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Hollywood, from Cecile B De DeMille to the latest high-tech special effects studios have shaped our expectations of what the miraculous should look like. Whether in biblical stories or adventure tales or science fiction and fantasy, the miraculous on film is mostly loud, large, and awesome; it is often either overwhelmingly majestic or shockingly violent with lighting, sound and scale expanding to the limits of the screen or, with 3D glasses, even beyond the screen.

Not so with the Gospel.

We see Jesus traveling from place to place, doing the miraculous mostly on a scale that disappoints Hollywood producers. Spitting on a beggar’s eyes?  Extending a hand to a crippled man? Reversing a family burial? Touching lepers and healing the outcasts? And when he does create a miracle of some substantial scale, say feeding 5000, or calming a storm, his purpose is so, so disappointingly commonplace. His purpose is to meet immediate human needs, bring peace to his friends, transform the life of one suffering person, restore the grieving; it is not to create spontaneous worldwide dominance, or brighten the entire universe with a cosmic lightshow. No wonder we miss miracles.

One of the important parts of our recent world hunger trip to Peru, was the way God reintroduced us to the miraculous.

The miraculous was on hand in Peru. It was of the Gospel scale and not the Hollywood scale. The miraculous started with dust, endless dust. In many places, there is so much dust because there is only water for 25 minutes a day.  It is powdery and fine and constantly whipped into clouds by merely living daily life.

The clouds of dust and the bright orange and yellow paint of the building announce that you are close to a school in a Peruvian village. The World Hunger Offering supports the living water ministry of Peru and we drove up to the site where our Peruvian hosts, Jaime and Orlando, parked the vintage 1941 water drilling rig on the school ground, ready to open a well to serve not just the school, but the entire village. Waiting for a “milagro” (miracle) that would give safe water 24 hours a day to their homes and their school, the children were dressed in costumes to perform dances, poems, and songs. Community leaders read resolutions and recognitions, over a sound system that was run by car batteries, taking into account the undependable electrical power. “We know this is of God. We know that you are here because of your faith in Christ,” the school director says. “Your faith, rekindles our faith,” she says. “Clean water for our school means education year round and better health and attendance.” “Clean water for our town restores a treasure of our heritage” says a 6th grade boy dressed in a costume of ancient Inca finery (his proud family leans inside the school window.)

The well is common, small, and unremarkable. It is pumping out water into a new garden plot on the school property representing the fact that with water the village can have TWO harvests a year instead of one.  Medical services can come because of clean water. We read scripture, Jesus saying he brings living water, and we pray sentence prayers, in English, Spanish and Portuguese and Ketchua. Meet the miraculous.

This is one village. Jaime and Orlando, with the leadership of Larry and Joy Johnson (FBC, San Angelo) have witnessed this miracle in Jesus name more than 300 times in villages throughout the Andes and coastal regions of Peru. Three hundred wells.
Circling back to a school with a well for five years, the kindergarten playground is positioned over the well. Boys sit on the jungle gym above the humming little pump and say in enthusiastic English “Thank you Texas Baptists.” The local pastor of Iglesia Bautista Monte Sion, Pastor Helmer beams; his wife teaches bible every day.  Meet the miraculous. It sounds a little like a generator and it looks a lot like being loved in the name of Christ. The government doesn’t do this, the city doesn’t do this, the families can’t do this. The church does this.

Inside the first grade classroom, an eager student pulls me aside and begins to read from a picture book telling the story of Joseph, being abandoned by his brothers, becoming Pharaoh’s leader and then meeting them again during famine. As he turns to the last page, showing Joseph in reunion with his siblings, he gestures and says “muchos hermanos” (many brothers) and then he gestures to us and says in a quick phrase “hermanos de Cristo” (brothers in Christ). He’s off to play.

Forget special effects. Meet the miraculous.  It is joy amid dust, and water and people in need. It looks a lot like the Gospel version of Villa Milagro, a small place of miracles.

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Court-02It seems that too often churches tend to operate under the guiding principal of “we’ve always done it that way” and it’s inhibiting corollary, “we’ve never done it that way before.” While holding fast to certain traditions is a virtue in the church, basic procedures and modes of operation have to adapt to changing times. For the benefit of the church and its members, common sense safeguards must be in place to reduce liability, promote a safe environment and insure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

Such safeguards are not only necessary to prevent a financial loss, but are also crucial for compelling moral reasons. No church wants be sued by a disgruntled former employee, uncover child abuse, or be the site of an accident. Church members deserve the reassurance that their leaders are good stewards of their tithe and trust.

The CLC has a resource that will help churches understand just what policies need to be in place and what practices should be followed.

Keeping Your Church Out of Court is a legal guidance manual for churches that focuses on prevention. The resource offers recommendations and suggestions on a wide variety of common legal issues affecting churches such as IRS compliance and employment law. It also includes 85 pages of practical guides, including church policy checklists, sample forms, and document templates. Newer churches will find KYCOOC particularly helpful in insuring that basic church structure and policies provide the best possible legal standing and protection. For well established churches, KYCOOC can serve as a reference for common legal questions that arise. After using this resource, churches will be educated and equipped to proactively confront many common, challenging legal issues.

The Christian Life Commission, in partnership with the law firm of Bourland, Wall & Wenzel, P.C. of Ft. Worth, first published Keeping Your Church Out of Court in 1995 and released an updated third version in 2008. The third edition is available in computer disc form or in a printed binder by calling the CLC.  In addition to providing this resource, the CLC and Bourland, Wall and Wenzel, P.C., are available to conduct seminars or workshops to provide an overview of the material and answer any questions congregations may have. Any scheduled seminar or workshop dates will be noted in this E-newsletter.

Our society is becoming more and more litigious and it seems people are more likely to run to the courthouse or wield the threat of a lawsuit as a weapon. While we would like to think that churches are immune from such conflict, we know that’s just not the case. By practicing sound operating procedures and taking common-sense precautions, churches can avoid potentially crippling lawsuits. Get a copy of Keeping Your Church Out of Court and take the opportunity to institute positive changes in your church operation.

To order a copy of Keeping Your Church Out of Court, 3rd Edition please call the Christian Life Commission at 214-828-5190 or email alicia.enriquez@bgct.org.

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