Eliminating Poverty

Today, our focus has been on doing our part to help eliminate poverty around the globe. We have heard some powerful stories. We have learned about some unique opportunities. We have been challenged to think about how our every day activities impact poverty around the world.

In all of my years of ministry, there has been one constant thing I have seen at any conference I have attended. That constant thing is some teary-eyed person coming forward…sharing a story about an encounter with a local homeless person…inviting people to take up an offering.

So, immediately following a moment like this (which I do believe was a sincere cry for help), one will view countless conference attendee’s going all over town trying to do something nice for the city’s homeless. And, I think that’s great…BUT…

But, what happens when we leave. Have we taken any steps to help eliminate this city’s poverty? Have we made attempts to alleviate hunger for one meal or for hundreds of thousands of meals?

And, is this just a one-time experience for the conference attendee’s? Do we simply chalk this up as doing our part to care for the homeless and hungry? Or will we return home and find ways to eliminate poverty on a daily basis? Will we regularly be involved in caring for the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the orphaned, the widowed, the over-looked, the oppressed?

That’s one of the things that used to drive me nuts about Youth Specialties conventions. We’d gather in large towns (Philly, Cincy, NashVegas, etc) and all these Bible college students (nothing against Bible college students) would run out on the street and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless. Again, I think that’s great. But, then, later you’d see those kids eating at all the cool and trendy restaurants (not that I have any thing against cool and trendy restaurants). And I would always wonder why they didn’t eat with the homeless? Why didn’t they invite the homeless person to come to the trendy restaurant with them? And, after the conference was over, the Bible college students would return home to their comfortable and safe environments. I’m sure some were impacted by the experience. But, how many walked away with nothing more than a story to share one day when they preach about giving to the poor?

My struggle with this isn’t in the good that is being done. It lies more in the motivation. Are we simply doing these good deeds because we know it’s the right thing to do? Or are we doing them because we know we are surrounded by a lot of important figures in our denomination?

Chris Seay once said that we can do some great things, but if we’re in it for the wrong reasons…it’s a sin. It’s a powerful statement. Our motivation is crucial. Do we attempt to relieve hunger and eliminate poverty because our hearts compel us or because it’s some kind of religious law?

My heart has been moved today. I’m not truly thinking about what I can do in Jacksonville. I’m thinking about what I can do when I return to Muncie. Our “mission house” at Center Chapel is going to be crucial in our area. But, our attempts to eliminate poverty cannot end with our food and clothing bank. Muncie will soon have another 800 families effected by job loss when Borg Warner closes its doors in the very near future (April, I beilieve). How will the church respond and reach out to these families? What can I do on a personal basis to help eliminate poverty in Muncie, Indiana and the word beyond?

So, back to this conference…As soon as a young woman stood in front of 1200+ people and talked about what she did last night, I was reminded of Jesus’ words from Matthew 6. He says,

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 2 When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3 But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4 Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”(NLT)

What can you do to help eliminate poverty today?

Racial Diversity

Serving for several years in the former North Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church, racially diverse is not a way I would describe our denomination.

This week, I have been pleasantly surprised and encouraged by the racial diversity I have witnessed at this gathering.

Our Indiana delegation consists of 8 African-American and 2 Hispanic members. While that doesn’t sound like much, it seems almost mind-blowing. Our Annual Conference gatherings are so white. Having a racially diverse church leadership pool will help create more racial diversity in our local churches. That would be a welcome change.

Thankfully, the Indiana Conference is not the only delegation with a racially diverse make-up. Our general session gatherings are fairly diverse. We have a decent representation of a wide variety of racial groupings.

I needed to be reminded that the UMC isn’t just white and middle class. This gives me a glimpse of hope for our denomination!

Any Thing You Can Do…

I can do better???

This afternoon, I stood in a prayer circle with 30+ pastors, staff, and laity from the UMC. One can only imagine what happened when we were invited to pray whatever came to our hearts.

The prayer time started with a nice, short word of thanks. Then, the pastors started up. Each new prayer got longer, louder, and used more Christianese theological terms.

It was as if each person praying was using the time of prayer as an opportunity to give a short sermon. It truly felt like a competition.

Now, the truth of the matter is that I am extremely cynical. All of the prayers may have been totally authentic…genuine…from the heart. It’s probably my pour attitude…my pastoral pride and ego that stood in the way of fully engaging in this time of prayer and appreciating what was happening in the moment. Whether it’s my cynicism or not, some of the prayers were received as a show.

It felt like Matthew 6:5, 7, where Jesus instructs us…”When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I assure you, that is all the reward they will ever get…When you pray, don’t babble on an on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again.”

I felt led to pray a prayer of repentance…asking God to forgive us for trying to out do one another…to forgive us for attempting to draw attention to ourselves. But, then I realized that this would probably have been more offensive to the people in the circle than the babbling prayers were to me.

However, this does remind me to lead by example with my prayers. We don’t need long, drawn out prayers. We don’t need prayers with fancy words that only people with advanced studies in the theological arena understand (or simply pretend to understand). We need to simply be honest, straightforward, to the point, and speak from the heart.

I’m not saying that, for some, speaking from the heart won’t include long times of prayer of fancy language. What I am saying is that, too often, we church leaders tend to pray in such a manner that others feel intimidated to pray. You hear comments like, “Well, I can’t really pray like the pastor.” Then, you find out that some simply avoid prayer because they’ve never been taught about having a simple, open dialogue with God.

So, I believe we need to model simple prayers. When Jesus taught us to pray, it didn’t take 6 chapters. He didn’t model a 15-minute prayer with unfamiliar language. He broke it down to the bare necessities. Shouldn’t we follow His example?

Weird Worship

So, I just attended a worship service that was…interesting. The music was led by an African-American man on piano and vocals and a Anglo woman on vocals and attempting to play the djembe.

The vocals screamed 1970’s Maranatha or Gaither Music Group. Very cheesey. Very over-the-top.

One of the most interesting moments was as the final speaker was wrapping up his message. The pianist began playing a chord progression with a certain rhythm that sounded oddly familiar. On the second round, I realized that he was playing the Dave Matthews Band “Crash Into Me.”

I thought to myself, “Well, that’s weird.”

Then, he proceeded to invite the crowd to sing “Sanctuary” on top of this chord progression. It worked in parts. But, overall, the chord progression and the melody did not work well together.

I think he was trying to blend some contemporary elements with this older chorus. It was…”creative?”

I have a few minutes before my next workshop and just had to write about this…

I really never thought that I’d hear “Sanctuary” and the Dave Matthews Band at the same time. How bizarre?

Is T.I. Genuine?

Recently, I saw a preview for a reality show featuring rapper T.I. The idea is that it will follow his daily life…the trials and tribulations of being a star…and to show that he really isn’t the bad guy that all the criminal charges he is facing make him out to be.

Yes, T.I. faces a potential 30 years in prison on various charges.

So, is this television program an attempt to show that he truly is a great guy who simply made a mistake? Or is this a program that will have a number of staged “good deeds” to try an influence those deciding his fate?

I’m not surprised. This deal is with MTV. If you spend anytime watching MTV, they have a tendency to glorify immoral behavior. They help elevate the “thug mentality” of many of today’s youth culture. Don’t think so? Just stop by Delta or Northside middle schools and listen to the students conversations. You would think you were sitting in a room with Lil’ Wayne.

They also seem to glorify drunkenness and sleeping around. Don’t believe me? Just watch 20 minutes of the “Real World” (which is so far removed from any thing near reality) or any other reality show on the network.

They glorify prosperity. Watch “The Hills”, “The City” or reruns of “Laguna Beach” and just seen how they portray wealthy teenagers. It gives many of our young people the idea that they “deserve” way too much.

My hope is that T.I. truly is genuine. I highly doubt it, though. I’m sure this is simply another way to make another dollar. But, maybe in the midst of filming this, he’ll portray some glimpses of goodness that will help today’s youth see that the world isn’t about getting what we deserve and receiving handouts.

I’d love to see MTV put on a show that is all about doing good deeds. Maybe through this kind of program our young people would see that there really is a greater good to be done in this world.