Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Senior Adult newsletter

In the absence of anything else to post these days, I decided to include my latest article for our senior adult monthly newsletter, Joyful Tidings.

With snow on the ground and temperatures hovering around 1 degree in these final days of 2008, some are probably eagerly anticipating a break in the cold weather. Unfortunately, unless your travel plans call for a trip to the southern hemisphere or the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, you will probably have to face a couple of more months at least of frigid weather here in Missouri. I realize the extreme cold temperatures force many of our senior adults to stay inside and curtail some of their regular activities, but I trust that you won’t let the cold rob you of the warmth of fellowshipping with fellow believers as opportunities present themselves to do so.

January signals the start of a new year and fresh possibilities of serving the Lord in creative ways. With each new year, we also face the prospects of unexpected changes in our lives. We never know when a sudden shift in circumstances will affect our own life or that of our family. For that reason it’s always wise to welcome each new day with a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of life itself and the strength to wake up and face the day’s challenges. With faith in the goodness and mercy of God and by the power of His indwelling Holy Spirit, we can confront whatever situations we meet with the confidence that our God loves us and will walk with us through it all.

The year 2009 also marks the 400th anniversary of Baptists as a Christian movement. While there are literally dozens of different Baptist denominations today, most church historians trace the beginnings of Baptists back to a small congregation of English exiles who had fled to Amsterdam in search of religious liberty and there founded the first Baptist church in 1609. Undoubtedly there will be opportunities in this coming year to reflect on our history as Baptists and most certainly to pray that God will continue to bless and use us for His glory and the extension of His kingdom. My prayer is that each of you will experience God’s blessings and nearness in this coming year.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let There Be Light

While listening to the radio the other day, I heard Point of Grace's arrangement of "Let There Be Light." I had heard it before when our music minister sang it, but had forgotten the song. I searched and found a You Tube video of it that I really enjoyed. I hope you do as well.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Upside Down

I'm indebted to Art Rogers for the following video link. It's awesome. I hope you enjoy it.

Upside Down from Pace Hartfield on Vimeo.

Friday, December 12, 2008

BGCM Board Meeting

Today was the quarterly board meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. We met at the First Baptist Church in Jefferson City for our gathering. It's a wonderful bunch of folks with great interest in ministry and missions and these encounters are always delightful. There are never any cross words, negative attitudes, or political maneuvering at our board meetings--just sharing of reports on the status of our Great Commission Initiatives which include leadership development, church planting, congregational health, missions mobilization, and resources and relationships, as well as looking at financial reports and other business matters. My fellow staff members of the BGCM are an awesome bunch of men and women and each of us are bivocational. We don't have a single fulltime staffer working for the convention and we consider that to be a big plus. Each team leader serves in the area of their giftedness and strengths, and that makes for a wonderful dynamic.

I was able to share with the group about 3 upcoming trips to Guatemala in the first 4 months of 2009. Four of us will be traveling there Jan. 5-10 for the latest round of leadership training conferences. I received a phone call while I was down in Texas over the Thanksgiving holidays and our partnership liaison asked if it would be possible for us to cover the expenses of some additional participants. Some new missions have been formed and their leaders would also like to attend the training. The result is that we're expecting 82 pastors and leaders for the January event--the largest group to date.

I purchased airline tickets yesterday for 9 members of our church here in Lee's Summit that will be traveling down Feb. 7-14 for a similar project to that which we did last year. We'll be working in the town of San Marcos this time. I've never been there but the pastors of two Baptist churches there have been coming to our training events. We'll be speaking in schools again as we did last year as well as conducting VBS for the churches. This year we'll focus on Adult Sunday School leadership training in the evenings. Our minister of education is joining me and will lead those sessions.

The FBC of Farmington looks like they will be taking 12 or 13 folks to work in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala the last week of April. Their pastor is on the BGCM board and I was able to visit with him a bit today about their progress in preparing for the mission trip.

We also talked some today about a major event here in the Kansas City area on April 2-4 of next year called the Baptist Border Crossing. Baptists of all stripes and varieties will be gathering at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty, MO for a three-day event that's in a sense a follow-up to the New Baptist Covenant meeting of last year in Atlanta. We'll be hearing from Tony Campolo, David Coffey of the BWA, David Goatley of the North American Bapt. Fellowship and Pres. Jimmy Carter among others. It promises to be a great gathering.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jesus is Better than Santa

When I first saw the subject line above from a church member in my email inbox, my immediate thought was "Oh no. Another culture warrior gone amok." To my surprise, the piece was a thoughtful contrast between what Santa offers us and what Jesus provides for us. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Jesus is Better than Santa

Santa lives at the North Pole.
JESUS is everywhere.
Santa rides in a sleigh
JESUS rides on the wind and walks on the water.
Santa comes but once a year
JESUS is an ever present help.
Santa fills your stockings with goodies
JESUS supplies all your needs.
Santa comes down your chimney uninvited
JESUS stands at your door and knocks.. and then enters your heart.
You have to stand in line to see Santa
JESUS is as close as the mention of His name.
Santa lets you sit on his lap
JESUS lets you rest in His arms.
Santa doesn't know your name, all he can say is "Hi little boy or girl, What's your name?"
JESUS knew our name before we did. Not only does He know our name, He knows our address too. He knows our history and future and He even knows how many hairs are on our heads.
Santa has a belly like a bowl full of jelly
JESUS has a heart full of love.
All Santa can offer is HO HO HO
JESUS offers health, help and hope.
Santa says "You better not cry"
JESUS says "Cast all your cares on me for I care for you.
Santa's little helpers make toys
JESUS makes new life, mends wounded hearts, repairs broken homes and builds mansions.
Santa may make you chuckle but
JESUS gives you joy that is your strength.
While Santa puts gifts under your tree
JESUS became our gift and died on the tree.
It's obvious there is really no comparison.
We need to remember WHO Christmas is all about.
We need to put Christ back in Christmas.
Jesus is still the reason for the season.

May the Lord Bless and Watch over you and your loved ones this Christmas 2008
And may He prosper and bless the work of your hands in the New Year.
God bless you all.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Farmington update

I had a good trip to Farmington, MO immediately after our Sunday a.m. services. I gassed up the car and grabbed a burger at Sonic before heading out toward St. Louis on I-70. Yahoo maps had estimated the travel time at 4 hrs, 42 minutes for the 300 mile trip, and they didn't miss it by much. I didn't stop at all on the way and made it in 4:35. I was trying to get there early enough to check in at the motel and also get by church early enough to check on my Powerpoint presentation, etc. Having left town right at noon, I managed that just fine.

The church was launching their Lottie Moon Christmas offering emphasis and the first part of the program was dedicated to watching some of the DVD presentations from the IMB that promote this year's offering. We watched a couple of episodes featuring Gabriel from Ecuador, an indigenous church planter in the Andes Mountains who miraculously was delivered from a mob intent on burning him after having doused him with gasoline. He fearlessly preached the gospel message and the angry mob disappeared. Several of those who heard him trusted Christ and became the nucleus of a new church.

Afterwards, I shared about the BGCM's partnership with the Guatemalan Baptist Convention, giving just a bit of history about how that relationship evolved and what we've been doing in the area of leadership training in the western part of the country for the past three years. I shared some pictures of that area since the church is putting together a team that will go in April to Quetzaltenango, the city where our training events have been held. Thus I was able to show photos of the hotel where they will stay as well as of the city. They are planning on conducting a VBS, doing some evangelistic outreach, and offering some leadership training seminars as well. It looks like they will have 12 or 13 team members going which is a really good-sized group.

Following the service itself, I met with the team that is going and answered specific questions they had relative to cultural issues, ministry opportunities, etc. It was a profitable time I believe for them and I certainly was encouraged by their enthusiasm and excitement about going. The church has taken previous trips to Belarus but this will be their first international trip to Latin America.

The return trip took closer to 5 hours as I got caught in traffic heading in to work in St. Louis. Otherwise, it was an uneventful trip and I got back in time to grab some lunch and then go make hospital visits. Tomorrow morning I'll visit the care centers and catch up on some emails, etc., before we head toward Texas tomorrow evening for Thanksgiving with my mom. Our oldest son and his family will also be there so I'm looking forward to the holidays together with them and hopefully with my brother's family as well. Don't know if I'll find time to post anything while I'm gone, but might manage a quick update.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Impressed with Rodney Hammer

Today was my first opportunity to meet Rodney Hammer personally. As you might or might not know, he was recently selected to serve as Director of Missions for the Blue River-Kansas City Baptist Association which is the local association to which our church relates. Rodney resigned as a regional leader with the IMB, at least in part I think it’s safe to say, over disagreements with the Board of Trustees' new policies regarding baptism and the practice of a private prayer language. He didn’t allude to those differences today, as the forum was a meeting with 7 pastors and the associate director of missions at a local church to talk about his vision for the association and some strategic planning processes he has initiated to help evaluate where the association currently is and where it needs to be heading.

He said a number of things that resonated well with me. Things like he’s not so concerned about increasing attendance at the annual associational meeting or maintaining a bureaucracy, or even holding meetings just to meet. His passion is to assist churches to be on mission and fulfilling the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8. It’s that kind of a compelling vision I believe that can help overcome apathy on the one hand and partisan politics on the other when it comes to associational relationships.

Given our size, our church is one of the top 3 financial supporters of the association out of some 130 churches in the Kansas City, MO area. (There are two additional associations in the KC metroplex area—the Clay Platte Association which includes the churches of northern KC, and the Kansas City, KS association which includes those on the other side of the state line). Our associational involvement in recent years has included among other things participation in a “Free Garage Sale” that consisted in giving away stuff donated by church members to needy families, and providing meals each month for women and children in an inner city homeless shelter. I haven’t had that much direct contact in my role as associate pastor with other area pastors, but I trust that Rodney’s presence will facilitate that more.

One of the things he mentioned today that piqued my interest was a couple of leadership and visioning training conferences coming up early next year in January and March. I hope to be able to attend these and prayerfully our entire ministerial staff will be able to participate as well. The overview Rodney shared sounded like some really solid biblical principles coupled with strategic planning. Here's a link to the association's website and the information about the conferences.

Improbable Finishes

Anyone who has watched much football at all down through the years, especially highlights of college football rivalries, has witnessed some rather bizarre and improbable finishes. One game that always seems to appear on such a collection of wild endings is the November 20, 1982 game between Cal and Stanford. With future Hall of Famer and Super Bowl winning quarterback John Elway in charge, Stanford drove down for a field goal to give them a 20-19 lead with just 4 seconds left to play. Because the Stanford fans had flooded onto the field before the game ended, a 15-yard penalty was assessed, forcing Stanford to kick off from their own 25 yard line.

In a wild play that resembled rugby more than football, Kevin Moen of Cal scooped up the kicked ball at his own 46 yard line and then proceeded to lateral the ball backwards to a teammate, just before he was tackled. Four more laterals would occur before the ball found its way back in Moen’s hands and he scrambled the last 25 yards into the end zone, having to weave his way through the Stanford band that had come onto the field to celebrate their victory prematurely. Moen crossed the goal line for a touchdown, colliding in the process with a trombone player. Despite his great success as a professional NFL player, the loss meant that Elway never played in a college bowl game. He would laughingly joke later that he wished the band had practiced their tackling skills.

In the same way that football games can have totally unexpected endings, life itself can present us with some unanticipated curves and detours along the way. When those challenges suddenly appear, it will be our faith, sustained and nurtured by years of walking in fellowship with God that will see us through. Because those surprises can’t be predicted, it’s important to cultivate a deep-rooted faith every day through the disciplines of prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with other Christians.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Immediately after the morning services this Sunday, I'm going to hop in my car and head east on I-70 in the direction of St. Louis, turning southward on the outskirts of the city to head down to Farmington, Missouri. What takes me there you ask? The First Baptist Church of Farmington is planning a mission trip to Guatemala in April of next year and they've asked me to come and speak on Sunday evening about the BGCM's partnership with the Guatemala Baptist Convention. I'll also be sharing some very practical tips with them about planning for their mission trip experience. The church has engaged in overseas missions trips previously, having taken their adult choir to Belarus and sending teams to that country as well. To the best of my knowledge, this will be their first missions trip to Latin America.

I had a 45-minute conference call with their pastor and missions leadership team the other morning and I'm thrilled to hear about the make-up of the group going. They will be working with the Primera Iglesia Bautista de Quetzaltenango on a variety of projects including VBS, evangelistic outreach, and leadership training. I'm excited to see another BGCM church become directly involved in our partnership with Guatemalan Baptists.

The trip to Farmington takes about 5 hours as we're on opposite corners of the state from each other, so I'm going to have to make good time to get there for their 6:00 evening service. I'd appreciate your prayers for my travels and the time together with the church helping them as they plan and prepare for the mission trip. I just received another email from the pastor of the host church in Guatemala this morning and they're super excited about this opportunity to partner with Farmington for a week of missions emphasis. It's a tremendous blessing to be a part of what God is doing through partnership missions with the BGCM.

Our church is also actively engaged in planning a second trip to Guatemala this coming February. Several of the folks who went with us last year are planning on going again. The Guatemalan people are such gracious hosts and the country is so beautiful that it draws you back again and again like a magnet. I've lost count of the number of trips I've made there now, but I think it's either 7 or 8. I'm slated to go three more times in the first 7 months of 2009. Thanks, too, for your prayers for each of these trips and the impact they will have on developing national leaders and reaching people for Christ.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Thanksgiving Cartoon

I'm indebted to our church's financial administrator for pointing this cartoon out. It was just too funny not to share it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

An Inspirational Hero

In this post I’d like to introduce you to one of my heroes. When we first moved to Argentina in 1988, a veteran missionary told me about a church that needed some help because its pastor and his son, the music director, had been killed in a tragic automobile accident. I wound up serving as pastor of that church for three and a half years. The pastor’s widow, Doña Laura, was hoping to start a new church in her neighborhood. By God’s grace we were able to begin a new congregation there and complete a building for them before coming home on our first furlough.

Doña Laura wasn’t through though with her desire to help begin new churches. She and the daughter of a neighbor began a home Bible study in a neighborhood on the eastern side of Mendoza (a city of one million residents). I recently received an email from Doña Laura’s daughter who told me that this Bible study continues as a church.

Furthermore, she told me that Doña Laura had recently received an invitation from a military commander to begin a Bible study in his home in a city some 45 minutes west of Mendoza. She cannot ride on the public buses any longer because it’s difficult for her to climb the steps, and renting a car would be financially impossible. For that reason, she’s made arrangements to ride there with her nephew twice a month to lead the Bible study. Doña Laura is 88 and a half years old. Her daughter, the wife of a pastor in southern Argentina, said that her mother is an inspiration to all of them. She has been and continues to be a hero in my life as I’ve witnessed her faithfulness to God down through the years.

I think the Lord wants us to finish our lives well, and Doña Laura certainly is an outstanding example of one who is doing that with His strength and guidance. May we also run with perseverance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Friday, November 07, 2008

A Must-Read Blog

For quite some time now, one of my favorite bloggers has been a young 20-something graduate from Truett Seminary in Waco. Emily Hunter McGowin currently lives in southwestern Ohio where her husband serves as student minister on the staff of a Southern Baptist church. Emily's posts are always thought-provoking. It would be well worth your time to read back through her archived posts to be blessed by her spiritual maturity and insights into the Scriptures in some of the sermons and Bible studies that she has shared.

I wanted to direct your attention though to her latest post which I think ought to be a must-read for all evangelical Christians who are concerned with the well-being of our nation and who have expressed misgivings about the outcome of the recent presidential elections. Her post transcends partisan politics and points to where our ultimate faith and trust as believers must be placed in these days. I urge you to click on this link to read her post.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Trunk or Treat

I've been rather swamped with stuff lately but wanted to give a brief update on our church's Trunk or Treat event this past Friday night. We had a good number of members in the parking lot, passing out candy out of their decorated car trunks, and inside our Family Life Center, there were a host of games and activities for the kids to do and receive candy prizes. We had one of the big inflatable jump houses as well a lot of other traditional booths. I mentioned in a comment on another blog that we have a world-class artist in our congregation who has been commissioned to do paintings for the likes of Disney, etc. He and his wife volunteered their time as they did last year also to take digital photos of the kids (with their parents too if desired) dressed up in their costumes. These will be sent to them as a free gift and also supplies us with some contact information for follow-up.

We had over 500 children through our facilities during the 2 hour event. One of the highlights was the participation this year of a new ministry that is based out of our church--Word on Wheels. It's a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who meet twice a month at our church for Bible study and then usually go out to eat, ride, or just fellowship with one another. This group volunteered to grill and give away free hotdogs to those who came to participate in our Trunk or Treat. They had their bikes on display and some were even passing out candy out of their saddlebags. It was a great experience and our church really pitched in to help by supplying candy and manpower to make the event happen.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Another Rite of Passage in the Family

Well, October 24th has arrived which means that our youngest turns 16 today. Just about every warm-blooded U.S. citizen knows what that means—driver’s license time. After dutifully practicing parallel parking yesterday and reviewing all the necessary instructions about turn signal indicators, which direction to turn the wheels when asked to park on a hill, etc., Jonathan went today and took his driving test which he passed with flying colors. Yep, it’s official. The fourth Snowden boy is a legally licensed driver. Hopefully in the not too distant future when we work out some additional transportation issues, it will reduce my chauffeuring responsibilities. With all of his extracurricular activities, that is going to be a joyous day.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Spotlight

I'm sharing in today's post my article for our senior adults' monthly newsletter, the Joyful Tidings. My column for the newsletter appears under the heading "Snowden's Senior Spotlight."

As I toyed with the idea of what to write about in this month’s edition of the Joyful Tidings, my mind wandered to the title of my monthly column that was selected 5 years ago from suggestions given to Virginia Rygaard, the editor of this newsletter. At that time Virginia offered to the person with the winning submission a free year’s subscription to the Joyful Tidings. [That's a joke of course as they are all free anyway.] I don’t know who the grand prize winner was that suggested “Snowden’s Senior Spotlight” as the name for the column, but I trust you’ve enjoyed reading my random thoughts each month, published under your prize-winning name.

A spotlight is generally associated with a performance on a stage, and its primary function is to draw attention to a featured performer—be it a singer, dancer, musician, speaker, or other gifted entertainer. Quite often the stage may be filled with other individuals performing supporting roles, each one carrying out their assigned tasks, while the person in the spotlight is the focus of attention. Imagine with me that the spotlighted individual is a singer being accompanied by a philharmonic orchestra. The crowd certainly will watch and listen to the soloist singing, but what would the performance be minus all of the component members of the orchestra? The rich, full-bodied tones of the cellos, the haunting melody of the oboes, the deep reverberations of the kettle drums, and every other instrument present adds its voice to the music that enriches the experience of the concert-goers as they listen to the soloist.

Not everyone can sing like the Italian tenor Pavarotti and occupy center stage where the spotlight shines brightest. In life, most of us will have to learn to be content with playing our role in the shadows, out of the spotlight. Let us never forget, however, that when we serve others, we are doing so as unto the Lord Himself. And to Him who notices even the smallest sparrow that falls to earth, and who numbers the hairs of our head, even the smallest deed of kindness matters greatly. Three times in Matthew 6, Jesus assures us that the Father who sees what is done in secret will reward us. May our only concern be that the spotlight of God will reveal work done heartily as unto the Lord and not for the praise of men.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Legacy of a Father

I had mentioned in a post last Tuesday that I had decided to participate this past weekend in an Inside-Out Weekend at my mom’s church, Acton Baptist Church, located near Granbury, TX. In case you don’t know where Granbury is, it’s about 20 miles southwest of Ft. Worth. It was a wonderful weekend in every respect. I had a good time being able to visit with Mom as she continues to recover from a fractured pelvis suffered in a fall. The Inside-Out Weekend, facilitated by Karen Hatley of the WorldconneX staff, was also a great experience. I’ll probably post some about it later in the week, but in this post, I wanted to share what impacted me most about the time at Acton Baptist Church.

My folks moved from South Texas where we had lived my entire life to Granbury in 1992 when we were home on our first furlough from the mission field. As was their custom, they jumped in with both feet into the life of the Acton Baptist Church where they joined soon after moving. They both sang in the choir and Mom has been active in WMU and helps count the Sunday offerings on Monday mornings. Dad was an active deacon, a Sunday School teacher, and participated faithfully in the FAITH outreach ministry of the church. He also went on several missions trips with the church to work along the Mexican border.

After I was introduced this weekend as Bob Snowden’s son (though I knew several folks in the church already from previous visits), I had multiple members approach me during break times on Friday and Saturday or after the worship service on Sunday to express to me how much my Dad had meant to them. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself choking back tears of gratitude and appreciation for their kind words and tributes to Dad.

One fellow was a deacon whom Dad had mentored in the deacon ministry after this man’s ordination at Acton Baptist Church. Another had been a partner with him on one of the FAITH teams as they went out regularly to visit newcomers and share their faith in Christ with prospects. Still another had sat by him in choir and commented on Dad’s faithfulness and encouragement to him on multiple occasions. I can’t begin to express how much I was blessed by their words of affirmation regarding the positive impact that Dad had made on their individual lives.

I came away from the weekend experience with an even greater love and respect for my Dad who passed away on January 8, 2004. He passed away in his sleep during the night, having been at prayer meeting and choir practice that evening. His death was totally unexpected, as he was in good health and played golf regularly during his retirement years. I missed the opportunity of getting to tell him goodbye, but shared with my family that it was such a blessing that he went into the presence of his Lord without suffering from any illness or pain and having been exactly where he always was on Wednesday evening—praying and studying the Bible with fellow church members and practicing with the choir in preparation for Sunday worship.

The other lasting impression that the weekend drove home to me as I thought about Dad’s legacy was how important it is for me to live in such a way that my own four boys and my two grandchildren will hopefully one day be able to look back on my life and be thankful for a positive influence and guidance that I’ve had in their lives as well. I have some big shoes to fill.

Monday, October 13, 2008

SHAPED for Ministry

I saw this picture last week on CNN’s website and it caught my attention. It appeared in the photos of the week contest and was by far the largest vote-getter. The bride, still wearing her wedding gown, is casting her line into the surf as she fished at a New Jersey beach.

I have the strange suspicion that a lot of women wouldn’t find that to be very romantic or appropriate on one’s wedding day. You’ve probably heard the old expression, “it takes all kinds to make the world go round.” A new bride, surf fishing in her wedding gown, constitutes ample proof of that statement. At the same time however, isn’t it a bit refreshing and encouraging that we all aren’t exactly alike? Life would be pretty dull and boring if everyone looked alike, had exactly the same interests, and engaged in identical activities.

When as a church we journeyed together through the 40 Days of Purpose Campaign a few years back, we looked at how God has uniquely “shaped” us for ministry. To serve God and others most effectively, we need to look at our own SHAPE: Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experience. Our unique shape perhaps won’t prompt us to go surf fishing on our wedding day, but it just might encourage us to be fishers of men every day.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Why We Resigned from the IMB

There has been an interesting discussion going on at Wade Burleson's blog in his post entitled "Fundamentalism's Fury Needs One Who Needles." In the comment string, one writer suggests as many have before that those missionaries who refused to sign the BF&M 2000 were somehow guilty of holding false doctrine and thus didn't deserve to serve as IMB missionaries. I'd like to take exception to that viewpoint. That writer states that all of the BF&M 2000 is based upon clear biblical teaching. I'd suggest that there are many conservative Southern Baptists who would reject that assertion, offering as evidence the fact that several Baptist state conventions have refused to adopt the latest version of the BF&M because of objections with some of the changes that were introduced in it. I would like to share with you the letter I wrote to Phil Templin, regional leader of the IMB over Central America, explaining the reasons why I in good faith and conscience could not sign the document. I hope that it will offer some insight into the struggles that many of us wrestled with as we made the decision to leave an organization that we had felt called to serve with when the encroaching spread of fundamentalism drowned out any possibility of peaceful dissent and cooperation around the essentials of the faith.

April 3, 2002
Mexico City

Dear Phil:

Please allow me to begin this note by expressing my gratitude to you for the approval of our transfer to Mexico City from Buenos Aires. I have thoroughly enjoyed the teaching at the seminary here and have established excellent relationships with the other faculty, the students, and the members of the staff and administration. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be in the classroom four days a week and to have a part in the formation of future pastors and leaders here in Mexico. We have also been extremely impressed with the fellowship of the missionary family here in Mexico City. They have welcomed us warmly and shared the love of Christ with us in their words and actions. We are members of the Mexico City Middle Class Strategy Group and on a church planting team that is working in the area of Benito Juarez. We are excited about the prospects for beginning a new work in that colonia. We have established several excellent contacts there already and will be showing the Jesus film this coming Saturday evening on a basketball court in the neighborhood.

Although we received your letter almost 2 months ago regarding the signing of the BF&M 2000, to this point I have put off responding to the note. In all honesty, I guess that I was hoping that Dr. Rankin would backtrack from his decision to require missionaries to sign the document, especially given the fact that just a year ago he had said that this would not be required of missionaries already under appointment. As one who has been teaching Baptist history in various capacities since the time of my doctoral studies at Southwestern Seminary in the early 1980s, I have also been keenly interested in the latest revisions to the Baptist Faith & Message. I find certain aspects of these revisions troublesome and after much prayerful consideration, I do not feel that I in good conscience can sign the document as it stands.

One of my greatest objections, which I’m certain at this point you’ve heard expressed by other missionaries, is the departure of both the 1998 and 2000 documents from being a consensus of generally held Baptist beliefs to an instrument of doctrinal accountability. Both the language of the 1925 and 1963 BF&M statements are clear regarding the roles of Baptist confessions of faith.

(1) That they constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body, large or small, for the general instruction and guidance of our own people and others concerning those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us. They are not intended to add anything to the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
(2)That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.
(3)That any group of Baptists, large or small have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.
(4)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.
(5)That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.

The very tentative nature with which these confessions are written—-claiming no authority over the conscience of individual believers and as “guidelines in interpretation”—-is a far cry from an “instrument of doctrinal accountability” in the language of the 2000 document. Baptists have historically resisted any creed apart from the Bible itself. Now, despite all the disclaimers to the contrary, that is exactly what the framers of the 2000 document have put in place. One can deny with all vehemence that the current BF&M is a creed, but its use as an instrument of doctrinal accountability clearly testifies to the fact that it has become such. While the preceding five numbered paragraphs do appear in the 2000 document, the following 2 paragraphs effectively strip away those tentative affirmations of the role of confessions of faith.

Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty, and deny the right of any secular or religious authority to impose a confession of faith upon a church or body of churches. We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God.

Baptist churches, associations, and general bodies have adopted confessions of faith as a witness to the world, and as instruments of doctrinal accountability. We are not embarrassed to state before the world that these are doctrines we hold precious and as essential to the Baptist tradition of faith and practice.

By omitting individuals and including only churches and bodies of churches as those who require protection from secular or religious bodies who might seek to impose a confession of faith on them, the 2000 document leaves the door open to exactly what has occurred in Southern Baptist life since the adoption of this latest BF&M. Individuals have no freedom or protection to exercise their freedom of conscience and express their differences in interpretation of scriptural passages from that set forth as authoritative and binding for all SBC employees in any agency whatsoever without risking loss of employment, or in the words of Rankin’s letter, being accused of heresy. As one who has studied and taught church history for many years, the reference to being accused of heresy in Rankin’s letter struck me as a very unfortunate and ill-chosen word. Charges of heresy historically have been applied to those who denied the deity of Christ or the inspiration of the Scriptures or some equally fundamental Christian doctrine. The changes that are reflected in the 1998 and 2000 BF&M that I have problems with do not even remotely approach those kind of basic beliefs.

A second serious objection I have to the document are the changes it has introduced with regard to that historic Baptist principle of the priesthood of the believer. It is common knowledge that the phrase that was added to supposedly ensure respect for this historic principle was begrudgingly included just an hour before the committee responsible for drafting the newest BF&M presented its report to the convention floor. That in itself should suggest something about the lack of importance of this historic Baptist principle in the minds of the framers of the document. Coupled with this near omission of reference to the principle is the rewording of the principle to now affirm belief in the “priesthood of believers” (plural) instead of priesthood of the believer (singular). I suggest that this change is in keeping with the Reformed (Calvinist) theology of the framers of the document, but is not consistent with our Baptist, free church heritage which we inherited from the English separatists with influence from such Anabaptist thinkers and writers as Menno Simons and Balthasar Hubmaier. Later Baptist writers who championed religious liberty and the separation of church and state based their arguments principally upon the uncoerced nature of religious faith. They argued persuasively and biblically that a faith that is imposed from without by a religious society or church is not a genuine faith at all. For faith to be genuine, it must express itself voluntarily. The use of the BF&M 2000 to enforce doctrinal uniformity and conformity with a particular line of interpretation of selected passages which equally committed and conservative Biblical scholars from other faith traditions have chosen to interpret in other ways is a sad testimony to a departure from this valued historic Baptist principle of the priesthood of the believer.

The mention of these controversial passages brings me to my third and fourth objections to the BF&M 2000. The third deals with the family article and its interpretation of wifely submission as the only appropriate and possible interpretation of Ephesians 5. Such an interpretation is not the only possible one that can be given to this passage. Ephesians 5:21, which serves as an introduction to the entire section which follows on the relationship of husband and wife, clearly enjoins the principle of mutual submission. “Submit one to another out of reverence for Christ,” Eph. 5:21.

Many conservative Biblical scholars would question that the Ephesians passage teaches one-sided submission on the part of the wife to the husband’s authority. Paul’s admonition to the husband to love his wife even as Christ loved the church certainly suggests a selfless, giving love that puts the interests of his wife ahead of his own. This teaching in no way contradicts the idea of mutual submission, but rather is an illustration of the practical application of this principle in action.

The fourth area of disagreement I have with the BF&M 2000 is with regard to its article on the church in which it affirms that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. While my own conservative upbringing certainly predisposes me to feel more comfortable with a man as pastor, my feelings at this point are secondary to the biblical testimony. Once again, there is no clear-cut consensus among conservative, evangelical scholars that the New Testament unequivocally teaches that the office of pastor is limited to men. The requirements that elders and bishops (which I do take as synonymous with the office of pastor) be the husbands of one wife could well be interpreted as a requirement that they be living in a monogamous relationship rather than in bigamy or polygamy. The essential teaching then would be that of marital fidelity and not a strict gender requirement for fulfilling the conditions of the office. The fact that there are many references in the New Testament to women in positions of influence and leadership in the churches (e.g. Lydia, Priscilla, the four daughters of Phillip who were prophetesses, Euodia and Syntyche who contended at Paul’s side in the cause of the gospel, and the extensive list of women that Paul recognizes in Romans 16 as hard workers and co-laborers in the gospel) suggests strongly that these women were exercising leadership roles, possibly even serving as pastors, in the New Testament churches.

My final objection to the wording of the new BF&M 2000 has to do with the deletion of the reference to Jesus Christ as the criterion by which the scripture is to be interpreted. That change, coupled with the deletion of the reference to the Bible itself as the “record of” God’s revelation of Himself to man in order to now read simply that the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to man, is troublesome. These subtle changes in wording have the combined effect of minimizing the importance of the Christ-event and His incarnation while at the same time exalting the written record of God’s revelation above the person of Christ Himself. John writes in his gospel in 1:14 that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and that we beheld His glory, the glory of the One and Only, full of grace and truth. He later adds in verse 18 that while no one has seen God, He (Christ) has made him known. The writer of Hebrews in his introduction to the letter also clearly states that God, after having spoken at many times and in many ways through the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us a definitive word in the person of His Son—the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His likeness. The supreme revelation of God has been given to us and that revelation is in the person of His Son. The Scriptures certainly are a testimony to Christ as the BF&M 2000 affirms, but they are not to be a substitute for a personal relationship with Christ and a living experience with Him. The pietists of the 17th and 18th centuries were correct in their insistence that the formalism of the dogmatic theologians among both the Lutherans and the Calvinists had produced a generation of Christians who knew the intellectual contents of the creeds and doctrines of the church and could recite them, but who were bereft of spiritual vitality and of a living faith in Christ.

In conclusion, let me say that I was born and raised a Southern Baptist and have a deep appreciation for our denominational heritage. I consider myself to be thoroughly Southern Baptist in every sense of the term. It is out of this sense of commitment to our historic Baptist principles that I have come to the decision to not sign the BF&M 2000. I feel that in the areas I have mentioned above, this document represents a significant departure from those principles which our Baptist forefathers so capably defended, many at the cost of their very lives.

I am very grateful to be here in Mexico City. I believe that God has directed our paths to be here at this time. I gives me great joy to use what I believe are the areas in which the Lord has most gifted me (theological education) to train a new generation of pastors and church leaders here in Mexico. My calling to missions was and continues to be a clear one from the Lord. I only trust that the Southern Baptist Convention, conceived to foster and elicit the combined efforts of Baptists towards fulfilling the Great Commission, will return to that basic focus. I further hope and trust that they will affirm our historic Baptist beliefs in the priesthood of the believer and liberty of conscience in the interpretation of Biblical passages over which there is no clear consensus of belief among Baptists and other conservative evangelical scholars.

I’m grateful for the privilege to be able to serve the Lord as a missionary of the Southern Baptist Convention here in Mexico City. I appreciate very much the opportunity of expressing my convictions in these areas of concern. I pray that they will be read and heard in the spirit with which I have shared them. I pray God’s richest blessings on you and Peggy as you lead our region.

In His service,

Gary Snowden

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Vanishing Responsibility - Part 2

On September 25th, I wrote a post about a situation in Nebraska reported by CNN in which parents are taking advantage of the wording of a "safe haven" law intended to protect the lives of unwanted newborns and infants and are abusing the system by dropping off their unwanted teenaged children. The law as drafted lacks any age limitation, though when the bill was originally introduced, it has a supposed age limit of 72 hours. CNN reported in the article of September 25th that a state commission was to meet that same day to discuss options to deal with the problem.

Fast forward to today when CNN reports another incident of a teenager being dumped at a Nebraska hospital, this time a 14-year old girl from across the Missouri River (the stateline in this case) in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The part-time Nebraska Legislature is adjourned until January, but CNN reports that now two state legislative committees have scheduled a meeting for November 13th to discuss a remedy.

They had better hurry before more disgruntled parents decide to take advantage of a loophole in the safe haven law to shirk their parental responsibility and pawn off their teenagers on the state of Nebraska.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

An Inside-Out Weekend

I had been entertaining the idea for some time of attending an Inside-Out Weekend that WorldconneX is hosting at my mother’s church, Acton Baptist Church near Granbury, TX and have decided to participate in it. For those who aren’t aware of what an Inside-Out Weekend is, here’s a link to WorldconneX’s website that describes a typical I-O Weekend. One of the great things about an I-O Weekend is recognizing how God has put a local church together with unique gifts and connections to achieve a strategic missions impact both in their local community and around the world. I’ve visited and worshipped at Acton Baptist Church on several occasions and look forward to seeing friends and experiencing God at work in their congregation this weekend.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Suffering Clause

A few years back I met Steve Reed, pastor of the Daybreak Community Church in Kansas City, KS. Even though he’s just across the state line a short distance from where I live on the Missouri side, our encounter took place in Guatemala. Steve grew up on the mission field in Peru and his dad later served for many years as the Director of Missions for the Kansas City, KS Baptist Association. Steve has been involved in cowboy evangelism in Guatemala and we met at a meeting of the Guatemala Affinity Group, a networking group that WorldconneX helped bring together. At the end of our visit, Steve gave me a copy of his book, entitled The Suffering Clause.

Steve takes the title from Acts 9:15-16 where the Lord instructs Ananias to go to Saul with the message that Saul is a chosen instrument who will bear His name before the Gentiles, kings, and the sons of Israel. He then adds these words: “for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Steve refers to this suffering clause as the fine print in the Apostle Paul’s call to ministry.

Tonight in our Wednesday evening prayer meeting / Bible study time, we looked at Philippians 1:27-30 and focused in on verse 29 where Paul writes, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” We don’t frequently consider suffering to be a gift, but Paul certainly employs the language of gifting or permission here when he says that God has granted us the opportunity (dare I say privilege?) of suffering for Christ. The consistent message of the NT is that suffering isn’t punishment from God for sins committed but rather the school in which God forms the character of Christ in us and molds us into the image of Christ. That doesn’t make the actual experience of suffering less painful, but recognizing God’s redemptive purpose for it certainly affords us a more positive outlook on it. We might even be able to go so far as to “consider it all joy” as James counsels us to do.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Notoriously Bad Decision

On the final day of the regular baseball season in 1927, Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run, establishing a record that would stand until Roger Maris broke it with 61 in 1961. Ruth was playing at that time with the New York Yankees, but he had previously played with the Boston Red Sox from 1914 through 1919. Although the Yankees shifted Ruth to the outfield, he was an outstanding pitcher with the Red Sox, throwing 29 2/3 scoreless innings in World Series play from 1916 through 1918. The Red Sox fans were dismayed when the team’s owner traded Ruth to the Yankees before the 1920 season to finance a musical production. Ruth went on to hit more home runs in 10 of the next 12 seasons than the entire Red Sox team. With Ruth’s trade to the Yankees, the Red Sox endured an 85-year drought without winning another World Series. It wasn’t until 2004 that the so-called “Curse of the Bambino” (Ruth’s nickname) was broken.

Have you ever made a decision that you were roundly criticized for making—whether justifiably or not? I doubt that most of our decisions are as monumental and as notorious as the one by the Red Sox owner to trade Ruth to the Yankees, but I suspect that in our own private worlds, they are equally painful at times. The question is, “What do we do when we’ve blown it?” If others have been negatively impacted by our decision, we can seek to right the wrong done to them—asking forgiveness and making restitution where possible. We also must learn to pick up the pieces and move on with our lives. Paul’s testimony to the Philippians is instructive at this point when he says that he forgets what lies behind and reaches forward to what lies ahead (Phil. 3:13). We cannot undo past mistakes, but we certainly can resolve not to live enslaved to the memory of them. Let’s press on together.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What Ever Happened to Responsibility?

I read this morning on the CNN website a report about a father who brought in his nine children and left them at the Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. The children ranged in ages from 1 to 17. The report stated that it is the fourth time that children who were 11, 13, and 15 years old had been left at the hospital since a “safe haven” law was passed in July, allowing children to be left at a hospital if they were in immediate danger. In the wake of the unexpected response of parents dumping teenaged children, Nebraska officials have scheduled a meeting for today to seek to clarify the provisions of the law.

I understand the original intent of the framers of the law as being that of providing emergency protection for newborn infants whose parents (or frequently one would suspect whose single, unwed mother) face the daunting task of being a parent with little or no preparation for raising a child and perhaps with extremely limited resources to do so. I’m not excusing such conduct even in these cases that the law is obviously designed to address, but when parents decide to opt out of their responsibilities after many years of raising a child, I can’t help but wonder where we are heading as a nation and a culture.

I am in no way advocating that there shouldn’t be protection afforded to children who might be at risk of physical, sexual, and other forms of abuse from unloving parents. Innocent children shouldn’t have to be subjected to such treatments under any circumstances and there ought to be safe havens where they can be cared for and protected. I suppose that I’m just utterly baffled and bewildered that in at least four cases, parents of teenagers would take advantage of the good intentions of lawmakers to protect newborns and would abuse that law by seeking to shirk their responsibilities of raising their children.

I’ll confess that I don’t know what the solution to this parenting crisis is and wouldn’t want to be sitting in the seats of those Nebraska officials who must wrestle today with the unexpected outcomes of the safe haven law passed in July. I fear that the growing economic crisis in our nation will only exacerbate these kinds of problems. Of course I’m firmly convinced that a right relationship with Christ is the fundamental need of these parents, together with meaningful membership in a nurturing and supportive local church. This disturbing trend should serve as a wake-up call for our churches to redouble our efforts to help families as they struggle with the pressures of everyday living.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Weathering Life's Storms

Those living along the Gulf Coast have certainly been pummeled in recent years by some severe hurricanes. Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike, and others have wreaked havoc with people’s lives and property, forcing many to make difficult decisions about rebuilding or moving on to what is hopefully a safer location. For those who are lifelong residents of an area, the decision to pull up stakes and relocate elsewhere can be an emotionally devastating one. Those who have lived for many years in a place that has become home to them put down some rather deep roots, and the uprooting process is painful.

Several thoughts occurred to me as I pondered the plight of those most recently affected by Ike, including a cousin who was still without power more than a week after the storm. One is that these storms bring out the best in those whose hearts are bent toward serving their fellow man. Baptists from many states are volunteering their time—spending long hours in feeding the hungry, helping clean up the mess left behind, and counseling and consoling those who are hurting and grieving. It also occurred to me that those who do choose to settle elsewhere are going to face the unsettling task of finding a new house, perhaps looking for a new job and school for the children, making new friends, and hopefully finding a new church home.

I also considered the sobering truth that there really are no places that are absolutely safe to live. Sure, folks can leave the Gulf Coast and eliminate the risk of facing the full force of a hurricane, but where can you move where storm winds don’t blow, where lightning doesn’t strike, where car accidents don’t occur, and where the possibility of being the victim of a violent crime is non-existent? That utopia isn’t to be found on Earth. What we can do is to resolve to live each day without fear, remembering the words of Jesus that He will never leave us nor forsake us—even in the midst of life’s most severe storms. We can live with the knowledge that nothing in this universe can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Those truths will equip us to deal with the unexpected adversities of life, and hopefully will enable us to help others as they weather their own storms.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Senior Adult Ministry

I enjoyed the opportunity of preaching this morning at both of our services—probably a total crowd of 650-700 people I suspect. Our senior pastor has been doing a series on “Listening to James” and asked me to continue that by preaching from the text of James 2:1-13. I entitled the message “The Perils of Partiality.” I shared as an introduction the account of Rev. Derek Rigby, a Methodist minister in Northern Wales, who decided to conduct an experiment with his congregation to teach them about acceptance of others. The story about his disguising himself as an indigent person and the results of that experiment are told here. The photos of Rev. Rigby as an indigent person and in his normal clerical garb also appear.

We looked at James’ teaching about the need to not show partiality or favoritism in judging others, especially based on their appearance, wealth, etc. I mentioned that God isn’t one who plays favorites, citing the lesson that Peter learned in his encounter with Cornelius in Acts 10, especially his statements in vv. 34-35.

The other thing that I shared that really impacted me as I was preparing the message was a story that appeared in World magazine by Tony Woodlief, entitled “Missing Christ.” It’s a powerful piece and very convicting. It’s definitely worth reading. Here’s the link to the article.

As much as I enjoyed preaching in both morning services today, I was equally thrilled or perhaps even more so this afternoon when I went to one of the local nursing homes that I visit regularly and where I lead services on the third Sunday of each month. The crowd was obviously much smaller—about 20 or 25 I suspect, including one lady who will turn 102 next month if the Lord allows her to live until then. We always sing their favorite hymns from a large-print edition collection of hymns and then I share a brief message—usually not more than 15 minutes as at 3:00 in the afternoon, they tend to drift off to sleep if I speak longer than that. Some do so anyway, but that’s okay. I really love these folks and have become something of a pastor to many of them, including dropping by to visit them in the rooms and have prayer together at other times as well. Senior adult ministry is certainly a rewarding ministry for me—not just the 200 or so who regularly attend our services, but the homebound and those in nursing homes like the one I shared at today. Their kind words, encouragement, and appreciation for the visits and Bible studies means a lot.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Whirlwind Week and a Half

Last week was pretty much a blur for me and this one has been almost equally busy. I flew to Dallas Love Field a week ago Sunday evening to attend a 2-day board meeting of WorldconneX. It was a difficult meeting in some respects, as the BGCT's financial situation has prompted the finance committee to propose a deeper cut in WorldconneX's budget. I think the organization is doing some wonderful, innovative things and is filling a niche in Baptist life as a missions networking organization that practically no one else is addressing. Their plight though in some respects is like the individual in the Civil War who wished to show his sympathies for both sides so he donned the gray jacket of the Confederacy and the blue trousers of the Union. The result was that he was shot at by both sides.

WorldconneX was born out of controversy at a time when some Texas Baptists were upset with the general direction of the SBC and specifically the decision of the IMB to require missionaries to sign the BF&M 2000 when they had been told they would not have to do so. Many also resisted the changes introduced in the document, preferring the language and spirit of the 1963 BF&M. Some in this camp evidently anticipated that WorldconneX would become a missionary sending agency and were disappointed when it did not. On the other hand, those who continued to strongly support the SBC and the IMB feared that WorldconneX would indeed become a sending agency and interpreted steps taken to enable local churches to send and support their own missionaries through the Front-Line Sending focus of WorldconneX as confirmation that the organization was trying to supplant the IMB.

The truth is that WorldconneX isn't a sending agency but does facilitate helping local churches to engage the world with a strategic missions focus. That in some cases has included these churches choosing to send out missionaries from their own congregations with WorldconneX's assistance, but not in the traditional sense of a sending agency that directly interviews, appoints, supports, and directs the activities of these missionaries. WorldconneX's task is to help churches with things like logistics, training, and assisting with money transfers, etc.

WorldconneX will continue to operate with a reduced budget, drawing upon reserves that it has and carrying on its ministry for the time being. My hope and prayer is that Texas Baptists will recognize the unique contribution WorldconneX is making to global missions and will take concrete steps to ensure its future vitality, or at the very least, to preserve the focus and emphasis of the organization.

Following the board meeting, I rented a car and drove to Granbury where I spent the rest of Tuesday through Thursday afternoon visiting with my mother in a rehab center where she is recovering from a fall that produced 3 fractures of her pelvis. She's making some slow progress but has had a few setbacks along the way also. I flew home on Thursday evening, arriving home about 11:00 p.m.

Friday morning early it was off to Columbia, MO for a quarterly meeting of the BGCM board of directors. We had a very positive meeting and I was able to give an update on our partnership work in Guatemala that was well-received. It appears that we will have a larger group of pastors participating in the next leadership training trip in January and I'm extremely grateful for that. I've been hoping that more would participate so that they in turn will lead their churches to engage in some church-to-church partnerships and trips.

I arrived home about 5:30 and since I hadn't seen the family in a week, we went out to eat Mexican food and catch up a bit. Afterwards, it was off to meet with a family in preparation for a funeral message on Saturday morning. The man was an outstanding Christian who had been a member of our church for almost 40 years and had served as a deacon, Sunday School superintendent, teacher, etc. I visited with them as they reminisced about his life, jotting down notes to help prepare a fitting eulogy. His favorite Bible verse was Romans 6:23 so I used this as the basis for the message. The funeral was a wonderful celebration of a life lived well.

On Monday and Tuesday our senior pastor and I traveled together to Windermere Baptist Encampment for the annual CBF pastors' retreat. It was a wonderful gathering with excellent fellowship, and some quality teaching from Dr. Mike Graves, a homiletics professor, and Bo Prosser, coordinator for Congregational Life with CBF National. Danny Chisolm has shared some reflections about the gathering over on his blog.

With Scott, our senior pastor, heading for Denver to visit his daughter in her new apartment this weekend, I also get the chance to preach this Sunday. That has kept me busy with sermon preparation the last couple of days. A phone call this morning means that I'll be presiding over my second Saturday funeral in a row also.

I'm looking forward to next week when, the good Lord willing, life returns to more of a normal pace. I apologize for the lack of posting in these days, but things have been a bit hectic.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Texas Trip

I'm in the big state of Texas for a few days this week. I flew down Sunday evening to Dallas for a 2-day meeting of the WorldconneX board that begins this morning (Monday) and wraps up early tomorrow afternoon. Afterwards, I'm going to spend a couple of days with my mom in Granbury, TX. She had headed to South Texas a few weeks back to attend the funeral of a 106-year old aunt and had been at the home of her younger sister in George West (my hometown) for about an hour when she slipped and fell off of a three-legged stool.

My brother, who was acting as chauffeur, took her back to Granbury without staying to attend the funeral as she was experiencing some numbness and pain in her leg. The attending physician at the ER said she had evidence of an old fracture of the pelvis and sent her home with some pain meds. This was on a Friday. On Monday, her primary physician informed her that it was a new break and advised her to stay off of it for about 3-4 weeks and then be rechecked. She saw an orthopedic specialist a week ago Friday who discovered 3 fractures actually of the pelvis and sent her to a rehab center without even allowing her to go home. I'm going to take advantage of the trip to Texas to spend some time with her as she is recovering.

I hope to be able to post a bit later about the WorldconneX board meeting. It's the one of the three each year that is a 2-day meeting and there are some major things to look at in light of the BGCT's restructuring of their financial support.

It seems that I also left town just ahead of McCain and Palin's visit to our own Lee's Summit this morning. They'll be speaking at John Knox Village pavilion. John Knox is a senior adult community with several thousand residents, a number of whom are members of our church.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Accidental or Intentional Growth?

The following is another article that I shared in our monthly Senior Adult newsletter, "Joyful Tidings."

The dictionary defines the word accident as follows: "an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss." Clearly none of us wakes up in the morning planning on experiencing an accident, or looking forward to having one. That’s why the dictionary defines them as undesirable and unintentional. We don’t want to have an accident—-whether it’s a collision with another vehicle or a fall we take while walking-—because we know there can be painful and costly consequences. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent all accidents, paying careful attention to our surroundings and using good judgment will help us avoid them. Engaging in risky behaviors, whether behind the wheel of an automobile or elsewhere, will certainly increase the odds of suffering an accident.

In thinking about accidents, I was reflecting on the tendency of children to offer the excuse that “it was an accident” when they have been caught doing something they shouldn’t have and something winds up being broken or damaged. They didn’t intend for the item to be damaged, but perhaps they didn’t exercise good judgment and the “accident” occurred.

In seeking to relate the idea of accidents to our spiritual lives, it struck me that many Christians somehow seem to expect or hope that they will mature in their walk with Christ “accidentally.” That is, they do little purposefully or consciously to grow in their faith and seem mystified when they fail to mature spiritually. Our growth as Christians is rarely the result of an accident. It comes as we discipline ourselves to engage in activities that will create a climate for growth—-prayer, Bible study, fellowship with others, service, and worship. Let’s purpose to be intentional rather than accidental Christians.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Extreme Uses of the Superlative "Greatest"

I’ve observed a growing tendency among some Christians to utilize the superlative “greatest” to drive home their point when making an argument. More often than not, it seems to be used in a negative sense. Let me share a couple of illustrations that come to mind. The former Executive Director of the Missouri Baptist Convention wrote a series of four articles in The Pathway in which he made the bold claim that the greatest obstacle to evangelism in America comes from the political activism of the homosexual movement. Just on a quick reflection, I think I could easily come up with a list of many other factors that would rank far higher on the scale of obstacles to evangelism in America—-spiritual apathy of believers, fear of witnessing, lack of filling of the Holy Spirit, etc.-—than the clamor of those promoting a homosexual agenda.

As a second example, this weekend I happened to be driving my mother-in-law’s van and turned on the radio. It was tuned to a Christian talk station and I listened for about 2-3 minutes. The preacher (whose name I didn’t linger long enough to hear) was lambasting those who deny a pre-tribulation, premillenial rapture and he accused those who would undermine this belief of having committed the greatest heresy in the history of Christianity. Once again, it occurs to me that there are many beliefs far more heretical in nature than the issue of questioning a given interpretation of the Second Coming. The denial of the deity of Jesus Christ, the rejection of the Scriptures as the Word of God, and the denial of the Trinity come to mind as heretical views far more egregious than the questioning of the rapture.

My take on this is that certain Christians become fixated on issues that they elevate to a place of importance far beyond all merit and reason. The issue, whatever it may be, assumes the role of a hobby horse that the individual rides into the ground. Anyone who seeks to introduce a bit of balance into the picture and fails to appreciate the overarching role that this issue plays in the life of its proponent is swiftly accused of heresy, or at the least, of being a theological liberal. It’s a shame that well-meaning Christians should be guilty of questioning the legitimacy of another’s faith just because that person opts not to mount the hobby horse of the former. Jesus’ new commandment to love one another as He loved us too quickly gets lost in the use of such extreme superlatives and the corresponding rejection of those who take issue with the proponent’s favorite topic.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Five Year Anniversary

On the occasion of my fifth anniversary here on staff, I will be sharing the following expression of thanks to the congregation in our church newsletter next week.

This past Sunday marked my fifth anniversary on the staff here at First Baptist Church Lee's Summit and I cannot let the occasion pass without expressing my heartfelt thanks to the members and staff of this wonderful congregation for the tremendous blessing it is to serve as your associate pastor. When my family and I resigned and came home from the mission field six years ago, we could perhaps best be described as wounded warriors. We were hurting over the decision to leave an organization where we felt God had led us, and we returned stateside with no place to live and no immediate prospects for a place to serve in ministry. You graciously made the mission residence across the street available to us and welcomed us into the life of the church. You provided a supportive and loving environment in which we could experience healing. I was given opportunities to teach and to preach even before the church decided to create a new staff position for an associate pastor and to extend me an invitation to fill that role. I am so grateful to God for the friendships I have made here, for the wonderful opportunities of service that exist, for the overall health of our church, and for the many special expressions of love and kindness from each of you on the occasion of my fifth anniversary on staff. My prayer is that God will continue to bless our journey together in the years ahead as we seek to grow in Christ-likeness and to share the good news with those around us.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Rodney Hammer new DOM for BR-KC

Rodney Hammer, former regional leader with the International Mission Board of the SBC, has accepted a position as the new Executive Director (DOM) for the Blue River-Kansas City Baptist Association. The former DOM, Nodell Dennis, retired at the end of 2007 to return to his native state of Texas.

Hammer's resignation from the IMB was precipitated by two controversial policies of the IMB's Board of Trustees in recent years. It was opposition to those same policies which eventually led to Wade Burleson's resignation from that body. Hammer detailed his reasons for resigning in an open letter to Southern Baptists that was published in the North Carolina Biblical Recorder. I'm very sympathetic with his position and fully understand the struggles of leaving the IMB over doctrinal and philosophical differences.

Information about Hammer's selection to serve as the DOM of the Blue River-Kansas City Baptist Association (which our church is a part of) appears in the most recent associational newsletter. I trust and pray that Rodney will have a fruitful ministry in directing the efforts of the BR-KC Association.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Great Sunday Night Experience

For the past several years, our church has hosted a summer concert series during the month of August. We've had a wide diversity of musical styles--including among others bluegrass, Southern Gospel, jazz, a harpist, contemporary Christian music, handbells, and much more. Last night we had the privilege of hosting an awesome drama group called "One Time Blind." Their skits and dramatic interpretations were powerful and challenging. They really articulated some of the issues Christians struggle with in terms of yielding our all to God, being jealous of others' gifts, etc., and they did so with excellence through the medium of drama. They only sang a couple of numbers, but their voices were beautiful and their close harmonies were extremely well done. They are based out of Detroit and I was impressed with how God is using their gifts and lives to speak words of truth to the church. If you're interested in more information about them, you can visit their website.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Albert Reyes on Immigration

I received an email this morning from Albert Reyes, President of Buckner Children and Family Services in Dallas. Albert was president for many years of the Baptist University of the Americas in San Antonio, where he led the institution to take some significant strides in equipping primarily Hispanic students for cross-cultural ministry. I've been able to keep in touch with Albert somewhat through our serving together on the board of WorldconneX.

Albert's email alerted me to a new journal issue on the topic of immigration that was recently published by the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University. Albert has an article included in the journal that describes a bit of his own spiritual and ethnic heritage as well as addressing the issue of the Christian's responsibility toward the stranger in our midst.

I wanted to share a couple of quotes to perhaps whet your appetite to read the entire article.

"Jesus spoke to the experience of the stranger in his parable of the Judgment
of the Nations in Matthew 25:31-46. When the Son of Man judges the nations,
separating “people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from
the goats,” the criteria for whether a person’s identity in Christ can be authenticated is whether or not that person has demonstrated the agenda of Jesus with regard to the poor, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner. These criteria are strikingly similar to the five-point agenda in Jesus’ inaugural speech in Luke 4:16-30. Jesus said he came to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and release for the oppressed, and to announce the year of the Lord’s favor. I like to call this the Jesus Agenda, Jesus’ plan for his thousand-day ministry."

"What does it mean for redemptive history that the Lord of history has allowed us to have over fourteen million undocumented immigrants, primarily from Latin American countries, inside our borders? Think with me from a Kingdom perspective for a moment. Let me remind you of a picture and a vision that we will all see. When John the Revelator glimpsed eternity he saw “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne…. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9-10). Will it matter on that day if people had legal documents authorizing them to be in our country? I guess it depends on who you ask. If you ask the Master who separates goats from sheep, I think he will say what mattered, in light of eternity, is whether or not we gave food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, ministry to the prisoner, and caring to the sick. He will say, if you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me."

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Children's Music Camp

We had about 25 children from first to sixth graders who participated in a music camp at church this past week. They were allowed to choose among some electives that included guitar, drama, movement, rhythm, set design, as well as spending time learning about worship. Tonight they led us in worship in the evening service, sharing some of the things that they had learned in the individual classes and then presenting a brief musical entitled ‘We Can Praise” that they learned in just 5 days this week. They did an outstanding job and we had a good Sunday night crowd to hear them. We finished up with an ice cream extravaganza downstairs in the fellowship hall for a very blessed and enjoyable evening.

I’m impressed by how quickly children can pick up and learn new music. They had about 2.5 hrs. each morning to do everything—take the elective classes, have a devotional time, and learn the music for the musical. Music is such a great tool for helping memorize different texts and I wonder if we wouldn’t do better at things like scripture memorization if we set more passages to melodies and musical arrangements. A lot of the early praise choruses I learned back in the dark ages (college years) were virtually taken word for word from the Scriptures. The fact that I can still remember many of those today probably reinforces the idea that music is a great aid in memorization.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Bible Preaching Week

One of the activities that the Missouri Baptist Convention formerly sponsored was known as Bible Preaching Week. It has been several years since they ceased to do so and this past year the Baptist General Convention of Missouri decided to offer this ministry to pastors and their families. Once again this year, the BGCM is sponsoring Bible Preaching Week at the beautiful Windermere Baptist Conference Center on Lake of the Ozarks. We’re grateful that the Baptist General Convention of Texas is helping again this year by providing scholarship assistance to pastors whose congregations average less than 150 in worship. Charles Wade, retired executive director of the BGCT will be the featured preacher for the week and David May, NT professor at Central Baptist Theological Seminary will be the Bible teacher and will lead in a study of the parables of Jesus. The theme for the week is “Worship: An Encounter with God” and is based on Isaiah 6:1-8.

There will be a number of breakout sessions offered each day as well, and I have the privilege of leading one on preparing for cross-cultural missions. I hope that more BGCM churches will accept the challenge of becoming involved in our partnership with Guatemala. The week’s activities are scheduled for August 11-15. Additional information is available at the BGCM’s website.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lessons from the Volkswagen Beetle

My folks purchased a VW Beetle while I was still high school back in the late 60s and early 70s. They were making daily round trip commute of 80 miles to and from work at the time and needed something that gave good gas mileage. Sounds a bit like what folks are talking about today. It was painted orange (a good color for a UT grad like myself) and the factory name for the color was Clementine Orange, hence the name Clementine stuck for the little car. Along about my sophomore year at UT, I inherited Clementine and drove it for a couple of more years. It was a delight to park as it was small and fit in to some pretty tight spots. I don't remember exactly why Clementine left the family, but she eventually did.

Five years ago today on July 30, 2003, the last “classic” Volkswagen Beetle rolled off the assembly line at the production plant in Puebla, Mexico. It was shipped to a museum in Wolfsburg, Germany where the Volkswagen headquarters is located. The car that inspired Disney’s Herbie the Love Bug series was actually originally the result of an initiative by Adolf Hitler to make an affordable, efficient “people’s car.” The Beetle was popular in the 60s and early 70s in the U.S. until it was banned in 1977 for failing to meet safety and emissions standards. Until 2003, it continued to be produced in Mexico where one can still see to this day thousands of green Beetles being used as city taxis.

The Beetle finally found itself unable to compete with other inexpensive compact cars. Its failure to adapt to change marked its demise. One of the challenges we all face is adapting to change. You may have heard the refrain, “The only constant is change.” Change is unsettling and uncomfortable, but it’s a given in this world. I think that as we age, we tend to long more and with greater nostalgia for the good old days. We probably remember those days as better than they actually were, but in our memory they represent better times, less marked by rapid upheaval.

Reacting positively to change is difficult, but if we’ll make the effort to do so, it will help us to stay young at heart—-no matter what our biological age might be. The new redesigned Beetle that Volkswagen introduced in 1998 has done fairly well in sales, a testament to the virtue of adapting to change. One thing that will help us to cope with change is to remember that the Lord who promises to never leave us nor forsake us is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

(I shared the gist of this post in our monthly senior adult newsletter).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Tabitha Ministry

I’d like to introduce you to a special person and a wonderful ministry she has in Guatemala City. Carol Bercian is the partnership liaison for the Guatemala Baptist Convention and handles the logistics for volunteer teams coming into the country to work on various projects. As you are aware if you’ve read my previous posts, the Baptist General Convention of Missouri has an ongoing partnership with the Guatemala Baptist Convention and thus we have worked closely with Carol on each of our trips. Alabama Baptists also have a partnership with Guatemala, and being much larger than our convention, they keep Carol busy with trip arrangements for many mission groups that they send.

Carol has also directed the children’s work of the Guatemala Convention and has a wonderful heart for ministry. One of the projects she has assisted with is a daycare center that is located near the city dump in Guatemala City. Around 70 children are receiving an education and two meals a day through this important ministry.

In the process of working with the children there, Carol became aware of the desperate plight of many of these children’s mothers. Most earn a living by scrounging through the refuse at the dump, looking for items they can resell or even scavenging for food among what is discarded there. Many come from a background of drugs, glue sniffing, and prostitution. Carol began a ministry among these women and many have come to Christ as Savior and have received discipleship training from Carol. Though their life situation is still very difficult and tenuous, a real transformation is occurring among many of them. Carol has acquired sewing machines and the ladies are making colorful bags with some of the bright fabrics that Guatemala is noted for producing. This has provided them with a source of income and given them an escape from their former life of prostitution.

I’ve been able to visit the daycare center on a couple of trips to Guatemala City, including going there with a team from our church back in February. As a result of seeing Carol’s ministry there, our children’s minister proposed that this year’s VBS offering go to assist the Tabitha Ministry that Carol has among these women. I’m delighted to share that the boys and girls raised a little more than $700 with their penny offerings to help with this ministry on the edges of the city dump in Guatemala City. As the Lord prompts you to do so, please say a prayer for Carol and her vital work with these ladies and their children.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Reading Yancey

One of the things I enjoyed this past week on my trip to Guatemala in addition to the fellowship and teaching time with the pastors and lay leaders there was the opportunity to catch up on some reading. Airport layovers are good for that. One of my favorite authors is Phillip Yancey and I took the time to re-read Where is God When it Hurts?, as well as reading one of his bestsellers—-The Jesus I Never Knew. If you’re not familiar with Yancey’s writings, I highly encourage you to grab one of his books. I think you’ll have a hard time putting it down. His writing is at times brutally honest about our struggles as Christians, and that’s something I respect about him. I wanted to share a couple of quotes from the latter book, hopefully to spark your interest in reading it.

“Killing Jesus, says Walter Wink, was like trying to destroy a dandelion seed-head by blowing on it.”

Commenting on Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 and God’s apparent absence from the world at times, Yancey writes, “God has not absconded at all. Rather, he has taken on a disguise, a most unlikely disguise of the stranger, the poor, the hungry, the prisoner, the sick, the ragged ones of the earth. 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.' If we cannot detect God’s presence in the world, it may be that we have been looking in the wrong places.”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Home from Guatemala

I arrived home from Guatemala at about 11:00 p.m. on Friday night. I probably could have caught an earlier flight out of Houston on Continental Airlines as we arrived there in time to do so, but I didn't want to take my chances when I was scheduling the flights with a tight connecting flight time. I've had several late flights in the past from Guatemala City and didn't want to push my luck too far.

The pastors' and lay leaders' training conferences went very well. Rather than the Guatemala Convention handling the invitations and enrollment this time, they left those tasks up to the leaders of the newly established pastors' association in that region. One of the results of that was the presence of some new folks this time who hadn't participated in the three previous training sessions. At the same time, the majority were still those who have attended all 4 sessions. The Guatemala Baptist Convention tends to be pretty conservative theologically so I wasn't 100% certain how they would react to a woman pastor as the main conference speaker, but any doubts or concerns I might have had were quickly erased. Jeanie did an outstanding job of leading the conferences and planned in a good deal of small group interaction and dialogue time that allowed the group to arrive at their own conclusions and embrace the contents that she shared as their own. The comments afterwards were unanimously positive in terms of evaluating her participation.

I had been asked to preach at the First Baptist Church of Quetzaltenango for the worship service on Tuesday night that marked the formal inauguration of the new pastors' association for that region. It was a packed house, with folks even sitting in chairs outside on the patio area outside the main auditorium and listening through open windows. I would guess there were close to 300 present. I preached a message from Phil. 2:1-11, focusing on Paul's call to unity and humility with the supreme example of humility being that of Jesus Himself.

Another highlight of the trip for me was the chance to do some reading while traveling as well as in the evening times. I had purposed to re-read Yancey's "Where is God When it Hurts" before passing it along to a church member who has been struggling with some very frustrating medical issues lately. After finishing that, I also had time to read another Yancey book, "The Jesus I Never Knew." It was an outstanding book, one of my favorites by him, and gave me a lot of food for thought as he challenged some commonly-held assumptions about Jesus and forced me to re-think some of those issues. I would highly recommend the book if you have not yet read it.

Thanks to those who prayed for our trip. The Lord richly blessed our time there.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Upcoming trip to Guatemala

Well, it's been 5 months since my last trip to Guatemala with our church and 6 months since the last leadership training conferences with the BGCM. That must mean it's time to head south again. I'll be doing just that this coming Monday. In this latest round of workshops for pastors and leaders, I'll be joined by Jeanie McGowan, associate pastor of the FBC of Jefferson City. Jeanie joined the staff of the BGCM at the start of this year and is heading up our leadership development team. Her duties at FBC Jefferson City include singles ministry and equipping ministry. As our previous conferences focused on evangelism and church planting, in a logical progression, this time we're going to address the issue of assimilating new members into the life of the congregation. Jeanie will be leading in the conferences and I'll be her translator.

Another blessing of this trip will be the opportunity to preach at the inauguration of a new pastors' association for those living and serving in the western region of Guatemala. Our partnership liaison informed me that the formation of this association is the direct result of the BGCM's ongoing relationship with the pastors in this area and our leadership training conferences. They've experienced much greater unity and are networking with one another in ways they have not previously done. That is really an exciting development and I rejoice in what the Lord is doing in their midst.

This will be a quick trip this time, departing on Monday and returning on Friday. We'll conduct the workshops on Tuesday and Wednesday, do some sightseeing on Thursday, and fly home on Friday. I'd certainly appreciate the prayers of any who happen to stumble across my blog and read this post. Thanks.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Temple's Definition of Worship

This week I happened upon a definition of worship by Archbishop William Temple. Temple served as the Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II. He defines worship as follows: “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.”

I hope you’ll take a moment to re-read that definition and ponder the significance of the individual phrases. Worship involves the complete submission of our nature to God. It’s recognizing His supremacy and our unworthiness. In worship we allow His holiness to direct our moral compasses and instruct our conscience about matters of right and wrong. The spiritual food we need for nourishment we find as we reverently allow God to speak His truth into our hearts and minds in worship. The contemplation of the beauty of God’s creation certainly stirs up our imaginations as we seek words capable of expressing His grandeur and majesty. As we open our hearts to His love in worship, we find John’s words to be true—“We love Him because He first loved us.” In worship we come to recognize that God’s will for our lives is always better than any alternative that we could devise and we surrender our wills to His.

Finally, the quote identifies adoration as the most selfless emotion our nature is capable of producing. When we adore God in spirit and in truth as Jesus urged (Jn. 4:23-24), we empty ourselves of self and are filled with His Holy Spirit, enabling us to render to God the worship of which He alone is worthy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Book Review

I've been absent from the blogging world for a while. My wife had a student who qualified for the National Forensics Tournament in Las Vegas this past week so my youngest son and I accompanied them for a week of vacation. I didn't even access a computer for the entire week, other than to purchase passes to some of the sights in the area. We enjoyed the time away very much.

While on vacation, I read a book by Kyle Lake, the 33-year old pastor of University Baptist Church in Waco, TX, who died tragically in 2005 when he was electrocuted in the church’s baptistry. The book is entitled, Understanding God's Will: How To Hack The Equation Without Formulas. Lake makes the case that we’ve reduced the quest for knowing God’s will to a series of formulas rather than focusing on living life in a fresh, daily encounter with Jesus. He also states that far too often we have equated the will of God with favorable circumstances, safety, and our own well-being. Jesus’ call to His disciples was an invitation to a lifestyle of radical obedience to Him—not a promise that everything in life would always go well for us. The trials and troubles we experience in life shouldn’t be interpreted as signs that we’ve somehow missed out on God’s “perfect will,” a phrase that Lake suggests can be misleading. Our calling is not to know all the answers to what lies ahead in our future, but to walk daily with the One who call us His friends and invites us to know Him more fully. Kyle Lake concluded each of his sermons with this charge to his congregation, “Love God, embrace beauty, and live life to the fullest.” Those are wise words to live by as we seek to walk daily with the One who said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Great Example of Sportsmanship

I had read this article a few months back and copied it into a Word document, adding it to a file of illustrations and inspirational stories that I might use someday in a sermon or Bible study. As I stumbled across it again today, I thought that it was just too good not to share. I hope you'll follow the link and read the story of a great example of sportsmanship from the world of women's athletics.