Culture, Gospel, Practices, Queen Street, Reflections

Can we talk?

The following is yesterday’s column that appeared in Kinston’s FREE PRESS.

Can We Talk?

By Rev. Allen Bingham / Columnist
Published: Friday, December 5, 2014 at 05:31 PM.

In my younger years I was cruising way too fast near the N.C. State University campus and a Raleigh police officer pulled me over for speeding. We discussed my speed and then with some sophomoric smart talk I was able to wiggle out of the ticket. As we parted the officer said “You’d better drive more carefully on ‘my streets’.” That was ironic! Recent news reports revealed that because of the increasing rise in the cost of living, most of Raleigh’s police officers lived in Garner. So I bit my tongue as I thought about the fact this “his streets” were most likely in Garner while “these” streets had been “my streets” for two decades. Both of us failed to see how “we” could live together in the city.

Years later I witnessed a friend of mine being treated as an outsider on another college campus. As we parted company after walking from the Theological School to the Student Center of Drew University a member of the campus security continued to follow him to his dorm. Later in the week I noticed this happening again.

Now my friend Noel was a big man! He was 6-feet 4-inches and must have weighed 275 pounds, but that was not why he was being followed. He was being followed across campus because he was an oddity at Drew. He was not odd because he was a theological student or even that he was a Baptist at a United Methodist seminary. No, Noel was simply a big black man out of place among the mostly white coeds of this small liberal arts college.

I asked Noel how often this occurred and he shrugged as he said “I’m just ‘walking while black’ and this happens constantly. I asked Noel what could be done about this. When he replied, “Nothing,” that made me mad. Noel was (and still is) my friend. He had been elected the president of the predominantly United Methodist theological school student body even though he was a “Baptist.” I made an appointment with the dean of the theological school and then the president of the university. I expressed my outrage that somebody the theological school trusted to represent us in every situation was being treated this way. Then I went to the head of campus security and handed him Noel’s picture, informed him of Noel’s status as a student, and demanded that he tell his team to back off.

Noel was able to walk without being followed by campus security from that point forward, but only on that campus. In the real world he is still subjected to “driving while black” and “walking by black” stops by police officers. And he pastors one of the largest churches in the city where he currently resides.

Recent news events have me bothered one more time as the tension between police officers and the communities they serve are being strained. The strain is rooted in an “us” and “them” mentality. As Marilyn Patrick, director of ICOR, recently reminded me. We have to remember every time we have a conversation with another person that “we” have to talk. “We” can talk, but “us” and “them” can never get together to talk (we only shout!). So I invite you to continue learning how to listen to the other person in the conversation. (Remember that LISTEN split in half and the letters rearranged leads to the spiritual practice of being SILENT). Then I invite you to speak in the first person plural about how “we” are going to mend “our” ways rather then lapse into all to familiar patterns of talking about “us” and “them.” In God’s eyes “them” is “us” when “we” are talking about being God’s children.

Allen Bingham is the Pastor of Queen Street United Methodist Church and can be reached at allen@queenstreetchurch.org.

Church, Culture, Gospel, Queen Street, Reflections

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

The following is yesterday’s column for The Free Press of Kinston, NC.

Won’t you be my neighbor?

By Allen Bingham, Columnist.

Published: Friday, August 2, 2013 at 20:34 PM.

Forty-six years ago, Fred Rogers stepped through the door of the American psyche, stooped to change into his sneakers, and sang to us “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?  Could you be mine?”

Someone wanted to be a neighbor. Someone wanted to be my friend. I grew up with this invitation increasingly being ignored as we built homes that moved us in a different direction.

In the world of Mr. Rogers’ first neighborhood, most of us parked our cars in the driveway or on the street and walked into our homes. While we walked into our homes, we greeted our neighbors and swapped the news of the neighborhood.

As we added carports and ultimately garages, we saw this ritual transform into folks returning home to their castles and pulling up the drawbridges behind them as they closed the garage door. Being neighbors at that moment moved from being in relationship with each other to living next door to one another.

The transformation was made complete as we moved from front porch conversations with whoever passed down the street to invitation-only backyard barbecues. We chose our friends and tolerated our neighbors as long as they kept the grass cut, the trash can hidden and the noise down when they partied. Some of us lament the mobile phone for leading us into an increasingly self-absorbed world, but we were well on the way long before the first bag phone landed in the American car.

Being a neighbor has always been a vexing question. When Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbor?” he told the parable of the Good Samaritan as found in Luke’s gospel. And as he told the story, he revealed that neighbors are made known in their personal actions in a time of need and not their geographical proximity.

Several weeks ago the trial of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin saw the breakdown in neighborliness on full display. A person who coordinated the community watch did not know his neighbors well enough to know that “the Martin boy from Miami” was visiting his dad for the weekend.

When the screams of the struggle echoed through their backyards, folks called 911, but no one came to break up the fight. And when you kill your neighbor, for whatever cause or defense, the fracture of relationship is severed forever.

The verdict revealed further fractures with our neighbors around the reality of race relations in our country. The “some day” of “we shall overcome” still remains on the horizon.

We can and should talk about the events in Sanford, Fla. I am in conversation with other pastors to shape these conversations together. But here is a problem we need to deal with.

Can you tell me the names of your 10 closest geographical neighbors? Do you know where they work? Do you know their children and if they live at home? Do you know your neighbor?

I confess that I cannot answer all these questions about my neighbors, and I am going to work on that.

So here is your challenge this week. Meet your neighbor, plan a block party and make it an annual event. Help the single mother down the street make a repair on her home. Volunteer with each other at your local school or down at the soup kitchen.

Start asking “Won’t you be my neighbor?” AND BE ONE!

Church, Future, Queen Street, Reflections

Thoughts About 100 Years of Ministry in Kinston

The following column appeared in the Kinston Free Press one week after Queen Street United Methodist Church celebrated 100 years of ministry at the corner of Queen Street and Peyton Avenue in what is now downtown Kinston, North Carolina. I love being in ministry with saints and sinners of Queen Street and look forward to the challenges of another 100 years of ministry in Kinston.

Column: After 100 Years, Looking Forward or Reminiscing

This past Sunday, Queen Street United Methodist Church marked 100 years since our foremothers and forefathers walked from the corner of Caswell and Independence to the corner of Queen and Peyton to launch a new ministry.

While the move was only two blocks west and four blocks north, it represented a move in keeping with Kinston’s growth. I have been contemplating that move and remembering two heroes of scripture who made a much longer journey — Abraham and Sarah.

Abraham was called by God to leave the comfort of kin and homeland at the age of 90 and invited to “Go West” until God told him to stop. When he “arrived” at God’s spot some years later, God further promised Abraham that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars.

We have to remember that Abraham and Sarah were an ancient (Abraham was 99 and Sarah was 89) and childless couple when this promise was made. Abraham must have felt like a fool. It’s one thing to travel to literally “God only knows where”; it’s quite another to start a family at the age of 100!

The writer of Hebrews sensed that Abraham understood what it was to be a part of the larger human quest. The writer says that as Abraham traveled west he “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

As several institutions in our town turn 100 this year, what would “looking forward to the city” look like in our time? As Kinston rebounds from watching one industry after another leave town and even get dealt the blow of losing our Kinston Indians, are we “looking forward to the city” or just reminiscing? Are we dreaming God-sized dreams of what could be or languishing in stories of what used to be?

As I get older, I find myself leaning into the future with my kids.

I choose indoor plumbing over outhouses, air-conditioning over oscillating fans, iTunes over 45s, the Internet over chain-letters, and pesky mobile phones over shared party lines.

I choose a city that looks to what can be instead of what used to be.

I choose a city where God is the builder and architect and where the citizens seek the prosperity and peace of the city as a whole.

That kind of place will prosper, and my hunch is that her descendants will be like the stars.

Culture, Future, Reflections

we always dismiss young people … even if they are onto something

It’s always unexpected.  No one predicted Tahrir Square.  No one imagined tens of thousands of young Syrians, weaponless, facing the military might of the state.  No one expected the protests in Wisconsin.  No one, myself included, imagined that young Americans, so seemingly somnolent as things went from bad to worse, would launch such a spreading movement, and — most important of all — decide not to go home. (At the last demonstration I attended in New York City in the spring, the median age was probably 55.)

The Tea Party movement has, until now, gotten the headlines for its anger, in part because the well-funded right wing poured money into the Tea Party name, but it’s an aging movement.  Whatever it does, in pure actuarial terms it’s likely to represent an ending, not a beginning. Occupy Wall Street could, on the other hand, be the beginning of something, even if no one in it knows what the future has in store or perhaps what their movement is all about — a strength of theirs, by the way, not their weakness.

via utne.com

History’s intervention is always unexpected. Something important for us to remember when we are trying to “invent” the new. Henry Blackaby taught me to discern what God may be blessing and join that rather than ask the Lord to bless what I was doing. I am not sure where Occupy Wall Street may be going AND we all need to be watching

Church, Practices, Reflections

what scripture teaches us about fasting

Fasting is a spiritual discipline mentioned in the Old Testament:

” … and they fasted that day, …” 1 Sam 7:6
” … and they mourned and wept and fasted until evening.” 2 Sam 1:12
” … and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.” 2 Chron 20:3
” … Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava.” Ezra 8:21
” … I was fasting and…

Fasting is mentioned in scripture … (via Simply Orthodox)

Gospel, Queen Street, Reflections

Are we defined by a generous spirit? What if we asked our friends who know us best? Thoughts on living generously.

As I have mentioned at other times in our life together, I was made say “thank you” by my parents long before I ever knew the true meaning of gratitude. Why? So that I would know how to respond when I finally discovered that emotion on my own. Later I helped my parents prepare to file the family income tax form. As I was adding up my parents’ annual contributions I offered my dad some teenage advice: “Dad, if you would cut back to tithing (that is giving 10% of your income) we could afford the car I want to buy!” Needless to say he did not listen to my “wisdom” and along the way I began to understand something about generosity. At this point in Cindy and my marriage we have given away moneys equal to what our first house will cost us and I can honestly say we have not missed the resources we gave away. That spirit has also allowed us to join the “junky car club” who’s motto is “living with less, so we can give more.” Click on the link if you want to join as well. The following are my thoughts on Adam Hamilton’s chapter “Defined by Generosity” from the book ENOUGH: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water. (Proverbs 11:24-25)

Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. (Proverbs 22:9)

A Theological Foundation for a Generous Life

We Are Created to Be Generous and Tempted to Hoard: God created us with the willingness to give—to God and to others. This design is part of our who we are — we need to be generous. Yet there are two voices that “war” against our God-given impulse toward generosity. These voices tempt us to keep or hoard what we have.

  • First, there is a voice of fear. Fear, of what might happen to us, along with a misplaced idea about the true source of our security, keeps us from being generous and leads us to hoard what we have. The truth is that hoarding offers us no real security in this world.
  • Second, we are tempted by the voice of self-gratification. Our culture tells us that our lives consist in the abundance of our possessions and pleasurable experiences. So we find ourselves thinking “If I give” there won’t be enough left for me.

We Can Defeat the Voices of Fear and Self Gratification: When we give our lives to Christ, invite him to be Lord, and allow the Holy Spirit to begin changing us from the inside out, we find that our fears begin to dissipate and our aim in life shifts from seeking personal pleasure to pleasing God and caring for others. Although we still may wrestle with the voices from time to time, we are able to silence them more readily and effectively the more we grow in Christ. And the more we grow in Christ, realizing that our lives belong to him, the more generous we become. Generosity is a fruit of spiritual growth.

There Are Biblical Reasons to Give to God and Others

  • We find more joy in doing things for other people and for God than we ever did in doing things for ourselves. (Acts 20:35)
  • In the very act of losing our lives, we find life. (Matthew 16:25)
  • Life is a gift and all that we are and all that we have (and everything else as well) belongs to God. (Psalm 24:1; Leviticus 25:23)

Biblical Guidelines for Giving: From the early days of the Old Testament, God’s people observed the practice of giving some portion of the best of what they had to God. A gift offered to God was called the first fruits or the tithe, and it equaled one-tenth of one’s flocks or crops or income. Abraham was the first to give a tithe or tenth (see Genesis 14:20, Genesis 28:18-22, and Leviticus 27:30-33).

  • Giving a tithe. As Christians who live under the new covenant, we are not bound by the Law of Moses; we look to it as a guide. Yet most Christians agree that the tithe is a good guideline for our lives, and one that is pleasing to God. Though tithing can be a struggle, it is possible at virtually every income level. If you cannot tithe right away, take a step in that direction. Perhaps you can give 2 percent or 5 percent or 7 percent. God understands where you are, and God will help you make the adjustments necessary for you to become more and more generous.
  • Giving beyond the tithe. Tithing is a floor, not a ceiling. God calls us to grow beyond the tithe. We should strive to set aside an additional percentage of our income as offerings for other things that are important to us (e.g. mission projects, schools, church building funds, and other nonprofit organizations).

What Our Giving Means to God

How Does Our Giving Affect God? From the earliest biblical times, the primary way people worshipped God was by building an altar and offering the fruit of one’s labors upon it to God. They would burn the sacrifice of an animal or grain as a way of expressing their gratitude, devotion, and desire to honor God. The scent of the offering was said to be pleasing to God. It wasn’t that God loved the smell of burnt meat and grain. Rather, God saw that people were giving a gift that expressed love, faith, and the desire to please and honor God; and this moved God’s heart. When given in this spirit, our offerings bless the Lord.

  • Jesus said: “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into you lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38).
  • The Parable of the Talents reveal a God who expects us to be productive, to take risks, and know that those risks are rewarded (see Matthew 25:14-30).

How Our Generosity Affects Us

Through Giving Our Hearts Are Changed: When we are generous—to God and to our families, friends, neighbors, and others who are in need—our hearts are filled with joy. They are enlarged by the very act of giving. When we give generously, we become more generous.

In Giving We Find the Blessings of God (Malachi 3:10): Many Christians have it wrong. They say that if you give, then God will give more back to you.This is not how it works. We do not give to God so that we can get something in return. The amazing thing is that when we give to God and to others, the blessings just seem to come back to us. Of course, there is no guarantee that if you tithe you will never lose your job or never have other bad things happen to you. Nevertheless, when we give generously, the unmistakable blessings of God flow into our lives.

Practices, Reflections

Dallas Willard offers wisdom with John Ortberg

CATALYST PODCAST

EPISODE 124

Dallas Willard and John Ortberg

On this annual Catalyst West Roadtrip Episode, listen in on a conversation between Dallas Willard and John Ortberg from Catalyst West one year ago in 2010. Plus some helpful tips on making your Catalyst West experience a great one.

Skip the Catalyst bantering to 17:45 to hear the conversation. The following quotes from Dallas Willard are worth pondering (the times are indicated for your convenience).

  • Thesis of THE SPIRIT OF THE DISCIPLINES: “Authentic transformation really is possible if we are willing to do one thing, that is, to rearrange our lives around those practices that Jesus engaged in in order to receive life and power from the Father” (19:00).
  • The church is not getting right at this time: The gospel is not the minimal amount to get into heaven after you die. “The gospel is about how to get into heaven before you die.” Jesus preached the availability of the Kingdom of God to everyone right here, right now (22:00).
  • The effect of the kingdom of God is God in action. This is grace! Grace is not a synonym for the forgiveness of sin. Grace is for life, not just forgiveness. Grace enables us to live with God as a part of our lives. The sinner does not use much grace. The saint uses grace like a 747 on takeoff because everything they do is the result of grace (24:00).
  • “Grace is God acting in your life to accomplish what you cannot accomplish on your own.” (27:30)
  • How should we think about heaven: “Think of heaven as God’s presence (i.e. grace).”
  • Thinking about spiritual disciplines: “Grace is not opposed to effort. Grace is opposed to earning. Effort is action while earning is attitude.” Spiritual disciplines are those things we do to enable us to do that which cannot do by direct effort (e.g. we need discipline to learn a foreign language). “Discipline is essentially practice” (30:00).
  • There is a difference between trying to do something and training to do something. If at first you don’t succeed, fix what went wrong and then try again (32:00).
  • The place to start on the spiritual journey is “to do the next right thing you think you ought to do” (33:00).
  • The spiritual disciplines are not deeds of righteousness. They are wisdom. So you should approach them experimentally (34:30).
  • If you undertake a spiritual discipline and fail it is not a sin (38:00).