Thursday, May 8, 2014

Wilson-Hartgrove Speaks on Finding Hope in the Depths

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
(photo credit: Bill Webb/Word&Way)
by Brian Kaylor

Speaker and author Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove brought the keynote message at Churchnet’s 2014 Annual Gathering. He started his message by recalling hearing bombs falling in Baghdad. Wilson-Hartgrove and his wife, Leah, joined other Christians in traveling to Iraq just as the U.S. government launched its 2003 “shockand- awe” military campaign. Recounting some of the stories from that experience, including seeing Iraqi Muslims live out the role of the ‘Good Samaritan’ to some of his wounded colleagues, Wilson-Hartgrove shared that he learned about hope from that experience.

Pointing to Psalm 130, from which the theme passage for the weekend gathering came, Wilson-Hartgrove noted that “the psalmist begins in the depths.” He pointed out that the psalmist cried out from the depths but then spoke of finding hope in the Lord.

“There’s something about genuine hope that has to begin in the depths,” Wilson-Hartgrove added. “In the depths that we would so often rather ignore. In the depths that if our money and our so-called privilege can allow us to we would rather stay away from. Yet, it’s in the depths I’ve found Christian hope.”

After returning from Iraq, Wilson-Hartgrove and his wife started an intentional Christian community they named “Rutba House” (after the city of Rutba in Iraq). He describes Rutba House as “a house of hospitality where the formerly homeless are welcomed into a community that eats, prays, and shares life together.” His most recent book, Strangers at My Door , includes many stories about life at Rutba House.

“I’ve begun to learn what Christian hope means,” he said. “The gift of life in community there at Rutba House to me has been learning the authentic hope that grows up out of the depths of the worst that our world can offer.”

Wilson-Hartgrove noted that one “Baptist hero” he continues to “lean on quite a bit” is Clarence Jordan. In 1942, Jordan co-founded Koinonia Farm in southwestern Georgia as a multi-racial Christian farming community. Despite violent attacks from the Ku Klux Klan and a devastating economic boycott from the local community, Jordan and the community persevered. Jordan later wrote the Cotton Patch Gospel and played a pivotal role in the creation of Habitat for Humanity.

Wilson-Hartgrove shared a quotation from Jordan that he finds helpful: “The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home with him, but that he has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers with him.”

“That’s the resurrection,” Wilson-Hartgrove added. “Jesus is alive and a new community is possible in the world.”

He added that he remains hopeful as he visits other Christians taking seriously this idea of living out the resurrection hope.

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Potts Describes Heart for Missions

Donna Potts (photo credit: Bill Webb/Word&Way)
by Brian Kaylor

Donna Potts gave her first president’s address at Churchnet’s 2014 Annual Gathering. Elected last year as the first woman and first layperson to serve as Churchnet’s president, Potts was reelected this year without any opposition. Feeling that many Churchnet individuals did not know her well, Potts offered a mostly biographical look at her ministry and missions efforts, weaving in key lessons about serving others and joining with the global Baptist family.

Potts drew on two different TV viewing experiences to sum up her thoughts on missions. She noted that food shows are popular because “people can watch them, they can go buy the ingredients, and they can end up with the exact same delicious dish that the cook on TV did.” Yet, she also noted that her husband can watch Tiger Woods golf and then go use the same club and swing the same way but still “cannot play like Tiger Woods.”

“Missions is a little bit like both of those examples,” she said. “You can watch a missionary from afar and try to accomplish the same things and missions does get done. But you can watch and use your talents and your gifts that God gave just to you, and you can listen for God’s direction, and you can do missions in just the way that you’re supposed to do it. God doesn’t need stars, he uses ordinary people with a heart for helping the lost.”

“I hope you say ‘yes’ when missions opportunity comes your way,” Potts added. “Churchnet is here to serve churches, and those churches are full of hurting people. The world is waiting, and we need to share God’s love to all individuals inside and outside the church.”

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Cain Offers Hopeful Bible Study

Jerry Cain (photo credit: Bill Webb/Word&Way)
by Brian Kaylor

Jerry Cain, who recently retired as president of Judson University in Illinois, led two Bible study sessions during Churchnet’s 2014 Annual Gathering. Focusing on the theme “Share Hope: The World is Waiting,” Cain offered a mix of theological insights, humorous remarks, and engaging stories. Cain noted that in Baptist churches today, people seem to wonder “can anything good come from hope?”

“Hope is kind of the red-headed stepchild of the three great virtues: faith, hope, and love,” he explained. “We know that ‘the greatest of these is love.’ Paul told us that. And number two, that would have to be faith. Martin Luther told us that.”

“And really if you are a guilt-ridden Baptist or a guilt-ridden Catholic, number three would be works,” Cain added lightheartedly.

Cain noted that the word “hope” gets thrown around a lot in society without much depth to its meaning. The former university president joked that deans used to try and build budgets on hopeful estimates of fundraising, which does not work well. He mentioned that politicians like to run on the word with Bill Clinton playing up that he came from Hope, Arkansas, and Barack Obama using the word as a key campaign slogan. He noted that he and other Cubs fans always hold out hope for next year. He also joked about church marketing gimmicks that offer hope without any substance.

“Hope doesn’t get very high priority,” he declared. “Hope just kind of hangs around on the edge of things and never does get central billing like love and faith.”

In contrast, Cain noted how hope plays a vital role in various biblical passages.

“Maybe it’s not stepchild, maybe hope is stepping-stone to love,” he argued.

Cain insisted that sharing hope means the church must live out its calling to transform society. He noted that the early Christians were known as the ones who took in unwanted, abandoned children. He added it was Christians during the birth of the modern missionary movement and the Second Great Awakening two hundred years ago who challenged colonialism and slavery.

“The church is not only an evangelistic church that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against, but it also is a socially-transformative church,” Cain argued.

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