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.