. These high interest, short term loans seem to be a fix for an immediate need. But, they turn out to be financial bait to trap people in a cycle of debt.

I am certain there will be significant opposition to any changes or controls to payday loan companies. I’m sure there will be a segment who feels they are providing a service to the community. This industry can continue providing resources to persons who might not be able to get loans from banks or credit unions, but they shouldn’t be able to put people into financial slavery over loans of less than a thousand dollars.

There are many issues that tend to divide the faith community. It’s unfortunate that we have difficulty working together because we don’t all agree on theology or doctrine. But, surely we can come together and agree that exploiting the poor is something that is not consistent with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. He came to “bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4:16-21).

I’m ready for some good news on this issue. Payday loan reform is not only an economic issue but also a spiritual one. It has been encouraging to see more faith leaders and communities getting informed and involved. We’ve been asking for change for a long time. Let’s hope we’ll see some of this happen on Thursday. It could be an historic day for Missouri.