Wednesday, July 25, 2012

WORLDVIEW: Want to be a leader? Then love & serve others

EDITOR'S NOTE: Visit "WorldView Conversation," the blog related to this column, at

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- He didn't have time to encourage a confused kid, but he did anyway.

He was Hoffman Harris, the busy pastor of fast-growing Briarlake Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga. The confused kid was me.

I was a new member of his church back in the '70s. I was finishing college and struggling with a call to serve God. Pastor Harris had sermons to write and things to do. He had hundreds of other people and priorities clamoring for his attention. But he made time on a regular basis to talk to me, patiently answer countless dumb questions and connect me to key people he knew from his many years in ministry.

When I became a Mission Service Corps volunteer with the Home (now North American) Mission Board, he persuaded an understandably doubtful mission committee at Briarlake to provide partial support for an untested, untried young man. After I left the Atlanta area to join the IMB staff in Richmond, Va., he kept in touch with me -- more faithfully than I kept in touch with him.

There was something about "Hoff." When he preached or talked to you, he wasn't just saying words. He was giving you his heart. You felt you were the sole focus of his attention. Jesus' disciples must have felt that way during His earthly ministry.

If not for Hoffman Harris, I probably never would have gotten involved in mission communication. If not for Bill and Joyce Dillard, I probably would have quit after the first few years. Bill was pastor of Parham Road Baptist Church, the congregation I joined after moving to Richmond. The Dillards not only welcomed me as a member, but fed me countless meals (the sure way to a single guy's heart) and let me sleep on their couch when I was feeling lonely and discouraged. No advance notice was required: The door was open, the place at the table was set. They had their own sons, but happily "adopted" many guys like me through the years.

I could name other friends, relatives, mentors and missionaries who have freely given me their time and wisdom, with no agenda beyond love and no expectation of return beyond the joy they received in giving. If you look back, you will find people in your life who have done the same for you. They are the people you will remember with gratitude when the finish line comes into sight.

I am amazed at the number of books, articles, speeches, sermons, seminars and videos about "leadership" flooding the market these days when so little real leadership is on display. Never has so much been said about something so rarely practiced. Why are so many institutions, businesses, churches, families and relationships crumbling? There are many reasons, but one of them is lack of authentic leadership at every level of society.

"Leadership is about influence," writes Jeremie Kubicek. "Influence is power. And how you use that power will affect your world and those around you. Will you choose to empower or overpower? To liberate or dominate?"


70,000 Christians 'locked in concentration camps'

Sources confirm North Korea has eased or lifted a number of restrictions for citizens since Kim Jong Un succeeded his father, Kim Jong Il.
Kim Jong Il’s tenure as dictator was marked by intense persecution of Christians, including imprisonment of generations of a family for a single individual’s offense and executions.
Bans have been lifted on Western foods such as pizza and french fries, and restrictions on the number of cell phones have been loosened, for example, according to Ryan Morgan, an analyst with International Christian Concern Asia.
“The new ruler has even been uncharacteristically shown on state television, smiling and visiting an amusement park,” Morgan said.
However, whatever secular benefits may have trickled down to residents of the isolated communist nation, there is no evidence of any improvement in the condition of the persecuted church there, he said.
“We have not heard any reports of improvement for Christians in the country and have no reason to believe anything has changed,” Morgan said. “The regime still has up to 70,000 Christians locked away in virtual concentration camps.”
Morgan explained a Christian believer and three generations of his or her family can still go to prison for life just for owning a Bible.
“We’re hoping and praying this changes soon, but we haven’t seen any sign of it yet,” he said.
In fact, recent media reports say Kim Jong Un has moved to restructure the nation’s security apparatus to maintain his control.
Morgan pointed to a report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom stating that the North Korean regime is increasingly viewing refugees with religious beliefs or contacts as “potential security threats.”
The report says the regime is offering rewards for anyone providing information leading to the arrest of individuals involved in distributing Christian literature.
Open Doors USA reports through a source who cannot be named for security reasons that border security is no longer the responsibility of the army.
“The NK secret service has taken over responsibility of guarding the borders from the army. They catch smugglers and force them to spy out Christian networks in China, especially those with ties to refugees,” the Open Doors source said.


Why Are Teens Leaving the Faith?

Growing up under the watchful eye of his parents, Eric* loved going to church. Like most kids, he loved the songs, his teachers, and playing with his friends. But even for a kid, church wasn't just a social thing for Eric. He could clearly remember the summer of third grade during Vacation Bible School when he gave his whole heart to Jesus. He was baptized shortly after.

For Eric, Jesus and the Bible weren't things you had to figure out or question. He had a child-like faith. He knew Jesus loved him and would walk with him throughout his life. The Bible was the moral compass by which he would live his life.
A few years later as Eric hit adolescence, his parents thought he would continue to grow in the faith of his childhood. He would discover even more deeply just how Jesus could make a difference to him in his high school years. He would see how his faith would define him.
But that's not what happened.

No fairy-tale ending

In the car on the way home from church one Sunday, Eric blurted out, "Why do we think we are right and everybody else is wrong about how to get to Heaven?" Over the coming weeks his questions turned to, "Is it fair that God would send everyone else to hell just because they don't know Jesus?" and "How do we know the Bible is real?" Pretty soon Eric didn't want to talk much on the way home from church and seemed agitated whenever anyone else would bring up faith in daily conversation.
It all came to a head when his parents asked him about his plans for the youth group's summer camp. Eric nonchalantly announced, "Mom, Dad, I think that stuff like church and Jesus is fine for you, but I'm just not sure if I believe all that anymore."

Discovery of self in Christ

Adolescence is the phase of life in which everything seems up for grabs. Teens discover new friendships, try out new interests, and develop new beliefs about everything from family to faith. For most, it's perfectly natural to gravitate toward a new passion one day but then drop a lifelong interest almost overnight.
A teen's faith is a big part in the puzzle of discovering his or her newly developing identity. Many parents struggle watching the forward-backward see-saw development of a teen's faith. For many teens, this journey of identity will result in a deeper faith. Except when it doesn't.

Why kids leave

Several studies have been conducted to answer that important question-why are they leaving? The results can be found in book such as "Sticky Faith," "Soul Searching," "Generation X-Christian," and "Almost Christian." All of them conclude that there is no one answer for a teen's exodus from the faith community. At the same time, the books cite similar reasons why some young adults walk away.

1. Shallow belief system

In her book "Almost Christian," Kenda Creasy Dean explains that many times, the Church offers nothing more than a "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." In short, we've taught teens that there is a disinterested divine power who wants to give them personal peace and prosperity and to help teens "be nice." The result is a faith that cannot withstand the scrutiny of trials or intellectual questions. Parents and mentors have given teens an anemic sketch of faith at best. A robust faith is replaced by a code of conduct-we "do" these things (read our Bibles, pray, and go to church) and "don't" do those (watch wrong movies, cuss, drink or have sex). Conduct replaces relationship with Christ.

2. No room for doubt

Those who leave the faith sometimes do so because they had questions and the church didn't help answer them. In some cases, their questions were ignored. In others, doubt was considered a sin to be squelched quickly. Their questions varied from "Why do bad things happen to good people?" (intellectual doubt) to "If God cared about me, then I wouldn't feel so (depressed, sad, lonely, etc.)" (emotional doubt) to "Why do Christians not believe in evolution?" "Why does the Bible contradict itself?" to "Why didn't God answer my prayer for my parents not to divorce?" (experiential doubt). These are the types of questions the intellectual doubter needs to answer. Unfortunately, many times they either get poor answers from Christians or bad answers (which can sound convincing) from outside the Christian faith.

3. Exclusive faith

Scripture makes no apologies for the centrality of Christ. Those who turn to Christ in faith are saved. Those who do not are condemned to hell. In a culture that lauds tolerance, acceptance, and open-mindedness, claiming Christ as the only Way (John 14:6) is a hard truth to swallow. Unfortunately, many well-meaning believers twist this truth into a club to verbally (and physically) bash those with viewpoints different than theirs. Unfortunately, Christianity is often equated with bigotry, racism, homophobia, and sexism. Today's generation wants nothing to do with that brand of faith.

4. No answers for opposition

Today's teens are bombarded with philosophical and scientific oppositions to Christian beliefs. In science class, the teacher rails against anyone who believes in creation; the philosophy professor tells a freshman class to "prove the existence of God." Most Christians are completely unprepared to provide logical, coherent, well-examined reasons for their belief in Christianity. When faced with opposition, these teens find that the answer is simple: you can't be a Christian and an intellectual. Faith and science are incompatible.


Compassion helps foster care kids cope

It is well documented that children in foster care have a high prevalence of trauma in their lives. For many, circumstances that bring them into the foster care system are formidable—sexual abuse, parental neglect, family violence, homelessness, and exposure to drugs. In addition, they are separated from biological family and some are regularly moved around from one place to another.
“Children with early life adversity tend to have elevated levels of inflammation across their lifespan,” explains lead author Thaddeus Pace, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University.

“Inflammation is known to play a fundamental role in the development of a number of chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, cancer, and depression.”
Published in the journals Psychoneuroendocrinology and Child and Family Studies, the study found that adolescents who practiced Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) had improvements in their mental and physical health—reductions in the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP), less anxiety, and increased feelings of hopefulness. The more the study participants practiced, the greater the improvement observed in these measures.
“The beneficial effects of CBCT on anxiety and feelings of hopelessness suggest that this intervention may provide immediate benefit to foster children,” says Charles Raison, corresponding author of the study in Psychoneuroendocrinology, now at the University of Arizona.
“We are even more encouraged by the finding that CBCT reduced levels of inflammation. Our hope is that CBCT may help contribute to the long-term health and well being of foster care children, not only during childhood, but also as they move into their adult years.”