Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Family Time

I found myself at the end of the year with quite a bit of unused vacation days which I would forfeit if not used, so I've been enjoying some extended family time since around the 20th of December or so.  I made a quick trip down to Texas (Dec. 16-18) to see my second son before his overseas deployment and had a great time with him and his wife and our newest grandson, Jonah.  Since then, it's been hanging around the house with my wife and youngest as well as our second son who is home from law school at Ohio State Univ.  We've also had our oldest and his wife over with their three children on two occasions.  Throw into the mix my mom who lives with us permanently, my wife's mom who has been staying with us for a week, and my wife's sister who also spent a few days here and we've had a houseful of company. 

It's almost Guatemala travel time again for me as I'll be heading down there the second week of January for another round of leadership training conferences.  The day after I return, our church is hosting a "free garage sale" for the community.  It's something that we've done in the past and this year we're linking it to a bunch of other civic and non-profit organizations' efforts in conjunction with a week of service for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  In mid-February, it will be back to Guatemala again for a missions trip with our church.

Beginning this Sunday, we're also totally revamping our Sunday morning worship and Bible Fellowship schedules.  We've had two identical blended services to this point (at 9:30 and 10:45).  Our new schedule will begin with a traditional service at 8:00, the blended service at 9:30, and a contemporary service at 11:00.  We're beginning a number of new Bible Fellowship classes to accommodate the worship schedule changes.  I'm looking forward to teaching a coed class of 60-somethings during the 9:30 hour.  We'll be using the Smyth and Helwys Formation curriculum.

There's a certain amount of apprehension on the part of some with the new scheduling (change is always threatening), but there's a great deal of excitement as well about the chance to reach some new people we're currently not impacting with the gospel.  Life is good!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

One of the popular Christmas carols you hear on the radio frequently these days begins with the line, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” For Christians, it certainly should be one of the highpoints of the calendar year as we pause once again to reflect on the incredible truth that God became a man in the person of Jesus. A miraculous birth was accompanied by miraculous signs. Angelic choruses sang to shepherds. A guiding star led wise men from afar to visit the young child. An angel warned the family to flee to Egypt from Herod’s wrath.

The greatest miracle of all though was that Jesus was willing to give up His eternal glory with God the Father and come into this world in the most humble of circumstances. He who had existed with God from all eternity stepped into time and space. Why did He come? The angel said it best when he told Joseph that the baby was to be named Jesus, for He would come to save His people from their sin. In the midst of gift giving and receiving this Christmas season, don’t forget that we’ve been given the most indescribable gift imaginable—forgiveness of our sins and eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The True Origin of the Internet

Couldn't resist passing along this account of the origins of the internet in biblical times that I received from one of our church's senior adults.

In ancient Israel, it came to pass that a trader by the name of Abraham Com did take unto himself a young wife by the name of Dot.

And Dot Com was a comely woman, broad of shoulder and long of leg. Indeed, she had been called 'Amazon Dot Com.'

And she said unto Abraham, her husband, "Why doth thou travel far from town to town with thy goods when thou can trade without ever leaving thy tent?"

And Abraham did look at her as though she were several saddle bags short of a camel load, but simply said, "How, dear?"And Dot replied, "I will place drums in all the towns and drums in between to send messages saying what you have for sale and they will reply telling you which hath the best price. And the sale can be made on the drums and delivery made by Uriah's Pony Stable (UPS)."

Abraham thought long and decided he would let Dot have her way with the drums. And the drums rang out and were an immediate success. Abraham sold all the goods he had at the top price, without ever moving from his tent.

But this success did arouse envy. A man named Maccabia did secrete himself inside Abraham's drum and was accused of insider trading. And the young man did take to Dot Com's trading as doth the greedy horsefly take to camel dung. They were called Nomadic Ecclesiastical Rich Dominican Siderites, or NERDS for short.

And lo, the land was so feverish with joy at the new riches and the deafening sound of drums that no one noticed that the real riches were going to the drum maker, one Brother William of Gates, who bought up every drum company in the land. And indeed did insist on making drums that would work only with Brother Gates' drumheads and drumsticks.

And Dot did say, "Oh, Abraham, what we have started is being taken over by others."

And as Abraham looked out over the Bay of Ezekiel, or as it came to be known "eBay" he said, "We need a name that reflects what we are."

And Dot replied, "Young Ambitious Hebrew Owner Operators."

"YAHOO," said Abraham.

And that is how it all began. It wasn't Al Gore after all.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grace versus Un-grace

I was re-reading Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth this week in preparation for Advent and the celebration of Christmas. A verse I had read dozens of times spoke to me in a new way. Matthew 1:19 describes Joseph’s planned response when he learns that Mary is expecting a child. He clearly knows that he isn’t the father, and the law of Moses would have allowed him to have her publicly shamed and stoned to death as an adulterer. He would have assumed of course that the child had been fathered by another man as there was no other logical, human explanation for her pregnancy. The Bible says that because Joseph was a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, he decided to send her away secretly.

That statement prompted me to think about how true righteousness impacts the way we live. Far too often, the pharisaical kind of self-righteousness that so many practice leads to condemnation and harsh judgment of others who fall into sin. Joseph’s righteousness prompted him to exhibit grace toward Mary—not “ungrace,” to borrow a term from Phillip Yancey. Even as heartbroken as he must have been at the thought of her infidelity, his love for Mary prompted Joseph to show grace and protect her from both shame and death. His actions strongly suggest those that his earthly son Jesus would later take when confronted with the woman caught in the act of adultery.

The passage suggests that true righteousness isn’t displayed most clearly by the visible sins that it is willing to denounce, but by the love and grace it shows toward those who stumble and fall. The Christmas message is that God’s love and grace led Him to give His Son for a stumbling and fallen humanity—each and every one of us.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Busy Weekend

This was one of those extremely busy weekends for me and the family.  It started on Saturday morning with officiating at the funeral for a long-time member who passed away this past Tuesday.  I had been with her at the care center and had prayer with the family just a half an hour before she passed away.  The couple had lived here in Lee's Summit for more than 60 years and the crowd at the visitation and the funeral home was huge.

That evening I attended Lee's Summit North's production of "The Producers" in which our son plays the leading role of Max Bialystock.  He did an outstanding job with his performance.

Sunday morning it was my privilege to baptize a young man whom I recently led to the Lord after he just showed up one evening on a Wednesday night.  Several of our staff had spoken with him on different occasions, and I had the opportunity to lead him to Christ a couple of weeks ago.  I also had the chance to preach yesterday as our senior pastor was leading a marriage enrichment retreat in Branson for about 20 of our couples.  I preached from John 4 and the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  If you're interested in hearing the sermon, it's available here.

I attended a matinee of The Producers yesterday afternoon again before heading back to evening services at church where we had a preview of our new contemporary service set to begin on January 2, 2011.  We'll be offering a traditional service at 8:00, the blended service we currently have at 9:30, and the contemporary service at 11:00.  Finally, I wrapped up the weekend with deacons' meeting after the evening service.  It was a busy weekend, but wonderfully enjoyable.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Need for Humor

My recent post with the Christian cartoons has drawn more traffic to my blog than I've ever had I think, with the possible exception of one or two posts that focused more on denominational strife and turmoil and thus served to attract folks with those interests.  I think that probably says something about our need to laugh and engage in some humor more often than some of us do.  There's far too much bad news and serious stuff out there that we're exposed to on a daily basis, so a little levity and light-hearted humor can be a sweet elixir for our souls. 

I've had the privilege of leading the Wednesday night prayer meeting and Bible study at our church almost from the time I joined the staff over seven years ago.  I really look forward to that time each week of sharing prayer concerns as a family of faith and then delving deeper into a passage of scripture together.  We've done some pretty lengthy studies over these years--spending some 15 months in Mark, a year or so in Acts, and some other protracted book studies as well.  One of the highlights each week though is when the lady who leads us in singing a couple of hymns before we pray and study takes a few minutes to share some funny jokes.  Frequently these are church-related jokes, so we have a great time laughing at ourselves in a sense. 

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that among many other things that there is time for in life, there's a time to laugh.  I'm grateful for at least one time a week on Wednesday evenings when someone purposefully prompts me to laugh by telling some good jokes.  There's plenty of news out there that saddens us, angers us, moves us to cry, or leaves us shaking our head in amazement at man's capacity to do evil.  Some much-needed laughter can be a good antidote for some of the news that poisons our soul.  Here's hoping that you find something to laugh about today.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Civil Discourse

I can’t say I won’t be happy when the mid-term political election season finally ends after the voting on November 2nd. It seems that with each successive year, candidates from both major parties are increasingly guilty of engaging in personal attacks on their opponents rather than debating the issues themselves or stating in a positive fashion what they hope to accomplish if elected. What ever happened to civil and respectful discourse? Is waging a campaign of non-stop attack ads the only way to seek election to public office today?

Perhaps the negative example of politicians can serve as a positive reminder for us as followers of Christ to be especially careful about our speech and how we choose to communicate with others. We’d be hard pressed to improve upon the exhortation of the apostle Paul in Eph. 4:29 where he writes, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Our world could certainly profit immensely from some grace-filled, edifying speech. We may not be able to censor or control what the politicians are saying, but we certainly can and ought to ensure that our own speech reflects the presence of the Christ who dwells within us.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Combatting Acedia

I learned a new word this week as I was reading a daily devotional that I receive via email on my computer each weekday. The writer quoted another author, Kathleen Norris, who has written a book entitled Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life. I had to look up acedia to ensure that I understood it correctly. The dictionary defines it as spiritual sloth, or laziness and indifference in religious matters. A quote from Norris’ book stirred my thoughts even further when she writes:

"It is indeed apathy's world when we have so many choices that we grow indifferent to them even as we hunger for still more novelty. We discard real relationships in favor of virtual ones and scarcely notice that being overly concerned with the thread count of cotton sheets and the exotic ingredients of gourmet meals can render us less able to care about those who scrounge for food and have no bed but the streets."

The quote in turn brought to mind the title of a book I’m currently reading—Adventures in Missing the Point. The constant pursuit of the new and innovative and the deluge of choices that we face daily can certainly cause us to miss what matters most. Norris’ statement about discarding face-to-face relationships with people in our quest to expand our list of “virtual friends” via Facebook and other social networks is convicting. So, too, are her comments about getting hung up on dietary labels of food packages when we’re surrounded by folks who are hungry and homeless.

We can’t meet all of the world’s needs, nor solve all of the crises that arise, but by the grace of God we can do our part to make a difference and alleviate the suffering of others. We need to take our cue from the Lord Himself who seeing the multitudes as distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd, was moved with compassion for them. Let’s resolve not to let acedia win the battle.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Visiting Wyatt Park Baptist in St. Joseph

Life has been fairly busy lately, hence the lack of blog posts. Our senior pastor was attending a course this past week at Fuller, so I had the opportunity of preaching on Sunday evening the 3rd as well as in both services on Sunday morning the 10th. This week I'll be traveling northward to St. Joseph to meet with the good folks at Wyatt Park Baptist Church. They've invited me to share about ChurchNet (the new operating name for the BGCM) and its ongoing partnership with Guatemalan Baptists. Two of their members participated with us last February in our missions trip to Totonicapan and more recently they sent a suitcase full of shoes for the children of the Tabitha Ministry in Guatemala City.

I'm looking forward to meeting with the adult Sunday School classes to share about the partnership and then challenging the church in the morning message to an even greater level of commitment to the work in Guatemala. I'm excited that my weekly prayer partner, a young-at-heart 84-year old,
will be accompanying me. He has also traveled with our church previously to Guatemala.

The day promises to be a busy one as we'll have to hustle back so I can fulfill my responsibilities leading worship and a Bible study at a local care center at 3:00 p.m. After that, it's a missions committee meeting at church at 5:00, followed by worship at 6:30.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Humorous theology video

I saw this video on a friend's Facebook page and couldn't resist sharing it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Learning a Lesson from Tylenol

In late September and early October of 1982, seven people in the Chicago area died after taking extra-strength Tylenol capsules that had been tampered with and subsequently found to contain cyanide. The criminal behind these deaths was never identified and brought to justice. On October 5th, the parent company Johnson & Johnson took the unprecedented step of recalling some 31 million bottles of Tylenol in circulation with a value of more than 100 million dollars. They did so even though it had been clearly demonstrated that the poisonings were the result of deliberate tampering with the bottles and not a consequence of a production error. In the aftermath of these deaths, Tylenol introduced a new triple-sealed package to prevent such crimes in the future. While in the short-run, Tylenol’s market share dropped from 35% to 8%, before the year was out it had completely recovered, and Tylenol would later become the country’s most popular pain reliever.

I think there are some valuable lessons to be learned from the way Johnson & Johnson handled this crisis. Even though they were not directly responsible for the deaths of those who swallowed the tainted capsules, the company willingly incurred a massive financial loss by recalling all of the existing stock to ensure public safety. Furthermore, they changed their packaging (which also undoubtedly represented an additional outlay of capital) because they were intent on regaining the public’s confidence.

There will be times when we are unjustly accused of wrongdoing. At other times, suspicion will be cast on our motives. It is then that we need to be willing to go the extra mile to demonstrate that we have the other person’s best interest at heart. If a secular company can right the wrongs committed by another, surely we as Christians can do likewise.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reggie McNeal's Conference

I thoroughly enjoyed the day yesterday at Pleasant Valley Baptist in Liberty, MO listening to Reggie McNeal expound on missional living. He's an extremely engaging communicator who mixes in lots of humor along the way with his critique of the established church for going about business as usual and allowing programs to drive us rather than passionately engaging those outside the walls of our institutions. He sprinkled in lots of statistics and stories of individuals and churches that are "getting it" in terms of the shift to living missionally.

His presentation pretty well mirrored the contents of his recent book, Missional Renaissance, with its insistence on the need to change the church's scorecard in terms of what we count and celebrate. Reggie did a great job yesterday of addressing two of the three shifts he talks about in that book (from an internal to an external focus, and from running programs to developing people). He didn't really discuss at any great length the third focus the book mentions which is the shift from professional leadership to leadership shared by everyone in the community. I suppose he was alluding to this when he did answer a question about the future of the ministry as we've known it in the past.

He made an excellent point when he stressed that leaders are often too quick to sell solutions to problems before they've sufficiently convinced people that a problem exists. I think that's why the majority of our churches find it so comfortable to continue sustaining traditional programs rather than asking the hard questions about which programs really deserve to be maintained and which ought to be allowed to die a merciful death.

I'm glad that several from our staff were able to attend the conference together because it gives us a common framework of experience to discuss these issues. I expect it will provide some great fodder for thought in the coming days.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Good weekend at Windermere

I returned this afternoon (Saturday) from an enjoyable time the past couple of days down at Lake of the Ozarks at the Windermere Baptist Conference Center. The BGCM had scheduled a two-day retreat as a part of our quarterly board meeting. The additional time gave us the opportunity yesterday to do some team-building exercises. We viewed and interacted as a group with a training DVD produced by Franklin Covey entitled "The Speed of Trust." We spent time conversing about what it means to build a high-trust organization and the means of doing so. I thought it was a very productive time and we had some outstanding fellowship as always when we gather.

Today we met with our individual teams to engage in some planning and strategizing before meeting as a group to conduct business and hear the insights and ideas of the other teams. The Missions Mobilization Team that I lead talked about our ongoing partnership with Guatemalan Baptists and ongoing opportunities for ministry there. We continue to explore ways to engage the Lakota Indians living on the Lower Brule Reservation in South Dakota where our church's youth have traveled the past two summers.

One of the major initiatives we're undertaking involves the official launch of ChurchNet, our organizational name and identity. The BGCM remains committed to serving churches as our first priority and the goal is to do so much more effectively as we roll out a new website that will offer a much more interactive approach than our current site. It will feature an extensive resources database that will help churches find the assistance they need as well as allow members to suggest, identify, and contribute resources to the site. The website will also contain links to training opportunities that we ourselves will be leading or that other groups are conducting.

I'm excited about what the future holds for ChurchNet as we move forward with the implementation of our new five-year strategic plan. It's great to be a part of a Baptist group that isn't squabbling and fighting internally and whose focus is on helping churches accomplish their ministries more effectively.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Heading to Texas

My wife asked my Mom the other day if she would like to pay a visit to her sisters and she quickly responded that she would very much enjoy doing so. I was a bit surprised as she doesn't venture out of the house much here after a couple of falls that produced some fractured vertebrae. At any rate, we're going to head to Texas on Saturday to allow her to attend her old church (Acton Baptist Church) near Granbury and then we'll also visit her older and younger sisters before winding up in San Angelo the following weekend to see our newest grandson.

It will be lots of hours of driving and I trust that she can tolerate that okay, but it's been a couple of years at least since she's seen her sisters, so this should be a special time for her. I'm really excited as well about seeing Jonah who is already 12 days old. We've seen pictures but that doesn't compare to being able to hold him.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Averting Tragedy

On August 16, 1920, professional baseball experienced the only death ever caused by a pitched ball when Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman was struck in the temple by Carl Mays of the Yankees. Chapman made a habit out of crowding the plate and was frequently hit by pitches. It appeared that Chapman was expecting a curveball and made no attempt to move out of the way. He collapsed from the impact, was helped to his feet and walked to the dugout, but then lost consciousness. Emergency surgery failed to save his life. Chapman’s death prompted a major change in baseball as to this point, just a handful of balls were used per game. They would become discolored and scuffed and harder to see. Following Chapman’s death, dirty or scuffed balls had to be replaced. An unexpected by-product of the rule change was an increase in the number of home runs as the newer balls were wound tighter and carried farther when struck.

It’s sad and unfortunate that a tragedy must take place at times before safety measures are implemented to protect people. Vehicle safety inspections, child safety seats, railroad crossing warning lights, and so many other measures arose to address tragedies after the fact.

I wonder how many Christians ignore warning signs about their relationship with God until a full-blown tragedy occurs. Neglecting the daily disciplines of prayer and Bible study is a sure-fire way to weaken our ability to resist temptation that will inevitably come, attempting to sabotage our walk with the Lord. Rather than courting a spiritual crisis through indifference to God, let’s resolve to spend time with Him each day. It’s a lot harder to put Humpty Dumpty back together than it is to keep him from falling.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Yesterday's Message

Our A-V guys were really quick this time on getting the previous day's sermon uploaded on the church's website. If you're interested in listening to my message yesterday entitled "Life Transformation isn't Optional," here's the link.

The Lord blessed our fellowship yesterday with the addition of three new families, including a family of former missionaries to Africa.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Global Leadership Summit

I really enjoyed my first-time experience at Willow Creek's annual Global Leadership Summit. I attended at one of the simulcast sites here in the Kansas City area at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty, MO. Having previously attended other gatherings there including an IMB appointment service and the Baptist Border Crossing, I was aware of both the wonderful facilities and the tremendous group of willing volunteers that the church has to pull off such an event. They surely didn't disappoint this time either.

There were many highlights of the meeting and only one of the many speakers didn't really connect with me. My favorite two presenters were Christine Caine (a pastor and teacher at the Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia as well as founder of the A21 Campaign to fight sexual trafficking of women) and Jeff Manion (pastor of the Ada Bible Church in Ada, MI). They were both outstanding preachers with great messages. I enjoyed Jeff so much that I bought his book that his message was based upon entitled The Land Between.

I really enjoyed attending with our minister of outreach and education as we were able to share impressions and bounce reactions off of one another. I'd love to see our entire staff in attendance next year. With a combination of pastors and Christian leaders as well as prominent business leaders, the conference did an outstanding job of providing inspiration and some thought-provoking insights about leadership in any organization.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Catching Up

I have been very remiss of late in posting anything on my blog. I realize that I had even failed to provide a follow-up report to the Summer Adult Bible Study on Galatians. That turned out to be a great time once again this year. We averaged about 90 folks each night. Our low attendance was about 75 or 80 on Tuesday evening when a pretty violent thunderstorm rolled through town just about 30 or 40 minutes before we were scheduled to begin. I was fearful that no one would show up, but was really pleased with the turnout despite the bad weather. The study went very well and the comments afterwards were very affirming. It's clear that our folks really enjoy doing this each summer.

We've lost three of our senior adults who went home to be with the Lord since I last posted as well. Two of them had been in care centers for quite some time while the other had struggled with Alzheimers but his wife was able to care for him at home. His service will be this Saturday morning at church.

Tomorrow and Friday I'll be attending the Willow Creek Association's annual Leadership Summit via live telecast at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty, MO. I understand that they're expecting around 800 at that location. This is the first time I will have had the privilege of attending. I think I'm the only BGCM staff member who has never gone, so I look forward to the experience. I'll be joined by our minister of outreach and education who has previously attended a Summit. I hope to be able to share some insights from the conference.

With the shortened work week due to the conference Thursday and Friday and the funeral on Saturday morning, I've been working to get everything else done by today, including preparing a sermon to preach this coming Sunday. I've been thinking a lot about life transformation of late in light of some things I've been reading, including the public announcement by Anne Rice that she is renouncing Christianity but not her faith in Christ. I'm using her statement and a couple of related stories as an introduction to a message I've entitled "Life Transformation isn't Optional." The sermon text is 2 Cor. 5:14-20. I'll try to share a link to it after it gets uploaded and posted on the church website in case anyone would like to hear it.

Had a good time tonight at prayer meeting and Bible study. We're starting a new schedule in September on Wednesday nights, including restarting the tradition of a Wednesday night supper, and I'm still praying about what series to begin then. In the meantime, over the next three weeks I'm kind of unpacking our church's new mission statement (Love God, love people, make disciples) with appropriate scripture references.

Thanks to those who still stop by and pay an occasional visit to my site. I'm grateful for your readership.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Adult Bible Study Series

This next week I'll be enjoying having the opportunity to lead our adults in our annual Summer Adult Bible Study series. We pattern this somewhat after the old January Bible Studies that were popular for many years among Southern Baptists and which I suspect some still observe.

We started doing these series my second year on staff at First Baptist here in Lee's Summit and have done so every year but one since that time. Our focus this year will be on the book of Galatians with its theme of the freedom we have in Christ. I've also been going through Phillip Yancey's What's So Amazing about Grace with a couple of guys and his insights on legalism dovetail quite well with Paul's emphasis in this letter.

The first several years we did these, we began with either testimonies of folks who had gone or recent missions trips, singing groups, etc., then we had refreshments followed by the Bible study. For the last couple of years, we've dispensed with the other speakers and activities (but not the refreshments of course--we are Baptists after all!). We typically have somewhere between 80 and 100 adults who attend the four-night study--not a bad turnout for a midsummer weeknight activity.

These weeks of the Summer Adult Bible Study series are about as close as I get now to my former days as a seminary professor, and I relish the opportunity to teach the Scriptures to some folks who want to go deeper into God's Word. Prayerfully, we will all also seek to apply the truths we discover to our daily lives.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Safely Back in Guatemala City

Blake and I arrived back in Guatemala City late this afternoon after a very busy time of conferences in Quetzaltenango. The teaching sessions were well received by the 70 folks who were present for the training. As always, there was lots of good interaction and many questions. The trip out took a long time--close to 8 hours from the time we left the airport. That included time to pick up Carol's son David from his school and then the drive out. A detour in Chimaltenango took close to 45 minutes I suspect. We stopped for about an hour as well for dinner. Later, mudslides from the recent tropical storm Agatha caused delays as the normal 4 lanes through the mountains were reduced to two lanes in many places. We saw huge mounds of dirt, rocks, and trees that were covering the roadway in many places. As we got within about an hour of Quetzaltenango, we had to stop for more than an hour while two huge frontloaders were clearing the highway from a slide.

The return trip today took a little less than 4 hours, including a half hour stop for some hot chocolate at a restaurant where we frequently stop on the way back.

Tomorrow we will visit the Tabitha ministry in the morning and deliver a big suitcase of shoes for the children that the Wyatt Park Baptist Church in St. Joseph, MO collected for the kids. Later we will head to Antigua for some sightseeing and shopping. Tomorrow night we'll be eating dinner at the home of Carlos Cerna, the former executive secretary for the Guatemala Baptist Convention and the person who was largely responsible for the early formation and structure of the BGCM's partnership here. It will be nice to see him and his family again.

Friday morning we have an early flight out as we head back to Kansas City.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

8th Round of Leadership Training in Guatemala

Our pastor and I are leaving early Monday (7:15 a.m. flight) for Guatemala via Houston on Continental. Assuming the planes are on time, we'll arrive about 1:20 p.m. and drive directly out to Quetzaltenango to spend the night and be ready for the leadership training conferences that start on Tuesday at noon. Like good Baptists, we always start with food. Blake will be leading in 3 sessions that day and I'll follow up with two on Wednesday before we head back to Guatemala City later that day.

We'll do some sightseeing in Antigua on Thursday and well as visiting the Tabitha Ministry in Guatemala City before returning home on Friday. As always, I'm really excited about the trip and the opportunity of being with the folks down there again.

After we return, the following week is our church's Vacation Bible School and then the following week I'll be leading in a study of Galatians for our annual Summer Adult Bible Study series. We've been doing this for several years now and always have a good turnout and a good time studying and then eating some desserts together. I did mention that we Baptists like food, didn't I?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Whirlwind trip to Columbus, OH

I've been off the radar screen the past 3 days in terms of emails, blogging, Facebook, and anything else in the world of computers. After finishing up the Wednesday evening Bible study, I headed out to St. Louis with my third son, Josh, who has enrolled in law school this fall at Ohio State Univ. in Columbus. We drove to St. Louis that evening, getting in shortly after 12:30. We stayed at the home of one of his college buddies and headed out early Thursday morning for Columbus.

We met with the financial aid officer of the law school on Thursday afternoon and received lots of helpful information. The rest of the evening and a good part of Friday was spent assembling furniture (dining room table and chairs, as well as a study desk) and helping him get settled a bit in an apartment.

We traveled back today, covering the distance in about 10.5 hours. Managed to listen to a bit of the U.S. soccer team's match against Ghana which ended the U.S.'s participation in the World Cup. Tomorrow we'll be cheering for Argentina against Mexico. That's a bit tough of course since we've lived in both countries, but we lived for close to 14 years in Argentina vs. 9 months in Mexico, so that tips the scales towards Argentina for sure.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's services as the youth choir and mission trip team will be sharing their program and testimonies of their experiences this week among the Lakota Indians on the Lower Brule Reservation in South Dakota. This is the second summer that our youth have gone there to work among these Native Americans.

Next week will be spent finalizing details for my next trip the following week (July 5-9) to Guatemala for the 8th round of leadership training conferences that the BGCM has sponsored there. Our pastor and I will be sharing the teaching responsibilities this time and I'm excited that he will get to experience firsthand the wonderful fellowship and hunger for the Word and training that the participants always demonstrate.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An Incredibly Sad Tragedy

I stumbled across a link to an article on the Baptists Today website that was sad and tragic beyond words.

It seems that a dispute surfaced in the home of a South African family this past Sunday over what would be watched on television. The father, David Makoeya (age 61), wanted to watch the soccer match between Germany and Australia in the World Cup, while his wife and two adult children wanted to watch religious programming featuring gospel music. When the father tried to assert his authority by changing the channel by hand on the TV set after being refused the remote control, the family responded violently, banging his head against the wall. The family did phone the police, but only after the father was badly injured. When the police arrived, he was already dead. Initial court proceedings also revealed that he had been stabbed in the back.

What can anyone say in response to this senseless tragedy? That such violence could be generated over the choice of television programming is itself ridiculous, but to compound matters even worse, the violence was perpetrated by those who insisted on watching religious programming and listening to gospel music.

Clearly there was a tragic and complete disconnect between the supposed profession of a Christian faith by the family members wishing to listen to gospel music and their actual conduct. The scandal of hypocrisy casts a long dark shadow over this entire incident. When religious zeal (if you can call it that) runs amok and totally disregards the most basic Christian ethical principles imaginable, such unspeakable tragedies can and do materialize.

It's high time that Christians examine their lives for evidence of the fruit of God's Spirit at work in them, rather than merely relying upon some supposed conversion experience or their affiliation with a religious group. I can only grieve the loss of this father's life at the hands of his own family and speculate as to how this senseless tragedy may well fuel the arguments of skeptics as to the truth of the Christian faith.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Link to Sermon on Esther

Our A-V guys have gotten around to uploading the sermon files for the past couple of weeks, including a sermon I preached back on June 13th on Esther. I basically related the story of her life in dramatic fashion, drawing 4 truths from her courageous example and the dialogue she has with her cousin Mordecai. If you have the time to listen to it, here's the link.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Word & Way article on Katy Trail Mission Trip

We had a bunch of our members who did a 4-day, 225 mile bicycle ride on the Katy Trail from Clinton to St. Charles, Missouri recently to raise money for Smile Train, an organization that helps fund cleft palate and cleft lip surgeries in 3rd world countries. Vicki Brown of Word & Way caught up with them along the way and wrote a great article about their efforts.

The group shared their report last Sunday night along with the youth who had just returned from their summer camp experience at Falls Creek, OK.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Update from the last week

I've been too busy of late to find time to post anything to my blog, so I thought I'd take a few minutes tonight and give a brief recap. On the heels of a very successful initial First Serve project the previous weekend, this past week was filled with pastoral ministry responsibilities. I officiated or helped officiate in 3 different funerals in just five days. Then on Friday it was off to Jefferson City for the quarterly meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. We had a very productive time together. Yesterday I had the opportunity of preaching in both of our morning services as our pastor was vacationing with his extended family in Colorado. I chose to relate the story of Esther as a drama and then focused on 4 principal truths from Mordecai's dialogue with her in chapter 4:13-17.

My main points were these:
1. You cannot always run away from trouble - v. 13
2. Silence is not always golden - v. 14
3. God always raises up a deliverer - v. 14
4. Great blessings carry great responsibilities - v. 14

I'll try and add a link later to the audio file when it gets uploaded in case anyone would like to hear the message.

Tonight I participated with about 20 of our folks in distributing some of the extra publicity cards highlighting some of our summer activities and ministries that were left over from the Downtown Days event. We met at 6:00 at the church for pizza and then split up into 10 teams. We had an odd number so I wound up taking one section by myself and stuck 100 of the cards in the doors of homes. It took about an hour and a half. The walking wasn't bad at all--though it was a bit humid still. The tough part was that almost every home was either a split level or a raised ranch and most of them had anywhere from 5 or 6 to 10 or 12 steps up to the front door. Multiply that number of steps times 100 houses and I got in a pretty good workout. My left knee let me know that it hadn't been exercised that strenuously in awhile.

It was a good evening and I'm relaxing a bit, reading some blogs before getting ready for bed. I have a meeting tomorrow with a couple of guys that I meet regularly with every other Tuesday at 7:00 a.m. We've been discussing Phillip Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace?

Monday, June 07, 2010

Initial First Serve Project now History

This past weekend our church launched its initial First Serve project. These are designed to be a series of events (one per month) that will give our congregation the opportunity to serve and engage the community of Lee's Summit, Missouri with the love of Christ. We chose to participate in the Downtown Days Festival in Lee's Summit that featured several hundred booths with vendors, politicians, non-profits, and other groups offering their products and services, as well as lots of live entertainment and carnival-style rides.

We offered free parking in our church's parking lot and distributed free water to those who parked there. In the downtown booth space which we rented, we distributed free water, popcorn, Flavor-Ice popsicles, and brochures announcing our summer activities. We even had one member who is a licensed massage therapist take her portable massage chair downtown and offered free massages to those passing by.

We had dozens of our members involved in the project and made many significant contacts with families who had recently moved to the area, some of whom mentioned that they are looking for a new church home. In other cases, folks were simply shocked that we were offering free water and popsicles without requiring anything of them in return. We learned a great deal from this initial First Serve project and are excited about future opportunities we're currently planning.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Encouraging News from Guatemala

I wanted to share some good news I received today from Brady Garcia, who at the start of this year moved to Santa Cruz del Quiche in Guatemala to begin a new church. When our initial team from First Baptist Lee's Summit went to Cantel in 2008, he was pastoring a church there. Brady has attended each of the training sessions that the BGCM has conducted in Quetzaltenango in Western Guatemala since 2007 and always is quick to share how the training has been applicable in his local ministry setting.

Brady writes, “Here in Santa Cruz del Quiche, everything is going well, thanks to God. This week we began five cells or small groups. I am working with a group of alcoholics on Wednesdays with 6 attending. Very soon I will begin to offer Bible classes to the children of two schools as we did in Cantel, since I think I have a little bit of experience in this field. The families that are attending church are very committed and we have our services scheduled for Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays with Sunday School and worship in the afternoon. The children meet separately, although we’re lacking some materials for them, but God will provide. Also this week, a group of youth will begin meeting on Fridays. As you can see, brother, I am very busy (thanks be to God), and the best part of it is that here I am putting into practice all that I’ve learned in the training sessions that you all have come to share. Blessings, brother, and I hope to see you in July.”

It's such an encouragement to receive a note like this and hear how God is blessing and using the visits of teams from our churches and the ongoing training sessions to help equip Guatemalan leaders for their ministries. My next trip there will be July 5-9, and our pastor, Blake McKinney, will be going with me as a conference leader. I know that he will be a tremendous blessing to the leaders there as he shares with them.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How People Recognize Authentic Christians

Barry Howard has a great article (in truth it reads like a devotional) today on EthicsDaily that addresses the title of this post. In the process of reading it, I also discovered the origin of a phrase that I've heard all of my life and never knew its source--"the real McCoy."

I hope you'll take the time to read the article. You can find it here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Barna on Truth

Turns out that George Barna wrote a blog post on Truth the day after I had written and posted my previous entry on the same topic. I particularly liked the quote from George Orwell that Barna cited: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” Maybe we're not quite in a time of universal deceit, but I'm afraid we're not far from it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Truth - A Candidate for the Endangered Species List?

What ever happened to honesty? Last time I checked, the Ten Commandments still contain the words, “Thou shalt not lie.” Unfortunately, lying seems to have become a national pastime, rivaling baseball in its popularity and certainly surpassing it in terms of the numbers who engage in the practice. That point was driven home again this week by a news story about a Harvard student who had gained admission to the prestigious university by falsifying transcripts, submitting bogus SAT scores, fabricating recommendations from professors, and plagiarizing the work of others. Lest you think that this is some isolated case or limited strictly to the secular world, multiple stories in recent weeks and months have also disclosed incidents of pastors and church leaders who have embellished their resumes—claiming to have attended schools or obtained degrees when they had not in fact done so. A prominent Baptist university president is currently under investigation for apparent false claims made about his upbringing as a Muslim terrorist.

What would prompt someone to make a false claim about their own identity or qualifications? Some might suggest the desperation to get ahead and succeed without paying the necessary cost in terms of time and study. Ultimately, it comes back to a display of the basic sin nature that infects us all and presents us with the temptation to build ourselves up in the eyes of others. In Ephesians 4, Paul repeatedly urges us to practice truthfulness. We’re to speak the truth in love (4:15), to put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (4:24), and to speak truth with our neighbor because we’re members of one another (4:25). The transforming power of the gospel is to change us as we reflect God’s light: “for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Eph. 5:9).

You probably remember your parents telling you as you grew up, “Honesty is the best policy.” It really is. May the truth that is in Jesus mold and shape our character so that truth-telling marks our daily lives.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

A Personal Record

No, I didn't set any new personal best in a sporting event. That would be nice, but this new record was in the area of ministry. This morning I performed a wedding for the oldest groom that I've ever had the privilege of marrying. Allen joined our church about 8 years ago, beginning by attending a Sunday School class that I was teaching at that time. Allen is a Bible scholar and frequently helps lead chapel services at John Knox Village where he resides. Allen also became a good friend of our third son, Josh, who interviewed him for a class assignment about his recollections of World War II. They've gone out to eat together on a couple of occasions and keep tabs on each other through me. Josh is currently studying in China and thus couldn't attend the wedding today.

So, about that record.... Just how old is Allen? He will be turning 99 on May 10th. He was a bit concerned about how folks might respond to the notion of him getting married a week and a half before his 99th birthday, but when he broke the news to the current Sunday School class he attends (one of our largest at church), there was an overwhelming display of support. That was demonstrated today by the great turnout. We had to find additional chairs for the chapel at John Knox to accommodate the crowd that came.

The funniest moment in the service was when I related the experience of meeting with Allen and his bride-to-be a few weeks ago to discuss the plans for the service. We talked about the components and order of the wedding ceremony itself and when we had completed that, he asked me if I had any words of advice for him. When I told that story this morning, everyone laughed. I told them that's exactly what I did when Allen asked me the question. I generally ask a prospective couple to meet with me for several sessions of premarital counseling, but I told Allen that anyone who had lived successfully for 99 years didn't need any advice from me. I told him I was certain he could offer me a lot of wisdom. All in all, it was a beautiful service. I pray that they will enjoy the time that God gives them together.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Great Staff Retreat

Our ministerial staff has just completed a two-day retreat at a retreat center in Kansas. We tackled some pretty challenging items on our agenda as we seek to move forward into the future, building on the momentum of our recent 150th anniversary celebration. Discussion centered on a new mission statement for the church, a new missional outreach strategy toward our community entitled "First Serve," a possible shift in our approach to Sunday morning worship, some adjustments to our Wednesday night schedule, and some preliminary talks about a more intentional and better-defined process of moving folks along on the path of discipleship and spiritual maturity.

All in all, it was a great experience with a wonderful spirit of camaraderie. Even when dealing with some potentially difficult and divisive topics, there was a great deal of maturity demonstrated as folks felt free to express their convictions and their input was received and affirmed by the rest of the staff. I feel very blessed to be a part of our church and a member of its staff.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wonderful Weekend

Our church's 150th anniversary celebration this weekend was a tremendous blessing. We had somewhere in the neighborhood of 750 people at John Knox Pavilion last night for our family dinner. It featured some good food, but more importantly, some great music and testimonies by some of our long-time members. We had several tables filled with folks who had been members for 50+ years. The member who has been here longest is a 93-year "young" woman who joined at the age of 11. Several others have been here for 60+ years. It was great to hear their reflections on what the church has meant to them and their families.

Today began with a continental breakfast in the fellowship hall and then a combined worship service that featured three brief messages focusing on the past and the present and outstanding music from three choirs (adult, youth, and children), the handbells, the orchestra, and the praise band. The service featured two songs written specifically for the occasion which were quite beautiful--one performed by the orchestra and the other by the adult choir. The service also incorporated dramatic interpretation of some of the music. All in all, it was a wonderful weekend with a great crowd and outstanding worship experience.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Follow-up Journal article

The second of the two articles in the Lee's Summit Journal regarding our church's 150th anniversary celebration was published yesterday.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lee's Summit Journal Article on Church Anniversary

I was interviewed a couple of weeks back by a reporter from the Lee's Summit Journal (our local paper) about the upcoming 150th anniversary for our church that we will celebrate this weekend. I hadn't received the history books at the time the reporter stopped by so I loaned her a printed copy of the manuscript that I had on hand.

The anniversary is featured on the front page of today's edition. Overall, I thought it was a pretty good write-up. She majored on the Civil War period a bit more than I would have, but I suspect that's because she skimmed the first few pages of the manuscript where that was treated.

I'm looking forward to the second part that will be published on Friday.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pete Briscoe on God's love for us

I missed the Aha! on-line conference that Leadership Network did recently, but received an email invitation today to watch this testimony by Pete Briscoe, pastor of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Carrolton, TX. It's well worth the 5:15 minutes it takes to watch it.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Book is Here

Thursday afternoon one of our church secretaries received a call from a freight line, informing us of a shipment due to arrive in 15 minutes. It was a bit of a surprise as I had spoken with my contact person at the printer who had told me that the books probably wouldn't ship until sometime on Friday and would most likely arrive this coming week. I was okay with that, as it still meant that the books would be here a full week and a half or so before our 150th anniversary celebration on April 17th and 18th.

When the secretary told me she thought that it might be the books coming in early, I experienced the excitement of a father-to-be awaiting the coming of his newborn baby. I was thrilled when a big freight truck pulled up with one pallet containing the books, fresh from the printer. We had ordered 500 copies and they actually wound up delivering an extra box of 20 for a total of 520. I made an executive decision with our minister of education who has been heading up the anniversary planning committee's work to give a complimentary copy to each staff member as well as our pastor emeritus. I also plan to give one to the artist whose commemorative painting helps grace the cover and to his son-in-law who helped with the graphic design of the cover.

This morning we had a huge Easter crowd in both morning services and some of our ladies were selling copies of the book before, between, and after the services. I had the opportunity to sign copies for many of those who chose to purchase a book today. The end product turned out to be 262 pages long. The history book was a major focus of my life for about 9 or 10 months, and I'm really excited to hold it in my hand in its final form. Several have asked me what I'm going to do with all my free time now. I'm not sure what the next major project will be, but for the time being, I'm enjoying the feeling of having wrapped this one up.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Convention Wrap-up

Our church hosted the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri this past weekend. It was my privilege to translate for Roger Marquez from Guatemala at the annual missions banquet on Friday evening. He expressed gratitude to the BGCM for our ongoing partnership with Baptists in the western region of the country. He also challenged our churches to continue providing leadership training for pastors and leaders there. I accompanied Roger on Saturday afternoon to Farmington, MO, (a 5 hour, 300 mile trip) where he preached on Sunday morning at the First Baptist Church there. FBC Farmington sent a missions team last April to work with the FBC of Quetzaltenango where Roger pastors. He was able to thank the church for their support of his church's ministry and renew acquaintances with many of the team members who went to Guatemala last year.

One of the exciting things about the convention in addition to Roger's visit was the adoption of a new 5-year strategy plan entitled First Priority 2015. It builds upon our previous 5-year plan and also envisions some significant changes. Not the least of these is a name change for the BGCM to ChurchNet. We'll continue to be identified as the BGCM legally, but will operate under the name ChurchNet in the future. The name captures more of what we see ourselves being and doing--continuing to give first priority to serving churches but helping to do so by connecting churches and pastors to resources that can help them more effectively carry out their ministries. Our Mission Statement was only slightly tweaked and continues to express our reason for existence: "Our mission is serving churches as they fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission."

One final blessing of the weekend was convening a meeting of our church's missions committee together with the BGCM's Missions Mobilization Team to hear the pastor who is working among the Lakota Indians on the Lower Brule Reservation in South Dakota. Our youth and several adults will be returning there this summer, and we're also encouraging BGCM churches to consider adopting this work as a national partnership, much like Guatemala is our international focus. Bakary, the pastor, is a native of the Ivory Coast and is doing an outstanding job of ministering to the needs of Native Americans on the Lower Brule.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Prison Prayer and Praise

We studied Acts 16 in prayer meeting/Bible study time tonight at church. I was struck again by the capacity of Paul and Silas to engage in a time of prayer and praise after having been severely beaten with rods, thrown into the inner part of a prison, and having their feet placed in stocks. I suspect most of us would have been bemoaning our lot and complaining to God about our unjust suffering. They on the other hand deemed it a cause for rejoicing and singing praises.

The passage says that the other prisoners were all listening to them. I'd suggest that they too were awestruck by the unusual behavior of these fellow inmates. I think that's in large part the explanation for why they didn't flee and escape when the earthquake rattled open the doors and loosened their chains.

We observed as well the evidence of the power of the gospel to change a life in the immediate behavior of the Philippian jailer who took Paul and Silas to his home, washed their wounds, and offered them food. While such radical transformation isn't always instantly visible, a genuine conversion experience will inevitably produce a changed life.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Great quote

I ran across a really good quote today in an article in Ethics Daily by Bill Wilson. He quotes Craig Van Gelder as follows: "It is not the church of God that has a mission in this world, but the God of mission that has a church in the world … . God is on the move and the church is always catching up with Him. We join His mission …"

The quote resonates strongly with me. God certainly is the One who is vitally concerned that the whole world hear the story of redemption that is made possible by the death of His Son on the cross. Many authors have highlighted the fact that God has always had the world on His heart and His desire is for His people to join Him on that mission of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all who will hear and believe. A couple of titles come to mind along those lines: Avery Willis' The Biblical Basis of Missions, and H. Cornell Goerner's book, All Nations in God's Purpose.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Death of Cultural Christianity?

Baptists historically have distinguished themselves as champions of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. Some in more recent times have waffled on that commitment, especially those affiliated with the Religious Right. A kind of re-writing of history has taken place that recasts the Founding Fathers in a stance more amenable to evangelicals and extols them as a group thoroughly committed to establishing the U.S. on Judeo-Christian principles. Many undoubtedly did hold to a personal faith in God, but many as well were at best Deists--recognizing the existence of a Supreme Being but distancing themselves from a commitment to a personal Creator who has made man in His own image and who continues to actively exercise His sovereignty in the affairs of men.

As a student and former professor of Baptist history, I find it particularly distressing that many Baptists today are willing to sacrifice our forebears' marked commitment to religious liberty for all and the separation of church and state in an attempt to buttress up the role of religion in the public (and especially the political) arena. Early Baptists firmly resisted any attempt to institutionalize religion by the state, arguing that a coerced faith was no faith at all. They were more than willing to defend even the right of atheists to not believe and be free from a state-imposed religion.

Modern-day Baptists it seems are far more fearful of losing political clout in a post-denominational era and an age where the church's influence on society appears to be waning. I read an interesting quote yesterday in a daily devotional I receive online entitled A Slice of Infinity that's published by the Ravi Zacharias ministry. Jill Carattini, the managing editor and an outstanding writer, quotes John Stackhouse in Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 36. Stackhouse writes, "[M]ulticulturalism and extensive religious plurality can offer an opportunity for Christians to shed the baggage of cultural dominance that has often impeded or distorted the spread of the gospel. It may be, indeed, that the decline of Christian hegemony can offer the Church the occasion to adopt a new and more effective stance of humble service toward societies it no longer controls."

I think Stackhouse is on to something here. Why should the church (and Baptists in particular) rely on the state to assist them in proclaiming the gospel? What typically is heard from such a platform featuring a government-sponsored or supported religious entity is a distortion of the gospel and not the embodiment of Christ's message. If we can overcome the fear of losing cultural predominance, we just might learn anew and afresh to focus on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. I'm convinced that a watching world would be far more blessed by that kind of lifestyle than political maneuvering to ensure that the 10 Commandments can be displayed in some government facility. The way of humble service that Stackhouse suggests reflects far better the stance of Jesus who reminds us that as the Son of Man He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sermon Intro Follow-up

As promised, here are the pictures of the stars of the TV westerns that I used in the morning service today. See how well you can do in identifying the name of the series from the pictures supplied.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Unique Sermon Introduction

Our pastor is taking advantage of the upcoming spring break to get away and visit family in Arkansas, so I have the opportunity to preach this coming Sunday. I'm introducing a new series that he is going to be doing over the next month on the general theme, "Fear Not." I'll be giving a general introduction to the series, hoping to help folks distinguish the concept of fear as reverence from fear as frightened and cringing. Specifically, the first message that I'll be sharing is entitled, "Why You Don't Need to Fear Apparent Dead Ends." I've chosen Exodus 14 as my text, referring to Moses' command to the Israelites to "fear not" as they face the Red Sea in front of them and the pursuing Egyptian army behind them.

I decided to have a little fun with the sermon introduction. I was thinking of examples of apparent dead ends and my mind wandered to the famous box canyons that were so much a part of TV westerns back in the 1960s. That in turn prompted me to devise a little contest as the sermon's introduction. I'm going to be showing a dozen pictures featuring the star or stars of TV westerns from that era and will ask folks to see how many of the shows they can identify by name from the photo. I think it will be fun and engaging, at least for those of us 50+ years of age. I suspect the youth are going to be a bit perplexed by the identity of the shows unless they've watched re-runs. I'm starting with some fairly obvious and popular shows before shifting to some lesser known series. I might post the pictures here after Sunday, but don't want to give an unfair advantage to any church members who might happen to read my blog over the next two days.

On Sunday evening I'll be looking at Gal. 5:13-26 and addressing the question of Law's Demands vs. Grace's Gift. I hope to effectively highlight the freedom that we have in Christ from the frustrating demands of legalism, while also stressing that our freedom isn't license to engage in immoral behavior as Paul notes, contrasting the manifestations of our old sinful nature and the fruit of the Spirit as we walk in Him.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Guatemala Mission Trip Service

Tonight was a wonderful time as those of us who traveled to Guatemala the week before last had the opportunity to share a report with the church family about what was accomplished through their gifts and prayer support that made the trip possible. A couple of folks had a tough time choking back the tears as they shared about the impact that the trip made on their own lives. God was certainly gracious to us, allowing us to share the gospel in multiple settings including public schools, Vacation Bible Schools in 3 different churches, and many homes of needy families who also received a bag of food staples to help supply meals for a few days.

Our members were deeply touched as well by the pictures of the children in particular whom we worked with and who also were the recipients of the 303 dolls that our Women on Missions groups made with a great deal of love and care. The smiling faces of the children receiving those gifts will be indelibly etched in our minds.

This was our church's third missions trip to Guatemala and I anticipate others in the years ahead as our partnership with the western part of the country continues. Our church will also be hosting the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri at the end of this month, including a missions banquet on Friday night featuring the president of the pastors' association from the region in Guatemala where we've been working.

I shared with the congregation tonight that when we returned from serving with the IMB after so many years in Argentina and a short stint in Mexico, I wasn't sure what missions ministry I would find to fill the void I felt following our resignation as career missionaries. I'm happy to say that this ongoing partnership with Guatemalan Baptists which has taken me to that beautiful country some 13 or 14 times in the past 4 or 5 years has certainly become a passion for me. I dearly love the pastors and leaders with whom I'm privileged to work there and have come to greatly appreciate their service and commitment to the Lord.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

4-Year Anniversary of Blogging

As I was commenting on a former professor's blog and welcoming him to the world of blogging, I discovered that this coming Monday, March 8th, marks the four-year anniversary of my entry into this discipline. If there's one thing that probably hasn't characterized my adventures in blogdom, it's precisely discipline. There have been numerous long stretches of time in which my contributions or posts have been sparse. I think my mother would use the expression, "scarce as hens' teeth." While blogging is a great way to chronicle some of the ongoing events and experiences of life, the pace of life itself often dictates that my writing is rare or non-existent.

I'm happy to report though that the church history project appears to be well on track at the printer to be back in time for our church's 150th anniversary celebration. I'm supposed to be receiving the proofs back on Monday I think and have 2-3 days to look them over and return them with any corrections. The printer is shooting for a delivery date of April 4th, two weeks before we celebrate the big occasion on the 17th and 18th.

Tomorrow night our Guatemala team is in charge of the evening service and we'll be sharing pictures and testimonies from our recent trip to Totonicapán. Our official photographer brought me a CD today with close to 70 photos that I proceeded to put into a simple Powerpoint file to facilitate the task of our video guys.

This coming Sunday, March 14th, I'll have the privilege of preaching in both the morning and evening services. Our pastor is wrapping up a series tomorrow on Reckless Faith and I get to introduce the new series he's going to follow up with on the general theme "Fear Not." I'll be preaching next Sunday morning on the crossing of the Red Sea with the sermon title, "Why You Don't Have to Fear Apparent Dead-ends." On Sunday night I'll be doing the second in a series that he began last week on listening to God. I'm excited about having the opportunity to share with the church through preaching that day.

I'm hoping to find a bit more time in days ahead, now that the history project is done, to share some more thoughts on this blog. I realize that far too many of my entries have been mere recapitulations of my trips and ministry activities, and I hope to be able to share some more reflective pieces about life and ministry. How well I accomplish that goal remains to be seen.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Off to Jeff City

Today my travels take me to Jefferson City, the capital of Missouri, for the quarterly board meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. While we do deal with some of the typical stuff that a convention handles, since we're a small organization, we have the freedom to not get bogged down in a lot of the traditional things that a Baptist state convention wrestles with. (Sorry about ending a sentence with a preposition. I know you're not supposed to do that).

Well, I didn't get this entry posted this morning so I'm just getting around to finishing it around 7:40 in the evening. The day and the meeting in Jeff City went very well. Had a good time with the Missions Mobilization Team, sharing about the recent Guatemala trips and also looking at the upcoming annual meeting and specifically the arrangements for the banquet. The pastor of FBC of Quetzaltenango will be with us as the missions banquet speaker. I'll be accompanying him on that Saturday down to SE Missouri to Farmington where he will preach on Sunday morning. FBC Farmington has established a partnership with his church.

I'm trying to woof down some supper as I type this so I think I'll wrap it up for now and hopefully do another update in the near future.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Safely Home & a Reckless Offering

I've been trying to catch up with lots of loose ends the past few days since we returned from Guatemala so I haven't found time to post anything until now. The rest of the trip went very well. We had a great time on Wednesday with the home visits to deliver bags of food to needy families. Some of the homes were very isolated and required us to hike long distances over very narrow dirt paths (think 6" - 8" wide) that bordered corn fields and some rugged terrain. Carrying a bag of food weighing 20 lbs. or more up some of those steep hills at an altitude of 8000+ feet was quite a workout. Those who received the food were extremely grateful and many were moved to the point of tears. A few of the recipients were Christians, but the majority were not and we had a chance to share the gospel in each home, sometimes with multiple family members. Several made decisions to trust Christ while others expressed a desire to think the matter over some more.

The trip back to Guatemala City was uneventful, which is always a good thing when traveling through winding, mountainous roads. The highway to the west is greatly improved, with the entire stretch now being paved and much of it is a 4-lane, divided highway. That sure makes traveling quicker and easier than before. On Friday morning we had a chance to visit the Tabitha Ministry in Guatemala City that I've written about before. They're currently caring for about 80 kids--providing them 2 meals and 2 snacks a day plus some educational and early-learning activities.

We missed out on some excitement at church while we were gone to Guatemala. Our pastor had announced to the staff his intentions to give away a Sunday offering and asked me to contact several potential recipients to determine current needs. Even with a much smaller attendance due to icy roads on the 21st, the church contributed around $22,000 which was evenly distributed among four groups--City Union Mission in Kansas City that ministers to the homeless and provides a year-long recovery program; Forest Avenue Homeless Shelter that operates out of a small Baptist church and provides housing to homeless women and children; the Rachel House crisis pregnancy center; and a project on the Lower Brule Lakota Reservation in South Dakota where our youth went last summer and are returning again this year. After giving the entire Sunday offering of the 21st away, the pastor challenged folks to give a reckless offering this past weekend. (He's in the midst of a series on Reckless Faith). Our folks responded with overwhelming generosity, giving over $60,000 this past Sunday--about double a typical end of the month Sunday offering. God is faithful and we're enjoying His blessings in these days as a congregation.

This Sunday evening our Guatemala team will have charge of the evening service and share reports and testimonies about our experiences. I'm looking forward to the chance to share about what God accomplished this past week with those who prayed for us and gave to make the trip possible.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Guatemala Update

Things are going very well here on the missions trip. We had a bit of excitement yesterday with a tremor that was centered in southern Mexico that we felt about 5:00 a.m. and then a pretty strong one (5.4) that was located here in Guatemala.

We've had a great time so far with every aspect of the trip. The visits to the public schools and sharing with the kids has gone well. Yesterday we made about a 25 minute hike up a steep mountain to reach a school with about 185 kids. The director is a Christian and the kids were extremely well behaved--far more so than those the first day. Part of the issue that day was an ongoing teachers' strike here in Guatemala. Things were a bit chaotic there due to some emergency meetings of the teachers.

The afternoon VBS times have also gone well. The first day we had about 85 kids (some 50 of whom came from a nearby daycare). Yesterday I would estimate the number at about the same as we met at the mission of the Horeb Baptist Church.

The training sessions each evening have been well attended with good response and interaction from the participants.

This morning we're slated to deliver some more bags of food to needy families and then we have both a VBS and a visit to an institute with older youth (ages 13-20). We've only had one person of the 11 with a bit of a health problem one day with a touch of Montezuma's Revenge as they say in Mexico. Otherwise, all are well and even she felt good enough last night to lead her training session.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Singing the Doxology Spontaneously

The title says it all. That's what I did yesterday afternoon as I drove away from the local downtown post office after having express mailed the hardcopy; CD's with text, photos, and jacket cover layout; shipping instructions; and a copy of the signed contract for the printing of our church's history to the printer. As I drove to the rehab center to visit my mom who's recovering from a fall that left her with a fractured vertebrae, I couldn't help but praise the Lord for the strength and stamina to wrap up this project that has consumed about the last 10 months or so of my life. If I had begun two or three years back on it as I discovered after the fact was a more appropriate time frame for tackling such an undertaking, I would have done a few things differently--more investigation of secondary source information, more interviews with long-time members, and more of an interpretive approach and less chronicling of the events themselves. Hindsight is always 20/20 they say and I'm determined not to allow those misgivings to rob me of the joy I felt yesterday as I left the post office singing a full-throated rendition of "Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow." I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders and the rare sunny afternoon in the pattern of cold, gray days of late further lifted my spirits.

Now it's time to shift focus as I prepare to leave early tomorrow morning with a team of 11 for Totonicapan, Guatemala. We'll be working with two churches in VBS and leadership training events as well as speaking in public schools and distributing bags of food to needy families. Our church gave a generous offering of almost $1450 for this cause during our annual Souper Bowl of Caring on Super Bowl Sunday. I've got a lot of loose ends to tie up today before leaving tomorrow, but I'll do so with a bit of an added spring in my step with the church history project in the rearview mirror.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I had great hopes of being a bit more consistent with my blogging, but life has a habit of continuing on with a mind of its own, ignoring my wishes for a more predictable and tranquil lifestyle. On the home front, my mom who lives with us suffered a broken vertebrae in a fall a couple of weeks ago and spent a week in the hospital before being transferred to a rehab center for strengthening exercises to promote healing and hopefully avoid another fall. This past weekend was spent hosting our third son and three buddies who departed early this morning for a five-month study abroad experience in China. I'm drinking lots of coffee to stay awake as we woke up at 3:00 a.m. to leave the house at 4:00 a.m. for the trip to the airport and a red-eye flight to Newark. The reason for flying east to travel west? A cheaper fare of course.

This afternoon at 1:00 I'll officiate at a funeral service for a friend who passed away suddenly at his home this past Thursday. He was only 48 years old. He faced a lot of challenges in life, with some mental handicaps as well as anxiety and depression. I've known and visited with him (mainly on the phone each week) for the past 5 or 6 years. I also call on his mother regularly in a local care center.

I'm trying to wrap up the history book today and get it sent to the printer before I fly out to Guatemala again this coming Saturday. A group of 11 of us will be spending 8 days there on a mission trip in Totonicapan in the western part of the country, helping two churches there with VBS, leadership training, feeding hungry folks, sharing the gospel, etc.

My plate seems heaped to overflowing with stuff to do before I leave on Saturday, but by God's grace it will get done.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Strategy Planning Meeting Postponed

Well, the weather won this round. I left Lee's Summit shortly after 7:00 this morning heading for Jeff City and had made it past Sedalia (about an hour and 15 minutes or so east) when our executive director called me on my cell to say that several folks had said they couldn't make it because of the weather and the strategy planning meeting was being postponed.

We're going to try and get it rescheduled still for this month so as to be able to present a strategic plan at the annual meeting in March.

I have to admit, the snow is beautiful today. Huge flakes falling steadily. We've gotten around 2" so far I guess.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

BGCM Strategy Planning Continues

Weather permitting (2"-4" of snow is forecast for here in the Kansas City area), the BGCM strategy planning team will be meeting tomorrow at the First Baptist Church in Jefferson City to try and come closer to finalizing a strategic plan to guide the organization for the next 5 years. We hope to be able to make significant progress on it so as to be able to share it with the board members early next month and then with those attending the BGCM's annual meeting at our church (First Baptist of Lee's Summit) on March 26-27.

On a personal note, the church history project is nearing completion. The writing and editing is finished and I'm trying to wrap up the final details--jacket cover design and contents that a friend from church is helping with, selecting some appropriate photos for the final chapter, etc.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


Well, Groundhog Day's arrival means another birthday for yours truly. I hit the big 57 today, so the gray hairs that are growing in number around my temples are legitimate I suppose. I've had lots of well-wishers contact me via email or Facebook and I'm grateful to each for their kind expressions and prayers. God has been good to me and I'm grateful to Him for His mercy and grace.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

New Pastor Officially Installed

Tonight our church took part in a special service to officially install our new pastor, Dr. Blake McKinney. Blake has been serving with us since January 1st, with his first official sermon delivered on January 7th. The service this evening was quite meaningful, with Blake's father sharing some insights and background from a dad's perspective about his son's ministry as a pastor and then reading some Old Testament passages. Blake's sons, ages 9 & 11, also read some scriptures from the New Testament. Our pastor emeritus, Dr. Wendell Page, who served First Baptist Church of Lee's Summit for 19 years before retiring in 2000, brought a charge to both Blake and the congregation. Blake's former minister of music at Lost Mountain Baptist in Powder Springs, Georgia, where he just came from was present as well to give a charge to Blake.

As a part of the service, we also read responsively a Pastor-Church Covenant in which both Blake and we as a congregation pledged to serve the Lord together, praying for one another, as well as fulfilling other Christian responsibilities as pastor and church. All of those present then filed by to sign a poster-sized copy of the covenant that Blake intends to frame and hang on his office wall. We had a great crowd tonight, which meant that the process of signing took a good while, even with four folks or so signing at a time. We had strongly encouraged the members to be present for this special service and our usual 150 or so Sunday night crowd swelled to I would estimate 500-550 or more.

The service concluded with the pastor search committee gathered round Blake and our chairman of deacons leading in a prayer commending him to God's care and leadership. It was a very meaningful service and a joyous occasion for our members.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Back from Guatemala

I had another outstanding trip to Guatemala this past week for the seventh round of leadership training conferences that the BGCM has offered for pastors and leaders in the western region of the country. We had a great turnout with 81 present in all. The two conference leaders who accompanied me both did a wonderful job of communicating some important biblical truths to those attending. The spirit of unity among the pastors there continues to grow and they without hesitation trace the origin of this harmony to our gatherings every six months. A new board of directors for the regional pastors' association was elected and the make-up of the group offers great hope for continued collaboration.

Several church members asked about the 6.1 earthquake that Guatemala had experienced last Monday. We hadn't yet departed from Houston when that occurred, but the folks there in Guatemala City said they had felt it but that it hadn't caused any major damage.

We were able to pay a visit to the Tabitha Ministry on Thursday morning after we had returned to Guatemala City from Quetzaltenango. Carol Bercian and others continue to meet the needs of a growing number of children whose mothers scavenge through the trash in the city dump, looking for things they can recycle or sell. The kids receive two meals a day as well as 2 snacks. Carol also has a ministry with these mothers--having led many of them to Christ and attempting to disciple them. Her brother told us on Thursday as he drove us to Antigua for some sightseeing that there were close to 50 women who had attended a Bible study and worship time at the Tabitha Ministry house the previous evening.

Plans are taking shape for the trip this next month to Totonicapan. We'll have a total of 11 going (9 from our church and 2 from Wyatt Park Baptist in St. Joseph).

Monday, January 11, 2010

Study the Playbook

Noted researcher and pollster George Barna has started blogging. You can find his blog here. He has already posted a couple of interesting and thought-provoking articles--one dealing with house churches and another talking about the leadership exemplified by Peyton Manning. The article on Manning describes what convinced the Indianapolis Colts to select Manning over another highly touted quarterback in the 1998 NFL draft.

Barna writes, "To figure out who might be the best selection for their team, Colts executives set up interviews with both young men. Both prospects discussed their desire to win and their positive feelings about the Colts. The turning point in the Colts’ decision was the answer they received to one particular question: If chosen by the Colts, what is the first thing you will do? Young Manning’s reply, supposedly offered without hesitation, was 'Study the playbook.' His competitor’s response? 'I’m booking the next flight to Vegas so I can celebrate with my buddies.'”

Barna concludes his article, asking the rhetorical question of which player demonstrated the mind and heart of the leader the Colts needed.

I think there's an even deeper spiritual application for believers in this story than the obvious commitment to excellence and leadership that Manning displayed. "Study the playbook" is outstanding counsel for Christians when we remember that God has given us wise instructions in the Bible on how to succeed in the game of life. As we come to know its Author more deeply each day through studying His written revelation to us, we'll find ourselves "equipped for every good work."

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Upcoming Travels

This week I'll be gone a couple of days to Dallas for a joint meeting with some of the leadership of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the Baptist General Association of Virginia, and the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. That sounds like a lot of generals when you say it or type it. The "generals" of the organizations will be present, but what I like about these folks is that they are very humble and down-to-earth. This will be the third meeting our conventions have held to share insights and best practices as well as discuss the challenges of living and serving in what many have termed a "post-denominational" era.

The following week, it's off once more to Guatemala. I'm as eager as always to go. The leaders whom we work with in the western region of the country have become good friends over the course of the past three and a half years or so that I've been making these trips. I'll have two guys accompanying me this time as conference leaders so I've opted to let them handle the five training sessions while I translate their presentations and the dialogue and interchanges that follow. For one of the guys, this will be his first trip. He's a pastor from the St. Louis area and I'm excited about his participating as I hope he will lead his church to become involved in a church-to-church partnership with a Guatemalan Baptist congregation.

Next month, I'll be leading a group of 11 on a missions trip to Totonicapan, a small department (their term for state or province) that's less than an hour from Quetzaltenango where we conduct our leadership training seminars. I'll be sharing more details about that trip in the future.

In the meanwhile, I did finish the rough draft of the church history project I'm writing and am busily trying to work through editing it. It's far too long I fear and I still have to find additional space for photos. I've enjoyed working on this, but will be greatly relieved and "de-stressed" when it's completed.