Monday, December 18, 2006

MBC Woes

Two prominent SBC bloggers have recently addressed the issues plaguing the Missouri Baptist Convention. Wade Burleson and Art Rogers have each weighed in on certain aspects of the current controversies in Missouri. I commented on Art's blog that I would likely post on my own blog about these concerns, given that I have a certain vested interest in them as a Baptist residing in Missouri. I chose the preceding words carefully, and they do in fact reveal that our church is not associated currently with the Missouri Baptist Convention. Ours was one of 19 churches recently dismissed by the MBC for violating their single alignment clause. It is the issue of single alignment that I wish to address briefly in this post, for it is part and parcel of the trend that many have observed of the narrowing of parameters of cooperation.

I've only spoken up one time at a meeting of the MBC. I did so in November 2004 when the convention was proposing the language for single alignment. Word & Way picked up a portion of my objection to the language that the committee had employed in an earlier letter in the Pathway entitled "Debunking Myths about Single Alignment." I found the opening paragraph to contain a number of not-so-veiled attacks on moderate Baptists. The references to the "duty to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit," to "count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed," and the allusion to brand knockoffs and cheap imitations," as "those who have come among us who trumpet to the world that they are Southern and/or Missouri Baptists when in reality they are Baptist in name only" were deeply offensive and I drew the attention of the messengers to the inflammatory language of this document. The other phrase in the document that raised my hackles was the purported justification of the single alignment procedure in that it "allows the churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention to avoid having their doctrinal positions compromised by the heretical actions of a corrupt few." Calling fellow Baptists heretics certainly goes beyond the pale of Christian love and grace. To his credit, following my objections to the tone of the document, James Freeman issued a public apology, but the ongoing attacks on moderate Missouri Baptists by the MBC, especially in the Pathway, certainly raise the question as to whether or not moderate Baptists are still deemed to be heretics.

As one who taught Baptist and church history for many years, I always associated the charge of heresy with denial of the basic tenets of the Christian faith, not with questioning some of the cultural issues addressed in the BF&M 2000. Evidently the term heresy is a bit looser in its application in our day. I well remember the experience of reading Dr. Rankin's letter in January 2002, asking IMB missionaries to sign their agreement with the BF&M 2000. It arrived via email late one night after we had recently moved from Argentina to Mexico City and I awakened my wife to share the disturbing news. One of the justifications he gave for this action was the need to protect us from accusations of heresy behind our backs. It wasn't clear at that time exactly who was making said accusations, but I felt then as I do now that the term heresy was a misnomer to describe the objections to the changes that were being introduced into the statement of faith.

The MBC's actions reflect a witch-hunt mentality, and amazingly, there is almost a rather perverse sense of pride in that mindset. The latest issue of Pathway also contains an article that states the convention has now named an ad hoc committee to study the theological soundness of all non-political para-church organizations with whom the MBC relates. The quest to exclude other Christian groups who cooperate but who might not cross their t's and dot their i's the same way as Missouri Baptists reflects an inordinate amount of arrogance rather than a desire for purity and holiness from my perspective. The same issue of Pathway also contains an article entitled "Single Alignment proceeding toward '07." Let me quote just one line from it near the end of the piece. It states, "Missouri is unique in its approach to single alignment in that no other state convention in the SBC has passed such a definite statement articulating the ever-strengthening ties between the MBC and SBC." This statement oozes with self-righteousness and pride--despite the fact that it means that fellow Christians and Baptists will be cut off from fellowship because of the desire to control how autonomous Baptist churches spend their missions dollars and with whom they choose to cooperate in missions efforts. May God have mercy on us all.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Home from a Road Trip

I just returned late last night from a 3-day trip to Big D (that's Dallas for you non-Texans). The staff of the BGCM (all 7 of us) piled into a 12-passenger van early Monday morning for the 8 hour or so drive to Dallas from near Springfield, MO where we all met up and spent Sunday night. We had some great fellowship along the way as our staff typically tends to do. We spent Monday evening, all day Tuesday, and Wednesday morning meeting with the leadership teams of the BGCT and the BGAV at the BGCT's beautiful facility. In addition to some general sessions where we spoke of common concerns, challenges, and some victories along the way, we also broke up into small groups with our counterparts from the other state conventions. We had some fruitful sharing times in the group I was privileged to meet with of those who are giving leadership to the Texas and Virginia state conventions in the area of missions. I truly believe that such networking is a key ingredient to future effectiveness in ministry. We were able to share with one another some helpful resources that we have discovered along the way as well as to encourage one another in the struggles we all face. Spending quality time with brothers and sisters in Christ who are committed to reaching their states and the world with the gospel was a tremendous blessing for our staff. Six of the seven of us are part-time with the BGCM, so our situation is unique as compared to the size of both Texas and Virginia. Nevertheless, we weren't treated as inferiors or stepchildren, but as peers in the work. My prayer is that this type of cooperation and the fruitful interchange of ideas and information might proliferate to other groups as well.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Posting Again

While many famous bloggers are participating in an intentional fast from the blogosphere, my lack of posting has been more the result of a lack of motivation to write about anything substantial or meaningful lately. I have continued to read and even comment occasionally on other blogs. In a previous blog I had commented on the irony of attending the West Africa Summit that was sponsored by the IMB and the Missouri Baptist Convention when our church was one of 19 that was ousted from the MBC that very week for not being singly aligned with the MBC. I felt obliged to leave a clarifying comment on John Stickley's blog about the MBC's action. John commented that MBC delegates voted to kick 19 churches out of the convention due to their violation of rules requiring “single-alignment” with the Southern Baptist Convention. The fact is that the MBC doesn't require single alignment with the SBC but single alignment with the MBC. Our church along with 18 others were excluded because in the exercise of local church autonomy, we have chosen to partner with groups in Missouri other than the MBC in missions endeavors.

While the exclusion was probably more symbolic in our case than in some of the other churches affected by the decision, given that we had decided as a congregation several years ago to designate the Baptist General Convention of Missouri as the default giving option among state groups, there was one casualty of the action by the MBC. For several months we had been hosting a Spanish Bible study on Sunday evenings in our facilities, led by an Hispanic pastor from Mexico. He was receiving a portion of his funding through the MBC and it was determined that since our church was no longer singly aligned with the MBC, he would have to cease his ministry with us. We are reassessing which direction to go with this ministry while our outstanding ESL program continues to function on Wednesday evenings.

I had the privilege of leading a young Hispanic couple to the Lord on successive Monday nights the past couple of weeks--the wife first as she came for some marital counseling and then the husband this past week as they met together with me. They are from a town some 10 miles southeast of Lee's Summit and I've encouraged them to attend the only Spanish-speaking services that I'm aware of at this point in the vicinity. I would have loved to been able to invite them to services in our church, but for the time being that isn't possible. The exercise of denominational politics certainly has some unforeseen negative consequences for kingdom work, but I trust that the Lord will continue to work in the lives of this young couple to help them grow in their new-found faith. The worship minister in the town where they live has befriended them, but her Spanish is extremely limited and the couple speaks very little English. I would appreciate your prayers on their behalf.

On a separate note, I'm trying to organize a group of BGCM pastors to participate in a missions trip to Guatemala the second half of January. That doesn't leave a great deal of time to finalize plans, but I'm confident that God will raise up those whom He desires to participate in a training event for leaders in 3 states near Guatemala's western border with Mexico. The trip will also coincide with a meeting hosted by WorldconneX with the leaders of the Guatemalan Baptist Convention and several entities that are currently working in or are considering missions opportunities in Guatemala.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

West Africa Summit update

I arrived safely in St. Charles, MO at midday and attended the afternoon and evening sessions of the first day of the West Africa Summit at the FBC of St. Charles. The church has done an outstanding job of preparing to host this summit and the IMB has really put together a great program. Many missionaries from West Africa have just returned stateside in the last couple of days to be a part of the summit. The purpose of the summit as Dr. Rankin communicated it very clearly this evening is not to be a typical missions conference with reports from missionaries about what they're doing and the state of the work. The goal is to motivate churches to become directly involved in one of three areas of the work in West Africa--as an exploring church that participates in an occasional mission trip as they seek where God would have them invest their time and energy long-term, as a partnering church to work with an existing IMB church planting team to reach a unreached people group, or as an engaging church that assumes the direct responsibility for taking the gospel to an unreached people group that currently has no IMB or other evangelical work in place.

I've had a chance to visit briefly with Randy and Kathy Arnett whom we were appointed with back in 1986. Randy is currently the Regional Leader for the IMB over West Africa. I ate dinner with Larry and Lucy Driggers who were in language school with us in Costa Rica since they were headed for the only Spanish-speaking country in West Africa--Equitorial Guinea. The wife of another couple we were appointed with is also here, but I haven't seen her yet. I was pleasantly surprised to see Steve Nolen who served with us in Argentina before transferring to the 10/40 window for a number of years. He's living in the Atlanta area now, serving as a missions pastor and also helping promote Hispanic involvement in the 10/40 region.

A couple of disturbing statistics were shared by Randy this afternoon and echoed by Dr. Rankin this evening. The number of career missionaries to West Africa has decreased each year by an average of 10 missionary units from 1997 to 2006. At the appointment service last night at the MBC annual meeting in Cape Girardeau, 67 new missionaries were appointed. Not one of them is heading to West Africa. The focus of today's sessions by Randy and Dr. Rankin were on the lostness of West Africa. Clearly the need is overwhelming and the response by S. Baptist churches has been "underwhelming." Prayerfully, the Lord will use this summit to awaken an interest in that region on the part of many. The attendance is very good and the majority of folks appear to be from outside of Missouri.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Missions Conference Update, West Africa Summit

I enjoyed an outstanding time the past few days, fellowshipping with Josue Marroquin, the vice-president of the Guatemala Baptist Convention. I flew from Kansas City to Dallas last Thursday for a meeting of the Guatemala Affinity Group at the headquarters of WorldconneX. Representatives from a number of interested churches as well as the Baptist University of the Americas and Buckner Orphan Care International were present. I went to represent the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. We had a great time of sharing what each group has been doing in their focus on Guatemala as well as engaging in some strategic planning.

Josue had flown up the previous evening from Guatemala and he accompanied me back to Missouri on Thursday evening. On Friday I exposed him to a cross-cultural experience as I conducted a funeral that morning for one of our members. We traveled back to the airport Friday night to pick up Bill Tinsley, the leader of Worldconnex. On Saturday, we all traveled early to Columbia, MO for a missions conference. Bill spoke about new paradigms in missions and Josue and I were able to present the details of the BGCM's three year partnership with the Guatemala Baptist Convention.

We stayed over that evening so Josue could preach the next morning at the Parkade Baptist Church in Columbia. In another cross-cultural experience for Josue, he got to witness my passion for college football as I cheered for the UT Longhorns as they won a tough game on the Texas plains at Lubbock against Texas Tech. The Parkade church was launching their world missions emphasis Sunday morning so our visit was great timing for them. We had a wonderful time with the congregation and enjoyed lunch afterwards with pastor Chris Cook, his wife, and Alberta Gilpin. Josue and I traveled back to Lee's Summit that afternoon and he preached in our church that night. He's a gifted preacher and communicated a clear call to missions involvement in both messages.

On Wednesday I'll be traveling to St. Charles, MO for a West Africa Summit that the IMB and the Missouri Baptist Convention are sponsoring. We have a couple that are members of our church that serve with the IMB in Togo and we want to pursue some missions projects with them in addition to our focus in Guatemala. The only ironic part of this process is that our church will be one of 18 at least that will be (or perhaps has already been) excluded from the MBC during their annual convention meeting in Cape Girardeau October 30-31. Because we have chosen to partner with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, we are no longer considered "singly aligned" and are thus being ousted by the MBC. We will continue to support Missouri Baptist endeavors, including our direct support of the Missouri Baptist Children's Home and other entities, despite the MBC's decision to sever ties with us and many others churches over the single alignment issue.

I'm looking forward to seeing at least 3 families that are listed on the program for the West Africa Summit that we were appointed with back in 1986. It will be good to renew old acquaintances and hear of the Lord's work in their lives.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Guatemala and the BGCM

This coming Saturday the Baptist General Convention of Missouri will be hosting a New Realities in Missions Conference at the Parkade Baptist Church in Columbia, MO from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. Bill Tinsley of WorldconneX will be joining us to share about the changing world of missions and new paradigms for churches wishing to be directly involved in missions. Josue Marroquin, vice-president of the Guatemala Baptist Convention, will also be joining us to help promote a three year partnership between the BGCM and the Guatemala Baptist Convention. It will be my privilege to host Josue this week as he arrives on Thursday for a meeting of the Guatemala Affinity Group (consisting of various entities that are pursuing missions work in Guatemala) in Dallas at the WorldconneX offices. In addition to participating in the conference on Saturday, Josue will be preaching Sunday morning at the Parkade Church and then on Sunday evening in our church in Lee's Summit before returning to Guatemala on Monday.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

New Wednesday night Bible study series

One of the most rewarding things I'm privileged to do in my capacity as associate pastor at FBC Lee's Summit is to lead the Wednesday evening prayer meeting and Bible study time. Since joining the staff here a little over three years ago, we have studied 1 & 2 Peter, Hebrews, selected Psalms, a series on the benedictions and doxologies found in the Scriptures, and most recently Nehemiah. I've been prayerfully considering what direction to go next as we begin a new series on Oct. 25th. The next two weeks we have our quarterly business meeting and then I've asked a couple who recently participated in a mission trip to Peru to share about their experiences on the 2nd Wednesday. After much thought and prayer, I've decided to begin a series on the Gospel of Mark. Mark has long been a favorite gospel of mine. I remember being impacted by a study on Mark led by the Campus Crusade for Christ director of a summer beach project I was on way back in 1974. Mark's portrayal of Jesus as a man of action, written to a Roman audience that respected such a virtue, is a powerful one even today. I'm excited about the opportunity to study it with our Wednesday evening group.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Missions Projects

Our church has been and continues to be involved in numerous missions projects in a variety of venues and through several different groups. We have had a three-year partnership with a church in Fajardo, Puerto Rico that has included financial assistance to aid them in preparing to erect a building on land they have purchased, as well as a youth trip last summer that I was privileged to participate in as a translator/sponsor. Our youth were involved with the youth of the Fajardo church in a camp experience with wonderful times of praise, solid preaching, and great fun. We also painted the facilities of a Christian school (not affiliated with this church), cleaned an overgrown playground area of a home for unwed mothers that is run by an order of Catholic nuns, as well as doing general clean-up and improvements to the camp facility and some public beaches.

We are currently receiving donations of winter coats, scarves, gloves, etc. for the Lakota Indians of South Dakota. This is the third year we've participated in this effort called Operation Warm Embrace. It's part of the Rural Poverty Initiative that CBF has launched to meet the pressing needs of those in the 20 most impoverished counties in the U.S.

We're also looking to get directly involved as a church in the 3 year partnership that the Baptist General Convention of Missouri has with the Guatemalan Baptist Convention. I've been able to make 2 trips there so far and we're looking at creating some church-to-church partnerships between BGCM churches and those in Guatemala.

Another missions initiative that we will be pursuing is called Kids Heart Africa, a project sponsored by Buckner Orphan Care International and CBF to meet the needs of the rapidly mushrooming number of AIDS orphans in Africa. We'll be focusing specifically on some orphanages and child development centers in Kenya.

Our church also is privileged to be able to offer missionary housing to furloughing missionaries on stateside assignment. In one house we currently are hosting a single IMB missionary who serves in the Philippines where she is involved in MK education. In the other house, an IMB missionary family that serves in Togo, West Africa is currently residing. Tony and Marlene Darnell consider our church as their home church as Marlene grew up in FBC Lee's Summit. Her parents are very active members and her father Lynn has gone on several mission trips with us in recent years. We're also exploring options to plug in to their ministry in Togo through the IMB. The IMB will be hosting a West Africa summit in St. Louis next month and we look forward to the opportunity to learn more about the possibilities of involvement in that part of the world. I noticed that at least three of the missionary couples slated to be present were with us at the Missionary Learning Center in our orientation back in 1987. It will be good to renew ties with them.

I'm grateful to be part of a church with a big enough vision to say that we will work with anyone who is committed to Kingdom causes in missions. It's a blessing to be involved with Christians of many "stripes" who don't let political issues overshadow the task of working together to fulfill the Great Commission.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Missouri Baptist Convention & Single Alignment

Those living outside of Missouri might find the religious politics of the state perplexing. With the Missouri Baptist Convention suing 5 former entities that named their own boards of trustees and millions of dollars in Cooperative Program money finding its way to lawyers' pockets as a backdrop, the more recent news has focused on the implementation and enforcement of a policy of single alignment that messengers to the annual meeting approved last year. In an unprecedented move (at least in Southern Baptist life), the MBC has recently sent letters to 24 churches to urge them to reconsider the steps they have taken so as not to jeopardize their historic ties with the MBC. The guilty action of these 24 consists of being somehow linked to CBF--either by supporting CBF in their budget or sending messengers to an annual meeting. The number of churches excluded for such actions will most assuredly grow as the MBC has not yet officially taken the same action against churches involved with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, though the language of the single alignment proposal that passed last year specifically mentioned these two organizations.

The MBC Pathway has reported their take on this issue, as has the historic Baptist Missouri paper, the Word and Way. By far one of the funniest things to appear regarding single alignment is a satirical piece written by Brian Kaylor. The tongue-in-cheek analogy of Pluto's exclusion from the list of planets in our solar system is a must read.

I find it interesting that while some cooler heads among conservative Baptists in many sectors of the U.S. are calling for widening the tent, permitting principled dissent, and ceasing to narrow the parameters for cooperation among Baptists, in Missouri the exact opposite is occurring. Like the kid on the playground who tells everyone else that if they don't play by his rules, he will take his ball and go home, the MBC is excluding fellow Baptists for the "crime" of being dually aligned with another group in the state. I don't see the same thing happening in Texas or Virginia where moderates comprise the larger state convention. Why is that?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Man in Black

On September 12, 2003, Johnny Cash, “the man in black” died. A music icon known not only for his black clothing but also for his deep, gravely voice, Cash was one of the earliest artists to successfully move between such diverse musical genres as blues, rock and roll, country, and gospel. His music dealt openly with the struggles he faced with addiction to amphetamines and later prescription pain medications. In addition to his autobiography, Man in Black, Cash wrote one other novel entitled, Man in White, a book about the life of the Apostle Paul. Johnny Cash’s legacy mirrors that of all Christians—a mixture of saint and sinner. Paul himself described that ongoing tension in his own life in Romans 7 as he wrestled with his old nature—speaking of not doing those things that he desired to do and finding himself doing the very things that he knew he ought to avoid. This same apostle to the Gentiles who in one breath referred to himself as the “chief of sinners” could also encourage Christians to “be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Johnny Cash, like the apostle Paul, encourages us to seek the good in those around us, while at the same time recognizing that we all have feet of clay. May we be able to say with Paul, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain” (1 Cor. 15:10).

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Censorship at SWBTS

I haven't delved too deeply into SBC politics on my blog, though I do occasionally comment on such issues on the blogs of others. I do find it disconcerting when Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson makes the decision to restrict free access to a message delivered in chapel because he has determined that it might harm the churches. I can't imagine such censorship and restriction of information having taken place in my years at the seminary under the presidencies of Drs. Naylor and Dilday. When dissent is silenced and access to opposing viewpoints is restricted, the nature of theological education as inquiry and investigation is supplanted by indoctrination in the "official party line," and woe be to those who would dare criticize their interpretations.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Disaster Relief Chainsaw Crew

I met today with a task force of interested individuals that is helping the BGCM to outfit a trailer with chainsaws and safety equipment necessary to respond to disasters both here in Missouri and beyond. We're still in the planning stages of this endeavor, but the Lord has blessed us with some folks who have previous experience in this type of disaster response and their input has been invaluable. One of the real blessings is that this type of willingness to cooperate and offer assistance is taking place in spite of some "Baptist political differences" that might have otherwise sabotaged our efforts. I've discovered that those who are committed to working in disaster relief efforts are far more concerned about the needs of the individuals that they will be helping than about the religious labels someone else might wear. Far that, I'm extremely grateful to God and pray that their tribe may increase.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Blog Name Explanation

It's not my intent to insult the intelligence of any theological students or church history buffs who might wander by and read this post, but as my blog was recently referenced by a coworker in a monthly email newsletter distributed by the BGCM, I felt that some might visit my site for the first time and wonder about the significance of the title "Radical Reformation Fan."

The Radical Reformation refers to a smaller movement within the greater Reformation movement that has traditionally been identified most with the work of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and others in either the Lutheran or Reformed traditions. The Radical Reformers (also known more popularly as the Anabaptists) went beyond the Magisterial Reformers (as the above men are labelled) by insisting on the need for a separation of the church from the state. Both Luther and Calvin tied the success of their reforming movements to the support of the German and Swiss states respectively. The Anabaptists contended that the state had no right to impose a system of beliefs on anyone and insisted that only an uncoerced faith was a legitimate expression of belief in Christ.

The Anabaptists also took the daring step of initiating believers' baptism in January of 1525, less than 8 years after Luther had tacked his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church. They argued that only true believers could understand the significance of the ordinance and demonstrate their commitment to the lordship of Christ by submitting to baptism. Many of the other basic beliefs that we maintain today as Baptists can be traced back to the Anabaptists.

My love for Anabaptist history was whetted by a church history professor I was privileged to study under at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary--Dr. William Estep. His book, The Anabaptist Story, contains many moving accounts of the sacrifices that these radical reformers paid for their beliefs--many of them having suffered martyrdom. The sad fact is that they were persecuted not only by the Roman Catholic Church, but also by Lutherans and Calvinists. My wife and I took a Reformation study tour to Europe with Dr. Estep when we were still in seminary and it was one of those unforgettable experiences in life. While his book is out of print, it is still possible to find a copy of it in seminary libraries and even some church libraries. I would commend its reading if you can find it.

Dying Well

The story is told of a man who approached John Wesley one day, seemingly at random, and asked the famous evangelist how he might come to faith in Christ. Wesley explained to the man the way to become a Christian and the man trusted in the Lord for salvation. Wesley then asked the man why he had sought him out specifically to ask him how to be saved. The man replied, "Because I have observed that your people die well." I've often thought about that response in the years since I first heard that story. It has come to my mind repeatedly in these past three years as I have been privileged to serve as associate pastor to a large group of senior adults. I have witnessed repeatedly the same phenomenon that this unnamed man saw in the followers of John Wesley: Christians know how to die well.

I performed a funeral service this afternoon for a lady I had only known a few months. Wilma had been struggling with cancer for several years, but she faced it with undaunting courage and faith. We spoke several times in recent weeks about her approaching death, and she always responded cheerfully that she was ready to go home whenever the Lord called her.

Many of the services I do are for folks I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the course of the entire time I have been with this congregation. Such will be the case on Wednesday as I do the eulogy for another of God's dear saints--a man named Nathan. Nathan was 94 years old and was a faithful member of our church until the end. He attended prayer meeting on Wednesday evening before passing away on Saturday afternoon. Nathan kept up with several missionaries around the world, composing handwritten letters to them to encourage them in their work. He took a personal interest in my family, cutting out newspaper clippings of our sons' awards and accomplishments and passing them along to us with his congratulations. When I lost my father, Nathan wrote letters of encouragement to my mother, and never failed to ask how she was doing when we were together.

Nathan was an adopted grandfather to a lot of the children of the workers who serve at John Knox Village, the retirement community where he lived for many years. He spent time telling them stories, loving them, and sharing his wisdom. Nathan also was in charge of securing entertainment and speakers for our monthly senior adult gatherings of the Joy Club, and already had folks lined up for the next several months when he passed away.

Heaven's gain is earth's loss this week as our church bids farewell to two distinguished followers of the Lord. They would both decry any such attempts to praise them, as a hallmark of both Wilma and Nathan's life was their humility. But the Scripture admonishes us to give praise to whom it is due, and these two choice servants of the Lord deserve our respect and commendation for a life lived well. They surely have already heard the voice of their Master say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Outstanding Trip

I arrived safely home from Guatemala yesterday afternoon after spending 8 days in a very beautiful country--both in terms of natural beauty and the people who live there. It was my privilege to teach 33 students, the great majority of them who serve as pastors, during a weeklong course on Theology, Culture, and Mission. We focused together on some areas in which the churches need to address the overwhelming needs they confront in society as they are carrying out the Great Commission. I was very encouraged by the enthusiastic response with which the course was received and by the high level of participation and interaction present.

In meeting with Guatemalan Baptist Convention leaders to discuss the partnership agreement with the BGCM, they shared with us a proposed plan for working in some of the westernmost regions of Guatemala that have received less outside assistance in terms of volunteers teams than other areas. They invited us to offer a centralized 2-day training event for pastors in that area every 6 months during the next 3 years, as well as seeking to match up individual Missouri churches with Guatemalan churches to carry out some hands-on projects. It was a very positive experience.

On Sunday, we were able to participate in the 60th anniversary celebration of the work of the Guatemalan Baptist Convention. Some 800 or 900 were present from many of the 50+ Baptist churches of the capital, and the theme was built around the faithfulness of God in the past, present, and future. Three different messages of 10 minutes each (is that possible for a Baptist preacher?) dealt with this theme. I had the opportunity of bringing the final reflection about God's faithfulness in the future and basically said we could trust God to be faithful in the future because of His faithfulness in the past, because the Bible assures us that He is faithful, and that He promises to be with us in the future (Jer. 29:11-14a).

We got to do some sightseeing as well and thoroughly enjoyed the ancient city of Antigua and the beautiful Lake Atitlan with its 3 volcanoes. I had mixed emotions as we left--glad to be heading home on the one hand, but sorry to bid farewell to some outstanding brothers and sisters in Christ whom I have grown to love and appreciate in these days.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Guatemala Bound

Sunday will find me on an airplane winging its way toward my destination of Guatemala City. I begin teaching a week-long intensive course at the Baptist Theological Seminary there on Monday morning. The course focuses on the need to engage in wholistic ministry as we seek to reach others with the gospel. I've previously taught this material on 2 different occasions at the Mexican Baptist Theological Seminary in Mexico City. I'll be joined on Wednesday by the executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri to meet with leaders of the Guatemala Baptist Convention as we further explore and flesh out plans for missions projects as a part of a three year partnership agreement between our respective conventions. We'll be traveling to the southwestern part of Guatemala to the city of Quetzaltenango over the weekend before returning for a worship service in Guatemala City on Sunday evening that will celebrate the convention's anniversary and focus on God's faithfulness in the past, present, and future.

If you happen to stumble across this blog in the coming week, please say a prayer for the Lord to bless the time spent ministering in Guatemala. Thanks.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Don't Try This On Your Own

On August 2, 1990, Sven-Erik Soderman, driving an Opel Kadett at Mora, Sweden, set a world's record in stunt driving. Soderman reached a speed of 102.14 mph while driving his car on two side wheels. Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable driving a car 100 miles per hour on 4 wheels—much less on two. Have you noticed though that people have different comfort levels with risk-taking? That’s evident whether you’re talking about people’s investment strategies with their money, their willingness to climb a tall ladder, or their attitude toward approaching certain animals like snakes or spiders. While I’m not advocating that we become daredevil drivers, I think we could all stand to move outside of our comfort zones and speak up and share our faith in Christ with others whom we bump into every day. The world desperately needs to hear the Good News that we possess, and I’m convinced that God has placed us in the sphere of influence that He has for a divine purpose. Let’s risk a little embarrassment to communicate God’s love.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Grandkids' pictures

Well, after the update on the family to satisfy Guy Muse's curiosity, his wife Linda requested to see pictures of the grandkids. I don't know where my brain was when I failed to include them the first time. I think I just flunked Grandparenting 101. This is my attempt to earn a passing grade for the course.

Family Update

Guy Muse had requested that I provide an update on the family on this blog, so I'm trying to accommodate him. My wife and I will celebrate our 31st anniversary this next week on August 3rd. Annetta Marie teaches both Spanish and drama at Harrisonville High School, about 20 minutes south of where we live in Lee's Summit, which in turn is a suburb of Kansas City, MO. Our oldest son, Jason, turns 29 this Friday and we're heading down to Branson, MO this weekend to celebrate with him and his wife, Jen, as well as our 2 grandchildren. Kelsey is 21 months old and is a very bright and attractive little girl. She has an immense vocabulary for someone so young. Andrew was born on May 23rd of this year and is a delightful baby. Jason is a family practice physician who lives in Warrensburg, MO, about 45 minutes to the east of us. They are very involved in the First Baptist Church there and have also been instrumental in beginning a Crisis Pregnancy Center to help young women who are contemplating an abortion.

Joel, our second son, is 25 and serves in the US Air Force. He is stationed at Langley AFB in Hampton, VA and works in intelligence. He will be visiting with us for a couple of weeks vacation at the start of August and we're really looking forward to the time with him. Joshua, 18, just recently graduated as salutatorian of his high school class of 500+ students. He missed being valedictorian by .002 of a point because he took some unweighted choir classes. He is a National Merit Scholarship winner and received a presidential scholarship to Missouri State Univ. in Springfield. He is interested in studying political science and is talking about a couple of years with the Peace Corps in Africa after graduation. Jonathan, 13, will be in the 8th grade this year. He is a talented musician who plays the violin and is teaching himself piano as well. He is involved in Boy Scouts and has completed all of the merit badges required to be an Eagle Scout. He still needs to do his Eagle project to earn that honor. He also loves playing with our dog and cat, as well as video games.

It took us awhile to adapt back to life in the States after being overseas for so many years, but we've enjoyed being able to visit family, and it's especially nice to be able to babysit the grandkids from time to time. The ministry here at church is going well, as well as my part-time responsibilities with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. I'll be traveling to Guatemala from Aug. 6-14 to teach a course at their seminary and to meet with convention leaders about some future missions projects.

Thanks for indulging these personal reflections.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Adult VBS

I'm immensely enjoying my week as we're involved in our third annual Adult VBS. We have chosen to do this somewhat on the order of the January Bible Study, but have opted for June the last 3 years as the weather is more predictable. We break our time frame up into 2 blocks. In the first 40 minutes or so, we have a special feature followed by refreshments and then the Bible study. I'm leading a study of the book of Colossians this year, having studied Ephesians last year and Romans the first year that we did this. On Monday evening we viewed a DVD that was produced by the cousin of one of the members of FBC Bay St. Louis, MS where our church has sent 3 construction teams to assist in rebuilding efforts. The footage showed the magnitude of the destruction as well as some stark contrasting before and after photos. Last night (Tuesday) 7 different trip participants shared their experiences and it was a powerful, moving time as they struggled to express the deep emotions they felt on having a hand in helping people put the pieces of their lives back together again. Tonight, we'll have a very talented singer who is a member of our church give us a concert, and tomorrow we'll wrap up with a study conducted by a chaplain and her husband on dealing with fear and loneliness. If your church hasn't experimented with an Adult VBS format, I'd encourage you to consider doing so. It has been a blessing for us the past 3 years. We've averaged about 90-100 each evening, a pretty good crowd for a mid-summer weeknight activity.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Gulf Coast mission trips

While I haven't had an opportunity to visit extensively with the adults who participated in the most recent construction trip to Bay St. Louis, MS (they just returned last night), our church did have the blessing of hearing from our youth group this evening about their trip to Biloxi. They did an awesome job of sharing God's love and encouragement with those who need hope in a number of different venues. They worked in backyard Bible clubs where at least one youngster made a profession of faith and several others asked probing questions about salvation. They also sang in a detention center, at a soup kitchen, at a number of churches, and even made a surprise visit to put on a program for the volunteers at Bay St. Louis. I wish you could have seen and heard their excitement tonight. Seeing the photos of our predominantly white youth loving on and hugging African-American children in the FEMA trailer communities of Biloxi brought tears to my eyes as I reflected on the fact that the gospel really is color-blind. Great job, youth! Thanks for being the hands and feet of Jesus this week in Mississippi.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Gulf Coast Update

I had to pinch hit as preacher this past Sunday in both morning services and again on Sunday night as more than 80 of our congregation are gone this week to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Our pastor is leading the third adult construction mission team to Bay St. Louis. 26 of our adults gave up vacation time to help the folks in Bay St. Louis and Waveland get back into their homes. They have been doing painting, electrical work, sheetrocking, and removing fallen trees.

At the same time, 43 of our youth and 14 adult sponsors have been working in Biloxi, conducting backyard Bible clubs in FEMA trailer communities as well as doing a large number of concerts. They are singing in area churches, in a county youth detention facility, and in a soup kitchen in Memphis on their way home. They also traveled over to Bay St. Louis one evening to do an impromptu concert for the 250+ volunteers who are serving there this week. We received word this morning of one decision to trust Christ in one of the backyard Bible clubs and at least 4 other boys who had serious questions and sat and dialogued with youth and adult leaders about their spiritual condition.

My prayers go with those of you traveling to Greensboro for the SBC annual meeting this next week. I'd love to be able to sit and visit with many fellow bloggers and trust that the fellowship will be sweet, the gathering not too politically charged, and that some positive changes will be forthcoming. Blessings on you!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Memphis Declaration

I've continued to follow with considerable interest the blogging going on in the SBC blogosphere, especially as it relates to missions. I appreciate very much the spirit that was exhibited by the signers of the Memphis Declaration in their stated resolve of the need to repent of many of the most grievous actions committed by those who were in the vanguard of the conservative resurgence movement. I would wish (though I'm certainly not holding my breath) that this same spirit of reconciliation could spread throughout the SBC like the uncontrollable grassfires that have swept so many parts of our nation in recent months. I hear many bloggers saying that while they cannot speak for others, they subscribe to the spirit of the declaration. Unfortunately, there are those who view the signers as possessing a political agenda on the one hand, or worse still, who continue to insist that the actions of the leaders of the resurgence were praiseworthy and that these individuals should continue to command our thanks and respect. The path to reconciliation will not be advanced by those who continue to vilify conservative Baptists who do not happen to share their exact interpretations of doctrines which are non-essential in terms of salvation. Jesus' high priestly prayer for the unity of His followers in John 17 is trampled underfoot by those who create unnecessary divisions in their zeal to appear more devout than the Pharisees.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Katrina Relief Report

Well, I've almost managed to catch my breath if not my sleep after the week-long trip to Bay St. Louis, MS to help rebuild homes destroyed by Katrina. A dozen of us from church left on April 8th and returned April 15th. We engaged in all kinds of construction/rebuilding projects. One team of four wound up painting the interior of 4 different homes in as many days. Two of our number worked in the kitchen to feed the 180+ volunteers from such diverse places as Miami; Oak Grove, VA; Sumter, SC; and Greensboro, NC to name just some of the places of origin. The other 6 of our group at times worked as one team and at times split into 2 groups of 3 as they worked on sheetrocking, mudding, and finishing walls in 3 different homes. Everyone whose home we worked in had a story to tell of how they survived the storm or what they found when they returned home after evacuating elsewhere. It was therapeutic for them to share their story and we did our best to empathize and encourage as we worked. The overwhelming response of the residents of Waveland and Bay St. Louis to our presence there was one of extreme gratitude. Even total strangers would approach us on the street and ask if we were volunteers. When we replied that we were, they thanked us profusely for coming down to help them.

Pictures don't do justice to the level of destruction suffered along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It will be years before the area is back to normal, but over and over again the folks expressed their appreciation for Christians and especially Baptists who were laboring in their hometowns to help them get back to normal.

We spent our last day working on the home of a lady who is dying of cancer and wants to go home to die. Several other groups have been pitching in to help her as well. A huge thanks goes to FBC of Bay St. Louis for their generous spirit in hosting such huge numbers of volunteers and for putting the needs of their community ahead of even their own church repairs. Thanks too go out to Georgia Baptists who are helping to staff the office and coordinate the efforts of so many volunteers. The Lord will certainly take note of your sacrificial efforts.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Heading for Bay St. Louis, MS

I'll probably not be posting for several days as I'm leading a group of 12 from our church on a mission project to Bay St. Louis, MS to assist in rebuilding homes that were damaged or destroyed by Katrina. I'm not sure that our group is emotionally prepared still for the extent of the damage there, despite having seen pictures of it. We'll be leaving this Saturday, April 8th and returning the following Saturday to be home in time for Easter services. One of the highlights in addition to the opportunity of serving will be getting to spend time again with the pastor and his wife of the FBC there. We served together for many years in Argentina and I'm looking forward to being together again. For any who stumble across this post this week, our group would appreciate your prayers for our safety as we travel and work, for our productivity, and for our witness.

Monday, April 03, 2006

BGCM Meeting a Great Success

We had a wonderful gathering at our church this past weekend for the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. Outstanding messages were brought by Wallace Hartsfield, pastor of the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City; Alan Stanford, general secretary of the North American Baptist Fellowship of the BWA; Albert Reyes, president of the Baptist Univ. of the Americas and immediate past president of the BGCT; Carol Childress of WorldconneX; and Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham. We also heard great testimonies from Don Sewell of mission work taking place around the world. Don heads up mission partnerships for the BGCT. I was delighted to be able to host the executive secretary and vice-president of the Guatemalan Baptist Convention during their visit here for the BGCM annual meeting. We are looking forward to working closely with their convention in a number of missions projects during the coming three years. I am planning on being in Guatemala in August to teach a course at their seminary as well as explore together with some other BGCM representatives the needs that our convention might be able to assist them in meeting. We're grateful for their sweet spirit and willingness to partner with us.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Celebrating at least for one day a UT win

I thoroughly enjoyed the high drama and tension of the sweet 16 games last night. The icing on the cake was that UT managed to sink a 3 pointer with .8 seconds left to win it outright and avoid going into OT with West Va. I'm still hoping against hope for concurrent national championships in 3 major sports--baseball, football, and basketball. That's a feat that's never been accomplished and would be a feather in Texas' cap (or maybe attached to one side of Bevo's horns?) Hook 'em Horns! My second son's bracket picks are still looking pretty good. He has UCLA winning it all and they managed an incredible comeback from a 17 point deficit to eliminate Gonzaga.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Gearing up for BGCM annual meeting

Our church is privileged to host the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri on March 31st and April 1st. We will be announcing a number of important new partnership agreements, including those with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, with WorldconneX, with the North American Baptist Fellowship, and with the Guatemalan Baptist Convention. The BGCM will have an opportunity to showcase its commitment to its First Priority strategic plan of serving churches through 4 Great Commission initiatives--leadership development, church health, church planting, and missions mobilization. For more information about the BGCM and its upcoming meeting, visit the organization's homepage on the web. Among the featured speakers at this year's meeting are Dr. Albert Reyes, immediate past president of the BGCT and the president of the Baptist University of the Americas in San Antonio, and Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham. If you're in the Kansas City area that weekend, consider joining us for some great worship, inspiration, and a focus on missions.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Big 12's sole survivor

I found myself in the odd position this afternoon of rooting for Texas A&M against LSU. With OU and KU already being eliminated in first round action, that left just the Aggies and my Longhorns from the Big 12 in the big dance. Now it's up to the 'Horns to represent the conference. I don't have great illusions about their success as they have been very sporadic this season, but I would love to celebrate national championships in 3 major men's sports in one calendar year. For those who might not remember, UT won the College World Series in Omaha last summer and of course beat USC for the national championship in football in January. I officiated the funeral service at noon today for one of the 2 ladies I mentioned in my previous post on ministry to the dying.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Ministry to the dying

One of my main responsibilities as associate pastor of our church is working with a wonderful group of senior adults in our congregation. They are one of the finest bunch of folks you could ever hope to meet. Many are a part of the builder generation that helped shape our country during and immediately following WWII. I view this group with a tremendous amount of respect for their unselfish contributions to our nation and our church. It's tough to bid farewell to them when the Lord promotes them by calling them into His presence, but that's a part of life and ministry with this age group. One of the men I've been visiting at the care center for almost 3 years now passed away this morning. He flew more than 50 missions as a bomber pilot in the European Theater of Operations in WWII. He was an outstanding deacon in our church and a Sunday School department director before his health began failing a number of years ago. His legacy is evident in his 2 surviving children (having lost a son in Vietnam). The daughter began a ministry of clowning in the care center to encourage the residents there and his son will be returning this summer to Belarus on a mission trip after having experienced the Lord's blessings on his ministry there last year. Two other dear saintly women are lingering near heaven's door today as well. I had a great visit with them both this morning and was moved by one's declaration that "things don't matter; people matter." That's a message we all need to heed.

Friday, March 10, 2006

TV Review missions fundraiser

I just returned from a fun-filled evening at our church where our music/drama group called Son Light entertained us with a program called Stay Tuned, a musical review of TV shows mainly from the 70s. The youth served the tables with meals served up like TV dinners. Baskets of goodies and prizes were auctioned off and donations were received to help sponsor the youth's mission/choir trip this summer to Biloxi, MS. They will be doing a series of benefit concerts and leading out in backyard Bible clubs in a number of the FEMA trailer communities in the area of Biloxi. We are also sending three adult teams in the months of April, May, and June to Bay St. Louis, MS to assist in rebuilding homes for folks who lost everything in Katrina. We'll be working through the FBC of Bay St. Louis whose pastor, Al Green, served with us in Argentina for many years. I'll be leading the first team of 12 people and we'll be gone from April 8-15. We would appreciate your prayers as we go and serve.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The slippery slope toward credalism

While I have chipped in my two cents a couple of times previously on Wade Burleson's blog, I was able to leave a signed comment today (assuming that he is gracious enough to allow the comment as he has in the past) on his March 8th post about the point being missed yet again by the IMB BoT. The essence of my comment is to agree with him that the BoT is moving beyond the BF&M 2000 in a slippery slope toward credalism, but I would suggest that the earthquake that triggered the landslide down that slope was the BF&M 2000 itself. Its express language about being an instrument of doctrinal accountability, right on the heels of quoting the preface to the 1963 document regarding the place and role of confessions of faith in Baptist life, effectively establishes it as a creed. Point 4 of this introduction to the 1963 document states, "That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience." The jump from being a guide in interpretation with no authority over the conscience to an instrument of doctrinal accountability that one must sign in order to retain a post within the denominational structure--be that as a seminary professor or missionary--is a major shift. Once the door has been thrown open to denominational incursion into establishing what a local church can and cannot believe and practice in areas where sincere Bible-believing Christians disagree, it will be difficult if not impossible to reverse the trend.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Venture into the world of blogging

After reading a number of blogs for several months now, I finally decided to bite the bullet and create my own blog site. Part of my motivation was the desire to be able to contribute to some ongoing discussions of current themes on some of these sites without having to do so anonymously. I also enjoy writing and trust that this forum will give me an outlet for expressing some thoughts creatively and bouncing them off of others for feedback. I have been closely following the Wade Burleson issue on his blog and a number of others and have chimed in anonymously a couple of times about the situation. While on some levels one could say "I no longer have a dog in the hunt," we still have many former colleagues and friends serving with the IMB and I'm vitally interested in the direction that the IMB takes as a result. As the title of the blog indicates, I'm also a huge fan of the Radical Reformation period in church history and count many of the Anabaptists as true heroes of the faith. While actual historical links between modern day Baptists and the Anabaptists are difficult to demonstrate conclusively, solid research suggests we were strongly influenced by them and deeply indebted to them on many levels. Those interested in chatting about church history and missions among other topics will find a ready participant on this blog.