Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Where's the Hate Coming From?

There seems to be a wave of hate washing over our society. No need to list the current events of bombs and bullets and bashing. The tone of our public discourse has become so toxic. How can we be surprised when actions follow suit?

Of course the negative political ads keep the venom flowing freely. Is there anyone remotely decent running for any office?

So who really benefits from all this division?

Politicians fire up their bases with name-calling and knocking down strawmen. They caricature the opposition, painting them as complete idiots.

Republicans want to poison the air and water. They hate teachers.

Democrats are recruiting illegal immigrant murderers to steal jobs and live off welfare.

Why do politicians talk like this? It keeps campaign donations pouring in, and it gives them a shot at political power. Right and wrong don't matter to (enough of) them. It's all about winning elections and controlling government.

The media also benefits from division. When there are big stories, there are big audiences. How much incentive does the media have to tone things down? Toned down rhetoric means toned down ratings and toned down revenue. Who watches the news when all is right with the world?

Can't we, the public, see where this is leading? Apparently a lot of Americans want to believe the worst. Apparently we like to give power to knuckleheads. We like to cheer for "our side," and want to eradicate those who disagree.

Those with the microphones are baiting us. Those who thrive on division have been working hard to sow it. We fight among ourselves, while the elite laugh all the way to the bank or the capitol. But we have reached a tipping point now. The amplified voices now fear that their efforts to divide us for the sake of money and power have worked too well. We have taken the bait, hook, line, and sinker.

But I hold out hope that there are more Americans who can see what's happening here. We don't have to believe the worst about those who disagree with us. They might actually have something valuable to say. They may not be evil at all. They may be interested in helping people. They may care about freedom and ending poverty, even if their pathway to "better" is different from ours.

Those who have all this power only have it because we give it to them. Let's stop assuming the worst. Let's start listening. Let's start caring about people--even those who disagree with us. We are smarter than this.

Jesus told his disciples, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 12-13) Let's make more friends and lay down our lives.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Discoveries: Reflections on 30 years of this

I've been doing this for 30 years now. I was ordained as a pastor on November 20, 1988 at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC. As this milestone approaches, I have been trying to mine out the nuggets or distill the essence of whatever wisdom I have gained.

So tomorrow I'm beginning a sermon series based on my ministry experiences and personal growth. I have only served three churches, including Crossroads, so I'll be sharing about my discoveries with each place of ministry.

I began my pastor-life in November 1988 at Coolidge Memorial Baptist Church in Coolidge, Ga. Lisa and I had been married more than two years, so at least we could approach life as a team. We faced considerable challenges learning the local culture, and often found ourselves feeling rather lonely.

In March of 1991 we moved to NC, serving Comer's Chapel Baptist Church in Madison. There I had numerous distant cousins in the congregation. These were people whom I had never met, and had not heard of; but they knew and spoke of my late grandparents. It felt like a meaningful connection, and helped us feel more like we belonged. There we learned about real connections and their importance for life and ministry.

In September of 1999 we were sent by Comer's Chapel as missionaries to Stokesdale, where we founded Crossroads Community Church. We didn't know anyone in town, even though Stokesdale is only about 10 miles from Madison. It was just the four of us. Our daughters were 3 and 5 years old. We launched out in faith, trusting God to provide for and sustain us.

Today, I realize how important listening is--listening to others, to the Holy Spirit, to my wife, and to my own soul. While I expected by now to have all the answers to all the questions--doctrinal debates, ministry practices, social stances--I still have lots of questions. But maybe now I can at least frame the questions better, and meet all kinds of people right where they are.

Here's the new series:
October 28  Living through Loneliness
November 4  Connecting for Real
November 11  Launching Out in Faith
November 18  Listening for Life

Hope to see you at Crossroads, Sundays at 10:00!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Supreme Division

There are no winners in the Brett Kavanaugh melee. The U.S. Senate had to make a Hobson's Choice. You know, that's when "You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't."

As it stands, with the Senate's confirmation, the United States now has a Supreme Court justice who will forever live in the shadow of the events of the past two weeks. Maybe he's a sexual predator. Maybe he's a pawn of right-wing special interests. Will he ever be able to render impartial judgments on sensitive legal questions? Will there be more accusations of sexual misconduct? Will he use his judicial rulings to exact revenge against his accusers and their political interests?

But consider the alternative. If the Senate had rejected the nominee on the basis of the accusations, then politicians would be emboldened to use accusation as a weapon. By finding one person to make uncorroborated accusations, politicians can mount a campaign against any nominee for any position. Truth becomes a secondary consideration in the battle. If the accusations are true, that is fine. What matters is whether the accusations work.

As some posted on social media, "Anything to stop the confirmation of Kavanaugh." Really? Anything? 

Politicians have led us to this point of division. We have willingly followed. May God have mercy on this divide country.

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Threat of Urbanization

According to National Geographic, by 2050 66% of the world's population will live in cities. Most Americans probably greet that news with a big yawn. We have seen the trend of urbanization here for decades.

But we don't consider what comes with urbanization. As people coalesce into cities, there are inherent challenges and problems. All people have needs for food, water, and shelter. When a population is spread out in villages, the land can more easily provide for those needs. Crops and livestock provide for the dietary needs. Streams and wells provide adequate water. Natural building materials can be used for constructing homes.

But when millions of people live in close proximity, the immediate area can't support the population. Food must be shipped in from far away. Local water sources must be supplemented with water piped in from other locations. Sewage must be treated and returned to waterways. Garbage must be hauled away.

As the world's population becomes more concentrated, more fossil fuels will be needed to transport food and garbage. Clean water will become more scarce. Sewage will be more difficult to dispose of.

We need to consider what large cities do to the environment. If the trend around the world mirrors what we see in the United States, there could be significant issues ahead.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

What I like about Fall

I like all the seasons. I like it hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and in between in the fall and spring. I feel gypped if winter goes right into summer, or if summer lingers so long that you need air conditioning at Thanksgiving.

It's been too hot here for October, so this blog post is an effort to hurry autumn along. These are the things I like about fall.
  • Stew--The cooking, the eating.
  • Harvesting--I've actually got a few grape tomatoes still ripening.
  • Cooler temperatures--duh
  • Crisp, night skies--The stars shine brighter in the fall, it seems.
  • Going to the Blue Ridge Parkway--I don't always make it in the fall, but it's a great time to go.
  • Fires in the chimenea--I love to sit around the fire and listen.
  • Driving through falling leaves--It gives me such a charge to drive along, cutting a path through the drifting leaves.
  • Apples--Fall is the season for apples, and we have some great ones here in NC.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Team Preaching and "Holy Double-Take!"

For the past few weeks, my wife Lisa and I have had a blast preaching together! It's kind of a tag-team effort, as we share different perspectives and applications of the scripture. Here's a look at what's coming up.

Often God catches us by surprise. We have to look at God through fresh eyes as we come to know him more and more. He really likes to challenge our assumptions. He also challenged the conventional religious wisdom of many people in the scriptures.

Our series "Holy Double-Take!", explores the surprising experiences of Bible characters. This coming Sunday we will explore the experience of Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13). Matthew has to do a double-take when Jesus calls him to follow. A tax collector in league with the hated Romans seems like an unlikely candidate to follow a Jewish Messiah.

On October 14 we will dig into the double-take of Pontius Pilate. He really doesn't know what to do with this hated but apparently guiltless prisoner named Jesus.

Holy Double-Take!, a team preaching experiment
October 7, Confounding Common Sense, a look at the disciple Matthew
October 14, Transcending Authority, a look at Pontius Pilate

Image may contain: Lisa Bailey and David K Bailey, people smiling, hat, outdoor and closeup

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Moments of Clarity

The moments are all too rare, but sometimes it all makes sense to me. I envision myself with feet firmly planted on the ground, standing on the solid Rock, connected with God through his power. In those fleeting episodes, this world, and God's plan for it, seem good and right. I feel my place in the heart of God and the work of God.

I want to capture those moments of clarity, because I always descend again into the fog. I capture them as best I can by writing, or just deciding to remember. Then later I read or recall. There are times when I understand what worship is, how evangelism expresses the heart of God, how God absolutely works everything to his glory and our good.

I can't manufacture these moments. But I can provide opportunities for them.

For example, when I'm too busy or overwhelmed, I live with a buzz in my head, static that reduces me to shallow reactions to challenges. So, I need to find time and space to be quiet and still.

When I'm tired, I become thin in my soul. I don't have the bandwidth to process. So, I need to rest.

When I allow resentment to grow, I become critical. I can't tolerate the weaknesses of others and I feel the frustrating burden of fixing them. So I need to find the source of my resentment and forgive--myself or others.

The better I keep my soul, the more moments of clarity I experience. The more I unclutter my soul, the better my spiritual vision. This is how I want to live every moment. I can almost see it.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Kavanaugh, Ford, and Whom to Believe

I couldn't avoid seeing the circus last week. And of course I've heard countless analyses of the proceedings, most of them predictable. You know exactly who will take which side.

But what bothers me is the way people choose whom to believe.

There was a time when a woman's testimony was considered suspect at best. There was a time when an African American's testimony could never compete with a white person's. People were categorized, and considered trustworthy--or not--based primarily on the group to which they belonged.

So, the content of the testimony mattered less than the external characteristics of the witness.

Today, Kavanaugh cannot be believed because he is a white male. Of course they are sexual predators. Of course they lie about it.

And Ford can't be believed. She's an opportunist. She's confused. She's a Democrat.

Now, someone is either lying or confused, for sure. But let's not dismiss either party categorically. Can't we listen and weigh evidence? Do we have to ridicule? Do we have to make the ugly scene fit our prejudices?

We need to step back from the vitriolic accusations and care about people, even people with whom we disagree.