Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Church Strategy - Market Driven or Missional?

A couple of years ago, an ad began to appear on a regular basis in one of our local newspapers. The message heralded "The Church Downtown", a new church start in Huntington, WV. Nothing unusual about that. Even in "the city of churches", the many congregations that make up this town just aren't getting the job done. In every area there is still a large number of people who have no relationship with God through Jesus Christ, so churches still need to be planted and nurtured. The interesting thing about the ads for "The Church Downtown" was the fact that they stated it was a church "for people under 40".

Now I'll be the first to admit that people under 40 need Jesus. I am also cognizant of the fact that the 20-30 something crowd is a significant missing segment of many existing churches. I applaud the efforts to reach younger folks for Jesus in new and different ways. Without a doubt, we will never win the world to Christ unless we can present the Gospel to people in a way that is relevant to their culture - whether it be here at home or abroad.

My questions began to multiply regarding "The Church Downtown". Would I be welcome to worship there? I was well past 40 years of age at the time. Would I be turned away at the door? I would assume that the Gospel message was being proclaimed there. What part of that would be alien to me? Was it just because of the music they employed in their worship service? Isn't it possible that someone like me, who's teenage years were spent in the 60's might enjoy some of that lively music? Was it the way they dressed? I have certainly worn my share of bell bottom jeans, sandals and tie died shirts back in the day. After all, we were the original "anti-establishment generation". And of course there was the big question - when members reached their 40th birthday would they ceremoniously be shown the door?

As far as I can tell, "The Church Downtown" is no more. I have no doubt it was a sincere effort by a Godly young person to try to reach young folks in Huntington for Jesus. Certainly a noble cause. What then, made the concept so distasteful to me?

The exclusivity of it.

Just as exclusive as the heavy starched, button down, three piece black suit, patent leather shoes, KJV only crowd that often makes younger people feel so unwanted in their church services.

Same animal - different package - just as wrong.

When are we going to learn that the Church is the Body of Christ? Jesus died for all. Old and young. Rich and poor. Beautiful and ugly. Learned and illiterate. Religious or pagan. Asians, Europeans, Africans, Islanders, and Americans (north and south). Red, pink, brown, yellow, and any other hue - these are the folks He came to seek and save.

Why is it then that we must categorize our local congregations? "Please visit our church" the invitations say. We are (choose any of the following): traditional, contemporary, mainline, emergent, tolerant, fundamental, charismatic, purpose driven, kingdom focused or seeker sensitive. We're a church (chose from the following): for bikers, cowboys, skateboarders, blue collar, white collar, no collar, singles, couples, hip, dweebs, professionals, yuppies, hillbillies, street people, goths, or elitists. Our music is (choose from the following): electric, acoustic, percussive, syncopated, southern gospel, bluegrass, high church, classical, exciting, dull, rap, headbanging, contemporary, Christian rock. We baptize in a (choose one): baptistry, river, creek, swimming pool, or whirlpool bath.

"So all that is what makes us better". "We're different". "We do church the right way"

To coin an ancient Hebrew expression - "Hogwash!"

It is time that we, as the church, be reminded of the main thing. The main thing is Jesus. Knowing Him and making Him known. Not how our little group "does church". It's not my church or your church; it's HIS church. As a friend and fellow pastor recently wrote, "When did worship come to be about us? It has always been about God".

Here is my challenge for the congregtation of Westmoreland Baptist Church - and for anybody else from any other church that may be reading this blog. Let's keep it simple. Let's keep it true. Here is a formula used by my son's church in the New Orleans area. They're focusing on three areas:
  • Magnifying God
  • Making Disciples
  • Ministering to Others.

Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 9: 19-23 - "I am not anyone’s slave. But I have become a slave to everyone, so that I can win as many people as possible. When I am with the Jews, I live like a Jew to win Jews. They are ruled by the Law of Moses, and I am not. But I live by the Law to win them. And when I am with people who are not ruled by the Law, I forget about the Law to win them. Of course, I never really forget about the law of God. In fact, I am ruled by the law of Christ. When I am with people whose faith is weak, I live as they do to win them. I do everything I can to win everyone I possibly can. I do all this for the good news, because I want to share in its blessings." (CEV)

Let's minister to every group we can. Let's reach people as they are, and where they are in the various sub-cultures around us. Let's have church services, cell groups, home Bible studies and outreach efforts and seek to bring others to Jesus. Let's spend more effort at being "Savior Sensitive" than "Seeker Sensitive" - magnifing Jesus, not marketing our church. And then on Sunday morning, let's all come together in our house of worship for celebration, adoration, contemplation, and consecration, and look like the Body of Christ.

(People over AND under 40 - welcome!)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Philippine Mission Trip, January 2008

In February, 2000 I had the privilege to make my first short term overseas mission trip to the Philippine Islands. I went as part of a five man team of Kentucky pastors who were going there to partner with some native Filipino pastors and church planters. Little did I know what an impact that two week trip would have on my life and ministry.

Lord willing, this January I will be making my seventh trip there in the past eight years. During that time I have been blessed to travel to the Philippines with a number of very special folks from West Virginia, Kentucky, Lousiana, and Virginia. Our teams have consisted of pastors, musicians, and various lay people. We have done everything there from hospital ministry to preaching in churches, jails, places of business, public schools, outdoor crusades, youth rallies, and open air meetings on basketball courts and rural country cross roads. We have done house to house evangelism, home Bible studies, shown Christian films, sponsored sports camps, and even taken part in weddings and one funeral! We have handed out hundreds of Gospel tracts, Bibles (in English and the Cebuano dialect), and have painted two newly built church buildings.

Gifts from individuals and churches back here in Kentucky and West Virginia have financed the building of two Baptist Churches in the province of Oriental Negros - one on the ouskirts of the provincial capitol city of Dumaguete, and one in the remote mountainous area of Mayapusi, Mabinay. The generous contributions of our friends here have furnished those churches with chairs, sound equipment, audio visual aids, musical instruments, Bibles, Sunday School and discipleship training literature and rice for the feeding ministry. We have been blessed to purchase two motorcycles over the years for the transportation needs of two of the national pastors. Westmoreland Baptist Church sends quarterly financial support for one of the Filipino pastors and Locust Grove Baptist Church helps support another.

Through these past 7 1/2 years we have been blessed to partner with Pastor Dominador Valdez and his wife Villa. Pastor Valdez, whom we lovingly call "Domingo" and his wife have been instrumental in planting a number of churches there on two islands over the years of their ministry. I thank God for bringing this wonderful couple and their two children, Dave and Noemi Joy into my life. Doming has become like a brother to me and I have learned much about faithfulness, love, integrity, evangelism, and Christian character from his example.

In the past few years Doming and Villa have labored to start a mission church in the mountains. The enemy has fought them all the way, but God has prevailed. Mayapusi Baptist Church has come through the fiery trials as a wonderful body of believers and a lighthouse of hope to a lost population in the mountain villages around Mabinay. Doming and Villa have been special mentors to a young couple (Joseph and Juvy Zerna) who are now faithfully serving God as Pastor and wife at the Mayapusi Baptist Church. The Lord has remarkably blessed this work.

I have no doubt that God would have used Doming, Villa, Joseph, Juvy and others to accomplish His purposes there without our help. But I am so thankful that He brought us along side of them to share our resources with them. We have been a blessing to them in their work, but they have been a much greater blessing to us. I am looking forward to seeing them again in just about five months, if it's the Lord's will. We have a number of projects I am hoping to help them with on this next trip. But it will all depend on how God supplies the need through our friends here in America. My plane ticket has already been purchased, and we are seeking for others to join us on the mission trip.

Some of our readers may be interested in volunteering to go themselves. Some may wish to help others go. Some may desire to help with the expenses of the projects we hope to do this time. For anyone who would like more information on the upcoming mission trip - feel free to contact me at pastoradkins@verizon.net .

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Peace, Be Still

My grandfather, Caudle Adkins, Sr, was born 112 years ago this month. He died in August, 1959 a couple of months before my 9th birthday. He came to live with us after my grandmother died in 1955 and stayed with us a year or so. Being retired, he had time to spend with me and my little brother. That was a very special time for me. I remember him well, along with many of the lessons he taught me by his words and deeds.

Back in 1983 I wrote a little poem about one of those experiences. Hope you like it.

Peace, Be Still

There was something in a thunderstorm
That made me calm inside,
While all the other children
Would run indoors to hide.

I'd huddle up with Papaw
On his front porch in a swing;
He'd fill his pipe with "Half and Half"
And puff a smoky ring.

It seemed that as we'd squint our eyes
Against the flying spray;
The wind that whipped the tree tops
Blew our troubles far away.

"A storm's not bad", my Papaw said
With knowing smile and nod.
"It's just one way Almighty
Let's us know that He's still God".

Then he'd tell again the story
Of how Jesus calmed the sea;
And the thunder, as though with a voice,
Said, "Peace, be still" to me.

I am thankful for a Christian heritage that helped lead me to Jesus. And I am thankful for Jesus who gives peace. Not the kind of peace the world offers, but the true and lasting peace that comes from knowing that you are secure in Him. It is a peace that has carried me through some very difficult "storms" in my life.

"...and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4: 7)

Friday, July 27, 2007

"The Furry Reaper"

Well this is one of the strangest stories I have seen in a long time.

Many nursing homes and hospice houses have begun to bring dogs and cats into the facility as part of the "staff". The nursing home patients seem to love to have the animals around and react well to their presence. The hospice house here in Ashland has a beautiful Labrador Retriever that roams the halls and brings a sense of "home" to the patients and staff people alike.

Well, it seems that a hospice house in Providence, Rhode Island has joined that number of care facilities employing domestic animals. However, they got more than they bargained for with Oscar the Cat.

Thursday's issue of the "New England Journal of Medicine" reports that Oscar seems to have an uncanny ability to know when patients are about to die. According to the article, when Oscar senses the impending death of a particular patient, he curls up in the bed with the patient, or silently stands vigil by their bedside. In the last twenty five deaths, Oscar has taken up his vigil within four hours of the patient's passing. He has even proven the nursing staff wrong on one case. His "gift" has proven so accurate, that when the staff of the home sees Oscar in his "death watch mode" they make their call to notify the family that their loved one's death is imminent.

Here's the link to the fascinating story. Check it out for yourself:

We were joking yesterday about how unpopular that particular cat must be, ("Get this cat out of my room!") but seriously, this story is a reminder that death is an appointment that God has made for each of us. In a hospice house, death is more or less imminent for every patient. But in a larger sense, all of us are drawing nearer to that final appointment each hour. Since none of us know the date or time of our appointment, (and we don't have "Oscar the Death Cat" to give it away) it behooves each of us to be ready.

There are some wise words in the only Psalm that is attributed to Moses' authorship (the 90th):

"As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,
Or if due to strength, eighty years,
Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;
For soon it is gone and we fly away...
So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.
Do return, O Lord; how long will it be?
And be sorry for Your servants.
O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness,
That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us,
And the years we have seen evil."
So, being reminded of the transitory nature of our earthly lives, let us "number our days", making the most of each one, and present to God a heart of wisdom. Live each day as though it were your last, and don't be afraid even if some strange cat takes up residence at your bedside. Remember - God is in control.
"You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You."
- Isaiah 26: 3

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Unlimited Partnerships

One of the websites I visit often is www.joemckeever.com . Joe is Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. He is a veteran pastor, a cartoonist, and an all around great guy. Joe's blog is well written and always entertaining and informative.

Many of my readers know that I am always interested when the subject of Louisiana comes up anywhere. My family lived in Baton Rouge when the boys were young. I was always fascinated with "The Big Easy" and enjoyed visiting there. For the past five years our older son, Jay and his family have lived in the New Orleans area where he serves as Pastor of First Baptist Church of Westwego. I also have the privilege of serving on the Board of Trustees at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Naturally any time someone mentions the seminary or my son, I'm going to be interested!

Such a thing happened in one of Joe's latest blog posts. Naturally I want to share it with you.

Joe writes about a new project called Ulimited Partnerships, in which Jay's church is involved. It is an excellent program, put together by Bill Taylor (formerly of LifeWay) designed to connect outstanding seminary students, with churches in the New Orleans area who are trying to rebound from the big storm. Here is an excerpt from Joe's post:

"Unlimited Partnerships is 7 seminary students, sponsored by seven outstanding churches or associations across the country, working with 7 of our New Orleans area churches in education, discipleship, and evangelism, in partnership with the seminary, our association, the state convention, and even NAMB. The one-Monday-a-month gathering is attended by the students, the 7 pastors, several special guests whom Bill Taylor invites each month, a professor or two, and Freddie Arnold and myself...

Bill was impressed by some of the students' reports of their work. Here's a sample....

Bethany Hales (working with New Covenant of Harvey) conducted 4 sports camps in the largest housing project in Louisiana.....25 children have accepted Christ. The attendance in this church has gone from 30 to 55-60 and they have baptized 10 since U.P. began. The church has never had a Sunday School, but Bethany is starting one and presently training the workers.

Bill writes, "You will like this. Last week the drug lords in the area called the police and reported the church...said the church was selling imitation jewelry at a car wash. The police came...found this was not true... The policeman talked to the owner of the car wash and he let Bethany use one of the car-washing stalls. The young people and mission teams did not have to stand out in the blazing sun to give out tracts and share the good news. Can you imagine the drug lords calling the police about a young seminary student leading a group of children and students as they shared the gospel."

"Angie Baumann works with Gentilly Baptist Church. She has expertise in lawn care and is leading a group of students in planting flowers in the yards of people in her neighborhood. As Joe McKeever said, 'Can you imagine trying to write a job description where one must have an expertise in planting flowers and sod all over the community.'"

Then Bill quotes from a letter written by Dillard Wilbanks of the FBC of Dallas, Texas, who was with us last month and visited the home ministry of the FBC of Westwego where Jay Adkins is pastor.

"Per my recent visit I would say three things about Unlimited Partnerships and the New Orleans area church and NOBTS student that FBC Dallas sponsors: (1) The adult home Bible study group on Sunday afternoon with the FBC Westwego members came closest to duplicating the dynamics of that 1st century house church of any group I've experienced in my 40+ years of education ministry. The wide range of participants from new believers to the more mature added energy to the interactive study as "the light would come on" related to practical application of the Scripture being explored."

"(2) There are great dividends in matching evangelistic churches and exceptional pastors with the brightest and best of a new generation of Christian educators who are students at N.O. seminary and committed to holistic disciple making."

"(3) First Baptist Church, Dallas, invests some one million dollars annually in hands-on mission endeavors in and around the city. None of which I believe will make a greater contribution to the Kingdom and to the spiritual rebirth of a city than Unlimited Partnerships..."

Unlimited Partnerships is a great success thus far! Jay's church is benefiting from having Bobby Wood who will serve them as a Minister of Education for a year. FBC Dallas pays Bobby's salary which is an expense the Westwego church couldn't handle right now. The seminary student gets "real world" experience and the church gets the benefit of a bright, talented, and energetic young man with a heart for Christian Education.

My understanding is that if the Unlimited Partnership "pilot" concept is successful with these first seven churches, the plans are in place to expand the program to include more seminary students and more churches in "The Crescent City". God has taken the tragedy of the circumstances surrounding Hurricane Katrina and opened countless doors of ministry in New Orleans and all along the Gulf Coast. Unlimited Partnerships is one of those ministries.

Hats off to Bill Taylor for seeing the opportunity and building on it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"It Couldn't Happen To Our Family" Or Could It?

They were the typical American family when I first met them. I had just been called to serve the church as pastor, and was going through all the new pastor activities – trying to learn names, put them with the proper faces, etc. The Bakers (not their real names) were living the American dream. The handsome husband, Dan, was starting his own business. Terry, the pretty young wife, worked in a doctor’s office and her world revolved around their two children, Ross, 12, who was artistic and musically talented, and Jennie, 11, who was beautiful, outgoing, athletic, and very popular at school.

I liked the Bakers very much. What wasn’t to like? They were part of a large extended family that was heavily involved in the church. On the surface, they were the kind of family that every pastor would like to have making up his congregation. On the surface, they seemed to have everything going for them. Everything except one trait that was missing from their spiritual lives that quickly became evident as I grew to know them. Something called faithfulness. Now, please understand that I am not talking about rule keeping and being there every time the door opened. I am speaking of a love for the Master that is reflected in all that one does. A devotion to Christ that sets Him above all priorities of life. A devotion that shows in how we offer him our time, talents, and treasures.

When the kids were younger, Dan and Terry were very active in the church. They attended regularly and were always involved in the planning and work of Vacation Bible School. Dan often drove the bus and Terry was even the volunteer director of the new Children’s Church ministry. But gradually it all began to change. Somewhere along the line, and it’s hard to say exactly where, the Baker’s priorities seemed to change. Dan began to give up a few of his jobs around the church. Occupied with his business, you understand. Soon his attendance at worship services began to lag. As leader of the family, the influence of his example was soon seen in the life of Terry. After all, she was very busy with being a working mother, and the kids’ needs had to come first. My questions began to arise about the “needs” of the kids.

Terry seemed to think that Ross and Jennie needed to be involved in everything that was available. Youth sports, cheerleading, dance class, music lessons, school activities, etc. became an all consuming force in their lives. Now don’t get me wrong. I find nothing wrong with any of these activities. Our kids were also involved in many of these things as well. I believe that God wants us to bring up well rounded children who are fit, body, mind, and spirit. Linda and I always encouraged our boys to follow their interests and to be involved in those activities. I have done my time as coach, band parent, league officer, etc, but we always impressed on our children that these things, while important, are never as important as our relationship with the God who loves us and gave His Son to purchase us forgiveness and eternal life. The Bakers didn’t seem to get it.

I counseled with Dan and Terry a number of times. I visited with them in their home (when I could catch them there) and tried to impress upon them the importance of first having a right relationship with God and setting our priorities in order after that. They said they were a little too busy, but they would still let the kids come to youth group. Soon, Ross and Jennie’s involvement in the church youth group began to fade away as well. Terry explained to me that they were just so involved in their other activities they were just too busy for church, and after all, it was important that Ross and Jennie be popular and actively involved in these other activities. The implication was that their spiritual lives just weren’t that important.

The last four years of my ministry in that church involved many times of being called to the Baker home to deal with problems that were arising in the lives of the family members. Jennie had an older boyfriend who became a real worry to Dan and Terry. Ross began to have problems in school and had even had a couple of brushes with the law. Each time, I was assured by Terry and Dan that they would get back in church when they had more time… that time just never seemed to materialize. The problem was not so much that they were not in church. That was just a symptom of the problem. That problem was that they were not where they should be spiritually, with God. They were just too busy for Him.

A number of months ago, I ran into Terry at a hospital where I was visiting an old friend and former church member. I didn’t recognize her until she spoke to me. We talked a few minutes, and I asked about the family. The story was sad. She and Dan were having problems. His business had failed and he was drinking heavily. Ross had been in and out of jail a number of times. Jennie’s life had also taken some unpleasant turns that I will not go into here. How did all this come about?

This had been the “perfect” family. Now they were perfectly miserable. They didn’t see it coming, but the law of sowing and reaping had once again proven true. Now I know that many of you are reading this article and saying, “It couldn’t happen to us!” I want you to know that it happened to the Bakers, it has happened to others, and indeed it CAN happen to us, if our priorities are not right. If business, people, activities, and things are more important to you than your personal relationship with God, and the long term spiritual welfare of your family, consider what Jesus said:“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6: 33)

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Couple of Old Poems

For many years I have dabbled in poetry. I'm no Wordsworth, or Browning, or Frost, but my attempts at rhyme and verse have helped me scratch the itch to be creative. I guess I come by it honest. My maternal grandfather was a pretty prolific poet himself. Beside his other body of work, he wrote an original poem each year for the custom Christmas cards he and Granny sent out to family and friends. In fact, he was appointed "Poet Laureate of West Virginia" by Governor Hulett Smith back in the 60's. (I'll bet you didn't even know West Virginia has a Poet Laureate!) Even though I have never been named to that lofty place of honor, I have scratched out a number of lyrics - primarily for my own enjoyment.

Two of my sentimental favorites were written for my sons. Although they have never been published and obviously have never won any awards, I want to share them with you today. The first was written in June, 1974.

Someday maybe Jay will be,
An athlete folks might pay to see;
Or may be to the Congress sent,
Or Even become President.
So devilishly handsome, he,
A movie star's what Jay might be;
But with his strong and ringing voice,
A Preacher's job may be his choice.
Say, what if Jay, a Doctor bold,
Should finally cure the common cold?
Or maybe he will follow me,
And try his hand at poetry.
Yes, I'm convinced that Jay can be,
Any thing he wants to be;
But Mom says he should wait some more,
At least until he's three or four!
Well, a couple of years later, our second son, Ben, came along. He was a pretty special guy in his own right. So, by August, 1978, in the spirit of the "Fairness Doctrine" I felt compelled to compose a verse about him as well. Here 'tis:
Little Benji's quite a guy,
With curly hair and spirits high;
A bouncy step - variety!
The spice of life for Mom and me.
He's so much like his brother, Jay,
Yet different in a special way;
Blue twinkling eyes just seem to tell,
He'll win your heart and do it well.
I guess sometimes it's hard to be,
Just two years old - not quite three;
But Benji does his best, you know,
To win the spotlight, steal the show.
Each night he greets me at the door,
Same question as the night before;
(Almost as I park the car),
"Daddy bring me candy bar?"
In quiet times I talk to God,
And tell Him that I find it odd;
That He's blessed me, spite all my sin,
With number two son, little Ben.
Both sons are in their 30's now. Both are dedicated Christians and are married to wonderful young ladies. Jay is a pastor in New Orleans and Ben is a teacher and coach in Russell, KY. Each of them have two sons of their own. (Their photos appear with me on the top of the page on the left side of this blog) Linda and I are truly blessed by the Creator to have such a wonderful family.
To say the least, I was mighty proud of those two little boys way back there in the 70's.
I still am!

The People of God

There is a special bond among those who are followers of Jesus Christ. We may come from different backgrounds; have diverse gifts and talents; individual tastes, etc, but one thing unites us. The secret and beauty of our relationship to one another is found in our relationship with Christ. Consider what the "Big Fisherman" wrote in 2 Peter 2: 9-10 “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”

What a title! What a standing we have – to be referred to as “The People of God”. Perhaps we don’t give as much thought as we should to the concept that we are God’s people. So much of our culture is geared to the “ME” concept, that we sometimes forget that we belong to God. (1 Cor. 6: 19-20 “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”)

This term, "the people of God" only appears a few times in the Bible, and always refers to those who have given their lives to God in faith. How important is faith to that concept? The writer of Hebrews tells us in chapter 11, verse 6, “…without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

Notice that the Apostle Peter says that this diverse group of individuals, who once had nothing in common to make them “a people”, now are not only “a people”, but “THE people of God.” We have been chosen by almighty God, and adopted into His family. He calls us a “royal priesthood”. Royal, because we have been adopted into His family and are now “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ” (Romans 8) and “ He has made us unto our God, kings and priests” (Rev. 1:6) and one day “we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10) with Him.

Peter further calls us a “holy nation” and a “peculiar people”. Peculiar because holiness is now our desire, and the fruits of our life will show forth the praises of the one who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. We who were once without hope, bending low under the burden and guilt of all our sin, now have obtained mercy. We now have an identity that is eternal, and a title more special than anyone else on planet earth today, “The People of God”!

Many of you who are reading this writing today, are already a member of this royal family through the Grace of God and faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ. Won’t you rejoice with me today in this truth, and “show forth His praises’? But for that one who may be reading today, who does not have this assurance – I have good news. The “adoption agency” is open, today! You too may become a “King’s Kid” and part of the People of God. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3: 9.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Judgement House

One of my friends in ministry is Floyd Paris, Pastor of Unity Baptist Church in Ashland, KY. For the last several years, Floyd and the good people of Unity have been involved in a powerful ministry called, "Judgement House". (see http://www.unitybaptistashland.com and click on "Judgement House" link). Each year, this project presents the Gospel in a powerful compelling way to hundreds of people and a great number of those folks accept Christ, or rededicate their lives to Him, or make other important life decisions.

Visitors are taken in groups of ten through a series of rooms, each room being a scene depicting the lives of individuals whom God is dealing with in their daily lives. Each year the story line is different. For a number of years Floyd, himself, has written the scripts. The quality of the writing is excellent. The masterfully done scenery puts you right in the middle of the story, and the actors do a wonderful job in portraying the characters. As you follow the drama you become a witness to the death of some of the characters. (This year the script involves deaths resulting from an ATV accident which is a very timely topic in this part of the country).

You go with the characters as they are ushered into Judgement (Hebrews 9: 27). After the Judgement, you get a glimpse of Hell. Nothing, of course, can truly show the horribleness of Hell, but the frightening sights, sounds, and oppressive heat of that scene are an absolute assault on your senses. Then the visitors are brought into a beautiful depiction of Heaven and you come face to face with the loving Savior. The sense of God's love for you is overwhelming! At the close of the journey, an invitation is given in a private room and trained counselors are there to pray with folks and to help them with decisions that need to be made.

Judgement House is a MAJOR undertaking each year. Over 200 people are necessary to operate the ministry. It requires the dedication of many of the members of Unity Baptist and even volunteers from some sister churches are involved. One of those volunteers, our dear friend Ginger Reedy, sent out this update on her "Kneemail" ministry at 2:15 this morning:

"Praise the Lord for what He is doing thru Judgement House!
There were 21 groups tonight with 29 salvations....! I am just getting home
and there were still a couple of people in counseling finishing up when I left.

There were over 1000 people who went thru last week with 53 saved...
That brings the overall total (saved) to 82 in a 5 day period! I don't have the
count on rededications but those normally run higher than the salvations...
I will try to have that information for you at the next update.

Please pray for all involved and for tomorrow nights presentation/responses.
so happy to be in His service"

God has used Floyd Paris and the congregation of Unity Baptist Church to make an impact in the Tri-State area, and present the Gospel in a powerful, visual way that elicits a response.

Judgement House is one of many tools that God is using to build His Kingdom.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Two Sad Stories

Tonight’s local news had two terribly sad stories regarding a couple “lucky” fellows who had won huge sums of money in the Powerball lotteries in years past. Dave Edwards of the Westwood area of Boyd County, KY and Jack Whittaker of Putnam County, WV were featured in the two reports. Edwards had won 22 million dollars after taxes, from the ticket he had purchased at a local convenience store. At the time Whittaker’s winning numbers were announced on Christmas Eve several years ago, his winnings were the largest Powerball jackpot up to that point. These fellows were featured on national news programs and many considered them to be the luckiest men on earth. Now, some folks may not be so sure of that.

Edwards was a character who had lived on the edge of the law up until the time of his winnings. He was well known by local law enforcement officers as a small time hoodlum. His name had been in the local papers several times regarding run ins with the law. In fact, when he went to Lexington, KY for the press conference where he would pick up his winnings, the police on outstanding warrants for delinquent child support arrested him.

After that problem was rectified, he married his girlfriend, bought a mansion in Florida and seven luxury automobiles. The Edwards’ were featured on at least one network prime time news magazine program. On that program they gave a tour of their gaudily furnished mansion, showed off his fleet of fine automobiles, and told of their world travels and spending sprees. I remember him grinning through his new dental work and boasting, “And I still have money left over!”

The news story tonight told of how the mansion has been sold at auction, he has lost his automobiles, and all of his personal belongings were sold off yesterday to satisfy creditors. His wife had a brush with the law two weeks ago in Florida and her address was listed as a Motel 6. One of the saddest parts of the story indicated that although Edwards’ whereabouts are unknown; it appeared that he had been living in the warehouse where the stuff had been stored. A number of used hypodermic needles were also found on the premises. Former neighbors in Westwood expressed their concerns for Edwards, who they believe to be in poor health now.

A real rags - to riches – to rags story.

Jack Whittaker is a very familiar and tragic figure to most of us in this area. He has been a fixture on local news broadcasts since his “lucky” day. First he gave large donations to a couple of churches. (Had to do the right thing, you know) Then there have been stories of failed business ventures and brushes with the law. He has been drugged and robbed at a Kanawha County strip club. There have been several DUI’s and he was recently arrested on the West Virginia Turnpike for driving on a revoked license. A young man once died of a drug overdose in a home owned by Whittaker. But the saddest story of them all was when his own beloved grand daughter died of an overdose in the mansion he had bought for her. Her body was not found for several days because it had been wrapped in plastic and hidden on the property by a friend who was there at the time of her death.

I couldn't help but feel pity for Mr. Whittaker as the news reporter interviewed him. Tears welled up in his eyes as he said, “I miss her so much. I would give it all if I could just have her back. She was my life.”

The TV ads for the lottery proclaim, “Good things happen when you play!”

Well, not necessarily…

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Office of Deacon

There are two scriptural offices in the church. One is that of Bishop or Pastor. The other is the office of Deacon. The name is derived from the Greek word "diakonos" which means servant. the very name of the office itself denotes the type of work done by the Deacon.

How did the office of Deacon come into being? Bible scholars point to the following scripture reference in the Book of Acts, describing the selection of seven men to serve in the Church at Jerusalem in the first century.

"And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith." - Acts 6: 1-7

You will note that the office of Deacon was created to serve tables. The work of the Apostles was being stifled by the time constraints which drew them away from their proper prayer and preparation time, and time for the ministry of the Word. The church was instructed to look among their membership to choose out seven men to serve the congregation's needs. The characteristics required for such servants were simple:
  1. They were to be men of good reputation, who had earned the respect of the church
  2. They were to be men who were full of the Holy Spirit
  3. They were to be men of wisdom
  4. And obviously they wouold be men who had a heart to serve others.

These were characteristics that should be found in the lives of men considered to be Deacons. Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 3: 8-13, the Apostle Paul gives qualifications for men who would be selected to serve as Deacons. All of the men of the church do not possess the characteristics or the qualifications required for the job. Truly qualified Deacons are a select few.

Somewhere along the line in many churches, the concept of the office of Deacon has taken on an unscriptural twist. In some churches the men who serve in the office of Deacon have become a "Deacon Board". Many Christians (by tradition and not by scriptural mandate) tend to regard the Deacons as a "Board of Directors" of the church. Nothing could be farther from the scriptural concept of the office. Every Pastor who has been around for a while has some sort of horror stories regarding their experiences with Deacons who are out of bounds in their concept of the responsibilites of the office. Sometimes it gets really out of whack. One Pastor friend of mine told me he would be unable to go to a particular conference on a certain day because he had to attend his monthly "Demon Meeting". On the other hand, at times we Pastors get out of control too. That door swings both ways.

I have been blessed to serve in this church with a wonderful group of men who have servant hearts. God has blessed us with an excellent relationship as we seek to focus on keeping the main thing - the main thing. Further, we also have a great group of men who, although they may not meet every point of the qualifications to officially serve in the office, do have a servant's heart as well. Although not ordained into the office of Deacon, many of them serve admirably in other ways. It takes all of us to get the job done.

One wise teacher once told me, "If you don't want your Deacons to act like a 'Board of Directors', then don't you act like a CEO". I have tried to follow that advice. Along with the Pastor, the Deacons should model the highest example of servanthood among the congregation of believers.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Four Important Benefits Of Being Part Of A Mission Team

Two weeks ago more than 25 students and 6 adults from our church took a one week mission trip (their fourth in the past four years). This year the kids participated in a M-Fuge (http://www.lifeway.com/fuge/mission/ project, this one centered in Philadelphia, PA. Tonight in our evening service a dozen or more members of the team shared video and still photos and their personal testimonies regarding their week in Philadelphia. Some of them worked in recreation programs. Some did social work in nursing homes and among mentally handicapped young people. Others were involved in clean up, fix up, and light construction work. All of it was done in the name of Christ.

The group worshipped together and worked together with other young people from different areas of the country. Their testimonies about the experience were touching and the video and photos were a wonderful resource to help our older congregants relate to what the young people experienced. We are blessed with a group of mature believers who are unusually supportive of our students, their activities and involvement. It was an excellent and informative service.

Our church has committed to be an "Acts 1:8 Church", doing missions in our city, surrounding areas, outlying regions, North America, and around the world. Many of our members ranging from teenagers to octogenarians are, or have been actively involved in missions. We often say, "The mission field begins right outside our doors, and reaches around the world." I am thankful that Westmoreland Baptist Church (which is the result of mission work) has had a Great Commission outlook for 92 years. It is an honor to lead and to serve such a group of Christ Followers.

After hearing the kids and a couple of the adults give their report tonight, I identified four obvious benefits to being part of a mission team. Whether it be a local project, a foreign mission project, or the M-Fuge work that our kids experienced, the benefits are always the same. I believe those benefits to be as follows:
  • You have a part in sharing the Gospel and building the Kingdom of God
  • You grow spiritually as an individual and you are blessed for your service.
  • You grow closer as a group. (Some of my dearest friends are those with whom I have done mission work)
  • You have fun! (That may not sound real "spiritual" but it IS a great benefit)

I am proud of the kids who are working for the Lord and learning to serve. One of their leaders had a terrible freak accident at the M-Fuge site. She spent over a week in the hospital and has had major surgery done. The group had to go on with the work and even come home without her. She is in for many weeks of healing and many more of rehab. Lesser groups would have folded under such adversity. Not this one. It is a testimony to how they have been taught by their leaders, and how they have caught the vision. Cheryl, your labor has not been in vain!

So many times I have seen youth groups with an attitude of, "What will the church do for us?" This is a group who has shown several times that their outlook is, "What can I do for the Lord and for our church?" I respect them and honor the commitment of these young people and the adults who so wonderfully lead them by example!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Lest We Forget

Dr. Paige Patterson (President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is taking a lot of heat these days. Many bloggers and other critics are hitting him hard with charges of being a "fundamentalist" (or worse). Nobody is perfect, and I'm sure Patterson (like all of us) is not without fault. I can't say that I agree with everything Patterson has said or done in recent years, but I still can't help but respect him. I don't know the man personally, and I am not here to take sides in the uproar, but in the interest of fairness I have to say this.

I have long been aware of Patterson's key role in the "Conservative Resurgence" in the Southern Baptist Convention. Having heard him speak on a number of occasions, I have been impressed by his keen analytical mind, his gift as a scholar, his eloquence in expounding scripture, his wit and wisdom. When the resurgence began, I was serving as a pastor in another Baptist denomination. I noted with some interest the conflict going on in the SBC but "didn't have a dog in the fight", so I was somewhat detached. Since then I have read much on the matter, and come to know a few people who were involved. I felt that I had a pretty good handle on what happened, and an appreciation for men like Adrian Rogers, Page Patterson, and Paul Pressler, who helped begin the theological turnaround in our convention and its various seminaries and agencies. But this week I got a wonderful reminder not to take for granted what these men gained for us.

Dr. James Moore was a dear friend of mine. Bro. Jim had retired from many years as an active vocational evangelist, and pastor in another state, and returned to Westmoreland Baptist Church where he had been saved, called to preach, and married. Jim passed away this past December, and his widow, Norma, was kind to share Jim's library with me and two other ministers. Norma is now moving to Florida and she called the other day and told me she had some other things (including many audio cassette tapes) of Jim's that she was going to throw away unless I wanted them. So, hating to see anything like that just be thrown away, I stopped by her apartment to pick them up.

There were hundreds of tapes. Most of them were recordings of Bro. Moore's messages preached in his pastorates and evangelistic crusades over the years. However in going through the tapes I found four cassettes that caught my interest, and I couldn't resist listening without delay. I'm glad I did. These tapes were a treasure for guys like me, and for other Southern Baptist pastors, and seminary students, some of whom were not even born when these tapes were recorded. In fact, they are a treasure for any SBC pastor because it is easy to forget with the passage of time, and to take for granted the battle for the Bible that took place in our convention in the late 70's and early 80's.

The tapes were two sets of two tapes each and they chronicled a pair of debates between Paige Patterson and two "moderates", and the subject was "The Inerrancy of Scripture". One set was recorded somewhere in eastern North Carolina in February, 1981. At that time Patterson was an associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Dallas and the President of the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies. His debate opponent was Dr. Cecil Sherman, who had held a number of positions with the North Carolina Baptist Convention. Each man presented a paper, debated each other's point of view, and fielded questions from what seemed to be a rather large audience. The moderator also mentioned that the debate was being covered by "Baptist Press", "The Associated Press", and the "New York Times". Must have been considered a pretty important event.

The second debate was held at the invitation of the "Religious Newswriters Association" and was held just before the SBC annual meeting in June of 1981. Patterson's opponent was Dr. Kenneth Chafin, pastor of South Lane Baptist Church in Houston and Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Southwestern Seminary. The format was the same as the previous debate, but the only listeners who were allowed to ask questions in this one were the members of the RNA.

In both debates the atmosphere was charged. In listening to Drs. Sherman and Chafin, I was shocked at many of their comments and their answers to questions submitted to them. These men were highly placed in the convention, and represented much of what was wrong in our seminaries at that time. While both of them claimed to have a "high view of scripture" they constantly spoke of their rejection of the idea of inerrancy. They wouldn't answer simple questions without parsing words and being inconsistent in thier answers. You would be amazed to hear them in their own words, and I would be happy to share the tapes with anyone who would like to hear them. The quality of the tapes was not good, but the picture they painted was vivid. It is still hard for me to believe these men were representative of those who controlled the convention apparatus. It was frightening.

I came away with a new appreciation for dire spiritual situation that our convention leadership was in at that time, and why the turn around was necessary. I also gained a new respect for Patterson and the courage it took for him to face that type of opposition, along with the name calling and slander that was so plentiful at the time. The grace he exhibited while never backing down from his position was inspiring.

We should all take inventory from time to time and be reminded of where we were then as a convention, and where we are today, lest we forget. It is evident that God's hand guided a courageous group of men during those turbulent times, and I believe His hand was on Paige Patterson.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Consistency Counts

In the next few days one of the most revered records in major league baseball will be broken.

The legendary Babe Ruth reigned supreme as baseball's home run king for nearly 40 years, until his record 714 lifetime homes was broken by the Braves' Hank Aaron in 1974. Many fans of "America's Pastime" felt that Aaron's record of 755 lifetime round trippers was untouchable. But as the old saying goes, "records are made to be broken". Sometime in the next few days or weeks Aaron's record will fall to baseball's new home run king - The San Francisco Giants' slugger Barry Bonds.

As of this writing Bonds is only four "taters" away from the magic number of 755, but interestingly there is nowhere near the hype surrounding Bonds' chase of the record that that accompanied Aaron's quest three decades ago. Barry is an interesting and polarizing character. He is almost universally booed and jeered in stadiums all across America - everywhere that is but AT&T Ballpark in his native City by the Bay. In San Francisco he is adored by the fans. It's hard to find many folks who are neutral in their opinions of Barry Bonds.

Barry seemed destined for stardom. He grew up around major league baseball, the son of Giants late, great Bobby Bonds. His godfather was none other than Willie Mays, one of the most talented athletes I have ever seen play, and arguably the greatest player in modern times. Barry broke in as a rising star with the Pittsburgh Pirates and never looked back.

The issue that overshadows Bonds' chase of the home run record revolves around his alleged involvement with taking steroids and performance enhancing substances which have been banned in baseball for several years. Bonds denies "knowingly" using any such substances, but he is at the center of a federal investigation which began looking into a company called BALCO in the San Francisco area. The alleged use of steroids by Bonds , supposedly supplied by a personal trainer who was connected to BALCO, has led to his having to testify before a federal Grand Jury.

Bonds has not been indicted, but has been implicated through leaks from another witness. He rarely talks to media representatives. Even Aaron, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and many of Bonds' colleagues seem somewhat ambivalent about the important milestone he is about to reach. I have no idea if Bonds has used steroids, but the visible evidence of his appearance would indicate that possibility. Over a period of about a year, Bonds went from a slender athletically built player to someone with a body akin to that of a WWF wrestler. In an expose' of sorts last year, "Sports Illustrated" published a number of "before and after" photos of Bonds and the contrast is nothing short of amazing. In fact, SI reported that his hat size has even increased over the time period in question. Pretty unusual stuff.

I am not a great fan of Barry Bonds. His sullen actions and aversion to the media may be understandable to an extent, but it's no way to win friends and influence people. Personally, I feel that Barry Bonds' attitude and choices would not make him the role model I would choose for my grandsons. However there are two positive points I would like to make about this guy.

First is his natural God given ability to hit a baseball, a feat in itself which is thought of by many to be the most difficult task in any sport. Now think about it for a moment. Think of the sharp eyesight that is required to be able to pick up the spin of the baseball. Think of the quick reaction time required to mentally assess whether or not the pitch will be in the strike zone, and to make the decision to take the pitch or swing away. Think of the hand/eye coordination required to make contact with the ball that is thrown by a superior athlete from only 60 feet 6 inches away, often at speeds of over 90 miles per hour. Furthermore think of the pure physics involved in hitting a sphere with a cylinder. The batting coaches always tell you to "hit the ball squarely" (go figure).

My point is that steroids may make you stronger and may have added to the length of some of the shots hit by Bonds, but they would have no effect on the sheer ability to hit major league pitching. Not everyone has that talent. That is a gift from God.

The point that really fascinates me, however, about Bonds is his CONSISTENCY. The Associated Press ran a story today by Josh Dubow that listed many statistics regarding Bonds home runs through July 10, 2007. I won't list them all but I do want to call your attention to some very interesting numbers.

Bonds has hit home runs against 442 pitchers from 28 teams in 38 major league ballparks. He has had 68 multi homer games. His three favorite hurlers to hit against are pitching greats Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Curt Shilling. Now look at these telling stats:
Home Runs hit at home - 374
Home Runs hit away - 377
Homers when his team was ahead - 271
Homers when his team was behind - 266
Homers when the score was tied - 214
Homers hit with no outs - 268
Homers hit with one out - 259
Homers hit with two out - 224

Barry Bonds is not exactly a fan favorite. Barry Bonds is not a media darling. Barry Bonds may be indicted by a federal grand jury. But, when it comes to doing what he does best, Barry Bonds is consistent.

If there is one important quality missing in the lives of many Christians today, it is consistency. Practicing what we preach. Walking the walk as well as talking the talk. Being the same every day. Always treating others equally and treating them the way we would like to be treated. Regularly reading and studying the Word of God, and consistently getting alone with Him in prayer. Praising Him in the bad times as well as the good times. Consistent in giving of our time, talents and treasures.

Each of us who are Christ Followers have been given the wonderful gift of God's Grace. We need to be consistent. Not for our glory, but for the glory of God.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Unity and Love

One of the most frustrating things to this pastor is the growing sense of clustering among many of our brothers in the Southern Baptist Convention.

The "Conservative Resurgence" is complete. The past (nearly) three decades has brought about a sea change in our Convention's life. God's mighty hand has been evident in the changes that have come about. All of the SBC entities are now led and staffed by dedicated individuals who wholeheartedly believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. The Trustees of each convention entity are men and women who fully support the "Baptist Faith and Message 2000", not as a creed, but as a consensus statement of faith on the PRIMARY doctrines of the Bible. Our six seminaries are sending out ministers and missionary candidates who are fully grounded in their faith and equipped to fulfil the Great Commission and to "earnestly contend for the faith." Cooperative Program giving is at an all time high as we seek to carry out His Mission.

With all of the good things that have happened, it seems that we can't stand the success. I fear that the Enemy is making inroads where we least expect it. The "Battle for the Bible" has been won, but we see our army beginning to cluster in small groups, more and more at odds with ourselves. We see emerging and growing battles over such things as Calvinism/Arminianism, private prayer languages, and even the meaning of baptism. Those things that some have called secondary and tertiary issues are becoming great issues of division among our people. Yet Baptists have historically been a people with differing viewpoints on numerous issues. Why must we now draw up new battle lines?

The "labels" abound. Reformed, cessationist, continualist, fundamentalist, missional, cooperating conservative, crusading conservative, charismatic, landmark, traditonal, contemporary, emerging, emergent, etc. The list grows longer each day and it seems we are beginning to identify more with our "camp" than with our Christ.

The night before Jesus died on Calvary he prayed that powerful "High Priestly" prayer in the Garden. He prayed for us. Consider this portion of that prayer:

"I pray for these followers, but I am also praying for all those who will believe in me because of their teaching. Father, I pray that they can be one. As you are in me and I am in you, I pray that they can also be one in us. Then the world will believe that you sent me." (John 17:20)

We are all different and unique. We have different gifts, talents, skin tones, accents, cultures, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, and opinions. We will disagree on the interpretations of some non essentials, but we must be united on what matters most. Diversity is OK, but there is one thing that must unify us in spite of all of our differences.

In Max Lucado's wonderful book, "In The Grip Of Grace" he deals with this subject in the chapter entitled "Life Aboard The Fellow-Ship". Here is an excerpt:

"Of all the lessons we can draw from this verse, (John 17:20) don't miss the most important: Unity matters to God. The Father does not want his kids to squabble. Disunity disturbs him. Why? Because "all people will know that you are my followers if you love each other" (John 13"35). Unity creates belief. How will the world believe that Jesus was sent by God? Not if we agree with each other. Not if we are unanimous on each vote. not if we never make a doctrinal error. But if we love one another.
Unity creates belief. Disunity fosters disbelief. Who wants to board a ship of bickering sailors? Life on the ocean may be rough, but at least the waves don't call us names...
'All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other.' Stop and think about this verse for a minute. Could it be that unity is the key to reaching the world for Christ?"

In our Convention meetings we lament the dwindling number of baptisms, and even question the actual regeneration of some of our 16 million church members. Could disunity and infighting be the key to these alarming statistics?

Diversity is OK as long as we don't break fellowship with others who disagree. Dialog is good as long as it isn't our focus. No one should expect all of us to march in lockstep with the opinions of any denominational "pope", but the vitriol I see in some blogs today is just as alarming. It's time for us all to check our motives and agendas. It's time to stop focusing on secondary and tertiary issues that divide us and concentrate on the Great Commission that unites us.

The enemy seeks to stop us. I recently heard an illustration about the different ways in which two equine species deal with danger and attack from a predator. Wnen attacked, thorobred horses will face each other and kick the enemy. On the other hand, when facing attack, donkeys will face the enemy, and kick each other. I think there is a valuable lesson here for Southern Baptists.

In the words of that "great theologian" Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?"

We'd better - for Christ's sake!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I Guess It's Official

Nearly six years ago, our older son, Jay, his wife, Michelle, and our oldest grandson, Quint moved to New Orleans. Yesterday, I shipped the final items of their furniture to them that had been stored here all these years. I guess it's official now. They're staying in the Big Easy. Of course Linda and I had come to grips with that fact some time ago. It just seemed to add a note of finality to the situation when we saw those last few items of furniture head down the road.

Jay had served in his first pastorate in South Shore, KY for about five years. Knowing he needed to complete his formal education he began to make plans to attend Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. All that changed six years ago this month when he agreed to go to France on a short term mission trip as a percussionist with a musical group from Roswell Street Baptist Church in Atlanta. On that trip he met Gary Halquist, a music professor from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Gary began to "sell" NOBTS to Jay, and God opened his heart to the concept. The wheels began to turn, and by September Jay had been called to serve as pastor of First Baptist Church of Westwego, LA and Michelle and Quint began to make preparations to move away from family and friends.

It was not easy. It never is. It was especially tough for Michelle, whose family had experienced two losses, and her father was terminally ill. Looking back at that time I can only imagine the stress that she carried. Those were dark days for her and difficult for all of us, but as always, God's Grace was provided as needed.

Jay completed his undergraduate work at Leavell College there at NOBTS and subsequently enrolled in his graduate studies. We missed them so much, but we were relatively sure they were doing God's will and therefore (somewhat grudgingly) accepted "our loss". We got news that grandson number three was on the way when Michelle told us he would be born around Thanksgiving time. Again, mixed emotions. We were happy at the thought of another new baby, but saddened to know he would be so far away from us.

Linda made her plans to be in New Orleans for the birth of Canon. She looked forward to welcoming the new grandson into the world, seeing Jay, and helping with housework and caring for Quint while Michelle recovered. The date for the C-Section was set and Linda was off to New Orleans to spend Thanksgiving Holiday with their family. A couple of days after Canon was born I was hospitalized here in Ashland and Linda rushed back home to be with me. Tests revealed that I had incurable cancer that was already in the fourth stage. The 1,000 miles separating our family seemed more distant than ever before.

Then, eight months later came Hurricane Katrina. We relived the anxiety that we had felt several years before when younger son, Benji, was with the Marine Corps going into Kosovo. Why had God taken our kids so far away to be in such a dangerous situation? It was just too much to understand. However in the 23 months since Katrina, God has given us peace concerning their move. In the words of a song that Michelle used to sing, "The will of God won't take you where the Grace of God can't keep you. You will never be out of His care."

God has shown us why He called them to that place. Jay and Michelle have been used in a tremendous way to minister to the people of that area during the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States. In the midst of all the ministry activities, Jay completed his Master of Divinity degree in May, many people have accepted Christ, and their church is growing and prospering. This fall, Michelle will begin teaching 8th grade in the Christian School that Quint attends. We have come to an understanding that God has placed them there for His purposes not ours. God has given them a love for that city and its suffering and lost population.

So, it looks like it's official. They've settled in New Orleans. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have it any other way!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

About Time

There is one thing we all have in common – Time. Granted, we don’t all live the same exact amount of years and days and months, but we do all share the limitations of 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and 52 weeks in a year. Time is that concept in our minds which is based on the observation of the orderliness of God’s creation. In Psalm 90, verses 10, 12, and 14, the author (Moses) makes some interesting points about how we should relate to time.
First we must RECOGNIZE THE TIME. Verse 10 says “ The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
We are finite beings. We may be granted a long life of 70 or 80 years, or we may not! Our lives are relatively brief. We are born, we grow, we learn, we labor, we have times of joy and times of sorrow, but eventually the days come to an end. We, like Moses, should pray that God would “teach us to number our days”!
Secondly, we must REDEEM THE TIME. Look at verse 12 “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
We, like Moses, should pray that God would “teach us to number our days”! In recognizing that we do only have a finite time in this life we must make the most of it for Christ. Redeeming something means to purchase it. Since you and I can never hope to buy an extra day, how can we “purchase” time? By using what time we have for God’s purposes and with His wisdom. Paul, the Apostle, tells us how in Ephesians 5: 15-19.
“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,”
Finally, in verse 14 we are reminded to REJOICE THROUGH TIME! ”O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”
Mercy is a direct result of the Grace and Love of God. It satisfies us, makes us joyful, and makes us inseparable objects of His love.
Romans 8:35-39. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
His Grace helps us be people of Grace as well. Consider the instructions of Jesus:
Luke 6: 27-29 ““But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. “
We would all do well to be reminded of the importance of each day that God gives us. I would suggest reading the entire 90th Psalm and consider what God reminds us, About Time.

Monday, July 9, 2007

On Forgiveness

In his book, "Will Daylight Come" Robert Heffler pens this moving illustration. If you have never seen it before, please enjoy. If you have seen it, enjoy again.

There was a little boy visiting his grandparents on their farm. And he was given a slingshot to play with in the woods. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit the target. Getting a little discouraged; he headed back to dinner. As he was walking back he saw Grandma's pet duck. Just out of impulse, he let the slingshot fly, hit the duck square in the head, and killed it. He was shocked and grieved.

In a panic, he hid the dead duck in the wood pile, only to see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing. After lunch that day Grandma said, "Sally, let's wash the dishes." But Sally said, "Grandma, Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen." Then she whispered to him, "Remember the duck?" So Johnny did the dishes.

Later that day, Grandpa asked it the children wanted to go fishing and Grandma said, "I'm sorry but I need Sally to help me make supper." But Sally just smiled and said, "Well that's all right because Johnny told me he wanted to help." She whispered again, "Remember the duck? So Sally went fishing and Johnny stayed to help.

After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally's, he finally couldn't stand it any longer. He came to Grandma and confessed that he had killed the duck. Grandma knelt down, gave him a hug and said, "Sweetheart, I know. You see, I was standing at the window and I saw the whole thing. But because I love you, I forgave you. I was just wondering how long you would let Sally make a slave of you."

Isn't that a beautiful picture of what God has done for us through His plan of salvation? No matter who we are, where we've been, or what we've done, there is peace and forgiveness available to everyone who will come to God in repentance and faith in God's simple plan of salvation, through Jesus Christ. How many of us are carrying the guilt and burden of our sins, because the enemy keeps throwing it up in our faces (lying, debt, fear, hatred, anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, sexual sin, covetousness, etc). Whatever it is, we need to know that Jesus Christ was standing at the window and He saw the whole thing. He is simply wondering how long we would let the enemy make a slave of us.

I am so thankful that there is full forgiveness in Jesus Christ. In John chapter 8 Jesus comes in contact with a woman caught in the very act of adultery. You remember the story. The broken, weeping woman publicly bore the burden and guilt of her sin. In the presence of the very one who was qualified to execute judgment upon her, she heard these words, "Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more." What a picture of God's grace! Please note, this was not "cheap grace". Jesus offered her new life, with a clean slate, and instructions to lead a repentant life, "go and sin no more."

The Apostle Paul gives us a very powerful insight into the forgiveness we have through Christ in Romans 5. Yet in Romans 6: 1-2 he reminds us, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that Grace may abound? God forbid!?" Let us live Godly in Christ, and don't let the enemy remind us of sins forgiven.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Back to Work!

Nice little vacation. I played a couple of rounds of golf with my son and his father in law... helped teach the six year old grandson to ride a two wheel bike... took the grand kids to see the 4th of July Fireworks on top of Snowshoe Mountain (and nearly froze!)... spent some quiet time with Linda... and RESTED! Quite a bit of rest...
Now it's back to work. I spent about 5 hours in the office yesterday afternoon, catching up on what needed to be caught up. Went with Thamer Calhoun to Belle, WV to pick up a van load of our youth mission team and bring them home. Preached this morning... went to the mission church at Wayne, WV this afternoon to help Darrell Clark kick off their first Sunday service... and soon ready to head back to our church to speak tonight. I've only been back two days and already tired - again!
I am probably not as tired as the 30 folks who went to Philadelphia, PA for mission work with "M-Fuge". What a trip they had! We had two 15 seat vans, a mini van, and a U-Haul trailer loaded down with the kids, their stuff, and their adult chaperons who left Huntington at 4:45 AM last Sunday. By 5:30 AM they were broken down in Milton, WV (about 30 miles up the road) - bad water pump! We got on the telephone, waking up several other pastors before 6:00 AM, trying to find another van to replace our inoperative one, with no luck. All the churches we spoke to were using their available vans and we had a dilemma to say the least.
Terry Harper, the Executive Director of the W.Va. Convention of Southern Baptists was also enlisted to help and he was able to procure a van for us from Witcher Baptist Church in Belle, (Kanawha Co.) West Virginia. We are so thankful to Pastor Bernard Toppings and the good people of Witcher Baptist Church for loaning us their van on such short notice. We are also appreciatave of Pastor Cledith Campbell and Altizer Baptist Church in Huntington for the loan of their van as well. Without the planned help of Altizer and the unplanned help of Witcher, the plans for this year's mission trip would have come to a screeching halt.
The team made it safely to Philly on Sunday night (about four hours behind schedule) and got settled in for the work which began Monday. The Enemy scored again on Tuesday morning when Cheryl Bledsoe (one of our youth leaders, and the one who planned this trip) broke BOTH shoulders and had some other injuries in a freak accident just before heading to the worksite.
Transported to a hospital by ambulance, Cheryl's injuries were diagnosed and the doctors felt it necessary to transport her to another hospital where an orthopedist who specializes in severe shoulder injuries could do the surgeries on Friday. The surgeries were successful but the team had to sadly leave Cheryl behind with her husband and parents to look out for her. The prognosis for her recovery is good, but it will probably take six months or more to regain the use of her arms. We are requesting fervent prayer for Cheryl, Roger and for their daughters, Alex and Sarah, whom Cheryl home schools. They have a tough road ahead.
Thankfully, there were no other incidents, and the kids performed their mission duties admirably. They got home about 11:00 PM Saturday night, and most of them were at church this morning. Twenty of them are scheduled to take off for Centrifuge Camp in Buckhannon, WV tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM, but without Miss Cheryl. I have tremendous admiration for these teens and their leaders. Missions are in their hearts, and they are an important part of our Mission strategy at Westmoreland Baptist Church.
So... as I said earlier, back to work. Nice quiet little break, but there are still many ministry needs to meet. I thank God for the time to come apart and recharge for a while and for the place of ministry where He allows me to serve.

I am blessed.

Have a great time at camp, Kids.

Cheryl, we're praying for you!

Saturday, July 7, 2007


Today is one of those easy dates to remember. I suppose that those who believe in luck would say that this would be the luckiest day of them all. I am not so inclined. Not that I am a pessimist - far from it. I just don't believe in luck - good or bad. Rabbit's feet, horseshoes, black cats, broken mirrors, and walking under ladders are irrelevant. There is a God who controls time and events. Nothing happens outside of the purpose or the permission of our Sovereign Lord.

Look at what God says regarding Himself in Isaiah 46: 9-10:

"For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things that are not yet done,
Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
And I will do all My pleasure,’"

Has it ever occurred to you that nothing ever just occurred to God? He is in control. He orders time and events. He "...declares the end from the beginning...". Now, volumes have been written about the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Theologians have long debated where one concept leaves off and the other begins, and I certainly can't definitively answer that question. I do know that He doesn't move us around like pieces on a chess board, or program us to obey like "Stepford Wives". Furthermore, we also know that our attitudes and actions do have an effect on our lives, and on the lives of others. But remember that in spite of all of that, from the beginning, God knew what was coming, and he says, "... My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure...". In the end, His purposes will be accomplished. He IS in control of everything.

So, what is my responsibility? What is yours? How do we respond to the sovereignty of Almighty God? By taking note of His consel on the matter. The "Manufacturer's Handbook" (the Bible) is full of instruction in the matter. One of my favorite passages spelling out our responsibility is found in Proverbs 3: 1-10:

"My son, do not forget my law,
But let your heart keep my commands;
For length of days and long life
And peace they will add to you.
Let not mercy and truth forsake you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart,
And so find favor and high esteem
In the sight of God and man.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.
Honor the Lord with your possessions,
And with the firstfruits of all your increase;
So your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine."

So, no matter if it's Friday the 13th or 07-07-07 - Go with God and have a great day.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Happy Independence Day!

I'm going to be out of the blogosphere for the next five days or so, while Linda and I are on a short vacation (see previous post). However, I want to wish everyone a happy and safe 4th of July holiday.

We in the U.S.A. are so blessed to live in the "land of the free and the home of the brave." As we celebrate our national Independence Day on Wednesday let us honor America and honor the brave men and women who have purchased and preserved our liberty at the cost of their own lives. Let us also daily honor the one who purchased our liberty from sin, at the cost of His own life on Calvary.

There are two Bible verses that I would pray that EVERY American would take to heart on our nation's 131th birthday:

Psalm 33: 12
"Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD..."

2 Chronicles 7: 14
"if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."

God Bless the United States of America!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Thirty Six Happy Years

On June 19th, my wife, Linda, and I celebrated our 36th Wedding Anniversary. My, how time flies when you're having fun! Tomorrow afternoon we are off to the mountains of Pocahontas County, WV, on vacation with our son, Benji and his family and his in-laws, the Clantons.
We are looking forward to a quiet few days in a big two-story farmhouse on banks of the Greenbrier River.

I have been out of the office a lot in the past two and a half years, for surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, CT scans and other related doctor appointments, but it has been no “vacation”! There is much more to ministry work than just preaching a sermon on Sunday and doing a couple of other services a week. It can be absolutely grueling for a pastor and his wife. Pastors need vacations too. A wise teacher once told me, "If you do not take time to 'come apart', you are certain to eventually COME APART!" How true that is. This week of time off is especially needed by both Linda and myself, and will be a wonderful time of relaxation and reflection.

I hope to play a little golf and maybe go to see the 4th of July Fireworks at the Snowshoe Ski Resort. I'll take some walks with Will and Asher down the Greenbriar trail and probably wade in the river with them. However, mostly I just plan to sit on the front porch admiring God’s handiwork in the beautifully forested mountains and listening to the sounds of the water flowing swiftly over the rocky riverbed. We will enjoy the fellowship of family and friends, as well as the delicious meals, cooked on the old fashioned wood burning stove. As an added bonus, we will have two of the grandsons to delight us with their presence. The other two, Quint and Canon, from New Orleans were able to be home with us on our anniversary last month. We had a great time with them then. (You can see the photos of all four of them here on the home page of this blog). Truly God has been so good to us!

My mind still goes back 38 years to the night I first met Linda. Do you believe in love at first sight?

I do! It happened to me.

It was the week before my 19th birthday that I first laid eyes on Linda in a revival service at my home church. Cupid’s arrow struck me squarely in the heart and I came down with a terminal case of the “can’t help its”. My focus in life for the next 20 months was to make that beautiful, fascinating girl from Pike County, KY my wife. I chased her until she finally broke down, and on June 19, 1971 my dream came true. Next to receiving Christ as my Savior, our marriage is the most important thing that has happened to me in my life.

It seems as though the past 36 years have swept by as swiftly as the waters of the Greenbrier. The U.S. Air Force, various jobs, and pastoral ministry have taken us to live in six states, from West Virginia to Louisiana, and from Lake Superior in upper Michigan to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We have served churches in West Virginia and Kentucky, and back to West Virginia again. The years have not always been easy and we have had some pretty rough spots along the way. Haven’t we all? But through it all, quitting was never an option. We were in a covenant relationship and we had promised, “For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.”

Through it all, God has blessed us with two fine sons. Jay is a pastor in the New Orleans area and earned his Master of Divinity Degree in Biblical Languages this past May from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Benji is a graduate of Morehead State University, and is teaching and coaching basketball at Russell Middle School in Kentucky. He is actively involved as a member of Rose Hill Baptist Church in Ashland. We also have the two finest daughters in law any couple could hope for. Michelle and Leigh Anne are the daughters we never had, and they are wonderful wives and mothers, Plus they have given us Quint, Will, Canon, and Asher – the joy of our lives!

Yep, it’s been a pretty good run for the past 36 years. Only God knows how many more anniversaries we may celebrate together, but one thing is certain. I am so thankful that God brought Linda into my life on that cool, crisp night in October of 1969. I am also thankful that she has put up with me and taken care of me for 36 years of matrimony.

That is no easy task.

I'll borrow a phrase from New Orleans area Pastor Fred Luter, who would say, “She is the love of my life, my better half, my best friend, my prime rib, my sweet thing. – There ain’t no woman like the one I’ve got!”