Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Good article at Ethics Daily

As one who taught a basic course in Christian ethics at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Buenos Aires for about a decade, I try to stay abreast of developments and related themes as they pertain to theological education. In an excellent article today from Ethics Daily, William Brackney poses the critical question, "Do Theological Schools Serve as Ethical Communities?" He asks some very pointed questions and provides some thoughtful analysis along the way.

I'd like to quote one section of the article in particular in which he asks, "What exactly does it mean to be a practicing ethical community?" His response follows: "One can take a cue from the school of character ethics. Certain traits are valued and undergird all decisions and behavior. These include: equality of persons; freedom of conscience; voluntary assent to confessional statements; democratic decision-making; shared governance; healthy collegial interaction; transparency in administration; pastoral concern within the community; protection of human rights; the practice of grace and civility; and an overall allegiance to the lordship of Christ. The Christian ethicist understands that all of these characteristics have their root in Scripture."

While one cannot issue a blanket condemnation of the existing Southern Baptist seminaries with regard to their failure to exhibit the character qualities that Brackney references in this paragraph, it's clear nonetheless that many of these basic ethical qualities have been woefully absent or under-represented in the administration of some Baptist seminaries in recent years.

I'd suggest that it's high time that concern for theological orthodoxy which has occupied center stage among Baptists be accompanied by a sound measure of ethical praxis in which our walk indeed matches our talk. A good place to begin that recovery would be to return to the writings of one of Southern Baptists finest ethics professors, T. B. Maston, who espoused that simple truth in one of his books entitled, To Walk as He Walked. It seems that the apostle Paul would concur with the need to do just that (Gal. 5:16, 25; Eph. 4:1, Eph. 5:2,8; Col. 1:10, 2:6).

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Horns Win by the Slimmest of Margins

I thought about the line that Fred Samford always used to utter on the TV series "Samford and Son" while watching the closing seconds of the Univ. of Texas - Nebraska Big 12 Conference Championship game last night. Feigning a heart attack, he'd holler "It's the big one." The last second (literally) field goal by UT's Hunter Lawrence was a clutch kick if there ever was one. I was certainly glad for the win that preserved the undefeated season, and my respect for Nebraska's defense and for the play of Suh in particular grew by leaps and bounds last night.

McCoy and Shipley have pretty much had their way all season, hooking up (pardon the pun) for some incredible passes and catches. When Shipley has been doubled, Colt has always managed to find someone else open as he's checked down on the other receivers. Last night he never had the time to follow the progression as he was pressured constantly by the rush. In addition, Nebraska's secondary did an excellent job of bottling up all of UT's receivers throughout the game.

On the positive side of the ledger, UT's defense rebounded after a poor outing against A&M on Thanksgiving Day and effectively shut down the Nebraska offense. One could argue of course that they didn't have much of an offense to shut down, but allowing just 106 total yards was a strong statement. In addition, they kept Nebraska out of the end zone even when UT coughed up the ball deep in their own territory a couple of times.

Here's hoping common sense prevails and UT retains its #2 ranking to face Alabama for the national championship. Alabama looked great against Florida so Greg Davis and Muschamp have their work cut out for them as they work on the offensive and defensive schemes to match up effectively against the Crimson Tide. We'll see how all of that happens.

On a related note, I still hold out hope for Colt winning the Heisman. While he was off of his game yesterday due to the pressure, he's had a remarkable career and an outstanding season overall and I can't see anyone else who's more deserving.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The God Who Came Down

In a plea for God to display His glory and majesty on the earth, the prophet Isaiah prayed in Isa. 64:1, “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence.” There are times that the biblical writers earnestly desired to observe God in all His majestic greatness, shaking the foundations of the earth, akin to the experience of Isaiah himself and his vision of God in the temple described in Isaiah 6.

As Elijah learned, however, God doesn’t always come down from heaven in a whirlwind or in an earthquake. For Elijah, God drew near in a still, small voice. For all of us this Christmas, we’re reminded that God has indeed come down to earth-—not with ear-shattering thunder that rent the heavens as Isaiah pleaded—-but with the cry of a baby born in a stable. “And the Word became flesh, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14).

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Let There be Light

One of my favorite Christmas songs of recent years is an arrangement done by Point of Grace called “Let There be Light.” There’s a verse in it that speaks so powerfully to my heart about the mystery of the incarnation and the glorious truth that God chose to become a man in the person of Jesus Christ. The verse says,

"He spoke after centuries of silence
In the midst of a still, starry night.
And Immanuel came down among us
And the Father said, “Let there be light!”

Two or three things jump out at me from this beautiful song. First, God broke His silence of approximately four hundred years since the time of the final Old Testament prophet Malachi when He sent His angels to announce the birth of His Son to some common shepherds tending their flocks on a hillside near Bethlehem. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” Surely the nation of Israel was longing for a fresh word from God after four centuries of silence, and God answered their hearts’ plea with a definitive word by sending them His Son.

Secondly, the word Immanuel is highly instructive. As the angel appeared to Joseph to assure him that Mary hadn’t been unfaithful to him but rather that the baby she carried was a miraculous gift of God, he told Joseph that the baby was to be called Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” The God of the universe invaded planet Earth in the person of Jesus to reveal God to us and to redeem us from our sins.

Finally, the text of the song imaginatively records God the Father saying once again, even as He had at the dawn of creation, “Let there be light!” While perhaps those very words weren’t uttered by the angelic hosts, the message certainly was present. Writing in the prologue to his gospel in John 1:4-5, the beloved apostle penned these words, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” I’m so grateful at this Christmas season as we observe the beautiful decorative lights, that God sent the true Light, His Son, into the world to show us His love.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Volunteer Hospital Chaplaincy

I don't think I've ever written previously about one thing that I've been involved in for the last two or three years--serving as a volunteer hospital chaplain. When the St. Luke's Hospital chain opened a local hospital here in Lee's Summit a few years back, they hired a former IMB missionary as a chaplain. John Murphy and his wife served in Venezuela before working in the home office in the area of support and scheduling for missionaries on stateside assignment (if memory serves me correctly). Two or three years ago, John contacted several local pastors and staff members to ask if we would be willing to serve as volunteer chaplains to help pick up the slack when he isn't there. Since John typically works "normal hours," the calls for assistance usually come in the wee hours of the morning.

I sleep with my cellphone nearby and it's not unusual to get a call at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning when there's been a life-threatening accident or a patient has been admitted who's near death and the family requests a chaplain. I received another one of those calls this past Thursday morning just before 2:00 a.m. and went to meet with the family. Their mom/grandmother had been hospitalized for a few days but had taken a sudden turn for the worse and they wanted some prayer support. I was able to spend some time visiting with them, offering some comfort and had prayer with them before leaving. I stopped back by the next morning and she was still lingering, though breathing much more shallowly. I stopped by and gave John an update and he followed up and visited with them during that day before she passed away in the afternoon.

I received a call yesterday and was asked if I would be willing to officiate at the funeral for the woman and I gladly consented. This is the second time I believe that one of these volunteer chaplain's visits has resulted in the additional opportunity to minister to a family in the time of their loss by conducting a funeral service. While the calls in the middle of the night can sometimes startle me awake and cost me some sleep, I appreciate the chance to demonstrate the love of Christ to someone who requests a chaplain to come and hold a hand, offer a shoulder to cry on, or say a prayer on behalf of a family member. I'm convinced that this is one further way that I can seek to be the presence of Christ in the midst of a hurting world.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A New Pastor for our Church

This weekend was an exciting time in the life of our church. We hosted our prospective new pastor, Dr. Blake McKinney, in a series of get acquainted meetings with different age groups in the church on Friday and Saturday and then heard him preach yesterday morning. He chose 1 Samuel 17 as his text, using the familiar story of David and Goliath to stress the basic message that God is bigger than our problems and our challenges. It was a good, biblically-centered sermon that was engaging. What I appreciated the most was his introduction to the sermon, saying that while it was a bit awkward with the sermon in a sense being part of a job interview, he wanted us to lay aside those concerns and hear what God had to say through the Scriptures.

We had good turnouts for the different age-group meetings and a great crowd in each of the morning services yesterday and again last night for the vote. The church clearly was overwhelmingly convinced that God had led our pastor search committee to Blake and the vote indicated that. 98% of those present voted to call him as our new senior pastor. He will move his family here after the Christmas holidays and begin his ministry in January. His first sermon (other than the yesterday's trial message) will be January 10th.

I think our entire church body is excited about this new page in our church's history and looking forward to the challenge that comes with new leadership. It promises to be an exciting new year for the congregation as we welcome a new pastor and gear up for our 150th anniversary celebration in April.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Big Weekend for our Church

After being without a pastor for a year now, our church is hosting a prospective new senior pastor this weekend. He's got a busy line-up of activities ahead of him for the next three days, beginning with a meeting with the staff this morning as a group and then with us individually afterwards. After lunch, he will meet with our wonderful senior adults among whom I have the privilege to minister. Tonight it will be the youth and their parents and collegiates. Tomorrow morning he will meet with the children and their parents, followed by deacons and their wives in the early afternoon. Tomorrow in the late afternoon is a chance for anyone who missed one of the earlier sessions to meet with him and ask questions, etc. Sunday he will preach in both morning services and then we will vote in the evening service on whether or not to call him as our new pastor.

The pastor search committee has been diligently working for many months now and feel convinced that this is the man that God would have to lead our congregation into the future. We've been praying much for them in this entire process and a good-sized group gathered last night for about an hour and a half to pray for the weekend's events. I'd be very grateful for your prayers for us as well as we seek the Lord's will together concerning our future pastor. I'll try and share an update late Sunday evening after the vote has been taken.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Progress on History Project

I've not been cranking out the production too quickly on the history of our church in preparation for next spring's 150th anniversary celebration, but I have been making steady if slow progress. I'm up to 1975 in the writing of the first draft. That was the year that the church's longest tenured pastor announced his retirement after 27.5 years. He led the church through the Baptist heyday that so many experienced in the 1950s and 1960s. I'm also still doing some further checking on printing options and have a couple of good possibilities I believe.

This really needs to be a fulltime job almost, given the extensive nature of the research and writing, but I don't have that luxury. Life and church ministry both go on, including a funeral this past Tuesday for the 102-year old mother of one of our church members whom I had visited on several occasions in one of the local care centers. I'm also staying fairly busy with my part-time job with the BGCM as we've been working on a strategy planning process for a new strategic focus for the next five years. I've also got trips to Guatemala coming up in January and February, so there's the preparation for those as well. I'm still targeting February 1st or so as the target date to have the history finished by so as to have it available in time for our anniversary in mid-April.

The other big event on the horizon is the visit of a new prospective senior pastor for our church. We've been without a pastor for a year now and are looking forward to his coming in view of a call the weekend of November 13-15. There's a lot of excitement and interest needless to say. I'll have more details following that weekend.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tony Campolo Interview

This afternoon I had the privilege to spend about 20 minutes on the phone with Tony Campolo. The Baptist General Convention of Missouri is in the midst of a several month study process to devise a new strategy plan for the next five years for the organization. A part of that process involves interviewing key leaders engaged in innovative ministries. I requested the opportunity of interviewing Dr. Campolo and he was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer several questions regarding leadership and ministry. I've long been an admirer of Dr. Campolo since I first heard him in person at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Buenos Aires where I served on the faculty. Dr. Campolo came as the keynote speaker for our annual conferences. During his visit, my wife and I had the opportunity of hosting him in our home one morning for breakfast. He obviously is a fascinating man with a deep passion for holistic ministry to the poor and needy.

While all of his answers were insightful and will prove helpful in our strategy planning process, one response in particular stood out. When asked to identify risks or dangers confronting his organization's ministry, he replied that he worries about the tendency toward secularization. That is, with his organization involved in a wide variety of social ministries aimed at meeting the needs of the poor and oppressed, he fears and fights against the temptation to get sucked into the purely secular side of that effort, given that the biblically prescribed holistic mission they attempt to fulfill also demands a focus on evangelism and sharing the gospel to meet the spiritual needs of the lost. I commented in response that I suspected he had received a lot of criticism from the religious right about not being evangelistic enough, and he graciously replied that he was grateful for that emphasis and those who would hold him and his organization accountable to the task of evangelism.

I think I might have mentioned previously after hearing Dr. Campolo again this past spring at the Baptist Border Crossing event in Kansas City that he excels in the art of prophetic preaching that is designed to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. He surely has a gift for the latter. I'm very grateful for the chance to have spent a few minutes with him on the phone this afternoon and count it a blessing from the Lord.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rick Warren quote

I received an email from a church member with a portion of a transcript of an interview with Rick Warren, conducted by Paul Bradshaw. There was a quote in it that really resonated with me. Warren said this:

"When I get up in the morning, I sit on the side of my bed and say, God, if I don't get anything else done today, I want to know You more and love You better. God didn't put me on earth just to fulfill a to-do list. He's more interested in what I am than what I do. That's why we're called human beings, not human doings."

When I used to teach Christian ethics in Argentina at the International Baptist Theological Seminary, in one of the introductory classes I would always do a little exercise with the students about the relationship between being and doing. It's based on the age-old debate or question, does who I am determine what I do, or does what I do determine who I am? I would put the two options to a vote before any discussion to see how many students favored which of the two options. After giving some examples of cases that seemed to support each of the alternatives and some lively discussions, the consensus reached by the class generally was that the two questions represent a false dichotomy. The truth is probably somewhere in between the two extremes and represents a dynamic tension between them.

I can both argue that I do what I do because of who I am, and that I am who I am because of a history or pattern of doing what I do. Warren's quote above emphasizes a bit more the need to focus on who I am in relationship to God. It's not about impressing God by what I attempt to do in His service as much as it is delighting myself in His person and presence. That's a good reminder in the middle of a busy week of ministry.

Bob Roberts

I mentioned a while back having attended an outstanding missions conference at Frederick Blvd. Baptist Church in St. Joseph, MO entitled Forum One-21. One of the really top-notch speakers featured was Bob Roberts. His message at the conference is now available on-line here. Thanks, Micah and crew, for making that available.

Dr. Roberts will also be the featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Blue River-Kansas City Baptist Association on Sunday evening, October 11th, at FBC Raytown, MO. More information about the gathering is available at the association's website.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Writing History

I realized I hadn't shared an update in quite some time about the status of my major ongoing project which is trying to get a history of our church written in time for its 150th anniversary celebration next April. I've found a different possibility for a printer than the one I was originally considering using that will give me a couple of more months of writing and editing time than I had first anticipated. I'm grateful for that and will certainly need the extra time I'm sure. As it is, I have finished reading all 150 years worth of the minutes (minus the 10 years that are missing because they were stored in a church clerk's home and were destroyed in a house fire) and am writing a first draft. I'm up to 1917 and in my fourth chapter in my chronological approach, so I am making progress. It does take a lot of time which at times can be a scarce commodity with my other pastoral responsibilities and my part-time job with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.

Speaking of the latter, we had an excellent quarterly board meeting of the BGCM yesterday in Jefferson City at the FBC there. I was privileged to share a brief report, including a Powerpoint presentation, about the most recent trip to Guatemala at the end of July. There's a great deal of interest among our board in the ongoing partnership with Guatemalan Baptists. I took advantage as well of the time to twist the arm of one of the pastors from the St. Louis area and encourage him to join us for the next trip in January to Guatemala to conduct leadership training conferences.

Today I'm trying to catch up on a little cleaning around the house, hope to catch a bit of the game between UT and Wyoming this afternoon, and then will go and see my wife's production of "Cheaper by the Dozen" at her school tonight. She said the two previous shows have gone well. I missed them because of other commitments, including going to the youngest son's homecoming game last night. He's the junior drum major in the marching band.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Finishing Well

The following is my latest article for our senior adult newsletter, the Joyful Tidings.

Is there an upper age limit for being a disciple? By that I mean is there a time that we reach in our lives when we’ve either gotten sufficiently old or been a Christian long enough that we can somehow unplug and coast for the rest of the way home? These questions are of such a nature that by merely asking them, one automatically knows the right response. We’re never so old and certainly never so spiritually mature that we can rest on our laurels as Christians and cease striving to know Him better and live for Him more fully. While all of us would undoubtedly agree with the truths of those statements, somehow in actual practice we’re tempted at times to do just that. Perhaps you’ve been an active church member for most or all of your life and you’ve rationalized in your mind that it’s now someone else’s turn to serve, to give, to teach, or whatever other ministry you’ve been doing.

I’m not saying of course that we as a congregation don’t need to develop and utilize younger folks in leadership roles, for certainly we must do that. What I am insisting is that I cannot find a single example in the pages of Scripture of an individual who decided that it was time for him or her to kick back and relax and leave the responsibilities for worship and service to someone else. Rather, it seems that advancing age only solidified and strengthened the resolve of these folks to utilize whatever time they had left to serve God and advance His Kingdom’s causes. This isn’t to say of course that one should never engage in recreation and relaxation, for we know that these are beneficial for our bodies which are the temple of the Holy Spirit. What I do believe we find in the Bible though is that individuals in their later years who had walked with God for a long time never seemed to wane in their level of commitment to Him. They seem to have taken to heart the words of Jesus in Matt. 6:33 where He said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

It’s a question of priorities in the final analysis, and I trust that each of you will desire that your life count for the Lord right up until the time He calls you home or when Jesus returns for His church. Jesus said, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Keep serving Him faithfully!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Follow-up to Forum 121 Gathering

In re-reading my own post (something I don't do very often), I was struck by the fact that one comment I made might easily lend itself to misinterpretation and I wanted to clarify it. I had remarked that I didn't feel that it was necessary for Dr. Reid to sing the praises once more of the Conservative Resurgence and comment on the fact that there will always be a battle to be fought for the Bible. My concluding sentence in that paragraph states, "Angry and argumentative Baptists who excoriate fellow believers with hate-filled words simply aren't fulfilling the command of Jesus to love one another, no matter how much they insist that they're merely defending sound biblical doctrine." As I thought about it, I realized that some might take those words as a criticism of Dr. Reid's own demeanor or presentation at the conference. He in no way was guilty of such an attitude or action from my perspective. His words were gracious and his illustrations clearly indicated a man who shares the love of Christ with a heart of compassion for others. My comment stands though in the sense that his tribute to the Resurgence did nothing in my opinion to strengthen his presentation. It was more like the perfunctory bone tossed to the dogs to keep them hungry and wanting more. I encounter numerous commenters on the Baptist blogsites in particular who can't even conceive of a moderate Baptist as belonging to the family of God and are quick to lash out with accusations of liberal, etc. whenever someone dares to question one of their interpretations. There seemingly exists an utter inability in the fundamentalist mindset to be able to separate the action of questioning their interpretation of a passage with rejecting the Bible itself.

My apologies to Dr. Reid and the forum organizers if my comments somehow indicated that he was guilty of angry or hate-filled speech toward fellow Christians, for he most certainly was not.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Forum 121 Gathering

I very much enjoyed the Forum 121 gathering this weekend that was held at Frederick Blvd. Baptist Church in St. Joseph. The 121 stands for First Century Mission, 21st Century Practices. The most challenging speaker for me of the entire conference was Bob Roberts whom I had heard a number of years ago but not in recent times. Bob is the pastor of the Northwood Church in Keller, TX and they've been instrumental in starting something like 90 different churches. They have a major focus internationally in Hanoi, North Vietnam, and Bob meets with leaders from across the world, including many Muslims, to seek ways to partner in bettering the living conditions of many living in poverty. He truly has a Kingdom focus, despite his Southern Baptist upbringing in East Texas. He alluded to the cosmic nature of Jesus' role where Paul says in Colossians 1 that Jesus came to redeem all things. He spoke extensively about discipleship and made one statement that really struck me. His comment was that we have to push evangelism in our churches because we don't have disciples. Speaking of missional living, he also posed the question, "What if God gave people their jobs not to make a living but to make a difference?"

Rodney Reeves, professor at Southwest Bapt. Univ. in Bolivar, MO also did a great job with his conference on First Century Missional Practices. His introduction followed Bob Roberts' thoughts about the Kingdom, saying that the church is not an end in itself but the means to an end which is the Kingdom of God. Taking the model of Paul, he suggesting our ministry must be prophetic, incarnational, and community-focused.

The other conference leader whose presentation I really enjoyed was Allan Karr, a missions professor at the Denver campus of Golden Gate Seminary. One of his statements that grabbed me was this--"If you make disciples, church happens." He then proceeded to outline a series of shifts needed to achieve a viable 21st Century ecclesiology and expressed them in terms of respiration, breathing in and out.

1. Breathe in - From extrabiblical traditions to biblical minimums. This echoed strongly what Wade Burleson and others have been encouraging Baptists to do in not going beyond the Scriptures themselves in our demands for conformity around non-essentials.
2. Breathe out - From institutional church-based to Kingdom of God based ecclesiology.
3. Breathe in - From a regional focus to a neighborsphere/local community focus.
4. Breathe out - From an organizational maintenance focus to an incarnational community transformation focus.
5. Breathe in - From hierarchical structure to shared leadership.
6. Breathe out - From "going to church" to "being the church."
7. Breathe in - From a focus on a main gathering to "doing life together."
8. Breathe out - From "right belief" to living out sound biblical doctrine holistically.
9. Breathe in - From efficiency-driven strategies to collaborative relational efforts.
10. Breathe out - From strategies of the flesh to a reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Alvin Reid of Southeastern Seminary also did a very good job of highlighting 8 keys for missional living. His main focus, not surprisingly given his role as an evangelism professor, was to focus on evangelism and sharing, using Paul's example in 1 & 2 Thessalonians for his text and point of departure. My only criticism comes from my own admittedly moderate viewpoint. I just didn't see the need for him to extol the virtues of the Conservative Resurgence and stress that there will always be a battle to be fought for the Bible. Moderate or historical Baptists don't have a problem affirming the truth and authority of the Scriptures whatsoever. Allan Karr's comments regarding his 8th point about the shift from right belief to living out sound biblical doctrine holistically resonates much stronger with me. He said that for far too long we've emphasized knowledge and content rather than transformed living. Angry and argumentative Baptists who excoriate fellow believers with hate-filled words simply aren't fulfilling the command of Jesus to love one another, no matter how much they insist that they're merely defending sound biblical doctrine.

Finally, to end on a more positive note, I was strongly encouraged by the great turnout of college students and 20-somethings who were clearly passionate about what was being shared. There weren't a lot of folks my age there, but the millenials and Gen-X'rs are certainly tuning in to the theme of living missionally. That gives me hope.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Last night in our Wednesday evening prayer meeting and Bible study time, we were looking at the healing of the lame beggar as Luke describes the account in Acts 3:1-10 and a portion of Peter's sermon that follows, beginning in v. 12. As I was preparing for the study this past week, a phrase jumped out and grabbed me and I've wrestled with it all week. It's not that it's difficult to understand. It's the impact of the words themselves and the irony they portray. While not an oxymoron as such, the phrase strikes with the force of one. I'm referring to Peter's words in v. 15 where he says of the Jewish leaders who demanded Barabbas' release and Jesus' crucifixion that they had "put to death the Prince of life." The word translated as Prince is the same one translated as author in Heb. 2:10 and as author or pioneer in Heb. 12:2. The notion of having put to death the author or source of life gripped me and I've not been able to shake that verbal image from my mind.

As I pondered that a bit more last evening after the study, it brought to mind another one of those biblical statements that exemplifies this same irony. This one is found in Paul's 2nd letter to the church at Corinth - 2 Cor. 5:21 - where we read, "He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin our our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." The sinless One became sin for us so that we might taste and experience His righteousness.

I suspect that there are many other affirmations in the Bible that possess this same ironic, or oxymoronic type of an impact. Anyone care to suggest another that you've encountered?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Great Quote

One of the blessings I enjoy each day is receiving in my email inbox a daily devotion from the Ravi Zacharias ministry. The devotional series is called "A Slice of Infinity" and is written by a number of different writers on their team. The author who never fails to disappoint with an extremely-well written and thought-provoking devotional is the managing editor, Jill Carratini. In today's piece, Carratini included a quote from Walter Brueggemann in his book, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth . Brueggemann's statement is worth pondering as we think of our tendency to create God in our own image.

We are your people and mostly we don't mind,
except that you do not fit any of our categories.
We keep pushing and pulling and twisting and turning,
trying to make you fit the God we would rather have
and every time we distort you that way
we end up with an idol more congenial to us.

In Isaiah 44:6-10 and following, the prophet records the words of God Himself as He reminds Israel that He has no rivals, for He alone is God. All attempts to replace Him with an idol are doomed to failure and merely reveal the folly of those who look elsewhere for strength and guidance.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Missions emphasis this coming Sunday evening

At times it’s difficult to keep track of all that our church is doing in the area of missions. There is such a wide variety of ongoing missions projects in which we’re engaged in addition to the special emphases we participate in either be sending volunteers or providing financial support to enable others to go or to undergird their ministries. This coming Sunday night will focus on missions as Janis Mansker (our children's minister) and I share a brief report regarding our trip to Guatemala at the end of July and the team of 9 that went to the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota will share pictures and testimonies of their experiences of sharing the gospel with the bikers there. Furthermore, we’ll have the privilege as well to hear a brief update from Eduardo Soto Padín, the pastor of the Evangelical Baptist Church of the Word in Fajardo, Puerto Rico that our church partnered with for several years to assist them in building their worship center.

We are blessed by the Lord in order for us in turn to bless others, and our ongoing missions program is one great way of sharing that blessing. Our church actively suppoprt a number of groups and organizations-—Lee’s Summit Social Services, City Union Mission, Hope House, Rachel House, Hillcrest Ministries, Harvesters, KidsHeart Africa, and the Special Care Home at Peculiar to name just a few-—in addition to our regular budget offerings that support missionaries in the U.S. and around the world. It's exciting to be a part of a church that seeks concrete ways to be involved in and support the work of missions both locally, nationally, and internationally.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Strategic Planning

I attended the initial meeting in a series of four projected gatherings whose purpose is to enable the Baptist General Convention of Missouri to formulate a new strategic plan and initiatives for the next five years. One of the blessings of working with such a young convention is that we're not bound by lots of tradition and bureaucracy. That provides a great deal of freedom to engage in some creative thinking and searching about where God would have us be five years from now. Today we basically looked at three different methodologies to help us assess the current realities and challenges we face as well as identifying a large number of groups (most of them being para-church organizations) that are engaging in some creative ministries. The plan calls for us to interview key leaders in these organizations in addition to conducting some listening sessions in churches and encouraging lots of folks to complete an on-line survey to help us assess what they sense the most pressing needs are in their congregations.

It was a productive day with some good fellowship and dialogue as the group worked to develop some exploratory questions for both the listening sessions and the online survey after we had dialogued exensively about the groups we knew of that we doing some "out of the box" things in ministry.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Famous Quotes on Missions

I was deeply moved last night by our church's drama ministry (entitled First Acts) and its presentation in a readers' theatre format of “Bridge of Blood”--the story of Jim Elliott and his colleagues' efforts to evangelize the Aucas of Ecuador. I had first been exposed to the life of Jim Elliott back in seminary days and his famous quote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose,” has challenged my life for the past 30 years or more. In that same vein, I thought I’d share a few other memorable quotes from missionaries and Christian statesmen on the subject of missions.

“Christ alone can save the world, but Christ cannot save the world alone” - David Livingstone.

“I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with light” - John Keith Falconer.

“God isn't looking for people of great faith, but for individuals ready to follow Him” - Hudson Taylor.

“Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell” - C.T. Studd.

“Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God” - William Carey.

“If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him” - C.T. Studd.

“No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once” - Oswald J. Smith.

“We talk of the Second Coming; half the world has never heard of the first” - Oswald J. Smith.

“The mark of a great church is not its seating capacity, but its sending capacity” - Mike Stachura.

When James Calvert went out as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands, the ship captain tried to turn him back, saying, “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages.” To that, Calvert replied, “We died before we came here.”

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Guatemala Update

We had an outstanding time in Quetzaltenango with the leadership training conferences on Tuesday and Wednesday, returning to Guatemala City late in the afternoon yesterday. Both Verlyn and Janis did a wonderful job with their teaching times and the contents of their talks were very well received. As always, there were a large number of questions and comments by the workshop participants. They really do enjoy interacting with the conference leaders on these trips.

I didn't verify an actual number of participants at this event, but I would judge we were right at the number of 80 which is upper limit that we've placed on the conferences--mainly from the standpoint of budget concerns. In addition to covering the cost of lodging, food, and the conference room space itself, we also provide some books each time to help these pastors and lay leaders expand their libraries with some good materials that will help them in their ministries.

I never cease to be moved by the expressions of gratitude and appreciation that our Guatemalan brethren share with us for having provided these training events. We've actually done 6 of these to this point (I think I mistakenly said 7 in an earlier post), and each time has been a tremendous blessing. Most of the pastors and leaders have attended all 6 of the sessions though we do pick up a new church or group of leaders from time to time, or a church opts to send some different leaders to accompany their pastor for the training.

The hugs, kisses, etc. as we leave are always part of an emotional farewell until we get together again six months down the road. I'm extremely grateful for the BGCM and the Baptist churches in Missouri that make these trips and training events possible. I don't think that perhaps we'll know this side of heaven just what all has been accomplished through these conferences. I do know that I consistently hear testimonies from the pastors and leaders who attend that the topics and themes that we cover have always been timely and apropos to the situation in which their congregation finds itself, so they've been able to implement the teachings in their local setting.

Today we're off to Antigua for some sightseeing before flying home early tomorrow morning. We'll probably be up around 4:00 a.m. to get to the airport in time for a 7:00 flight out, assuming it's on time. The other thing we're doing this morning before heading to Antigua is visiting the Tabitha Ministry that Carol, our partnership liaison has with the women and their children who live near the city dump here in Guatemala City. We have brought a couple of suitcases stuffed with children's and baby clothes for the ministry and will have a chance to deliver that to them.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Guatemala Bound

Monday afternoon I'll be heading southward again for the latest round of leadership training conferences with Guatemalan pastors and lay leaders. We anticipate a good crowd of close to 80 to be in attendance this time. Accompanying me will be the children's minister from our church, Janis Mansker, and a BGCM colleague, Verlyn Bergen. Both bring a lot of expertise in their fields and undoubtedly will make a significant contribution as conference leaders. For this occasion, I'm going to just fill the role of translator for their workshops. Janis has been to Guatemala previously when we went in February 2008 for a week-long missions trip to Cantel and did VBS, spoke in public schools, and conducted leadership conferences for four area churches. This will be Verlyn's first trip with us to Guatemala.

It will be a quick trip this time--down on Monday, driving out to Quetzaltenango on Tuesday morning in order to arrive in time for lunch and then 3 sessions that day. Wednesday we wrap up with two more sessions and will be heading back to Guatemala City late that afternoon. We'll do some sightseeing in Antigua on Thursday before winging our way home on Friday. These are kind of whirlwind trips, but it enables church staff members to make a meaningful contribution as a conference leader while not having to miss out on services and responsibilities in their own churches. If you stumble by the blog and have read down this far, please remember us in prayer this coming week as we minister in Guatemala. Thanks!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Getting Your Goat

I can’t attest 100% to the accuracy of the following, but I ran across an interesting explanation of the phrase “to get someone’s goat.” You’ve probably heard or maybe even used that phrase before, though it seems to be fading out of common usage today. The phrase supposedly originated from the practice of the owners of racehorses keeping a goat as a stable companion for their horse. With both being herd animals, the goat presumably had a calming influence on the racehorse and kept him from being excessively jittery. If you owned a competing horse and wanted to improve your odds of winning, you would steal the competitor’s goat so as to upset the horse and make it run a poor race. From this practice, the phrase came to describe the action of doing something to upset another person—to get their goat.

What is it that most frequently “gets your goat?” What is the usual source of irritation that provokes you to become upset? The answer to those questions will of course vary from person to person, but it’s worth asking ourselves what it is that we allow to disturb and disrupt our peace of mind. Sometimes the provocation is something over which we have absolutely no control. At other times, perhaps we can identify the source of the conflict and thus not put ourselves in the same situation so as to experience those distressing feelings.

While we may not always be able to control the source of the irritation, we still can choose how we will respond to the irritant. We read in Prov. 15:1, “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” That’s great advice if the source of conflict is another person’s words. But what about when it’s just the circumstances of life that upset us? It’s then that we claim the promise of Jesus when He said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; do not let your heart be troubled” (Jn. 14:27). His supernatural peace can be ours as we daily trust in Him.

(The above post comes from an article I wrote for our Senior Adults' monthly newsletter).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Adult Bible Study Series

This summer I resurrected an event that I had conducted my first 4 summers on staff here. For whatever reason, last summer I failed to lead what at that time we were promoting as an Adult Vacation Bible School. I was scolded by some of my senior adults (very nicely of course) for not having offered it because they told me they really missed it. I have to confess that I missed it as well. Each summer it's been one of the highlights of the entire year to get together each evening of one week (actually we go Monday through Thursday night) and study a book of the Bible.

I suppose the format is similar to the days when January Bible studies were common in Southern Baptist life, only we choose to do it in the summer. In the past years we've studied Romans, Colossians, James, and 2nd Timothy. I have to confess that Romans was a real challenge to cover in four nights. I much prefer taking a shorter book where you can at least spend one evening looking at a chapter or so. In previous years, we split the evening in two parts with either a missionary report from a team that had recently gone on a missions trip, a musical program, or other speaker, followed by refreshments, followed by the Bible study time.

This year I've decided with the name change to simplify the format as well. We are studying 1 John this year and my plans are to take about 45-50 minutes each night to cover the Bible study portion and then being good Baptists, we have to have some refreshments and fellowship time afterwards. Last night it was cookies and brownies. Ice cream is on the agenda for this evening and then cakes and pies on Wednesday night. By Thursday, we'll try to both wrap up the study of chapter 5 and finish off whatever leftover desserts there are by that time.

We had a good group of about 80 in attendance last night. That number down just a bit from previous years, but it's still a wonderful group to show up mid-summer to study the Scriptures together. I am energized by the teaching opportunity as well as the gift of teaching is the one that God seems to have most blessed me with to serve His church.

Next week it's off to Guatemala once more for another round of leadership training classes with pastors and lay leaders in the western region. Our children's minister will be joining me as a conference leader as well as a colleague with the BGCM who leads out in the area of church relations. It should be another exciting week of ministry and fellowship with these pastors whom I've come to love deeply.

Saturday, July 04, 2009


I've been pretty remiss about posting anything on my blog for the past few weeks. Life has been pretty busy and I've been working on several projects simultaneously. With summer, my wife isn't teaching and has had a rather lengthy honey-do list to do. I'm also trying to get prepared for a week-long summer adult Bible study series on the book of 1 John. Last year I didn't do one of these for the first time since I've been on staff here and there was a clamor to resume the activity this year. I've also been translating the outlines for the conference leaders for the next trip to Guatemala which is scheduled for July 27-31.

Finally, the biggest time-consumer has been working on the church history project in an attempt to write a church history and get it published in time for our 150th anniversary celebration next spring. Reading through and taking notes on 150 years of minutes when the church met monthly for business meetings represents a huge undertaking and a lot of time invested. It's been an interesting process and I've still get a ways to go. I'm up to 1981 in the minutes now. When I finish the minutes, there are still other sources to research including our church's newsletter which has been published since the 1940s or so.

I'm afraid my posting is still likely to be sporadic due to these projects, but I'll try to do a brief update from time to time. Thanks to those who stop by occasionally or frequently to check on updates.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Racism and the Power of the Gospel

As a denomination, Southern Baptists haven’t always been at their best in the area of race relations. Southern Baptists were born out of the slavery controversy in the years leading up to the Civil War, and many preachers used biblical texts to justify the continuation of the South’s “peculiar institution.” Even after freedom for African Americans was declared, the general population’s prejudice continued to display itself.

I read recently an article about the first African American graduate of West Point Academy. Henry Ossian Flipper, born in 1856 as a slave in Thomasville, GA, became the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy on June 15, 1877. Flipper was appointed a second lieutenant in the all-African American 10th Cavalry and was assigned to Fort Sill in what was then Indian Territory. The amazing thing about the article was its report that not one white cadet ever spoke to Flipper in his entire four-year period of study at West Point. That someone would treat a fellow soldier and fellow human being with such disdain and contempt boggles the imagination.

Racial prejudice and hatred can be deep-seated, but the power of the gospel is capable of radically transforming the human heart and bringing love and acceptance where these destructive emotions once reigned. Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus about Jesus being our peace and abolishing in His flesh the hatred between Jew and Gentile surely apply equally to the lingering expressions of racism and prejudice in our day as well (Eph. 2:14-16). Paul says that both groups have been reconciled in one body (the church) to God through the cross. No wonder Paul’s message was Jesus and Him crucified. May that be our theme as well.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Responding to change

Sociologists have studied the differences in the rates at which groups of people respond to new information and ideas and have devised classification schemes based to describe this behavior. One such scheme speaks of innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards—with the innovators being the quickest to accept change and the laggards being the last to respond. I thought about that when I ran across a reference to the fact that this past weekend marked the 74th anniversary of the first night game in Major League Baseball history. The Cincinnati Reds played the Philadelphia Phillies on May 24, 1935 under the lights at Crosley Field. Other teams rapidly followed suit and night games became the norm rather than the exception. The last holdout to this trend was the Chicago Cubs. They didn’t play their first night game at Wrigley Field until Aug. 9, 1988, 53 years after the first MLB night game.

Laggards tend to be so tradition-bound that when they finally accept a new behavior or idea, it may well have been rendered obsolete by the innovators who have pushed on to newer frontiers. While we serve a risen Lord who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and while the truths of the Gospel are unchanging, our methodologies and programs must be flexible and adaptive to respond to the ever-changing world in which we live. Time-honored traditions enrich our heritage, but if we’re not careful they can become prisons that entrap us in the past. Let’s not lag behind to the point that we’re left out in the dark.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Agency Heads Clarify Question of CP Giving

In a post of April 23rd, I commented about the Missouri Baptist Convention's decision to utilize Cooperative Program offerings to fund their ongoing litigation efforts against five Missouri Baptist entities. The argument that MBC Executive Director David Tolliver advanced to justify the use of CP funds to pay for lawsuits against fellow Baptists was that these institutions had been built and sustained by CP funds so it was only right to use CP funds to reacquire control of them.

In an article in the most recent edition of Word & Way, the heads of the Baptist entities in question examine Tolliver's claim about CP funds building and sustaining their institutions and the facts clearly don't bear out Tolliver's assertion. In the year in which Missouri Baptist University received their highest support from the MBC, it represented 3% of their total budget. All of the funds that went to MBU were restricted to scholarship assistance for Baptist students, so cutting those funds merely hindered Baptist young people from pursuing an education.

The Baptist Home existed for 4 years before it received any MBC support and the MBC never owned or purchased any of the properties or assets of the Home, including the expansion to the two additional campuses.

The MBC did purchase the Windermere Conference Center but its level of support was once again only a fraction of the center's operating budget down through the years. The convention budgeted $148,875 in CP funds for Windermere in 2001, an amount equal to 5 percent of the $3 million budget.

In fact, in 2002 when CP allocations for the five were escrowed and never paid, the convention budgeted about $2.1 million for them--less than 5 percent of the combined current operating budgets of the the five.

It will be interesting to see how Missouri Baptists respond to the appeal to officially approve of the use of CP offerings to fund the ongoing lawsuits, now in their seventh year. Hopefully the hollow claims of these institutions being built and maintained by CP funds will be exposed and one more prop will be knocked out from under the MBC's efforts to justify the unscriptural practice of suing fellow believers.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Product Warning Labels and Miscommunication

In 1997, Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch (M-LAW) began a contest to expose how frivolous lawsuits have led to a new cultural phenomenon—weird and zany product warning labels. Some of these are absolutely hilarious.
1. On a fishing lure with 3 steel hooks: “Harmful if swallowed.”
2. On a smoke detector: “Do not use the Silence Feature in emergency situations. It will not extinguish a fire.”
3. On an electric carpenter’s router: “This product not intended for use as a dental drill.”
4. On a baby stroller: “Remove child before folding.”
5. On a hand-held massager: “Do not use while sleeping or unconscious.”
6. On a household iron: “Do not iron clothes while they are being worn.”
7. On a package of shin guards designed for bicyclists: “Shin pads cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover.”
8. On a box of sleeping pills: “Warning – may cause drowsiness.”

The list goes on, but you surely get the point by now. In an effort to avoid liability and avert lawsuits, companies have resorted to writing some pretty strange warning labels for their products—often with some unintended and entertaining results.

Communicating clearly what we intend to say can be a tricky matter. We’ve probably all had the unpleasant experience of being terribly embarrassed at something we accidentally said when we’ve mispronounced something or jumbled our words. Unfortunately, once our words are spoken, they take on a life of their own. It’s no wonder that James, the brother of Jesus, declares that “if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man.” That unfortunately excludes all of us most likely. But by God’s grace, when we slip and say something harmful, let’s have the courage to make it right by asking forgiveness of those we’ve offended. Otherwise, we might need to wear a product warning label on our foreheads, advising others to be cautious about listening to our words.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Measuring Spiritual Maturity

A recent study on spirituality by the Barna Group reported that many churchgoers as well as church leaders have a hard time defining and measuring spiritual maturity. The most surprising statistic to me in the report was that 81% of self-identified Christians endorsed the statement that spiritual health means “trying hard to follow the rules described in the Bible.” Even among those surveyed who believe that salvation is by grace through faith and not by works, four out of five concurred that spiritual maturity is trying hard to follow the rules.

I think the survey results reveal that many Christians still have an inadequate understanding of the grace of God and what it means to walk by faith in Christ each day. It’s easier perhaps to fall into the trap of believing one can somehow measure their spiritual maturity by checking off how many of the “do’s” have been performed and how many of the “don’ts” have been avoided. Nevertheless, real spiritual maturity isn’t evaluated by how well we perform a list of tasks on a check-off list.

There are spiritual disciplines which undoubtedly help us to grow in Christ-likeness and we ought to cultivate and give attention to those each day. In fact, we’ve been looking at some of those disciplines on Wednesday evenings in a series of Bible studies on the steps to spiritual maturity. But ultimately our spiritual maturity is a reflection of the character of Christ being built up within us by His indwelling Holy Spirit as we abide in Him. Perhaps the best measurement of our maturity as Christians isn’t the number of check marks on some man-made list, but the degree to which the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is reflected in our lives. That fruit will be evidenced as we focus our attention not on a set of rules to keep, but on living in constant fellowship with Christ, growing to love Him more each day.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Missouri State Supreme Court Decision

Yesterday the Missouri State Supreme Court denied the Missouri Baptist Convention's request to re-hear its case against the Windermere Baptist Conference Center. The MBC has now run out of legal options it would seem in its quest to overturn the decision handed down more than a year ago by Judge Richard Callahan in which he sustained that the Windermere trustees had acted legally in amending their charter to allow the election of their own trustees. ABP has a report here on the latest in the ongoing lawsuits by the MBC against five Baptist agencies in the state.

As of Wednesday morning at 6:30, the MBC's Pathway still hasn't weighed in on the Supreme Court's decision. In every previous defeat suffered in this ongoing legal battle that has consumed time, energy, and resources for the past 6 years, the Pathway has managed to spin some kind of a positive message of reassurance to the MBC faithful that they would ultimately prevail in the court of law. It will require an extra measure of creativity it seems to do so once again in the face of the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case.

It seems that all of their hopes now are pinned on a separate case in Camden County where (contrary to their earlier affirmations that the lawsuits were theologically and biblically permissible because they were suing institutions and not individuals) they are pursuing legal action against certain individuals involved in Windermere's development and financing operations subsequent to the charter change. Most of the cases against the individuals named in those cases have also been dropped, and hopefully the Supreme Court's decision yesterday will accelerate the decision to dismiss the charges against other individuals named as well.

It remains to be seen if the MBC will continue to push forward in its quest to regain control of the other four entities involved--Missouri Baptist University, The Baptist Home, The Baptist Foundation, and Word & Way. Popular opinion seems to indicate that Windermere with its beautiful location and wonderful encampment facilities was the big prize on the table and perhaps the other entities weren't viewed by the MBC as being quite as valuable. That might explain the decision to pursue initially the suit against Windermere rather than the other four agencies.

It will be interesting to see the MBC's response to this latest defeat in the legal battle. Will they doggedly press forward, spending Cooperative Program offering money to try and regain control of the other agencies? They have suggested at every turn of the road that they must do so because they have a mandate from the messengers to the annual MBC gathering to do so. If you'll pardon a biblical analogy though at this point, it seems to me that the situation is not unlike the Jewish authorities in Jesus' day stirring up the crowds to demand the crucifixion of Jesus and the release of Barrabas, only to then argue that they were simply responding to the demands of the people. The consistent push by the MBC leadership to regain control of the agencies is what has fueled whatever vestige of popular sentiment that exists to continue pursuing the lawsuits against fellow Missouri Baptist agencies. Hopefully this latest legal defeat will quell some of the frenzy for further legal action. It's high time to put these issues to rest and get on with the task of sharing the Good News with the state, the nation, and the world.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Latest Project

I thought I'd share my latest venture. Our church is celebrating its 150th anniversary next year and I volunteered to write a history of the church for the occasion. The major problem I'm facing quite obviously is having begun about 2 or 3 years later than such an undertaking should have commenced. We're just about one year away now from the anniversary celebration. The church was founded on April 14, 1860 and we'll be celebrating it next year on the Saturday and Sunday following that date--April 17 & 18, 2010.

There is a subcommittee of the larger anniversary planning committee that is working with me on the project, assisting with locating resources and investigating some of those. I've tackled the initial task of reading through 150 years of church business meeting minutes, although the church didn't meet for about 4 years during the Civil War as a terse note following the September 1861 business meeting notes: "No Church in the following months on account of the troubles in the border counties: October November and December 1861 – January February March April and May 1862 – Elder J. J. Robinson preached to the Congregation on the first Sunday in May 1862.” Thos. Best C.C. (church clerk). Following that worship service in May of 1862, the church didn't reunite for worship again until June of 1866.

There is also a gap in the minutes from about 1901 to 1912 due to the fact that the records were at the home of the church clerk and were lost in a house fire. Beyond those gaps though, with the exception of some early business meetings that were cancelled "owing to rain," there are regularly scheduled monthly meetings as well as special called business meetings to wade through and seek relevant information which will shed light on our church's past.

Other sources that we've uncovered include deacons meeting minutes, WMU minutes, trustees minutes, the church newsletters, bulletins, printed programs for special events, the minutes of the Blue River Association, articles in the Word & Way, articles in the Lee's Summit Journal, etc. Once again, the biggest challenge in writing the history will be finding the time to do the necessary investigation, writing, and editing. I'm excited about the prospects though and look forward to being able to have a printed account of our church's long history.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Strength for the Journey

One of the downsides of living in the age of instant communications is that we are often inundated by the news of tragedies occurring around the world. In an earlier day, folks might never have heard of some of these events, or news of the disasters would have arrived at best several days or weeks later. With 24-hour news broadcasting, cell phones with cameras, and so many other forms of advanced communication technology, news of worldwide disasters reaches us in minutes. Sometimes the toll in human suffering is so great that we turn off our emotional sensors to block out the pain, steeling ourselves against the hurt and grief that others are enduring.

I recently learned about the worst maritime disaster in American history. I would have suspected that might have been some battleship that sunk during World War II, but in fact it involved a steamboat on the Mississippi River just days after the conclusion of the Civil War. The Sultana was carrying 2100 passengers when it exploded and sank just north of Memphis, TN on April 27, 1865. Only 400 survived the tragedy, most of the passengers drowning in the swollen waters. Of the 1700 that died, all but 100 of these were Union veterans, the majority being survivors of Confederate prisoner of war camps. They had survived the rigors of the battlefield and endured the harsh conditions of imprisonment only to die in an accident on their way home.

The lesson I would underscore from this tragedy is that we never know what lies around the next bend in the river or the next curve in life’s journey. Whether it brings us unexpected joy and happiness or unspeakable sorrow, our calling remains to live by faith each day. May we look together to God’s grace to find the strength to encourage one another along the way.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

MBC Executive Board Makes its Intentions Clear

Well, if there was any lingering doubt as to the resolve of the MBC's Executive Committee to continue the legal battles with the 5 "renegade" agencies as they are fond of labelling them, those uncertainties have all been dispelled by Executive Director David Tolliver's most recent article in The Pathway. The Executive Board voted to authorize an additional $500,000 line of credit to what has already been authorized to fund the ongoing lawsuits against The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist University, Word & Way, Windermere Baptist Encampment, and The Baptist Foundation. While Tolliver reasserts that no Cooperative Program funds have been tapped to date to fund the lawsuits (an affirmation that is certainly open to question as this article demonstrates) the proposal now is to do exactly that. Beyond extending the line of credit to the tune of an additional one-half million dollars, the MBC is also proposing a new line item in the Cooperative Program budget to fund the lawsuits. The amount of that line item isn't disclosed. [Actually that amount is revealed in a separate article in the same edition. The new budget line being proposed is $469,000, again almost a half a million dollars to sue fellow Baptists].

Through a lengthy bulleted list of what he labels principles that need to be acknowledged, Tolliver cites the example of the SBC itself and other state conventions that have spent CP funds to conduct lawsuits as well as suggesting that using CP funds for all kinds of purposes is just how the MBC does business.

The most disingenuous statement in his article has to be the following quote: "Maintaining, even recovering, lost institutions/agencies is a part of preserving the mission and ministry of that agency." Tolliver completely ignores the undeniable fact that the five named agencies are continuing to conduct their ministries surprisingly well, especially given the fact that the MBC has systematically attempted to undermine their capacity to do so. That of course is especially true of Word & Way where not only were funds cut off from the agency but existing office space was taken away from them and Lifeway and other SBC advertisers were discouraged from using their services. The same could be said of Windermere, where the MBC not only cancelled all of the convention's normal activities there but sought to influence individual churches to not utilize the facilities either. Clearly, the goal hasn't been to maintain the mission or ministry of the agencies but to regain political control of them.

Tolliver claims to be theologically opposed to the lawsuits, but that doesn't prevent him from encouraging churches to support the efforts. He repeatedly makes the claim in the article that the Executive Committee is merely carrying out the wishes of the churches as expressed in the 2001 annual meeting in Cape Girardeau. Tolliver acknowledges that the decision in Raytown this coming fall "will be emotionally charged for all of us" and says that he's praying that Missouri Baptists will lay aside emotions and personal agendas. I wholeheartedly agree with the part about personal agendas, but I pray on the other hand that some emotionally-charged pastors and lay leaders will finally come to their senses and say that enough is enough of suing fellow Baptists and seeking to hinder their ministries. Maybe a bit of old-time emotion might convince those who have quietly acquiesced all along to the demands of a few that it's high time to move beyond partisan politics to Kingdom causes.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Press Release about WorldconneX

As anticipated, the board of WorldconneX voted this past Friday morning to accept the BGCT's recommendation to dissolve the organization and incorporate its functions within a newly structured Evangelism and Missions Department of the BGCT. All of the details of how that restructuring will take place haven't yet been finalized, but Randel Everett (BGCT Exec. Dir.) and Wayne Shuffield (head of the new Evangelisms and Missions Dept.) were both reassuring in their words about wanting to continue the initiatives that WorldconneX has been able to launch in recent years. The official press release of the BGCT is linked to here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I'm catching an early morning flight tomorrow to head to Dallas for what apparently will be my final meeting as a member of the WorldconneX board of trustees. The BGCT leadership is asking WorldconneX to cease operating as a separate entity and for its functions to be taken over by the missions department of the BGCT. Some of the present staff members will in all likelihood continue to serve in the same capacity as BGCT staff members, but not all of them.

I've enjoyed my time serving as a trustee on the WorldconneX board for the group of trustees is an outstanding bunch of Baptists who are vitally interested in missions and furthering God's kingdom. The association with them has been stimulating and enriching and WorldconneX's legacy will include some very significant accomplishments in a difficult time of transition and troubled denominational relationships.

Our convention, the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, owes a great debt to WorldconneX for helping facilitate our involvement in Guatemala these past few years. That partnership continues to grow and expand and a group of 14 from First Baptist Church of Farmington, MO leaves this Saturday for an 8-day trip to Quetzaltenango where they will partner with the First Baptist Church of that city and its outstanding pastor, Roger Marquez. It's been my privilege in these past several months to serve as a resource person for them as they've planned their trip. We had a special time of prayer tonight in our evening service for their team's efforts this next week.

I'm looking forward to the opportunity of being able to express my appreciation and admiration for the fine work that Bill Tinsley and the rest of the WorldconneX staff have done in these years. I pray that the Lord will continue to bless their vision as it is taken up now by the BGCT's missions department.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Baptist Border Crossing Videos

The archived videos from the Baptist Border Crossing Summmit are now available at this link. All of the speakers were outstanding, so it's pretty hard for me to give a recommendation of which one you ought to listen to. If time permits, listen to them all. If you only have time to listen to one, I'd encourage you to listen to Tony Campolo's message from Saturday morning. It's a powerful message for the church in our day. Campolo actually starts speaking at about minute 47:00 so you can drag the slider to there if you want to skip the music, etc., but in doing so you'll also miss a wonderful reading of a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech by Wallace Hartsfeld II, a tribute to Dr. King on the anniversary of his death.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Hillcrest Ministries Open House

Tomorrow is going to be another busy Sunday. We're having a pancake breakfast before services, beginning at 7:30 until about 9:30. After the morning services, there are a couple of things taking place in the afternoon. We're having a visitation at the church for a long-time church member who passed away on the 1st. I'll be doing the eulogy at his funeral service on Monday morning. There is also an open house to invite folks to see the refurbished apartments at the Hillcrest Ministries complex here in Lee's Summit. Hillcrest Ministries has an outstanding success rate in moving people from homelessness to self-sufficiency by employing a 90-day tough love approach, coupled with stringent financial accountability and the support of volunteers and professionals. Our church is sponsoring one of the apartment units and a number of our men have been volunteering their time to fix up not only our own unit but other apartments that other churches are either already sponsoring or will sponsor in the future.

Tomorrow evening I'll have the privilege of baptizing three adult ladies in the service. Their decisions came about as a result of their participation in an Experiencing God discipleship study in our church.

After the evening service, the church's missions committee will be meeting to look at some requests for financial assistance and some missions opportunities we're considering. All in all, another busy day of ministry.

Baptist Border Crossing Event

I had a very enjoyable time these past 3 days participating in the Baptist Border Crossing Summit at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty, MO. The church was an outstanding host for the event and extended wonderful hospitality and assistance. The messages from the keynote speakers were all outstanding. The messages were live videostreamed as they occurred and at some future point are to be available in the archives on the website. I enjoyed each of the sessions, but the highlight for me was hearing Tony Campolo this morning. He definitely fits the role of prophetic preacher when it comes to denouncing systemic sin. The stories of the radical engagement of his students in ministry to the poor and oppressed as well as their work in the Dominican Republic are inspiring and challenging. I'll probably provide a link to this video when it's available as it's definitely worth listening to.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

BGCM Annual Meeting

We had a good meeting of the BGCM at their annual meeting this afternoon at our church, First Baptist Church of Lee's Summit. The crowd wasn't a large one as we had anticipated it might be down due to having moved our meeting up a day in the week in order to accommodate the Baptist Border Crossing event at the Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty, MO. That gathering kicked off tonight with an excellent worship experience and a great message by David Goatley, president of the North American Baptist Fellowship and Executive Secretary of the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention. His message centered on the theme of coloring outside the lines and was based on the text in Acts 11 where Peter is initially called before the religious authorities in Jerusalem to account for his action of taking the gospel to the Gentiles in the case of the centurion Cornelius and his family.

The message should be available via archive later to be viewed. Live video streaming will be offered of the sessions tomorrow so if you're unable to attend, you might check out this website. President Carter will be speaking at some point in the morning between 10 and noon and Tony Campolo is scheduled to speak on Saturday morning.

The BGCM will be hosting our annual missions banquet tomorrow night as a part of the event at Pleasant Valley and we'll be highlighting our Guatemalan partnership. I was able to share a taped interview of one of the pastors from Guatemala this afternoon at the BGCM meeting as he expressed appreciation to our convention for what the training sessions we've been conducting have meant to his own life, his church, and the churches of the western region.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Strategy Conference Wrap-up

I really enjoyed the strategy conference this past week. Rodney Hammer did a great job of bringing in some excellent speakers to share from their personal experiences in the area of strategy planning. Mark Aderholt, a former IMB missionary in Budapest, did an outstanding job of emphasizing the importance of prayerwalking and knowing your field in order to be able to hear clearly from the Lord what He is leading you to do in terms of outreach and discipleship. Vince Blubaugh of the MBC shared some great insights from his own experience, especially with a church plant he did in Rockaway Beach, MO. Gus Suarez of Midwestern Seminary also shared some very practical suggestions from his background as a church planter and state convention strategist.

Our ministerial staff was able to revise a bit more the prior work that we had done on a missions statement and some core values and the feedback from the other participants and leaders was helpful at that point. We're seeking to implement some of the insights we learned from the conference and share with the church body some of the convictions that we came away with from the week.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Week of Strategy Planning

Starting this afternoon, all of our ministerial staff will be attending a week-long strategy planning conference at the associational office, led by the Blue River-Kansas City Association's executive director, Rodney Hammer. Rodney spoke in our church yesterday morning from Acts 1:1-8 and preached a great missionary message. We've been working on our homework as a staff in advance of this week and have crafted a missions statement, identified some core values, and elaborated a plan that to this point includes several priority concerns and goals. We've determined as a staff to move ahead on this project, trusting that it will lay some good solid groundwork for our church in this interim time without a senior pastor. The spirit of cooperation and enthusiasm for the planning process has been outstanding.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Word & Way article on our recent trip

If you don't subscribe to Word & Way, you might have missed a recent article about our church's trip last month to Guatemala. Jennifer Harris has a write up in the most recent edition about our trip.

I hope you'll check it out if you haven't read about it in Word & Way.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Tale of Two Funerals

Involved as I am in senior adult ministry at our church, I wind up doing numerous funerals each year--for more than I'd like to of course because these folks for the most part have been active church members whom I've come to know and love in the time I've served on staff here. I met with the daughter of one such member this afternoon to plan her mother's service for this coming Monday morning. The lady whose service I will officiate that day was 94 years old and had been a member of our congregation for 47 years. It has been my privilege to know and visit her regularly for the past 6 years or so. I'm okay with that kind of a funeral, even though it certainly prompts some feelings of sadness and sorrow at bidding goodby to a friend.

I'm not so comfortable or emotionally okay with the graveside service I was asked to do this morning for a young couple whose wedding I performed a couple of years ago. They lost their first baby this past week when the mother was 8 and a half months along in her pregnancy. That is the kind of funeral that is much harder to accept emotionally than one where the person has lived a long, full life.

What do you say in a situation like this? I'm convinced that what you shouldn't try and do is to answer the inevitable question of "Why?" Why us? Why our family? Why our child? Attempting to answer those questions is pointless and fruitless. It's pointless because we cannot know the mind of God at this point nor His reasons for allowing the child's death. It's fruitless because what this young couple needed this morning was not a logical explanation (as if there were one) but rather a message of hope and encouragement.

I used David's experience with the death of his son and tried to draw some principles from his response--he worshipped God; he recognized that death was a part of life and resumed his normal activities; and he focused on a future hope when he affirmed that while the child could not come back to him, he would go to the child. One of the final things I shared was a statement that I read in a book by Paul Powell that I received back in the dark ages in seminary entitled Gospel for the Graveyard. In fact, the basic outline (though not the thoughts for the message) were gleaned from the book as well.

The quote that spoke so powerfully to me, and I hope to the couple and their extended family as well, came from another couple who had experienced a similar loss of a young child. Their statement was this: "We have determined not to ask why until we get into the presence of the One who can give us the answer."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jason & Jen's Medical Missions Trip to Guatemala

I wanted to pass along an email update I received from my son and daughter-in-law, reporting on their trip last week to Guatemala as a part of a medical missions project. I know that many of you were praying for them and wanted to share their report.

Dear Prayer Partners,

First and foremost, thank you to all who remembered us in prayer in our trip to Guatemala this past week. We remained safe and basically healthy in a county where you have to remember to brush your teeth with bottled water and pray constantly while on the highways. Like last year, we had a wonderful experience and probably received just as many blessings as we were able to share with the Guatemalan people. Once again, we were able to see God’s hand at work in all aspects of the trip and in the lives we were able to touch.

Our purpose in going to Guatemala was to support Maya Mesoamerica Mission which was founded by missionaries David and Kathy Doss. Its goal has been to share the love of Jesus Christ through evangelism, church planting and helping establish micro-business opportunities for Guatemalans to provide a living for their families. Our team consisted of several diverse members fulfilling different roles. David Doss led the team having orchestrated the trip and location sites. During clinic days he translated medication instructions to patients in the pharmacy. Harold Harmon is a pharmacist from Alabama. He and his wife Delores operated the pharmacy. Harold’s sense of humor and off key singing served as great entertainment to those waiting to be seen! Chris Hammond, also from Alabama, operated the eye clinic. He worked alongside a Guatemalan translator named David in prescribing reading glasses to patients. A former major league baseball pitcher, Chris joyfully shared his testimony with those he cared for. Pastor Mario, is a local Guatemalan pastor affiliated with the mission. He was key in making contacts in the villages in which we served and would register the patients at the beginning of each clinic day. Kendra Butner, a nurse practitioner, who works in Jason’s office provided medical care, teaching and was able to share Christ with those she served. Sarah Dale, who with her husband John spent the last 6 months serving as short term missionaries with the mission, translated for Kendra. We, Jason and Jennifer, were able to bring medical care, evangelistic outreach and spiritual encouragement to the patients we encountered. As often happens during mission trips, we developed new friendships and deepened old ones with fellow team members while sharing personal blessings with each other.

While there, our team served 400-450 patients hosting five days of clinic in separate rural locations each day. The clinics were located in various church or school buildings. During the clinics we saw a wide variety of medical needs most of which we could address but some severe conditions were beyond our capabilities. We wish that we could share all the touching stories with you, but are unable to fit them on this page. Some of the things that Jason found most rewarding during the trip were the opportunity to pray with every patient seen and distribute Bible’s to those seeking God. Despite the busyness of the day, we make it a point to take the time necessary to share the full gospel message with any non-believer. One young woman prayed to receive Christ and several left with seeds planted where we felt the Holy Spirit was still at work. For Christian believers, we were able to offer prayers of encouragement for them personally and for their churches. Jason also enjoyed the opportunity to work alongside Jennifer and despite language barrier see her provide compassionate care whether in the form of a wound dressing, a hug or a children’s toy. Jennifer truly enjoyed working alongside Jason and watching him share of his love for our Lord to the patients. It was a blessing to see the smiles on the faces of the patients. Some would wait for several hours in hot and dry conditions to be seen, yet they would be so grateful for the care given and never did we hear them grumbling or complaining. They exhibited pure joy despite very difficult circumstances. Jennifer had the opportunity to distribute cloth diapers, carefully made by 2 very giving women from her bible study group, to many deserving babies. Another thing that was very touching was listening to patients in the eye clinic who had been unable to read their Bibles because of deteriorating vision. A simple pair of reading glasses left some with tears in their eyes, a Bible in their hands and the precious gift of being able to read God’s Word.

From the bottom of our hearts we appreciate the generous support of the church making the trip possible, along with faithful prayer partners for safety and success. We would ask you to continue to pray for those we saw including the many people whose names we wrote down who still need to come to know the Lord. Pray others will be placed in their lives to complete the harvest. Pray for those patients with illnesses we were not able to treat including chronic malnourishment, hepatitis, seizure disorders and children with brain injuries. Pray for their healing. Finally pray that God would continue to impress upon our hearts and the hearts of others the need to share Christ’s love.

In His Service,

Jason and Jennifer Snowden

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Off to Windermere

I'll be attending a quarterly board meeting of the BGCM at Windermere encampment the next couple of days. Each spring we have a retreat for our board to help with team building as well as finalize preparations for the upcoming annual meeting of the convention. This year's annual meeting as I've previously posted will be an abbreviated one at our church, First Baptist Church Lee's Summit, in order to facilitate attendance at the Baptist Border Crossing event.

I always look forward to spending time at Windermere. It is such a beautiful facility. I'll be thankful when the litigation brought by the MBC against Windermere is finally finished. Despite repeated rulings by the courts that the MBC has no case against Windermere, the MBC continues to appeal these rulings, spending huge sums of money contributed by Baptist churches for ministry purposes in order to pay the fees of lawyers who continue to insist that the MBC will eventually prevail. Their track record to date hasn't justified their confident assertions.

I'll have the opportunity to give an update to the board on my recent trips to Guatemala as a part of the BGCM's partnership with the Guatemala Baptist Convention. It's always wonderful to be able to report on the good things that the Lord is doing through that partnership.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ed Stetzer on Discipleship

Ed Stetzer delivered an outstanding challenge on the topic of rethinking discipleship in a recent church planters' conference. I want to reproduce a portion of it here, especially the last line that walloped me both in the head and the heart.

"For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven't stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, 10so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:9-10).

Notice the progression.

Knowing Being Doing

We can observe from Scripture a clear pattern that spiritual transformation begins with exposure to the truth. As God's revealed Truth (the Word) penetrates the mind it leads to the transformation of heart and character. The Apostle Paul expressed it this way:

"Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2).

The renewal of the mind, enabled by the inner working of the Holy Spirit, brings about spiritual growth.

Here you can see the pattern of knowledge leads to understanding (knowing), which leads to walking worthy (being), which leads to bearing fruit (doing).

It starts with knowing.

That is why in our research we found that the number one statistical correlation to spiritual maturity was the practice of reading the Bible. There was a strong relationship between those who grew spiritually and the practice of reading the Bible.

You don't need to get your people thinking you are clever, you need to get them thinking that the word of God is sufficient.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Baptist Border Crossing Event

When the New Baptist Covenant gathering took place in Atlanta last year, I was unable to attend because of its close proximity in time to two trips to Guatemala I was making. I regretted not being able to attend because the focus on worshipping together with other Baptists of diverse backgrounds and giving attention to the words of Jesus concerning ministry to "the least of these" was very appealing. This year, a number of regional follow-up events to that gathering are being held across the U.S. Here in the Midwest, the gathering is being called the Baptist Border Crossing--making reference to the fact that Baptists from several different states, as well as many different conventions will be coming together for worship and celebration as well as numerous breakout sessions.

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri is one of the groups that has been instrumental in organizing this event. We had already lined up Tony Campolo and former President Jimmy Carter to speak out at our annual convention meeting, and when the idea for a larger gathering of Baptists surfaced, the BGCM opted to shorten its normal two-day convention meeting to just one afternoon session on April 2nd in order to free folks to participate in the broader Border Crossing event. Having had the privilege of hearing Tony Campolo previously, including a week-long series in Buenos Aires at the seminary's annual conferences, as well as hosting him for breakfast in our home, I'm excited about the chance to be challenged by him again. There's a lot of truth in the old adage that good preaching comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. Dr. Campolo's preaching majors on the latter as he calls us to not settle for less than a radical commitment to following the commands of Christ.

For those interested in obtaining more information about the Baptist Border Crossing event that will be held April 2-4 at the Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty, MO, this website has further details. If you live in or near the Midwest, I hope you'll make plans to attend this historic gathering of a broad cross-section of Baptists from the heartland region.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Aging Gracefully

I thought I'd share my lastest monthly article in our church's senior adult newsletter, the "Joyful Tidings."

I’d heard the comment before, but someone quoted it again last week and I couldn’t help but reflect on the truth of the statement, “Growing old isn’t for sissies.” My mother-in-law also shared a humorous remark that her doctor had made to her recently. In trying to express the idea that her age was catching up with her just a bit and showing up in some health concerns, he told her, “You’re suffering from the birthday disease—too many of them.” Sooner or later, we all have to face the reality that we’re not getting any younger. The passing of time brings with it some new challenges as our bodies age. I’m reminded of a Spanish phrase I used to hear frequently in Argentina, “Los años no vienen solos.” That roughly translates into English like this, “The years don’t come unaccompanied.” In other words, each new year or birthday, while being a cause of celebration on the one hand, also brings with it new struggles and sometimes very undesired health issues.

How are we as Christians to respond to the aging process? What can we do to prepare ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually for what lies ahead? To keep our minds sharp, physicians tell us we ought to read and expose ourselves to new information, as well as engaging in mental exercises like crossword puzzles and word search games. Physically, we ought to eat a well-balanced diet, get adequate rest, and exercise according to our capacity to do so. Emotionally, we can reach out to family and friends and maintain and deepen existing relationships or seek to form new ones. Finally, to keep our spiritual lives healthy we need to engage in the disciplines of daily Bible reading and prayer, as well as fellowshipping with other Christians, sharing our faith as God provides us with opportunities to do so, and seeking to minister to the needs of others as well.

Nothing will help us ward off the effects of aging better than adopting the attitude of the psalmist in welcoming each new day with the declaration, “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” May that be our outlook and focus as we age gracefully.

Reggie McNeal on Evaluating Programmed-based vs. Missional Churches

I have always enjoyed and been challenged by anything that Reggie McNeal writes. I came across an article by him that refers to a new book he's written in digital form that addresses the question of how we evaluate programmed-based vs. missional churches. I think it's a great article and I look forward to reading the book.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Guatemala Trip Photos - Feb 2009

I've uploaded some photos from the most recent trip to Guatemala with our church. I'll work on adding some captions to these, but as of now, they're at least available to see at this link.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Guatemala update - Wednesday evening

It´s after 10:00 p.m. and the day has been long so I´m probably going to be briefer this evening than yesterday. We headed to Tejutla this morning, leaving the hotel and making the hour plus drive through the beautiful mountains and valleys. We began with VBS at the Bethel Baptist Church there. I didn´t get an actual headcount, but guess there were around 60 kids altogether. Because of space constraints, we divided the children into two groups and Allen & Brenda worked with Jacque with the younger kids while Thorvald and Virginia assisted Linda and Susan with the other kids. The rest of us took off to deliver some of the bags of food to needy families and to share the gospel with them. We also got to see a mission point (new church start) of the congregation in a river valley a few kilometers outside of town down a narrow dirt road. The church has built a simple tin roof-covered structure alongside the river on property that has been loaned to them. They have about 40 attending, including children. We also drove a bit further to see the land the church has purchased to construct a more permanent building for the mission. The mission pastor is one of the fellows who has been attending our training sessions in Quetzaltenango every 6 months. He worked in the U.S. in NY for many years and has retired here.

We met back up with the rest of the group for lunch at a small restaurant in Tejutla and went from them to deliver more bags of food. Not wanting to overwhelm folks with a huge group, Rhonda and I went with the pastor while Linda and Carol (our partnership liaison) accompanied another lay leader of the church. We headed back down the same dirt road toward the mission but stopped along the way and walked down a very steep trail (several hundred yards) where each group spoke to two different families--sharing the gospel with them and leaving them food. An older couple prayed to receive Christ with Rhonda and I. Meanwhile, Jacque and Duane had gone with the mission pastor to visit some other families and take them food. They shared tonight at dinner that they also had seen folks pray to receive Christ with them. Once again we were struck with the tremendous poverty in which these folks were living. Most that we saw today lived in simple adobe brick structures--perhaps no larger than 10 ft. by 10 ft. They have to hike up that same steep hill that we climbed back up to get to the main road and go to town.

After the home visits, we went to a small public school in town. The school was much smaller and poorer than the two we had gone to the previous days in San Marcos. They combined the pre-K and K, the 1st and 2nd graders, the 3rd and 4th graders, and the 5th and 6th graders and we once again shared games, a Bible story, snacks, etc. with the children. The director expressed her gratitude for our coming and invited us to share some cake and tea. After that, it was another stop for tea at the home of the missions pastor before heading back to San Marcos and a dinner of tasty fajitas.

After dinner, we sat around the tables and shared reflections on the experiences of the week and the things that had impressed us or that God has taught us. It was a wonderful time of hearing how God has been working in each of our lives this week as we´ve attempted to serve Him here.

Tomorrow morning we´ll journey back to Guatemala City, stopping along the way to see some ancient Mayan ruins at Iximche. Friday will take us to Antigua for some sightseeing and shopping for souvenirs before we wake up bright and early Saturday to fly home.

Thanks to all who have stopped by to visit my blog and for your prayers for our group this week. We´ve certainly sensed them and have been blessed with a strong awareness of God´s presence.