Monday, October 13, 2008

Human Trafficking

When I was in seminary, I read two books about a ministry in New York City that sought to help bring girls and boys out of prostitution. The ministry helped rescue them and get their lives back, but the books told story after story from the perspective of the prostitute. Those stories have haunted me since then.

The reality is that as you read these words, 27 million women, men and children are sex or labor slaves in this country and around the world. It is a terrible and staggering reality. At this very moment, young girls and boys are being raped or pimped, children are being sold as slaves, adult men and women are being tricked into a "better life" in another country as a ruse to traffic them. Some are being sold for sacrifice; some for body parts. It is sickening. However they are trafficked, their lives are short-lived.

This is not just some far away happening. It is happening in America. It is happening here in Clearwater/Dunedin, Florida.

I have been praying. I have been asking God what he wants of me. I have been prayng fervently for God to direct me to very specific action I am to take as a follower of Jesus and as a man called to show the compassion of Jesus. This is not about me as the pastor who can get others to join in a mission. This is about me as a lover of Jesus. I do not know where it is leading me, but I am joining my voice and actions into the fight to end this horrible crime.

Lord, help the Christians get off their butts and help the 27 million desperate people. Lord, help me get off my butt.

I'm angry, disgusted and heartbroken.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Beach Baptisms

At 1:00 pm today, I baptized three adults at the beach. Right in the St. Joseph Sound. For our Dunedin beach that is where the Gulf of Mexico comes ashore. The water was 78 degrees. A little chilly for me, but not bad for October 5. I looked up the water temperature near Cleveland, Ohio today. It is 65 degrees. If this was in Ohio, I would have been in a wet suit. No, I would have waited until July 4.

Two of the three who were baptized are brand new Christians. They are twin sisters in their 20s, Lisa and Tiffany. Next week I will also officiate at Lisa's wedding. The third was Sandy, who thought she had been baptized as an infant, but found out recently she had never been baptized. All three of them have professed their faith in the presence of the elders of the church and were in every way ready for this moment.

It was a great day. This was an extension of our Sunday morning service. Everyone in the church was invited. We went to a place by a bridge where the crowd could gather and hear as we talked and prayed, then watch as we waded out into the water for the baptism. Afterwards, Lisa, Tiffany and Sandy all talked about what being baptized meant to them. We closed by singing Amazing Grace and then I gave a closing blessing.

It had the joy of a wedding and graduation combined. There was something right about it. The laughter, cameras, boats going by, tears of joy shed, random onlookers joining in, singing and prayers combined with the actual baptism made the ceremony a grace-filled event. God even had several dolphins crest the water about 50 feet off shore just before the ceremony.

This was my first beach baptism. In fact, it was my first baptism outside of a sanctuary. I had to ask a few former Baptists how to do a full immersion baptism. I think it went well. I think Billy Graham would have been proud.

As you can imagine, I am a happy pastor today. God did for those three adult women what no human could ever do--God awakened them to faith in Jesus. Today, the sign and seal of that awakening was given. As I said to them today, the waters of baptism signify that they have died with Christ and then have been raised with Christ. "The old you is dead; the new you is alive in Christ." And down they went into the water. It was a great moment for us as a church and a great moment for the three baptized.

It occurs to me that more and more people in this world are like the three on the beach this afternoon. More and more of the people we will meet on our spiritual journey will be like Lisa and Tiffany--having grown up completely without a faith community around them. Leaders of all churches, even those like ours that practice infant baptism, should get ready. The day is coming when adult baptisms will be common practice. Get ready and enjoy the moments when they come.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Faith in Uncertain Economic Times

I polled some leaders in the church yesterday to get their collective wisdom on the current economic crisis. My focus was on what to say to our congregation, but as you will read, their responses pertain to all believers. It was a treat to hear that the tenor of all of their remarks was similar. With their permission, I now post their comments for your consideration.

"Pray for all to put this in God's hands as many have before. Ask for patience, ask that they not panic, that they consult their own financial advisors for counsel, and that they exercise good old fashion common sense in their financial management. After all, with all the finger pointing going on, what usually remains unsaid is that borrowers made a lot of bad decisions that led to this moment in our history. Everything in life ebbs and flows and we need the Lord to feed our faith and character to work through this. My meager thoughts." Elder Kelly King

"I do feel a message to our congregation encouraging patience, no panic, courage and wisdom, with trust in the Lord would be timely and useful . It should be delivered by the pastor. If we have anyone who has the smarts to solve this one we should buy him a ticket to Washington. In my opinion 75% of the crisis is the result of our so called "free-press" and their constant long time crepe-hanging." Chuck Carter

"The message is: do not panic, do not sell low, the fear mongers and politicos and talking heads would have us dead and in the ground. This will pass. Run the race using the basics..." Elder Al MacKenzie

"The cause of this financial crisis is as old as sin itself – Greed. The lack of Christian principles in the business community has created huge debt that will take years to correct, but we will learn from these times. In a time when people are living beyond their means and spending money they don’t have, corporations have loaned money that should not have been loaned. Our fast-paced, every growing thirst for financial success has blinded those in leadership positions. CEO’s that have put millions in their pockets and walked away are not good stewards....The long and short of it is, we will survive, but millions of dollars will be donated to the school of hard knocks. Thank God we are not building our treasures here on earth, but in heaven." Elder Barry Dowdy

"God is good. This is what we share--our prayers, our encouragement along with our understanding of the situation, our discernment, our responsible stewardship and our faith. 'In God we trust.'" Elder Suzanne Plemmons

"Realize that this is a political season and any event will be ‘blown up’ by the combatants. Yesterday’s market drop of 777 pts. was six percent; this did not make the top-ten of one-day market drops and we recovered from all the prior ones.
  • The October 1987 BLACK FRIDAY one-day drop of 22 percent would have equated to a 2,500 point one-day drop in yesterday’s market so, while yesterday's drop was scary, was not nearly as severe as it has been reported.
  • The American people have an almost uncanny knack of seeing through the bull.
    We are VERY STRONG and will weather this better, and recover sooner, than any other nation.

I would add these two that I have found helpful:

  • Begin each day contemplating something that you are thankful for.
  • Work on being happy – it takes work, but here is a tip: If you want to improve the happiness in your life – turn off CNN (and other 24/7 news outlets). Limit your news intake to no more than 30 minutes a day. While most news is important to someone little of it is relevant to our daily lives. Our voyeuristic news purveyors are competing by putting us in fear of life– our Lord advises otherwise: Be bold, be strong – for the Lord, thy God, is with you! Joshua 1:9 (paraphrase). Do not let them take you captive! Get on with what IS relevant to YOUR life and HIS work in this world.

I think that we should agree that the recent news is troubling, and can even be scary, but that we should strive to reassure our congregants." Elder John Corl

"We cannot hope to 'explain' the US banking system and its current crisis in a few minutes, nor can we give meaningful advice to all of the different people who are impacted by the ongoing macroeconomic events. But we CAN all be compassionate for those who are suffering, and slow to judge or lay blame, even though there is much to go around. I imagine that in our congregation, and certainly in our community, there are both bankers and borrowers, mortgage brokers and mortgage investors, regulators and regulated businessmen, etc., etc. Some of them have lost (or will lose) their jobs and/or their homes; some us are only losing wealth. But let us show compassion to all and be willing to listen, to comfort, and to try to help, especially those who most at risk in this crisis. It is the latter point where your leadership, as our pastor, can be most effective. Encourage us to set aside our own suffering and look for ways to help others who are suffering even more. And as Christians, in accordance with the proverbs, let us remember to always be fair, humble, upright and righteous in all our business dealings." Marcus Ingram

With the words of these wise leaders ringing in my ears, I encourage you to be patient, sensible, compassionate and calm in this present situation. I also remind you to trust God at all times and in all circumstances.