Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A New Baptist Covenant

Marv Knox of the Baptist Standard has written an outstanding editorial regarding the proposed Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, scheduled for Jan. 30 - Feb. 1, 2008 in Atlanta. The meeting, contrary to the opinions voiced by numerous detractors, will not be a preamble to forming a new convention, nor will it be a political rally for Hillary Clinton, just because her husband is involved. The purpose of the gathering is to seek creative ways to address the pressing issues that Jesus declared would be the priorities in His public ministry as He read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth. Knox's observation that if you came upon a burning building, you wouldn't stop and require total agreement with every rescuer before attempting to save the lives of those inside, is certainly a timely word. With many Baptists insisting on checking out the pedigree of fellow Baptists (even on non-essential areas of doctrine and practice) before being willing to engage in cooperative endeavors, it's refreshing to see 4 National Baptist (African American) and several Anglo groups coming together in an effort to be the hands and feet of Christ on behalf of the least of these.

Friday, January 26, 2007

BGCM Annual Meeting Line-up

This has to be a record for me--two posts in one day. I'll confess that I am not the most prolific of writers when it comes to blogging, though I do read several in my spare time and enjoy commenting on them occasionally. On Wade Burleson's blog yesterday, there was considerable discussion about women in ministry and several commenters (though not all) observed some similarities in the dismissal of Sheri Klouda from SWBTS and the earlier dismissal of Molly Marshall from SBTS. To their credit, several writers urged bloggers to judge Marshall on the basis of her writings and firsthand knowledge of her rather than repeating second-hand rumors.

I'm pleased to pass along the information that Molly Marshall will be leading the Bible study times at the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri in Jefferson City on April 13-14. I'm certain that some will find that objectionable, even as a few expressed concern last year when the daughter of Billy Graham, Anne Graham Lotz, was our keynote speaker on Friday evening of our annual meeting. Personally, I'm grateful that the BGCM is willing to recognize that God has gifted men and women alike for ministry and look forward to hearing Dr. Marshall again.

Other program personalities this year include my former boss at the FMB, Dr. Keith Parks; Dr. Lance Watson, Senior Pastor at Saint Paul's Baptist Church in Richmond, VA; and Dr. Daniel Carro, a former teaching colleague at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Daniel is currently a professor at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, VA and is heavily involved in the work and ministry of the Baptist World Alliance.

Our program line-up reflects the same gender and racial diversity as last year's annual meeting when we had a woman, an African-American pastor, and a Latino among our featured speakers. For more information about this year's annual meeting, just click on the link above in the second paragraph. I'm excited about hearing each of these and being able to report as well on our partnership with the Guatemalan Baptist Convention.

Carside Funeral

I had a first in my pastoral ministry today--a carside funeral. Before you jump to conclusions and envision something on the order of the Crystal Cathedral with multiple cars sitting in a huge parking lot for a funeral service, let me clarify. I officiated the service for a sweet Christian lady who had been a member of our church for 66 years. She was born in Germany on Christmas Day, 1904. That's right, she was 102 years old! I had visited her regularly at one of the local care centers during the past 3 years and appreciated her sweet spirit. Communication was a challenge as she was almost deaf, but I discovered if I spoke loudly into her left ear at a distance of 2-3 inches, she could hear and understand me. She would frequently ask about old friends from church (some who had passed away but she still regularly inquired about them) and I would share some of the events in the life of our congregation. Before I would leave, she would always say, "Would you say a little prayer for me?" I would always conclude our time together in prayer for her.

She passed away this past Tuesday in the wee hours of the morning and the funeral home contacted me about conducting a simple graveside service for this morning. I knew the crowd would be small as Anna had outlived all of her family and peers except for a nephew. A total of 5 folks showed up besides the funeral director and myself. The problem was that the gravesite was about 40 yards or so from the road, and a good part of that was still covered by snow and ice from our recent winter storms. One elderly lady with a walker tried to make it a few steps and realized that it was going to be too difficult to travel that distance on uncertain footing. (On a parenthetical note, we've already had 3 church members fall and break various limbs on the ice in recent days, including our minister of education with an ankle broken in 3 places). With all of that in mind, Sean (the funeral director) and I opted to encourage this elderly woman to sit in her car along with her sister with the window down and we brought chairs from the gravesite area for the others to sit on during the service. It was quite cold in the wind still, so I abbreviated a little of what I had planned to say. Those present were appreciative of the consideration and expressed thanks for the service afterwards.

Has anyone else ever had an unusual experience at a funeral service that you would be willing to share?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Back from Guatemala

Jim Hill and I had an outstanding trip to Guatemala this past week, returning Sunday afternoon. We arrived in Guatemala City on Tuesday evening and spent the night at the seminary in a guest apartment. We left at 7:30 the next morning for about a 5 1/2 drive west to Quetzaltenango, the second largest city in the country. There we ate lunch at the hotel and then moved directly into our first teaching time with the 55 pastors and leaders who were present. We spent the first session dealing with some issues relating to ecclesiology and then shifted to the topic of helping a church achieve a vision for what God wants them to do in the future. That evening we had a worship service and I was privileged to preach on "The Centrality of the Word," using Acts 17 as a text. The next morning we had two more teaching sessions, dealing with mobilizing volunteers in the church and helping them find their place of service (borrowing some ideas from Warren's SHAPE for ministry) and then a final session on stewardship. The topics we addressed in the teaching times were those that the Guatemalan Baptist Convention leadership had asked us to focus on.

We wrapped up after lunch on Thursday with a time of sharing insights gained and also we were able to donate a set of books to each pastor and leader present. Those included a concordance, a book on hermeneutics, a 4-volume biblical commentary set, and a copy of Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Life. Many commented that they didn't own any book other than a copy of the Bible, so they were thrilled to receive these resources to help them in their ministries. Those present were very gracious in their comments and expressions of thanks for our participation in the training event.

After a long drive back to Guatemala City on Thursday evening, we spent Friday doing some sightseeing in the old city of Antigua before meeting with the leadership of WorldconneX and the Guatemalan Convention to put the finishing touches on our meeting scheduled for Saturday. The Saturday gathering turned out to be a wonderful time of hearing reports from different convention ministries and then some very profitable time spent in small groups, discussing the priorities that they Convention itself had identified in an earlier visioning conference hosted by WorldconneX in the fall of 2004. Significant progress had been made toward addressing many of these priority concerns and some new ideas surfaced as well in the discussion to help the Convention continue to advance in those areas.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip and a great time of fellowshipping with and learning from our Guatemalan Baptist brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dramatic monologue

Just a quick post about tonight's prayer meeting and Bible study time. The Wednesday evening gatherings are one of my favorite times of the week as we gather to pray for the concerns of our congregation and needs they express far beyond the confines of our church. I also thoroughly enjoy leading in the Bible study time. Our focus has been mainly the exegetical study and life application of individual books such as 1 & 2 Peter, Hebrews, and selected Psalms. I also did a series for a few months on the many benedictions and doxologies found in the Scriptures. A few weeks back I began a study in Mark's gospel. Tonight I'm doing something very out of character for me--a dramatic monologue. We're looking at the passage in Mk. 2:1-12 where the paralytic's friends bring him to Jesus and dig a hole in the roof in order to accomplish their goal. I'm going to tell the story as a dramatic monologue, related from the viewpoint of the paralytic. I did so once before in Argentina, but I've never tried this in English. Has anyone else ever experimented with a dramatic monologue? I'll conclude by making several observations about the lessons to be gleaned from the story (e.g. Jesus recognizing and honoring bold, creative, and tenacious faith; Jesus' affirmation that He can forgive sins; and the resulting amazement and wonder of the people at His power and authority). If you've tried using dramatic monologue in a sermon or Bible study, drop me a comment and let me know how it went.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Guatemala Beckons Again

I'm less than 2 weeks away from my third trip to Guatemala in less than a year. This trip will mark the first of what are projected to be up to 6 leadership training conferences with pastors in three western regions of the country during the next 3 years. Jim Hill, executive director for the BGCM, and I will be flying down on the 16th, spending that night at the seminary campus, before traveling the next day to Quetzaltenango for a 2-day training workshop. Convention leaders have indicated that there will be as many as 60 pastors involved in the event. We'll then travel back to Guatemala City where we will attend a meeting on the 20th of the entire executive board of the Guatemala Baptist Convention along with other key institutions involved in the missions efforts in Guatemala. This meeting is being sponsored by WorldconneX and marks the third such gathering for the purpose of information-sharing among groups ministering in Guatemala and the convention leadership.

I had initially hoped to involve several BGCM pastors in this event as workshop leaders, but a variety of health issues, previous ministry commitments, and other conflicts dictated that just Jim and I will be making the trip. I did discover something very interesting and a bit perplexing though in the process of inviting pastors to participate in the trip. Several informed me that they would have difficulty in going because they didn't have a current passport. As one who has filled the pages of a couple of U.S. passports over the years with entry stamps from immigration offices in a number of countries, I found that to be intriguing. As Baptists we have preached, prayed for, and given to missions practically since our inception as a denomination. Recent years have witnessed a huge amount of volunteers journeying to distant lands to work alongside career missionaries on short-term assignments. As they've returned with a first-hand view of what mission work looks like "up close and personal," they have become the point men and women in their churches for promoting missions causes.

All of that leads me to say that I fail to understand why any Baptist pastor would not possess a current, valid passport (excepting of course those whose health will not allow them to travel). I know we can't make that a prerequisite to ordination or anything, but it wouldn't be a bad idea (tongue-in-cheek). Nothing compares to experiencing international missions personally as a preparation for effective missions promotion at home. If you happen to have stumbled upon my blog and don't possess a passport, please accept my challenge to apply for one ASAP. The cost isn't that high and it's valid for 10 years. Maybe I'll see you on the plane next to me on a future flight to Guatemala.