The Beginning of Something Good

My dear friend Chip Watts recorded his version of this Christmas song that I wrote many years ago. Enjoy!

Respectfully Disagree

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” Flannery O’Connor

I once heard a story about a man who insisted that the US government had fabricated the moon landings of the Apollo space missions. The proof that he gave for his belief is that the Bible tells us that there are four corners to the earth, therefore those pictures of a round earth cannot be real. I’m sure that everyone reading this will think that such an idea is pretty silly. But he held his belief with strong conviction.

And he was absolutely wrong.

Some people want us to believe that we should accept all religious ideas as true. At least, they would say, each idea is true for the person who believes.

I disagree. There is truth, and it matters.

We should respect the right of every person to believe and practice faith as he or she chooses. Muslims should have the right to practice Islam, the same as Buddhists, Baptists and Lutherans. Millions of lives have been lost in wars where one religious group was trying to force another to convert. We should have learned this lesson by now. You cannot force someone to change their heart’s beliefs.

But even as I respect the right of each person to believe, I still believe that Jesus is the right way to God. I do not have to give up my convictions about faith to respect those who disagree. I have had conversations with people who have diverse religious beliefs, Wiccan, Muslim and atheists among them. I think they would agree I have shown respect to them and their convictions. I do not claim that I know everything about God. But I do hold strongly to my conviction that truth is found in Jesus.

The world will try to push you to lessen your conviction by suggesting that to believe totally in Jesus is disrespectful to those who do not. They are wrong. You can show respect to those who disagree while still holding your faith completely. We should respect everyone. Each person has a God-given freedom to seek truth in her or his own way. For those of us who believe in Jesus, that means to give our hearts and lives completely to Him.

Love in Christ,
Greg Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC

Reflection on Ferguson

“In these downbeat times, we need as much hope and courage as we do vision and analysis; we must accent the best of each other even as we point out the vicious effects of our racial divide … Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell. None of us alone can save the nation or world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.”
― Cornel West, Race Matters

Ferguson. That name will mean something volatile and frightening to us for a long time to come. A tragedy occurred there that has reminded us that there remains a frustrating racial divide in America. I have prayed hard about how we can bring something hopeful out of this horrible reminder of a truly fallen and broken world.

It’s easy for us to criticize Michael Brown. He had done and was doing things that did not make him a good role model for anyone. It’s also easy for us to criticize Officer Wilson. An unarmed 18 year old is dead. Michael’s family and friends think that Officer Wilson was reacting with racial prejudice. The reactions of many white people indicate that a lot of them believe that Michael Brown was a criminal because he was black. The angry rhetoric will not stop, because people on both sides of the divide will continue to use this incident to promote themselves and their own causes. Even the pleas of Michael Brown’s family could not stop those who wanted to use this as an excuse to destroy things and attack people.

The question I want us to ask ourselves is this: could this happen in the same way in our neighborhood? For those of us who say we belong to Jesus, we should be doing all we can to make our community a less-angry and less-volatile place. I have three suggestions for a start:

1. Pray for Michael Brown’s family and friends and community. Whatever you think of Michael’s actions, he was a soul for whom Christ died. His family loved him and will always miss him.
2. Pray for Officer Darren Wilson and his family and friends. In a moment when he feared for his life, he responded to what he thought was a threat with only a few moments to react. Now, he has resigned his job and is living in hiding indefinitely because of threats against his life and his pregnant wife.
3. Start now to build positive relationships with your neighbors and co-workers who are of a different race than you. Listen to their stories of what life is like in their community. Be willing to hear when they say they are afraid. There are many white police officers who are not racist. But there are enough instances of racial profiling in police departments in America to make this fear a real one for black people. The real key to overcoming our racial divide is sincere friendships and courageous partnerships with those who are different. One of the saddest aspects of our Christian faith is that God’s people remain as racially divided as the rest of the world.
4. Pray for yourself and your church. Pray that God will bless you with opportunities to help heal the anger and frustrations in your community. Remember that no human effort can stop every tragic thing from happening. But as Jesus said, “With God, all things are possible.”

The Ferguson episode has raised many fears and frustrations. It is a tragedy, and we would like to prevent anything like that from happening again. Instead of spitting venom and hatred, I invite you, God’s people, to spread new hope and healing and the good news that God can transform our lives and through that transformation, God can heal our communities.

Love in Christ,
Greg Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC