Monday, February 23, 2009

Stuff vs. Substance


“Better to be nobody and yet have a servant than pretend to be somebody and have no food.” Proverbs 12:9

The book of Proverbs is rich. Whenever I read it, I find so many nuggets of wisdom. When I was reading today, I came across the verse highlighted above, and it spoke to me, it said, “Stop fronting!” “Be for real!” “Stop perpetrating!”

And I began to wonder whether the reason our country, so many businesses and so many families are in the economic mess that we are in is because we were trying to pretend like we had something or perhaps because we on some level believe that our possessions make us “somebody.”

And I can’t help but wonder whether instead of being honest with our financial circumstances or learning to be content with what we have, we haven’t acted like we can live on credit today and keep rolling over our debt for tomorrow. Except now the bills have come due and we find ourselves bankrupt. We have, as the scripture says, “no food.”

For we seem to have valued stuff more than substance.

Far too many of us have lived above our means, trying to keep up with Joneses often unaware that the Joneses were themselves often drowning in debt.

What’s amazing to me is I have met truly wealthy people. People who had Picassos hanging on their walls. People who didn’t just have a job, but who owned the company. And you couldn’t tell that they were rich. They drove an old Chevy, not a Ferrari. They weren’t dripping in excess.

But I know grown folks who don’t live in their own house but drive luxury cars. From the wardrobes of some I have seen, you would have thought they were a millionaire, but they could barely pay their bills.

Sometimes my children and I walk around our neighborhood when the weather is nice. The kids are amazed by some of the houses. “Look at that house. Oooh, they have a swimming pool. They got a big house.”

In those times, I remind them that it’s all right to admire nice things but not to be enthralled by or in awe of stuff, because in the end, that’s all it is, just stuff. I tell them to be grateful for their house, because it is God’s blessing to us. I remind them that somebody out there simply wishes they had a roof over their head. That some family is living in a car. That someone is living under a bridge.

And this much I remind myself: My house may not be as large as the home of R. Kelly who happens to live in my neighborhood. But I wouldn’t trade my “mansion” for his any day. I wouldn’t trade my small patch of garden and roses in my backyard for someone else’s emerald acres. I love my fireplace in the winter time and my sun porch in the summer. But more importantly, I wouldn’t trade the love and peace that fill the space God has blessed the Fountain family to occupy. I thank God for house and food and all things in between.

And I thank Him that I am somebody, not because of my stuff, but because of whose I am.

Truth and Consequences

“The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.” Proverbs 10:9


What is up with Roland Burris?


My new senator seems to be having a problem. The biggest problem is that his story keeps changing. It seems like just yesterday he was standing in the rain outside of the U.S. Capitol, surrounded by a horde of media as he fought to be seated in the United States Senate. Now I see pictures of him running from reporters.


The problem is that Burris was appointed by our now former and infamous governor, Rod Blagojevich. Although Blagojevich was under a cloud of suspicion for allegedly trying to sell the Senate seat of President Barack Obama, Roland Burris’ reputation was that of a man of political integrity. As a condition of securing that seat, Burris had to appear before the Illinois House impeachment panel and testify about the circumstances surrounding his appointment.


During that hearing, Burris told the committee he had no contact with anyone in the governor’s office before the governor appointed him in late December to replace President Obama in the U.S. Senate. Then his story changed. He later told the committee that he had been contacted by a friend of the governor. Then his story changed again. He now says that he actually had contact with five people in Blagojevich’s camp, including the governor’s brother who asked Burris to raise money for the ex-governor.


Now Burris’s reputation is under fire. And a chorus of colleagues, columnists and newspapers is calling for his resignation. I don’t know how all of this will turn out, but I do know that if Burris had told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, from the beginning, he wouldn’t be hearing calls for his resignation right now. Some might argue that if he had told the whole truth, he might not have the Senate seat right now. Except, he won’t have it anyway, if it comes out that he lied or if the FBI has tapes of him talking with the governor’s brother about fundraising.


For now, it just makes it appear that Burris was willing to do anything to become a senator, at least to withhold the truth. He says he has nothing to hide, but it sure looks like he does.


I am reminded of a scripture that urges us to flee even the appearance of evil. And also another that says your good name and reputation are more valuable than gold. And I might add, in this case, even more valuable than a Senate seat.



Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Breakthrough Weekend

Florida in February. That's where I have the privilege of sitting at this moment--in a beautiful resort and spa in Sanibel, Florida. For the next few days I will be blogging from the Break Away Conference in Florida where my husband will be speaking on Friday. Breakthrough is a ministry on the West Side of Chicago that provides services for homeless men and women and ministries for youth and families.

My husband, John W. Fountain, will be talking about growing up on the West Side. Gospel singer Babbie Mason is singing right now and Dr. Tony Evans of the Urban Alternative will be teaching.

Stay tuned.

Friday, February 6, 2009

John "The Baptist"

Brother to Brother Column

John "The Baptist"




By John W. Fountain

Early one Sunday afternoon, I walked to the front of the church, toward the pulpit, to have words at the behest of my grandfather, the pastor.
Unsure of what to say, I could still hear the words of my dearly departed grandmother’s spirit-filled voice ringing inside my head: “Let the Lord use you, John Wesley.”

I stood before the small congregation and mouthed the proper honors to the pastor, the assistant pastor, the deacons and such… Then came my sacrilege.

“You know,” I said, “they told me as a child that only (people in our denomination) were going to heaven.” Then I dropped the bomb: “I guess I’m on my way to hell… because I’m Baptist.”

There was a collective gasp, then laughter.

“No, uh, I’m not,” I declared, laughing. “I’m not going to hell. The truth is, I have learned that all truly Christian churches are churches of God in Christ Jesus; and that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism…”

I left the pulpit to a chorus of Amen’s, though feeling uneasy, if not queasy, over what I had said—feeling like a religious misfit. I always have.

A Religious Misfit

Raised as a fire-and-brimstone Pentecostal at a small family church in Chicago, I was often uncertain about their antics, about whether their demonstrations of the spirit were authentic. I was especially leery of the notion that everyone, except us, was going to hell as my “sanctified” family had assured.

As a boy, I wondered why it was “sin” to go to the movie theater, or for women to wear makeup or pants, or to listen to any music other than gospel. It seemed everything was sin, even dancing the boogaloo.

The problem with our Christian cousins—the Baptists—the saints said, was that they smoked cigarettes and drank liquor, partied on Saturday and praised on Sunday. And for it, Baptists were going to bust hell wide open, we had been assured. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what all that backbiting and gossiping I had witnessed among “the saints” would earn them in that great day.

Our negative view of Baptists wasn’t just their smoking, but their general so-called lack of commitment to a sin-free way of living 24-7.

As I grew older, I heeded my grandfather’s instruction to always find a church within my denomination in whatever new city life’s wind carried me. Usually, that meant simply thumbing through the yellow pages.

Along the way, I found good churches and wonderful God-fearing people. But I also found my faith challenged, perhaps none more than by my wife—a good Christian woman who happened to be Baptist. She challenged me less by what she said and more by how she lived. Raised by Baptist parents, she grew up in her father’s church. Her daily walk with Christ seemed to reflect a deep commitment and yet liberty that I had never known. It was clear to me that her conception of who she was in Christ was not based on denomination or religion, but on relationship, on the principle of God’s grace and love and willful obedience to His word.


The Letter

That was what I was trying to express that Sunday. Later that week, I got an email from a sister who had been in the congregation:

“I was glad to hear you make the statement in the pulpit Sunday that you are a Baptist and are not going to hell,” she wrote. “I wished that my husband could hear you.”

He had been coming to church after his mother died and was “emotionally distraught and felt the need to get closer to God.

“He was doing pretty well for a while coming to church with me on Sundays. Then a comment was made by someone in the church (I'm not going to mention the name) that Baptists were no good. …I explained to him that the comment was the person's opinion. …He stopped going to church altogether.

“I wished that he could have heard you today…” the note ended. “You hit the mark today!”

Still, I found no rejoicing. For the cold truth was that by the time of my proclamation, this sister’s husband was dead—and he had died apparently mortally misled about the gift of eternal life.

That saddens me. But what chills me to the bone is to ponder the fate of those who have misled, or who continue to mislead others down the path of religion rather than into relationship with Christ.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Watch Your Mouth

“Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk from your lips.” Proverbs 4:24

Devotional:

Bleep. Bleep. Bleep.

My former governor, Rod Blagojevich, is in some hot water for some words that he has said. Besides the fact that some of his conversations caught on tape by the FBI may prove to be criminal, without a doubt, they were embarrassing.

“You and your wife are such potty mouths,” said Joy Behar, when Blagojevich appeared on “The View.” The ex-governor’s expletive filled conversations become fodder for late night comedians.

On a recent whirlwind media tour, Blagojevich explained that “Had I known somebody was listening, I wouldn’t have used language like that.”

We all would be embarrassed if some of our private conversations were caught on tape and played for the entire world. But even if we aren’t being taped by the FBI, shouldn’t we watch what we’re saying?

God is always listening. And even more important than what comes out of our mouth, God knows our heart.

What we say and how we say it is a barometer of our heart condition. In Proverbs 4:23, we are warned, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of your life.” Then in the very next verse we are told, “Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk from your lips.” What is in our heart inevitably will come out of our mouth.

What are considered “bad” words can differ from society to society. Bloody is a bad word in England. Nobody will bat an eye if you say bloody in the United States. Besides whether we use words that are considered “bad” by our society, we should examine the content and sentiment behind the words we use. Are our words meant to build or destroy? Are your words full of anger and bitterness? Are your words full of gossip and lies? Are they negative or positive? Are they bringing hurt or healing?

You can never say a “bad” word and still be cursing your fellow man. Are you assassinating others with your tongue? Many who have professed to follow Christ have destroyed their fellow brother or sister in Christ with their words and they never said a four-letter one or the ones used by former Gov. Blagojevich. Ugly, dumb, fat and stupid are all words that can hurt and destroy.

The book of James tells us about the power of the tongue. He calls it “a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body." Just as fire can destroy, it can also be productive, warming us and keeping us alive. James goes on to say, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”

Is your tongue a burning wildfire, destroying everything in its path or is it a place where people can feel the warmth of God’s love?

My father used to say that God fastened the tongue to the bottom of our mouth, barred it with teeth and sealed it behind our lips for a reason. We need to watch our mouths.

The psalmist put it this way, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)

Reflection:

What sort of atmosphere are your words setting?

Do the words that you use reflect anger, resentment or hurt?

Application:

· Give someone a compliment, and mean it.

· Write an encouraging note to a friend or loved one. Tell them what you admire about them or the difference they have made in your life. Forwarding a mass email does not count.

· Look back on your day and examine the words you have used and why you used them.

Scriptures:

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction. Proverbs 16:23

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. James 1:26

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18

Prayer:

Dear God,
Let the words that come out of my mouth bring honor, not shame, to your name.
Amen

Join Our Mailing List