BRIDGETON -- To share hope, believers must have hope. "You can't share what you don't have," John Upton reminded attendees at the Churchnet annual gathering April 13-14.
Using Mark 6:34-44, the story of Jesus' feeding 5,000 men, the president of the Baptist World Alliance told attendees they have been called to transform Missouri.
But the world doesn't always see hope in Christians in the United States. Sometimes believers here are suspicious, he said. They want to know "what kind of Baptist are you?" If a church is successful, they want to know what kind of gimmick it is using.
"If you're going to share hope, you've got to be hopeful...you have to have a strong sense of anticipation," he said. He added he believes "God is birthing something new right now," even though hope and the church are being challenged today. "We are not known for being a hopeful people."
Using Mark 6:34-44, he pointed to Jesus' hands -- powerful, yet able to deal with people gently. "What did Jesus hold in his hands more than anything else?" Upton asked. "A loaf of bread."
The BWA president pointed out that Jesus always performed four gestures when he held bread. He took it, blessed it, broke it and gave it to others. "That's exactly what Jesus wants to do with everything placed in his hands," he said.
In Mark's account, Jesus had been teaching a large crowd of people. As the day ended, Jesus told his disciples to feed those gathered. But the disciples responded that they didn't have enough to meet the need. "There's not a lot of hope here," Upton said.
Jesus told his followers to see what they had. They gave Jesus the bread they found, and then he took it, blessed it, broke it and gave it to his disciples to distribute to the people. All had plenty to eat.
To maintain hope and to share hope, believers today must give whatever they have and let Jesus do the same. Jesus will take "anything we give him," Upton said.
He told the story of an automobile mechanic from Minnesota who went on a mission trip to Zimbabwe, even though he didn't know why he was going. God used him to figure out a way to make infant incubators with new and used automobile parts.
Jesus also "can consecrate, make holy, anything we give him," Upton added.
He had visited a strong church in China that had survived because of four elderly women who had continued to meet even though authorities had shut the church down under Communist rule. They met for 15 years to pray, sing and quote Scripture they could recall.
The Lord must also do something most of his followers do not like -- break them. "He has to break us.... It's been a long time since we here in the United States have been broken," Upton said. "But it is grace to be broken because it opens us up. It sets us free."
He told the story of a couple who lived and worked in a rough neighborhood in Boston where many young people were involved with gangs and drugs. Many were killed. When they asked a drug lord why the students responded to him, he explained that he was always available to them after school, at the convenience store and on the street corners.
Area churches agreed to have members in those places for the students. As a result, no homicides have taken place in two years. "That's hope. That's brokenness," Upton said.
In Mark's account, Jesus gave the bread to his disciples to distribute. Once everyone had been fed, they gathered up 12 baskets of leftovers.
Upton challenged listeners to be people of hope and to live out the four gestures Jesus did, "so that you will be in North America...what we need desperately...that you will be people of hope."
In addition to his BWA service, Upton is executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.