Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lives are changing

Same Kind of Different as Me is a great book.  Have you read it?  If you have not, I strongly encourage you to pick it up. (Reading Rainbow plug: "...but don't take my word for it...")

In fact, I don't want to even call it a book for fear that we might lump it into a general category of books that we'll "get to when we have time".

This is a story.  It is a powerful true story of God working in our world today.

It's so powerful that ten people at FBC Norman, OK have decided to gather around a table every Wednesday night for six weeks. We have conversations around this story that challenge root issues of our culture, our faith, and our perspectives.

There is a gentleman that attends this group who on the first day was frustrated with the "whys" of people in poverty.  "Why are they in there situation?" "Why can't they get out?" "Why don't they just get work?"  As we embark on the journey of the story together all of our hearts are softening.  Last night was our third meeting together and I am humbled to watch this particular gentlemen's heart grow.  His comment last night was "I am realizing that all these people are people and they all have their own stories."  He continued, "If we just treat them as people, that will make all the difference."

What he pointed out is true.  Our prejudices and fears cause us to treat people as less than human.  Debra, I think the heroine of the story, had the acute ability to interact with anybody (a smelly, dirty, addicted bum or a clean, arrogant, selfish yuppie) and see God in them, the hope on transformation, and a person who could be loved.

Check out the story!

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Movement of Social Compassion

You will find this article written in the CBFO Spring newsletter.  Wanted to share it with everyone.

CBFO Article Spring 2011

God is on the move today.  There is no doubt about that.  As cultures and generations change and shift, come and go, one thing is for certain: God is on a mission.  He is working to reclaim what is his.  He is working to reclaim and redeem his creation and the crux of that creation, humanity.  One of the amazing pieces to this puzzle is that he invites us to partner with him on this mission.  His grace extends to include us and we are a grateful people because of it.  We are co-laborers with our Creator. 
As a co-laborer on the mission and a product of God’s reclamation at First Baptist Church Norman, I participate in an expression of faith that is becoming more and more realized within the local church community.  I am talking about a movement of churches across Oklahoma rediscovering their need and desire for social compassion.
I grew up in Oklahoma, studied at Oklahoma Baptist University, and honestly, it was not until I traveled to a neighboring state to study at Truett Seminary that I learned of this crucial aspect of local church life.  So let me further what I mean by “social compassion”.  As a church discovers social compassion as a part of their identity they are corporately pushed to do something outside of themselves.  They challenge the notion of the church as a Christian social club existing solely for the safety and well-being of its members. They spend themselves, Good Samaritan-style, on behalf of someone who they are pretty sure cannot and will not pay them back.  They invite the lonely, addicted, and outcasted in to find companionship, freedom, and belonging.
You may have thought, initially, that I meant building houses, painting buildings, and planting gardens when I said, “social compassion.”  Well, I mean that too.  However, if those things are done as one time projects we can refer to that as short-term social compassion and it is only a small (though vital) piece to the mission.  With short-term social compassion you are only able to show a glimpse of God’s grace and love.  With something more long-term there would be an added relational component.  
Long-term social compassion is hard, extremely messy, and very unattractive.  It also means that you might get taken advantage of and you might become good friends with really bad people.  And perhaps the worst thing of all might happen.  You might begin to see yourself in those people, see your pain in theirs, your sin in theirs, and realize you have a lot more in common than not. 
As FBC’s Community Minister in a church collaboration with Buckner Children and Family Services, I direct the ministries that equip, empower, and reach out to the families and individuals in poverty.  One example of how FBC Norman is discovering their social compassion identity arose a few years ago when we realized that a hungry, low-income family in Norman could find their way to every meal of the week except Sunday lunch.  We saw that gap in services and began the Friendship Lunch.  What started out as a free Sunday lunch for a few hungry neighbors is now a meal that fills a hunger gap for an average of 150 people each Sunday.  What started out as a possible short-term venture has turned into long-term relationship building and conversion experiences (by volunteers and guests alike).
Let us not think that just because this is a new movement that it is only the new generations who are pioneering the way.  The social compassion story at FBC Norman shows otherwise.  It was the senior adult ministry that followed the Holy Spirit’s call on their faith.  They nurtured and cultivated ministry programs that pushed our expressions of God’s love outside of the church walls.  Not only that, but the older generations are the ones who brought people into the church who were outcasts to society and most other churches.
I am humbled to be on mission with God at First Baptist Church as we continue to discover our grateful identity through expressions of social compassion.  In the end, we are all trying to carry out the mission of Christ which is “…to preach the gospel to the poor…proclaim release to the captives…recovery of sight to the blind…freedom for the oppressed…[and] to proclaim the year of Jubilee.” (Luke 4:18-19 NASB)

Joey Armstrong
Community Minister, FBC Norman, Ok
Buckner Children and Family Services