Wednesday, October 31, 2007

How does one define single alignment?

Can anyone help me here? I’m struggling to understand the latest action taken by the Missouri Baptist Convention regarding the issue of single alignment. A year ago, the MBC ousted 19 churches because they were “guilty” of supporting a rival state convention in Missouri, either by including them in the church’s budget or by sending messengers to the annual meeting of that convention. Mechanisms were put in place whereby the Credentials Committee (which assumed new powers as a standing committee to meet throughout the year as necessary) could receive reports from concerned Baptists about the dually aligned status of other Missouri Baptist churches and conduct the necessary investigation to ascertain the truth of those charges. It seemed that the state was in for a witch-hunt of sorts as Baptists could denounce another church as failing to comply with the requirements of being singly aligned with the MBC.

I didn’t attend this year’s annual meeting of the MBC as our church was one of the 19 that were ousted last year, but I have read some reports by bloggers on the proceedings as well as reading the PDFs of the daily business reports posted on the MBC’s website. I was fascinated by the report of the Credentials Committee included in the Tuesday morning business report. Not only were there no new churches targeted for dismissal, but it seems that the committee has had a change of heart regarding their policy (if I’m reading this correctly). The first point of their report recommended offering grace to those affiliated churches who had made no contributions to the MBC in the previous year, allowing their messengers to be seated. The second point was that one that left me perplexed. The recommendation reads, That the messengers of the 2007 Annual Meeting of the MBC authorize amending the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Credentials Committee Rules and Procedures to state, “any church which contributes to the work of the Missouri Baptist Convention through the Cooperative Program on at least an annual basis shall be ‘singly aligned’ with the Missouri Baptist Convention.”

My question is whether or not this effectively reverses the earlier position taken by the MBC on single alignment, or if this is simply a wording change to clarify what types of contributions count in terms of financial support, i.e., those given through the Cooperative Program. The wording itself, taken as a stand-alone statement, would indicate that any church (including those supporting another state convention in Missouri) could be considered singly aligned as long as they make a financial contribution at least annually to the MBC through the Cooperative Program. I find it very hard to believe that this is what the Credentials Committee meant to communicate, because it directly contradicts the earlier language that insisted that single alignment prohibited contributions or sending messengers to a rival state convention in Missouri.

Can anyone who attended the annual meeting give some clarification on this? I doubt that the churches that were ousted last year are chomping at the bit to jump back into the fold. The ongoing lawsuits against 5 Missouri Baptist institutions continues to channel millions of Cooperative Program dollars into the hands of lawyers, despite the MBC’s initial claim that no CP funds would be used to finance the lawsuits. There is also the issue of encroaching legalism and the ever-tightening definitions of what it means to be an acceptable Baptist in Missouri. Perhaps the recent elections indicate a positive trend away from that mindset, but the jury is still out on that in my mind.

The Quest for Fame

It seems that our society is increasingly obsessed with those who have obtained celebrity status. Whether it’s the television and print media featuring the latest “news” about the struggles of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears, the legal battles for the custody of Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter, or the latest exploits of O. J. Simpson, people seem fascinated by the lifestyles and antics of the rich and famous. The racks near the checkout stands of any supermarket are filled with magazines that feature the latest gossip about Hollywood stars or those who are prominent in politics or sports. There appears to be an insatiable appetite to keep up with the lives of these individuals.

Jake Halpern, author of the book Fame Junkies, notes that a motivation for the obsession with fame is the basic desire we all have for attention. One of the troubling things Halpern observes in his book is the extent to which young people will go to achieve fame—spending thousands of dollars to modeling agencies and to compete in talent contests, while the great majority of them will never attain the recognition they are seeking. I want to suggest that the drive for acceptance and attention that underlies the search for fame is a basic need we all share. Perhaps the unhealthy extremes that some folks demonstrate in this area are the product of insecurity and not having received the love and support of family members or other significant people in their lives.

While most of us will never experience the fame that comes from being a celebrity, we can all know the love and acceptance that are found in a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The Lord isn’t impressed by our accomplishments, nor does He evaluate us according to our performance on a scale of good behavior. He loves us as we are—unconditionally—and He accepts us into His forever family with all the accompanying rights and privileges. Wouldn’t you agree that that’s a far better deal than the fame that comes from winning a talent contest or having one’s image plastered on the cover of a magazine?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Neville Callam visit

There were a few glitches, chief among them being a missed airline connection, that formed the backdrop for Neville Callam's visit to our church on Tuesday evening, but the end result was a powerful worship service and a great message by Dr. Callam. Dr. Callam and Alan Stanford of the North American Baptist Fellowship were at the airport in time in Washington for the flight but somehow didn't get checked in on time and were told they couldn't board the plane when they arrived at the gate, even though the plane was still there. To make a long story short, they caught a later flight that arrived at the Kansas City airport at 6:50 p.m. The service was scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m. and the drive takes about 45 minutes if there's no traffic. Our minister of education was gracious enough to volunteer to pick them up and shuttle them back to church. Jim Hill, the executive secretary of the BGCM, made a few adjustments to the program on the fly while we awaited their arrival.

Our church's orchestra and choir did an outstanding job with their portion of the music and then we were blessed by the music of an African American choir from Kansas City. They had sung previously at the BGCM's annual meeting last year when Anne Graham Lotz was our keynote speaker and they're absolutely wonderful. We were able to download one of the BWA promotional pieces from the Internet to show before Dr. Callam's arrival, and then were greatly blessed by his message.

He spoke on Jesus' words "Fear not" and related them to the fears he and Alan had experienced through the day with the problem of a missed flight, the anxiety over possibly not arriving in time to speak, etc. He went on to tie that same theme to the BWA's work in the world in the areas of evangelism, humanitarian aid, religious liberty, and support for those being persecuted for their faith. Dr. Callam is a highly articulate man with a winsome nature and displayed a thorough grasp of the Scriptures in the brief message he brought. If you have the opportunity of attending one of the services where he is being introduced during his 2 month tour of the U.S., don't pass up the chance to hear him.

Monday, October 15, 2007

An Emotional Wringer

I spent years 6 through 12 of my boyhood growing up on a ranch in South Texas that was owned by my maternal grandparents. We lived some 200 yards down the lane in our own home, but would spend the afternoons after school visiting with them until my folks got home from work. On the screened in porch of the home was an old-fashioned washing machine that consisted of little more than a tub and a wringer with a hand crank to extract as much water as possible from the clothes before hanging them to dry on the line. Neither they nor we had a clothes dryer at the time. The last month or so has kind of felt like being wrung through that clothes wringer emotionally.

We have a 22-year old in our church who was in a terrible accident a month ago today. He was in ICU until just this past weekend when he was moved to a private room. His car rolled over multiple times and he suffered brain stem damage as a result. He is breathing on his own for longer periods of time than before, but is basically still unresponsive and in a coma. We're praying for a miracle of healing for him. His mom directed our ESL program for many years and his dad is the drummer in our church orchestra and praise band.

Last Monday we had a record since I've been on staff here in terms of the number of members hospitalized on a single day--a total of 8. Many of them have very serious health conditions, though some are improving slowly. One man was recently discovered with an inoperable brain tumor and they are only giving him a couple of weeks to live.

This afternoon I sat by the bedside of my secretary from church as she finally lost her battle with cancer. Her homegoing was peaceful, and her last breath came right as we finished listening to a recording her daughters had made for her of "Because He Lives." I thought God's timing was impeccable. She's free from the suffering and pain of the last several weeks, and for that we rejoice, knowing she's in the presence of her Savior, but the heartache is still real. I've been asked to preach her funeral message this coming Friday. Jeanne was an outstanding Christian and I hope to honor her memory in an appropriate way as we reflect together on her life lived in the service of God and others.

I share this to say that my absence from the blogging world (at least in terms of posts) is largely due to some of these pastoral responsibilities that have been mine in recent weeks. I trust that if you're reading this, you'll say a prayer for Jeanne's family and for me as I prepare her funeral message.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

WorldconneX announcement

I had mentioned after my recent trip to Dallas that some important decisions and deliberations took place and an announcement would be forthcoming from WorldconneX about those. The latest issue of the Baptist Standard carries an article with information about WorldconneX establishing a fund to facilitate churches sending their own missionaries to the field.

At least one blogger has already mistakenly jumped to the conclusion that WorldconneX is in opposition to the IMB (see comment #15 in the string), but Bill Tinsley in the same Standard article above makes clear that WorldconneX is not a deployment agency. It is seeking to help churches fulfill their calling of sending out their own missionaries.

In a day when many churches are awakening to their potential to directly engage in international missions through the many connections their members already have overseas, this step by WorldconneX is a timely and welcome one.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Time for a New Job

No, not me! I'm very happy with where the Lord has led us. I'm talking about the employees of Florida Power & Light. Check out their working conditions at this link.