Days of Encouragement


As some of you know, I have spent the last several days at the annual conference of the Christian Community Development Association, also known as CCDA. I’ve been here with two dear friends and colleagues from CCC, Laura Herridge and Janet Mendenhall. It’s been a great trip, and a great conference, and I just wanted to share a little bit of it with you.

CCDA was founded by Dr. John Perkins. Dr. Perkins was born in 1930, the son of sharecroppers in rural Mississippi. He left home when he was 17 after a racist town marshall murdered his brother. Vowing never to return to the South, he moved to Los Angeles, carrying all the hatred against white people that you can imagine. But that’s when God stepped in.

His heart was touched by a song that his little son came home singing one day – a song he had learned at church. “Jesus loves the little children,” the song said. “All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” (I sang this very same song myself at VBS when I was a child! Many of you did, too.)

This simple, childish song led to his eventually giving his heart to Christ and later, becoming a pastor in L.A. But God still wasn’t done, and in 1960, he and his family moved back to Mississippi, and he began a community development ministry not far from his old hometown.

What is Christian community development? Well, to use a cliche, it’s a hand up, but not a hand-out. It’s moving into a neighborhood and reaching out to neighbors, but not with the attitude that says, “You’re broken, and I’m here to fix you.” Rather, it says, “We’re all broken, but let’s work together and learn from each other and come out of our brokenness.”

Over the years he marched for civil rights, was arrested several times, was beaten, worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, prayed and struggled. God cured him of the hatred in his heart against other races. Eventually, he founded CCDA as a way for like-minded groups and individuals to encourage each other and work together cooperatively.

There’s a lot more to tell about Dr. Perkins, but I won’t go into that. If you’re interested, you should read his biography, Let Justice Roll Down. I will say, we were honored to have him come to our Friendship House in 2010 on his last visit to Abilene, where he delighted in the interaction between the kids and the volunteers who were there.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Reconcile.” Racial reconciliation has been a buzzword for some time now, but this conference has been asking harder questions – is there a way to move beyond joining hands and singing “Kum By Yah,” to really healing the wounds between the races and actually bringing the Kingdom of God, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus?

The speakers have been challenging, and we have explored together the ideaa that we need reconciliation not just between races, but also between economic classes, education levels, generational groups, and in many other ways. The touchstone Bible passage for the week has been 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and behold, all things have become new. Now all this is from God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation – that is, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them, and has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. Now therefore, as ambassadors for Christ, we beg you for Christ’s sake, as though God were pleading through us: Be reconciled to God.”

It’s been a great week, and I’m feeling recharged and ready to come home just as fast as Southwest Airlines and I-20 can get us there. But let me leave you with this: to whom do you need to be reconciled? If God can change John Perkins, and turn him from a race-hater into a world-changer, with whom do you or I need to make peace?

God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus, and in Christ, is not counting our sins against us. Let us extend each other that same grace, and forgive as we have been forgiven. And may we truly be reconciled to each other – breaking down walls of race, income, status, gender and age – so that they world may know we are His disciples, by the way we love one another.

The Column I Didn’t Want to Write

I’ve been meaning to write something for over a week now.  Intending to do so. Putting it off, because I really didn’t want to write about this.  But I find that whenever I start to try and write about something else, that little voice in the back of my head shouts me down, and keeps bringing me back to this.  So, rushing in where angels fear to tread…

I’m so sick of politics, I could just vomit.

Now, you have to understand, I’ve been interested in politics for as long as I can remember.  I actually remember the anti-Goldwater TV ad from 1964 with the little girl and the nuclear explosion.  It’s probably on Google if you haven’t seen it before.  And I remember well the ’68 election between Nixon and Humphrey, and George Wallace’s 3rd party candidacy that gave the election to Tricky Dick.  And I never fail to vote.

So when I say, I’m sick of politics this year, that’s big to me.

I have dear friends who are on the right, sending me vast amounts of emails about how absolutely disastrous it will be for the country if President Obama is re-elected.  And I have dear friends on the left politically, warning of the horrifying social catastrophe that would follow a victory by Governor Romney.

People, get over yourselves.  Frankly, I can’t stand either one of those guys.

When did the party of Abraham Lincoln become so filled with so much greed, hatred and xenophobia?  When did the party of Teddy Roosevelt – an arch environmentalist and trust-buster – become so devoted to hyper-individualism, at the expense of balance and common sense?

When did the party of Franklin Delano “All we have to fear, is fear itself” Roosevelt, become the domain of professional victims?  When did the party of JFK become the party of the guaranteed handout?  Wasn’t it Kennedy who famously asked, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  Still sounds like a good idea to me.

I guess there are two things that really bother me about the current political dialogue discourse arguments that I see.  One is the notion of political enemies.  They say politics is the art of the possible.  The fact is, our nation was built on political compromise.  COMPROMISE IS NOT A DIRTY WORD.  It just means recognizing that the other guy might also have a good point.

When the framers of the constitution couldn’t agree on whether the national legislature should be based on the states or the people, they compromised, and gave us a bicameral system – the Senate, where members are chosen by the states, and the House, with members chosen by population.  (Am I the only one who remembers 8th grade American history? Jeez.)  It was a compromise, and 200+ years on, it still looks like a pretty good one.

The other thing that bothers me, and maybe even more so, is the meanness with which Christians are attacking each other other this.  Right wing Christians don’t understand how people can claim to be believers, yet support progressive positions on various social issues.  Left wing Christians can’t see how conservative believers can fail to support programs to help the poor and the marginalized.  Both sides need to get off of their moral high-horse and realize our allegiance to Christ must supersede our political affiliation.

Yes, we should use whatever means we have to bring make the Kingdom of God come on earth, as it is in Heaven.  On the other hand, the problems we deal with are often caused by poor individual choices that bring terrible consequences.  Yes, the scripture is very plain that God expects us to help the poor, the widow and the orphan.  On the other hand, it is equally plain that the poor were expected to glean their own food, and that, “if any will not work, neither let him eat.”

It’s not either-or.  It’s both-and.

Both sides like to use fear to whip up their supporters.  But how often in scripture does God say, “Don’t be afraid.”  Over and over again.  So I am not giving in to fear.  I am trusting that whoever wins the election, God will still be in control of the future, of nations and events.

If this has made you mad, I’m sorry.  Both sides can make good arguments for their guy, but I’m not interested in turning this forum into a political debate.  In Romans 14, concerning other controversial issues, Paul said, “Whatever you believe about these things, keep it between yourself and God.”  Sounds like good advice to me.

Jesus is my Commander-in-Chief, regardless of whatever temporary occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue may be making noise at the moment.