Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fellowship, Blessing, and Challenge

by Jim Hill

This past weekend Churchnet gathered for our 10th Anniversary Celebration. Opening Day for the Cardinals and a series of strong storms may have reduced a crowd a little, but we had a wonderful and important gathering. As I reflected upon the meeting, I was reminded what this type of gathering accomplishes for our network. Like a family reunion it is a time when the extended family comes together for fellowship. It is always great to see Christian friends as church leaders gather from across the state. Like our families, the Churchnet family does not get together frequently, and the gathering provides an important opportunity for fellowship. Fellowship reminds us that we are not alone. Fellowship provides encouragement. It does these things for churches and church leaders. This year we had some new faces at our Annual Gathering, and it was great to connect with some old friends. We also had the opportunity to connect with our institutional partners. Almost forty percent of our Annual Budget goes to help support our institutional partners, and the Annual Gathering provides an opportunity to get an update on their ministries. In a sense, Churchnet is a family of churches. It is a family of church leaders. This fellowship is an important part of being a family.

I was also blessed by the Annual Gathering. The opportunity to come together with the Baptist family for worship is always a blessing. We were reminded during our worship that we are part of the larger Baptist family. The representatives from our Texas Baptist friends were a reminder of our partnership with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. George Bullard, General Secretary of the North American Baptist Fellowship, and John Upton, President of the Baptist World Alliance, reminded us that we are a part of the global Baptist family. I was blessed by the outstanding music we had for our worship. The Missouri Baptist University Chorale and Ringers and the Worship Ensemble from Southwest Baptist Church all provide leadership for our worship. The volunteers who shared at our Annual Missions Banquet blessed by heart as they shared about their experiences in Guatemala. I am always involved in a lot of preparation for the Annual Gathering. In a sense, most of my work related to the Annual Gathering is over once the event begins. I was personally blessed as we gather for worship.

Maybe most importantly, I was challenged. I have been attending Baptist conventions and meetings since I was a young person. I have been in vocational ministry for 40 years. It would be difficult for me to summarize how God has used these annual gatherings of the Baptist family in my life. Sometimes, I have been encouraged and uplifted. Sometimes, I found a new resource or tool for ministry. Many times, I have been challenged. I was challenged again this year. I was challenged by the messages shared by John Upton and Doyle Sager. I was challenged by some of the reports and stories shared by those attending the gathering. I was challenged by the workshop leaders. I was challenged in a new and fresh way by the Spirit of God. Our theme for this year’s anniversary gathering was Share Hope: The Journey Continues. If there is any group who should be committed to sharing hope, it is the people of God. Our Share Hope emphasis is all about helping churches become more effective in sharing the hope they have found in Christ through relational evangelism, congregational ministry, and community advocacy. God is still in the business of bringing hope to the hopeless. It is always good to pause and allow God to renew our commitment to Kingdom business. He reminded all of us that we need to share hope! Thanks for being a part of our Annual Gathering.


You can contact Jim Hill, Churchnet Executive Director, at (888) 420-2426, ext. 705 or jimhill@thechurchnet.org

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

David and Goliath

by Jeanie McGowan

Occasionally a moment in time breaks open, an opportunity to be a part of something much bigger than you are, a God-given opportunity to participate in a David and Goliath moment. For people of God in Missouri, that golden moment is here! When something is so wrong that it is easy for people to see, doesn't require a lot of explanation or subtleties that are complicated to understand, and there is actually a solution in sight, we have to seize the moment!

In the next month there needs to be enough signatures on an initiative petition to Cap the Rate! at 36% on predatory loans (payday, car title, and signature loans all fall into this category). The Goliath in this moment in time is a conglomerate of lending institutions and big banks who provide those lenders their loans (even when they are denying loans to homeowners who are at risk of losing their homes!). These big businesses and banks are not even located in Missouri, so the literally billions of dollars they are sucking out of our state on the backs of those who are most financially vulnerable is shameful. We are the Davids who believe that this petition can not only win its place on the November ballot but also believe it can be voted into legislation despite the millions of dollars they will spend trying to stop us!

The only way they will defeat us with their treasure chests that sponsor false and misleading ads and send threatening letters is if people like you and me sit back and do nothing. If we don't make the effort to not only sign the petition, but also encourage our friends and neighbors to do so, too, we will let them win. They will have proof that people of faith don't have enough faith (or the will) to do this.

1 Samuel 17 tells how all the Israelites fled in fear when they saw Goliath! But young David ran towards him, full of faith and hope, and with his 5 smooth stones he felled the giant. David's reputation spread far and wide because of his fearlessness in facing the giant based on his trust in the Lord. God’s gives us opportunities to see how seriously we take his commands to care for the poor and to free the oppressed. Much of the time we feel helpless to do much. Sometimes we don’t even want to think about all the injustice in the world because we feel so powerless to make a difference.

Here is our opportunity! We MUST take courage and join the Lord in slaying this giant of oppression who takes advantage of people in their most vulnerable times and become wealthy on their backs. That's what these loans are designed to do--get people caught up in a spiral of debt.

How desperate is this Goliath? Desperate enough to get at least 3 other petitions out there that look very similar to this one! They are trying to trick people into signing their petitions so that they will turn down the opportunity to sign the legitimate Cap the Rate at 36%! How clever of them. Beware of those other petitions: one seems similar but the cap is 350%; another looks even better because it says the rate will be 17%, but when you read farther you see that that rate will be "negotiated" when they get the loan; the other one calls for a constitutional change that will allow these predatory lenders to have no regulation from our state legislature--in other words, they can charge whatever they want whenever they want! How dishonorable and dishonest is that?!

Have you signed a petition yet? Be careful of which one you sign, but please sign the Cap the Rate at 36% one! It's not too late! If we win this, we show the state that our faith matters, that we take biblical admonitions seriously, and that we truly desire that our state moves up from the bottom of most lists to become a wonderful, vibrant, safe place to live and rear children. If we lose, we also lose credibility and our future work for social justice will be imperiled. Now is the time to take a stand! Make this moment in history count! Stand with the “least of these,” as Jesus instructed us! This is our moment in time!


You can contact Jeanie McGowan, Churchnet Leadership Development Team Leader, at (888) 420-2426, ext. 707 or jmcgowan@thechurchnet.org

NOTE: Learn more about the Cap the Rate at 36% effort by visiting http://www.moresponsiblelending.org/. Also, visit http://www.missourifaithvoices.org/ to learn more about a faith group working on this an other issues. There will be a breakout session at the Churchnet Annual Gathering that will cover the topic of “Community Advocacy” as it relates to the predatory lending ballot initiative.

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