Monday, February 20, 2006

Weekly Bresee Article

Here is an article that my dad writes for his church (Bresee Church of the Nazarene) each week. I would like to include them as a reoccurring addition to my blog.


February 12, 2006

The apostle Paul spoke for all of us when he said, "If not have love, l am nothing" (I Cor. 13:2). That's quite a statement when it is taken in the context of a person perhaps having the gift of prophecy, knowing all mysteries, having all knowledge and even exercising the kind of faith that moves mountains.

Is love really that important? Jesus seem to think so because He said to His disciples, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 123:35).

Again, the apostle Paul suggested to the Corinthian congregation that what moved him and drove him and controlled him was nothing other than "the love of Christ" (I Cor. 5:14). May it be true of us.

There are many important aspects to the Christian life, and may God grace us with them all; but, in the end, the Bible calls us to "pursue love" (I Cor. 14:1). After all it was the love of God that pursued us and gave us Jesus.

The love of Christ in us is like an oasis in a desert place. Mother Teresa, when asked how she had accomplished such great things in her life said this, "None of us can do anything great on our own, but we can all do a small thing with great love."

How can we reach our neighborhood for Christ? Maybe by just doing small things with great love. People are drawn to love. Maybe the best thing we can do in our town is love it with the love of Jesus, and then trust the Holy Spirit to draw others to Christ.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I just want to point your attention to the "For Today" link under the Daily Prayer heading in my side bar. Often times while working through my thoughts I write prayers that help sustain my attention to God instead of the topic of God. I hope they are helpful, faithful, and reflective God's magnificant image.



Thursday, February 09, 2006

My Africa?!

I found this article in my sojomail. I mourn with Davied Batstone as well at the outcome of Wilkinson's efforts thus far in Africa. I hope and pray for Christ's return, and quickly at that.

The Prayer of Jabez falls short in Africa
by David Batstone

Bruce Wilkinson, author of the best-selling book The Prayer of Jabez, made a big splash nearly four years ago when he announced his ambitious plan to help children suffering from AIDS in Africa.

Not everything for Wilkinson has gone according to plan, unfortunately. A page one feature in the Dec. 19 The Wall Street Journal captures the sad tale in a nutshell: "In 2002 Bruce Wilkinson, a Georgia preacher whose self-help prayer book had made him a rich man, heard God's call, moved to Africa and announced his intention to save one million children left orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. In October [2005], Wilkinson resigned in a huff from the African charity he founded. He abandoned his plan to house 10,000 children in a facility that was to be an orphanage, bed-and-breakfast, game reserve, Bible college, industrial park and Disneyesque tourist destination in the tiny kingdom of Swaziland. What happened in between is a story of grand hopes and inexperience, divine inspiration and human foibles. ¿[H]is departure left critics convinced he was just another in a long parade of outsiders who have come to Africa making big promises and quit the continent when local people didn't bend to their will."

It is not my aim to gloat at Wilkinson's failure. To the contrary, I mourn what this means for the millions of African children in crisis who apparently will not benefit from his efforts. I also want to honor Wilkinson's desire to help the least fortunate. It would have been easy for him to take the wealth he gained from his book sales and live a life of personal comfort.

This chain of events, however, should not pass without a moment of theological reflection. The "blessed life" that Wilkinson has helped to promote carries with it a number of assumptions about where God is present in the world, and how God acts in response to the prayers of the faithful.

The Prayer of Jabez is based on a passage out of the book of Chronicles, in which a devoted man named Jabez asks God for a favor: "Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!" The fact that God honors Jabez' prayer and blesses him with great riches indicates to Wilkinson a God-principle. If we in pure heart ask God for a blessing - and do so using the very words that Jabez prayed - then God will bring wondrous gifts into our life. As The Wall Street Journal reports, Wilkinson interprets the wild commercial success of his books (roughly 20 million copies sold combined) as yet another proof of the miraculous power of the Jabez prayer. In other words, it worked for Jabez, it worked for Wilkinson, and now it should work for you. With the fiasco in Africa now behind him - and the full Journal report makes clear that fiasco is the appropriate term - I wonder if Wilkinson has reconsidered his theology.

Maybe because I spent so many years in poor regions of the globe I could never accept the prayer-in-blessing-out approach to faithful living. Straight to the point, I have known too many devoted Christians for whom life did not bring them material blessing. Their children still died of infectious diseases that plagued their village. They could not avoid the violence that dictators and ideologues so often use to cow the powerless. Their territory did not expand because their only path for survival was a daily labor with their hands. Yet they did not lose faith, or cease praying for God's blessing.

As I ponder on their lives, I find a more fitting theology for God's presence and action in the world to be laid out in the book of Hebrews. There we are encouraged to have "faith in things not yet seen," and are offered models of individuals who tried to lead devoted lives that honor God. We read that some of them did receive great material blessings, while others ended up in the dens of lions or stoned due to their principled living. We learn, in other words, that God does hear their prayers and loves them profoundly, but it does not always bring them material riches or expanded territory.

Wilkinson's doctrine in fact implies that social structures are immaterial. An individual reciting the right prayer can transcend an AIDS epidemic in his or her village or escape being bought and sold into slavery (like 27 million people on this planet yet today). Perhaps now that Wilkinson has immersed himself in Africa, he better understands that the curse of poverty is not a spiritual punishment, or an indication of a lack of faith. To bring blessings to the orphans and widows of Africa, a dramatic shift in values - political, economic, and personal - will be required. And that challenge cannot be owned by Africans alone; it falls squarely on the shoulders of us in rich nations, who enjoy such great material "blessings."

Just like the next Bible reader, I could pick out individual passages that seem to suggest that God will give us whatever we desire as long as we ask for it with a pure heart. "You can even move this mountain" with such a prayer, as Jesus teaches his disciples in the gospels. I do not summarily discount these passages, nor do I assume that we should never pray for rain in a time of drought.

But the weight of the biblical message balances heavily toward a prayer life that yields courage, love, and compassion to do the will of God. The expectation of material gain and miraculous blessings may even distract us on that pilgrimage. The passage in Hebrews calls us, based on past heroes of the faith, "to run the race in front of us," confident that devoting our lives to God's work is all the reward we will ever need.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

My Beef with the Bottom Line

I recently rented The Constant Gardener. My first reaction to the movie was that it was not what I was suspecting. I did not read the box label and had not seen any previews. All I knew was that this guys wife dies and he sort of becomes a detective to find our why. Way off! Well, sort of. She does dies and he does find out why but, what makes the movie is the context and portrayal of the African struggle to receive sufficient health care juxtaposed to the people who make and sell the drugs for the sake of profit increase. The movie raises a lot of ethical questions. Two scenes stand out in particular.

In one scene, Justin Quayle, played by Ralph Fiennes, finds himself in this remote village in the Sudan, finally starting to put together some big pieces of his wife’s death. The neighboring tribes, however, has arrived to raid the village and it becomes a mad dash for the aid workers to get to the plane before it takes off. The rest of Sudanese people must get to the next village for safety or hide until the raid ends. In the process murder and kidnapping, Quayle ends up with a little girl in the plane where he faces the pilot’s request to leave the girl behind because the plane is for aid workers only. They argue about whether or not helping this one girl right now is the right thing to do or whether recognizing the one girl in millions won’t make a difference. The girl ends up running off the plane. As the plane takes off Quayle asks what will become of her. The aid worker from the village answers she might make it to safety in the next village. This scene, as well others in the movie, portray those who are trapped in a game of which they have no control.

The second scene is a scene between Quayle and Sandy Woodrow, played by Danny Huston. In this scene, Quayle wants to know why they are testing a drug of people that has not been proving sufficient. It ends up killing thousands of which they bodies are hidden and lied about. Huston remarks that it would take three years and millions of dollars lost to make the drug sufficient.

There is no happy ending in this movie. In fact, Quayle ends up returning to the location where the hired militia “took out” his wife’s vehicle. By this time those in power know that he could threaten their business. He waits for the hired militia to arrive and they do what they have been hired to do. The movie provides no answers. It portrays suffering that looks to be endless.