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Our nation has waged war in Afghanistan for the last 9 years, longer than the time we spent fighting the Civil War and both world wars combined.  Yet, I feel confident in asserting that the average American knows little if anything about the history of our enemy.  Our ignorance creates a soulless, faceless combatant that we cannot even feel enmity toward, let alone the compassion that Jesus calls us to feel toward our enemies.  Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” peels back the curtain shielding the Afghan people and reveals a thriving society that has suffered under almost 40 years of continuous war and destruction.  The narrative is woven around the friendship between Amir and Hassan.  Amir’s father is a rich businessman in the days before the Soviet invasion who will eventually flee to America with Amir after the Soviet’s arrival.  Hassan, a member of the Hazara ethnic minority, is the son of their servant and the same age as Amir.  The first third of the book details the highs and lows of a typical childhood friendship and explains the vicious secret why the friendship ultimately dissolved and how Hassan and his father felt compelled to leave.  The story then moves to America and chronicles Amir and his father’s life in Southern California as members of  the Afghan expatriate community.  The final third of the book focuses on Amir’s quest to bring Hassan’s young son, Sohrab, back to the United States during the Taliban’s final days and his acclimation to American society.  Most would point to the need for redemption that Amir feels as the driving force of the book and certainly that figures prominently.  Yet, I found Amir’s redemption to be half achieved for even after he brings Sohrab to the United States the situation remains tenuous.  I would argue that because Hosseini’s work so perfectly captures the human experience he is simply pointing to the fact that we cannot achieve true redemption apart from Jesus Christ.  I recognize that Hosseini never intended that picture to be painted, but I have to allow a book to speak to me and shape me.  I find little value in reading if the book does not shape me in some way.  Hence, while I was on an emotional roller coaster throughout the book, it was the middle narrative that chipped away at my heart.  Let me establish from the start that I believe part of America’s greatness is found in our population’s diversity.  Eliza and I are proud of our German heritage and have been shaped by it.  However, I have intense difficulty in understanding why current immigrants disregard adopting American culture and hold so strongly to their own.  It seems to me that they should have stayed where they were if their love was so great.  “The Kite Runner” helped me better understand why this occurs.  Amir and his father never desired to leave Afghanistan, but were forced to due to circumstances beyond their control.  Thus, when they come to America and join with others in the Afghan community to celebrate Afghan customs and celebrations, it seems perfectly natural because it is how they maintain some small part of the home from which they have been torn.  I know full well that if I were ever forced from American soil, I would certainly carry out some of the traditions that form our culture.  It occurs to me, however, that I am already an alien in a foreign land.  1 Peter urges Christians “as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”   Christians today spend a lot of time trying to look like the pagans around them.  We have created church models that better resemble corporations than the book of Acts.  Our models of success are copied straight out of leading business strategies and so cause us to miss the level of success God commands.  We are not faithful to our Christ due to exorbitant baptism statistics, we are faithful when we grow more in His image each day.  A strange thing happened to me as I read “The Kite Runner.”  I suddenly desired to learn more about Afghan culture.  I have purchased and read several books on the country and the people since completing Hosseini’s work.  I have even found a restaurant in Raleigh that serves strictly Afghan food and am anxious for us to go and try it out.  In other words, Marc, the outsider, has looked at the Afghan community and desired to know more about it.  Can you imagine what would happen if the Church realized it’s alien status and started acting more like it?  I doubt we would have as much trouble as we currently do attracting people to the Gospel and our Christ.  “The Kite Runner” is a beautiful story and I highly recommend it, but only read it if you are willing to let it shape you.

Peace be with you.

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The American dream is cancer to the American Church.  I cannot say that this is a new realization as I have been thinking in this direction for quite some time, but the thought dropped like an atomic bomb in my spirit this morning.  I was reading a tweet that linked to a post on the Baptist Messenger concerning FBC Dallas, Texas.  Now, I have never laid eyes on FBC Dallas and I am without first hand knowledge of their needs.  However, I do know that $130 million seems to be a rather expensive price tag.  FBC Dallas has a question and answer section to address just such a mindset.  They state that an expanded facility “will make room for hundreds or even thousands more worshipers and Sunday School attendees and will vastly increase our capacity for weekday groups.”  A response in a later question explains how.  “The glass, the water, the light and the spaciousness of the plan speak of openness, transparency and spiritual refreshment. In a way, the glass walls have an evangelistic effect: people walking by have a view in from the street and feel drawn in.”   Let’s say attendance at FBC Dallas increases by 5000 people because of this new facility.  It means that they will have spent $26000 per additional person by embarking on this project.  12.1% of Dallas’ 2.4 million residents live below the poverty line.  Can you imagine the impact it would have on those 290000 souls if FBC Dallas invested in direct ministry to them?  I believe the average amount the BSCNC spends per church planter is $24000 a year.  What would happen if FBC Dallas decided to plant churches around Dallas to reach their city for Christ?  I mean plant free standing churches, not multi-site campuses, which on the surface seem to me to be little more than franchisesque cults of personality.  McDonald’s works because it’s fast food, you cannot consume the Bread of Life like a Big Mac, nor should it be delivered that way.

I do not want you to think I have some vendetta against FBC Dallas, they are simply one of many churches with the same issue.  The sad reason why churches pursue such grandiose building projects is that there is no glory in old school church planting or reaching out to the “least of these.”  The heart of the American dream is abundance and most churches cannot imagine not having a huge facility or limiting their attendance by planting new churches.  “Family Life Centers” are quickly achieving the same status symbol as owning a beach house.  Jesus sent out his disciples to go preach in the countryside, but I wonder if we think modern ecclesiology, which seems to treat such a concept as an anathema, is somehow better than Jesus?  Furthermore, I keep being told that the greatest path to reach the lost is church plants, but it is beginning to seem disingenuous that many Baptist leaders are unwilling to break up their churches to go and plant.   The thirst for greed and power will ultimately consume a person and cause them to lose sight of the true path they should be on, witness Richard Nixon.  We need to once more heed the word spoken to Jeremiah and follow in the old paths.  We have traded the simple beauty of the Gospel for the allure of our acquisition driven culture and unfortunately have yet to discover that all that glitters is not gold.  Let us not be ignorant of the simple fact that the world is on the fast track to perdition and we are helping weave the hand basket that’s transporting them.  Oh for the day when the Church will once again shape the culture instead of the reverse.

Peace be with you.

We have all been shocked by the widespread devastation that is being broadcast from Haiti.  The death toll is  enormous and rising and already includes the Archbishop of Port-au-Prince.  Haiti is 55% Catholic.  The need for prayer is certainly great and the urgent prayer request sent from the International Mission Board provides an adequate guide to lead in our prayers.   The Baptist State Convention of NC has reported that it has a team ready to fly in to provide medical assistance and certainly other teams will be sent as soon as the situation becomes less fluid.  Please be in prayer for them as they travel into a chaotic situation.

Peace be with you.

“Devastation is the word that comes to mind as we watch the news of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti. On the island of Hispaniola, the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, is facing a major catastrophe. Please intercede for the injured, as they must patiently await treatment; for those still trapped as they hope for release; for first responders as they struggle against time and exhaustion. Pray for the families and friends who are grieving the death of loved ones. As the days progress, pray continually for relief workers as they survey the affected areas and seek effective means of providing comfort. Pray for believers in the area to be filled with the gift of mercy as they show the love of Christ through serving others.”

Broken Bread I have focused this month on the North Carolina Missions Offering and the great things that NC Baptists are doing to spread the Gospel.   I thought today that I should highlight something that we are doing that unfortunately does not get a lot of attention.  The North Carolina Hunger Fund assists churches in reaching out to the hungry.  We think that hunger is something that affects only third world countries, but it would behoove us to understand that hunger has a very real presence and effect here in the United States.  Recent statistics show that 20% of those under 18 do not know from where their next meal will arrive here in North Carolina.  The number increases to 24% if one narrows the ages from birth to 5 years old.  Let us understand that children who are dealing with continued hunger will be less likely to be able to concentrate on the educational tasks and if they are involved in our ministries will find it difficult to focus on Gospel teaching as well.  It does little good to teach if we have not enabled those who are hearing the ability to apply.  I have been encouraging everyone to participate in the North Carolina Missions Offering the last couple of weeks, but I would also encourage you to consider the North Carolina Hunger Fund.  The Baptist State Convention has posted an excellent video about the fund on their website which I recommend viewing.  Finally, please remember as we enter a season of multiple giving opportunities, a lesson from the Proverbs that “whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.”

Peace be with you.

NC Missions Offering September means a few things for me personally.  It means that Eliza and I have dated another year (September 20) and that my brother has gotten another year older (September 12).  It means that scrimmages are finished and it’s time to get down to the serious business of Friday night and Saturday football (Go Cats and Heels!!).  Sadly, it also means that I continually cast a wary eye to the east and pray that we will once again be sparred the destructive power of a hurricane.  However, if one were to strike, I know that the amount of suffering will be lessened for some victims by the arrival of NC Baptist Disaster Relief teams.  NC Baptists deploy not only feeding units which can feed upwards of 30000 meals a day, but quick response repair teams, child care centers, laundry and shower facilities, and chaplains.  Our disaster relief teams serve as a model for other organizations across the country.  My dear friend Julius Woody always told me that disaster relief work was one of the most rewarding things he had ever done and that it was one of the greatest things NC Baptists did.  I readily agree and encourage everyone to participate if they can.   However, if you are unable to be on the field, please consider giving to the NCMO to enable someone else to have the tools to go and serve.

Peace be with you.

NC Missions Offering North Carolina Baptists begin a week of prayer this week for the North Carolina Missions Offering.   I will be spending the next few weeks highlighting some of the great missions work the NCMO funds across our state and world.  One of the exciting ministries that NC Baptists are now engaged in is the creation of mission camps in various corners of our state.  Recently, a camp was created in Red Springs and another is being built in Shelby.  The mission camps are similar to the camp that NC Baptists operated in performing the magnificent Gulfport, Mississippi rebuild effort following Katrina.   These camps allow us to go into communities across our state and be a visible manifestation of what Jesus said we should be doing, tending to the poor and dispossessed in order to earn a hearing for the Gospel.   I cannot help but recall Rodney Stark’s argument in The Rise of Christianity that the early Church grew in part because of how it helped the less fortunate around them and showed love and mercy to them.   These work camps can only be successful if we support them with our hands and our wallets.  Please consider how you can help.

Peace be with you.

I thought I would post this video given that we are starting the NC Missions Offering this weekend.  I believe the NC Baptist Men are one of the best things we have going for us these days in North Carolina.   Please consider giving to the NCMO this year.

Peace be with you.