Engaging Opportunities

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:5-6). Today these words seem to have an extra punch. I’ve been having opportunities to engage with outsiders, and I really need wisdom and grace. How about you?

Open Arms

For those wishing to go deeper in studying themes in the Open Arms sermon series, especially in reaching out to “outsiders” of other religions, I recommend reading Miroslav Volf’s book, Allah: A Christian Response.

Volf is a Yale theology professor who grew up in what was then Yugoslavia and has co-taught a class on faith and globalization with Tony Blair. Volf is a Christian with a vast knowledge of both church and world history and both the Bible and the Qur’an.

Where do you begin in building a relationship with a Muslim? Volf has some good suggestions. Warning: the first chapters of this book are heavy on historical stuff and the entire book will require engaged, critical thinking.

If that sounds like something that interests you, here’s a link.

When Helping Hurts

Over the last few weeks I have been reading When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor…And Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

We live in a time when poverty is getting our attention. People are becoming more aware of poverty around the world and in their own backyards. Churches are remembering the call to care for the poor revealed in the Old Testament law and prophets and the ministry of Jesus and his apostles in  the early church. People are responding to that awareness. Churches are responding to that call.

And if you are concerned and you are responding; if your church is concerned, and your church is answering the call — you need to read this book!

When Helping Hurts will tell you what not to do and make sound suggestions of what you can do to apply the gospel to a broken world.  The truth is — many of our efforts to help do more harm than good. As a result, many will quickly tire of such efforts and they could end up setting back church ministry interest for years.

I have been involved in ministry to the poor and homeless for 25 years. Had this book been available 25 years ago I might have made far fewer mistakes.

Shopping for Crack Pipes

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.”
Matthew 5:13 The Message

This morning I walked into three randomly selected convenience stores in our community with a simple request. “I’d like to buy a crack pipe.”

The three clerks responded similarly.

“What? Really?”

“No way. Please, no.”

“Uhh . . . I don’t think we have any, we must have sold them all.”

Despite their reactions, they knew exactly what I meant.

I smiled and gently repeated my request: “Come on, I’d like to buy a crack pipe.”

All three clerks reluctantly turned to the “Love Roses” display, pulled out a glass tube, and told me how much it cost. The prices varied from store to store — $.99, $2.19, and $2.99.

It was striking – none of the clerks wanted to sell me the pipe. All were relieved when I told them I really didn’t want to buy the crack pipe, I was just seeing where they were available so I could encourage store owners and managers not to sell them. The clerks were outspoken about their desire for the stores to stop selling the drug paraphernalia. The three women eagerly wrote down the name of the store owner and urged me to please call them and ask them not to sell the pipes which have only one actual use – the smoking of crack, methamphetamine, or pot.

One clerk admitted when she and another employee are working the same shift they will hide the “Love Roses” display so they don’t have to sell them. “We don’t want to attract those people to this store. I get scared when they come in. I’m afraid for my life. But please don’t tell the owner I said that.”

Next time you are in a convenience store (especially one of those at a gas station) look around for a display of “Love Roses” or ask the clerk if they sell them. If they do, find out whom you can encourage to discontinue their sale. And when we do so let’s try not to come across like arrogant, holier-than-thou zealots (with a situation this serious, it would be very easy to do so). The best approach is described with words like gentleness, kindness, humility and love.

I hope the Tennessee legislature will consider banning the sale of crack pipes (“Love Roses”) as an amendment to the methamphetamine bill currently being considered.