Bill Hoffman and Daniel Vestal
FOLLOWING JESUS TOGETHER IN A WORLD OF PAIN
Dan Vestal and Bill Hoffman address Louisiana Spring Conference on theme of bringing hope to hurting world.
What do we do with our pain? What do we do with the pain of the world? Where is our hope? Are we ready to allow the Spirit to work through our brokenness? Dr. Daniel Vestal, National Coordinator for CBF addressed this in a Louisiana spring assembly at First Baptist in Shreveport.
Vestal looked at the continuum of pain from the inconvenient, to the disorienting to the catastrophic, noting pain is that thing which causes us to say, "oh, no." Our willingness to embrace these questions in ourselves and others become the "acid test" for Christian faith.
Yet Bill Hoffman (then working in LA Together for Hope) lamented how often the church and believers look away and ask instead "questions that reflect our self-absorption, that reflect a pre-occupation with perpetuating a religious institution or a religious life, spending a disproportionate amount of energy and income in that matter, or questions that reflect a narrow mindedness, or questions that are irrelevant, questions that even when we answer them satisfactorily or effectively, no one cares, no one is listening, no one is tuned in."
Vestal cited Romans 8, where Paul tells us that "creation was subjected to frustration …in hope" that it will one day be liberated. We participate with the Spirit in groaning, waiting eagerly and patiently. As Vestal put it, "This text…says there is a Spirit created groaning, the Spirit stirs in us in empathy and sympathy for hurts that is holy and redemptive." Even when we don't know how to pray this Spirit interprets our sighs and intercedes for us.
As our own pain is healed, we reach out for the healing of others. "God uses this Spirit created pain to accomplish his purposes in the world." This "Spirit inspired groaning" moves us to compassion for our neighbor, for the poor in our Together for Hope parishes and for the world beyond. Vestal directed us to the needs. "There is suffering in this world that, literally, if you listen, there is a groaning:"
" 1 billion people who live on less than $1 a day
" 2 billion people who live on less than $2 a day
" 8 million who die each year from poverty (20,000 a day) too poor to eat and survive.
" 28 million people in sub-Sahara Africa infected with HIV Aids
" 25% of the people in Zimbabwe infected with HIV, mainly women and children; 3800 funerals a month there. One pastor told Vestal, he preached 8-10 funerals a week.
Our hope stated Vestal is that, "God is at work in our hurts and God is at work even in the hurts of our world." Our personal pain may not be as catastrophic as that of an Aids orphan, but our pain is important to God and is the starting point for God to enter our brokenness and use us for His greater purposes. Vestal stated this is also true for our fellowship. "God is at work in CBF. This is a work of grace…We were born out of a bad situation, but God is a God of grace…God takes bad and brings good out of it…We are a renewal movement, I'm convinced …spiritual renewal, congregational renewal, mission renewal. We are a renewal movement within the Baptist family."
So we partner with others: CBF now has over 160 partnerships with various Christian groups. One of the most exciting is a new agreement with Buckner Benevolence of Dallas, the largest benevolence organization in Baptist life in cooperation with the All Aftica Baptist Fellowship to carry out a major initiative to at risk children-those with HIV, malaria, the poor in Africa. It is a great privilege to partner with others, but even greater to realize the amazing, divine call to partner with God in the mission of Christ to "reconcile all things both in heaven and in earth." It is God's mission, and God says I choose you, I want to include you in my mission.
"Partnering" said Vestal, is more than a word, "It is the essence of the Gospel." God's work is much bigger than any of us, and "we are more together than we are individually." Thus there is no place for competition or feeling either superior or inferior to others in the Body of Christ. We should celebrate diversity knowing that God uses diverse individuals and churches for unique purposes. The issue then becomes: Are we going to be faithful and obedient? Vestal concluded "Partners in Togerther for Hope: What a blessed privilege, what a blessed responsibility."