Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Paying it Forward

"Pay It Forward", a book by Catherine Ryan Hyde later made into a movie starring Haley Joel Osment, tells the story of what happens when one young boy takes his teacher's challenge to put into action a plan that will change the world. His plan is to do three good deeds for three different people that can't pay him back but will also do three good deeds for three other people. In the story, though the boy is mocked by some classmates, his plan begins to have global (and personal) ramifications.

As great as this story is, it isn't new. A couple thousand years ago a similar story was communicated by a Nazarene named Jesus. As told in the book of Luke, we know the story that Jesus told as "The Good Samaritan." Shared with an expert in the Old Testament law, Jesus identifies not only who our neighbor is, but how we should respond to our neighbor. We often think of our neighbor as the person that lives near us or maybe is a family member. Jesus' definition goes beyond this to include even those that are culturally, ethnically and religiously different than we are.

One of the most surprising aspects of the telling of The Good Samaritan is that Jesus makes the hero of the story a Samaritan and not a respected Jewish leader (like might be expected). Our church, Lake Baldwin Church, examined this parable this Sunday and were challenged to consider how we as individuals and as a church should respond to our neighbor. One of the distinctives of our church community is what we call "connection groups." After the Sunday morning service, we have a ten-minute coffee break and then gather around tables to share about our lives and how the message impacted us. Each table is an open group (groups vary from week-to-week) with a facilitator guiding the discussion.

As our table discussed this topic this week, we talked about the times that we've been "in the ditch" and needed help. One woman shared about when she was living life as a "rabid atheist" and a gracious Christian friend got involved in her life and led her to the Lord. Another guy talked about when as a lonely junior high schooler, a janitor took the time each day to talk with him about how he was doing. When our discussion moved to who our neighbor actually is, one gentleman in our group courageously confessed that he has oftentimes lived in judgment towards those in the gay community and that God is now doing something in his heart so that he views homosexuals as his "neighbor."

It may be giving a few bucks to a homeless man on the street or helping a lady change her tire on the side of the road or investing in the life of some different than us, but I think Christ defined our neighbor as anyone He brings across our path. I may not know the "who" or the "when", but I need to regularly examine whether my heart is softened to the needs of others. And, at times, I may be on the receiving end.

Just minutes after leaving church on Sunday morning, we were at a nearby mall in order to have lunch and kill some time before going to a friend's high school graduation open house. The kids came across some of those little cars and rides that you put a few quarters in for a 30-second ride. Since we didn't have any quarters, we just let them pretend they were riding for awhile. Plus (those of you who are parents can relate) once they do one ride then they want to do another and before you know it you're taking out a loan so your toddler can ride a yellow alligator.

So, as we were letting them play, this guy walks up to me and taps me on the shoulder. I turn around and he puts his fist out. I almost thought he was gonna hit me at first, but then he grabs my hand, puts it under his hand and drops something into mine. I looked and saw four shiny quarters. In my astonishment I mumbled a "thank you" as he smiled and walked away. He never said a word. I was the one that had been in church that morning, but he was the one that was being the Good Samaritan to me. I guess I'll have to Pay it Forward now...

For some good resources about practicing random acts of kindness, visit the following sites:
  • How to Pay it Forward - a site with tips on showing kindness towards others.
  • Ordinary Attempts - stories of how ordinary people incorporate Christ into their ordinary activities on ordinary days.
  • The Sower - suggestions on how to take the initiative to share Christ with those that God brings across your path.
  • Good News, Good Deeds - a collaborative site for those involved in passionate proclamation and compassionate demonstration of the gospel.
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Monday, May 07, 2007

Pure and Faultless Religion

The apostle James had this to say when referring to pure religion:
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." ~ James 1:27
In our protection of the sanctity of life, we as followers of Christ should also be involved in in caring for those that find themselves in the difficult circumstances of life. While the media might like to focus on what we are opposed to, the Church (members of the body of Christ) selflessly lives out James instructions by caring for widows, orphans, and unwed mothers every day. Lori and I have many friends that have personally become involved in caring for orphans. In fact, two of our friends that stood up in our wedding were adopted themselves.

Check out this important message from Dennis Rainey, director of Family Life, about how Christians can continue to live out "pure and faultless religion":

"For more than 31 years FamilyLife has stood on what the Scriptures teach and have been known by what we are for. We have a history of being known not by what we are against, but for being FOR the biblical definition of marriage, FOR covenant keeping love in marriage, FOR biblical families and FOR the value of all children—born or unborn. It was our commitment of being FOR children that led us to launch our Hope for Orphans ministry in 2003.

For years I have had a conviction that the Christian community not only needed to be pro life, but also pro orphan, pro adoption, and pro foster care. How can we only be for protecting unborn life and not also be FOR finding families for every child who does not have one? That's why I'm writing you to ask you to pray for one of the most important meetings in FamilyLife's 31 years of ministry. Twice in the last three years, FamilyLife has hosted what has become the Adoption Orphan Care Summit. Now, the third Summit in Colorado Springs is bringing more than 300 leaders together, representing some of the nation's most influential Christian adoption agencies and orphan advocacy groups.

On May 9-11 we will meet to learn how we can encourage and equip churches to take the lead in meeting the needs of orphans. There are now an estimated 143 million orphans in the world—that's greater than the combined population of the 20 largest cities in the United States. Over 500,000 children in America are in foster homes, including more than 120,000 who could be adopted today. I believe one of the most desperate needs in our world today is to love and care for these children. I believe that followers of Christ should be the first to reach out to orphaned and abandoned children around the world. Yet many are unaware of the great need, or of God's call for the church to be actively involved in helping the fatherless.

God is already at work, and I'm inviting you to join me in asking the Heavenly Father, Who reached down and adopted us, to do exceedingly more than we can even ask or think. It's easy to forget that each and every one of these children is precious to the Savior. Throughout Scripture we see God as "the helper of the orphan" (Psalm 10:14). I am convinced that Christians should be leading the international dialogue about our responsibility to provide a home and a family for those who have none. That's why FamilyLife started Hope for Orphans—as an educating and exhorting ministry dedicated to supporting and helping the fatherless and connecting those children with loving, Bible-believing families.

Next week's conference has grown from a partnership with groups like Focus on the Family, Saddleback Church, and Shaohannah's Hope. The Adoption Orphan Care Summit has turned into a strategic gathering of like-minded organizations that has the fingerprints of God all over it.

Please join me in praying:

  • For Paul Pennington and the FamilyLife Hope for Orphans team—for energy, leadership and wisdom as they serve others at the Adoption Orphan Care Summit.
  • That the conference will be effective in unifying these organizations to come together prayerfully and join God in what He is already doing. We know that where God goes, there is also a counter-spirit.
  • Pray that Satan will have no part in what goes on next week in Colorado.
  • Ask God to raise up tens of thousands of churches and hundreds of thousands of lay men and women to establish orphan care, adoption, and foster care ministries.
  • The Summit is not only attracting Christian leaders, but it's also getting the notice of the national media. An Associated Press story has shown up in dozens of newspapers across the country. Pray that media coverage of the event will be positive and will accurately portray the spirit of the participants.
  • Finally, pray that the Lord will continue to expand this movement to ultimately touch the heart of every fatherless child for His glory"

    How might you be involved?

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    Tuesday, May 01, 2007

    What Hip-Hop Can Teach Us About God

    Check out this great article from my good friend, Rasool Berry:

    "I love hip hop. Some of my fondest memories growing up involve listening to and reciting rhymes from Wu Tang Clan’s C.R.E.A.M., Onyx’s Slam, The Roots’ Do You Want More, or Pharcyde’s “She Keeps On Passin’ Me By.” Growing up in hip-hop culture and listening to the music has instilled in me certain values. The funny thing is that I didn’t think of them as values as much as “codes of the street”. These values were also divorced from any spiritual implications for me until recently.

    As I have matured and have grown spiritually, the “code of the streets” began to make sense as guiding principles for life. Authenticity is one of the highest values in hip-hop. The drive to be true to reality, one’s self, and others is paramount in hip hop and God agrees. Part of the reason there tends to be such a separation between hip hop culture and the Church is because one is real even when impolite and the other is polite even when not being authentic.

    Now, admittedly, there are some natural tensions that exist for the Church as it espouses virtues that it admits it can never fully attain. But that hasn’t been the beef that hip-hop has had with the church. It has been the more mundane hypocrisy that many of us struggle with to be real with ourselves. The great thing is, God agrees with hip-hop. God isn’t down with lip service either. To Him, our faith looks best when it entrusts him with what’s really going on in our hearts and not just what we like to show others or Him. I’m reminded of this by one hip-hop artist, Da T.R.U.T.H., who shares this reality on his song “After Your Heart.” He says in relation to his desire to pursue God, “I really wanna want you without all the stuff/ and fall in love with your person/ I wouldn’t call your bluff/.”

    Sometimes we have to admit, we don’t want God, but we just really want to want Him. That’s real. In addition to being authentic, hip-hop teaches us to be proud and claim whatever you are a part of. At hip hop concerts, emcees raise the question, “Is Brooklyn in da house?” Now, I’m from Philly, so that’s my cue to be quiet. But if the question goes forth, “Is Philly in da house?” That’s my signal to make some serious noise. And it’s not just about where you are from. In hip hop, the expectation is that if you’re into a specific artist, or genre, or even worldview, that you represent that issue boldly and even defiantly.

    Hip-hop has never been sheepish about the issues it stands for or stands against. Once again, God nods in agreement with hip-hop culture. It is so easy in our society to give lip service to a belief in God. It’s almost expected that we have a belief in some sort of Supreme Being. But, too often, that belief falls short of real faith that is meant, not just to be believed, but to be proclaimed. Another snag in the integration of hip-hop culture into the Church is the lack of boldness that church has even in reppin’ the God who it’s supposed to be in existence for. Jesus Himself said, "If you deny me before men, then I’ll deny you before the Father.” Jesus was demanding unwavering representation from his followers in the world.

    What believers can learn a lot from hip hop is how to represent boldly and unashamedly, the truth we believe and let folks know! Even in a climate like hip-hop culture, known more for rebellion to authority, than embracing God’s authority, it’s possible to represent God in this way. One such example that comes to mind is an artist, “The Ambassador”, whose name is derived from being a representative from God to man. He has a song called, “One Two” in which he states, “Religion sells but we dwell in anti-Christian realms/ so if you love Him then you’ve got to represent Him well.” The group The Ambassador rolls with, Cross Movement, is an example of what it means to be authentic culturally and yet represent God wholeheartedly.

    Hip-Hop heads love to have a good time. I remember performing Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh’s classic Loddy Doddy at a talent show in elementary school years
    ago. “Loddy Doddy we likes to party/ we don’t cause trouble/ we don’t bother nobody.” A couple decades after Loddy Doddy, much has happened in hip-hop culture and many fads have come and gone. The “Dirty South” has risen as a major sub-genre within the culture captivating the culture with its zeal for fun and life. The phrase “Get Crunk” has emerged from that southern flavor. It reveals the value hip hop places on enjoying life and having a good time. If it isn’t already obvious, this again is an obstacle between a hip-hop perspective and that of the church at large.

    Typically, Christians are known more for what we’re against than what we enjoy. An enthusiastic zeal for life and fun is not something that has characterized a relationship with God, but it should. Once again, God is feeling hip hop. In the Psalms, a book of celebration to the Lord, one writer exclaims, “Praise Him” with horns, dancing, percussion, and everything you got. That sounds like a good time. One hip-hop artist from “da dirty south”, LaCrae, puts it this way: “Represent! Get Crunk! Represent! Get Crunk! If You Know reppin’ Jesus go ahead and throw it (hand) up!”

    Hip Hop can teach us a lot about how to relate to God. Much like hip hop culture, God values “keepin’ it real” and being authentic about our relationship with Him. He also places a high emphasis on “representing him well” and of course at the end of the day, it’s all about getting’ crunk in the sense of having a passionate relationship with Him that is contagious and attractive. Just as I learned how to cock my hat to the side through hip hop, and nod my head to a beat, I’ve learned how to bow the knee of my heart to God through this dynamic and vibrant culture."

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