Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Upward Soccer Camp Is Underway

Westmoreland Baptist Church's Upward Soccer Camp got underway on Monday evening at "Olympic Field" (the site of the former Olympic Pool) at the west end of Ritter Park in Huntington. This sports ministry is still in it's early stages at WBC, but has already touched many lives.

We began Upward Basketball and Cheerleading two years ago, and have seen great growth in the program numbers. We are expecting continued growth this coming year in Basketball. Last year we held an Upward Spring Soccer league which was very successful, but we had a little "hiccup" this year when we were unable to get a leadership team together in time to have a full soccer season this spring. (I'll take the blame for that one). However, we did want to keep our hand in the soccer sports ministry, and we sought to put together a Soccer Camp this summer. I am thankful that Kim Bailey stepped up and said, "I'll lead the camp, and direct the league next spring."

What a blessing! And Kim is not the only "willing worker" in this children's ministry. Her three children (all high school soccer players themselves, are assisting. Jeff and Tara Lockhart are also valuable key people in the work. Jeff directed our first soccer league and was heavily involved in our first basketball season as well. He and Tara have literally spent hundreds of hours in Upward, and they were there again setting up goals, marking off fields, and running coaching stations.

Several of our newer church members have also volunteered for coaching duty, as have some returning helpers. One entire family was present last night, some of them helping for the very first time, setting up, coaching, and doing whatever was needed. For the convenience of the parents and other spectators, several of our older members were present, running a concession stand. The refreshments are sold at low prices, not as a moneymaker, but as a convenience for those who missed dinner to come to the camp. The refreshments are priced just high enough to cover their costs. The amazing thing about our concession crew is that they are all in their 70's and one lady has even passed 80 years of age!

Other church members came out, just to support the program and to be exposed to the wonderful children. The 26 campers enrolled range from Pre- Kindergarten age to 6th grade, and each one of them seemed to have a wonderful evening. They all participated, learned, and heard a devotional message. Each camper receives a camp T - Shirt, water bottle, poster to display their star awards, and will receive their own Soccer Ball on the final night of the camp. However the most important thing the kids will receive will be the Gospel message at break time each evening.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Convention Reflection

The Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention wrapped up on Wednesday evening with a total of just over 8,700 registered messengers (representing over 43,000 local churches) heading home toward all points of the compass. I would rate it as one of the best conventions I have attended in the past 10 years. From the opening of the Pastor's Conference on Sunday evening, to the closing gavel Wednesday night, we were challenged by some powerful messages, from a variety of speakers.

I will not even attempt to give a complete wrap up of all the convention activities. You can get that from www.bpress@sbc.net. But I do want to reflect for a moment on what I found most intriguing about this Annual Meeting.

Granted, there were the usual underlying factions. A number of motions were presented by some messengers, riding their annual legalistic, "hobby horse" issues. Resolutions were presented, debated, and ratified. The exhibit area and LifeWay bookstore, was busy at all times, as friends greeted old friends there, and in the broad lobby and hallway of the Kentucky Fair and Exhibition Center. However, none of these factors were as striking to me as were two particular items of note.

First, was the number of younger pastors who attended this convention. There have been great concerns raised in the past few years about the seeming loss of younger leaders in the SBC. Some young men have been impatient to be allowed to have "a seat at the table", and have been critical of SBC leadership and direction. Some (but not all) of our convention leaders have also expressed the view that these younger guys should bide their time and earn their leadership chops. I believe that this year we have turned the corner regarding inclusion of these younger leaders. The number of convention speakers in their 30's was one example, as well as a number of younger leaders who were appointed to various convention committees. Young men like J.D. Greear and David Platt advanced the youth movement by light years, as they powerfully gave exposition of God's Word. We'll hear much more from them (and others) over the next few years.

The most important thing I came away with was more subtle, yet amazing, upon examination. Convention President (and Georgia Pastor) Johnny Hunt (pictured above) challenged us all regarding a Great Commission Resurgence among Southern Baptists. Hunt and Southeastern Seminary President, Danny Akin, began laying the groundwork for this concept several months ago. A somewhat controversial 10 point, Great Commission Resurgence Document was offered, criticized by some, tweaked a couple of times, and signed via the Internet by more than 4,000 pastors (including this writer) and leaders from all over SBC life. Motives of signers, and non signers have been quite the topic of conversation. Some of the document's more notable signers are current seminary presidents, other SBC entity heads, state convention presidents, and a number of former SBC presidents. Some well known leaders signatures were noticeably absent, as were those of all but two, of the various State Convention Executive Directors. At least two of our "Big Guns" signed the document "with caveats".

Johnny Hunt had made it known some time ago that he would like to have the Convention give him the authority to appoint a Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. This committee would be tasked with the responsibility to examine the structure, programs, and activities of the SBC as to how we may better fulfill the commission our Lord has given us. They would bring their observations and recommendations to the Convention when it meets again next year in Orlando. Going into this annual meeting, there had been quite a bit of discussion and posturing on this issue. Executive Committee President, Morris Chapman had publicly spoken against the appointing of such a commission, and many expected some fireworks when the issue came up.

And come up it did, when Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, (pictured at left) presented the motion at the very beginning of the first opportunity to present new motions. The debate was scheduled for 7:40 PM on Tuesday, and the convention hall was packed for it. You can get a full rundown of the debate at Baptist Press, and the motion passed by an overwhelming majority. What I want to call attention to is the interesting juxtaposition of differing personalities and theological view points that came together to make this commission a reality.

Two of the three personalities who helped bring this about were Hunt and Mohler. No two leaders could be more different in their style, background, personality, and theological perspective.

Hunt is a local (megachurch) pastor from the Atlanta area. He is a populist by nature. His huge smile is ever present. He would prefer to be called "Pastor Johnny" to "Dr. Hunt" any day. He speaks in a vernacular that is easily understood by everyone in his audience, and he is more Arminian in his theology.

Al Mohler, on the other hand, is an academician. He is President of the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, located in Louisville. I personally think that Mohler is the most brilliant theologian, and the most eloquent and articulate person in the SBC today. His calm demeanor, and excellence of thought and expression would make him a formidable opponent in any debate. Mohler has been criticized by some as a "Five Point Calvinist", yet under his leadership, SBTS created the "Billy Graham School of Evangelism".

My point is this. These guys couldn't be more different, yet they have come together (along with some other diverse individuals) to help steer this Convention in the direction of examining what we are doing to fulfill the task that was left to us by our Lord. In the divisive political and religious culture of 2009, this is nothing short of amazing, and absolutely refreshing.

The SBC is a conservative Convention. The "Battle for the Bible" was won 30 years ago through the conservative resurgence. Yet, over the past few years, there has developed a schism between what some call "crusading conservatives" and "cooperating conservatives". While there are many wonderful, godly servants in each camp, if one must be categorized as being in one camp or the other - I'll stand with those who will cooperate with other believers for the propagation of the Gospel.

Is it possible that we may be coming to the place in our Convention that The Great Commission will take it's rightful place as the center of all we do? With 16 million members in the SBC there will be many differences among us on secondary and tertiary issues. That is only natural. But the time has come that we MUST lay those differences aside while we focus on making the main thing - the main thing.

Perhaps we turned that corner in Louisville this week. Only God knows, and time will tell...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Full Day At The Convention

Very full day of activity at the first day of the SBC Annual Meeting in Louisville, KY. There were way too many items to go into tonight but I will hit what I think were the highlights of the day (in no particular order).

Johnny Hunt was reelected (unopposed) for a second one year term as President. Kentucky Pastor John Mark Toby was elected first Vice President, and Stephen Rummage second VP.

There was wonderful worship music spaced throughout the day sandwiched around agency reports, business sessions, prayer times, committee reports and election of agency trustees, theme interpretations (sermonettes) and President Johnny Hunt's powerful message on the need for a Great Commission Resurgence in the SBC.

We had the blessing of Joe McKeever sharing lunch with us today at Arby's. Joe is a retired Pastor and Director of Missions in the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. He is a multi talented guy and a real encourager. Joe's cartoons appear every day on Baptist Press' website. Joe has been spreading cheer in the Executive Committee display area in the Convention Exhibit Hall, by sketching caricatures of folks who visit the booth. He had huge lines of folks waiting for him all day! You may enjoy Joe's blog by accessing, www.joemckeever.com

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary here in Louisville made the first motion of the day. Dr. Mohler's motion was to allow President Johnny Hunt to appoint a "Great Commission Resurgence Task Force" to evaluate the structure, agencies, programs, etc of the SBC and report on their findings at next year's Annual Meeting in Orlando, FL. This had the potential to be a very divisive issue since Executive Committee President, Morris Chapman, had earlier publicly expressed his objections to the Great Commission Resurgence Document (published a few months ago by Johnny Hunt and Southeastern Seminary President, Danny Akin, and signed by several thousand Southern Baptists - myself included). The motion was forwarded for debate at 7:40 PM tonight.

As the discussion got underway, it did not take long to see which way the issue was going. The motion passed overwhelmingly!

Several other motions were made which were directed at controversial Seattle pastor and author, Mark Driscoll. Driscoll is the founder of the Acts 29 Network of contemporary style churches. Driscoll is known for being out there on the edge and has drawn much criticism for his language usage, views on alcohol consumption, and other unorthodox behavior. Also, the growing number of Calvinists in the convention drew some attention as well. There were also some of the usual wacko motions - including one blasting the Holman Christian Standard Bible which is published by the SBC.

The number of registered messengers (delegates) from the churches was approaching 9,000 by midday. I have truly enjoyed the preaching, the music and the fellowship at this convention. It is so good to see so many wonderful friends from all around the country - renewing old friendships and forging new ones. It is also encouraging to note what appeared to be a larger number of younger pastors being involved in this year's Convention activities. I have no reason to believe otherwise than the Great Commission Resurgence issue has had an impact on energizing these younger leaders.

This older pastor has also felt a need to get closer to my Heavenly Father. I have made some commitments to Him and by His Grace and Mercy will be able to carry them out for His glory. It has been a time of revival and recharge for me, personally. I am looking forward to getting back in our home mission field later in the week, and being about His business.

Tomorrow's morning session will be full, and I look forward to the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's Alumni and Friends Luncheon at noon. The convention wraps up about 9:00 on Wednesday evening.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Powerful Preaching In Louisville

The Pastor's Conference of the Southern Baptist Convention came to a close tonight as Convention President Johnny Hunt challenged all of us in a packed convention hall to redouble our efforts in evangelism, personal holiness, and vision.

Today I have heard some of the finest and most challenging preaching that I have heard in many years. The theme of the Pastor's Conference this year was "What If..." The theme was explored in each session from Sunday night until closing tonight as follows:

  • What If We All Were Of One Mind?

  • What If We All Showed Love?

  • What If We Were All Led By One Spirit?

  • What If We Had One Purpose?

I only got in on the last part of Florida Pastor, Mike Landry's early morning message, but I caught all the rest of them today. It's hard to say which speaker I enjoyed most, as each was different and each had their own perspective on the theme. The one common thread was the powerful anointing of the Holy Spirit on each of the messages. The speakers we heard today were:

  • Landry

  • Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research (Pictured above)

  • Francis Chan, a Pastor from Simi Valley California

  • Tom Eliff, pastor and author from Oklahoma City

  • Michael Catt, Georgia pastor and producer of the movies "Facing the Giants" and "Fireproof"

  • Fred Luter, Jr. Pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist in New Orleans (pictured here)

  • Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas pastor, Governor, and Presidential Candidate, and host of "Huckabee" on Fox News Channel

  • Alvin Reid, professor of Evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

  • David Platt, Pastor of the Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, AL (pictured below)

  • Johnny Hunt, Pastor FBC Woodstock, GA and current President of the SBC

We were also blessed by the encouraging ministry of Dennis Swanberg who helped us laugh at ourselves a little bit. That is good medicine too.

My heart has been convicted today in several areas, and I have recommitted myself to focus on the Mission God has given me, to love and care for the flock of Westmoreland Baptist Church. And to be renewed in our commitment to evangelism.

One major happening was a special offering taken late in the evening session to help with the Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions. Right now the IMB has 2,000 candidates for the mission field, but only the finances to send 300 to the field. To the amazement of all in attendance, the offering totalled over $46,000!

Tomorrow morning the actual convention starts.

First Evening of SBC Pastor's Conference

Arrived in Louisville just in time to get checked in and head over to the Fair and Exposition Center for most of the evening session of the Pastor's conference. Got registered and into the hall in time to hear the last part of J.D. Greear's message. The worship times were good and I had opportunity to visit with a number of friends.

Some of the familiar faces I saw and had opportunity to visit with were Dr. & Mrs. Preston Nix from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Parkersburg, WV Pastor Todd Hill and family; Dan and Tara Byrd (now from Florida); Pastor Ricky Kirk from South Point, OH; Paul and Regina Badgett from Pikeville, KY; and fellow NOBTS Trustee, Don Currence, who was running the registration area. I had a long visit with Pastor Ken Owens from Bluefield, WV. Asa and Lydia Greear and family stopped by to say hello, and I sat with Paul Harris and Darrell Clark. I also saw Pastor Don and Tammy Knotts from WV, but didn't get close enough to say hello.

Mac Brunson of Fist Baptist Church of Jacksonville brought a powerful message. He talked about how to deal with adversity and opposition. I'm sure he spoke with great personal experience. I have only heard Brunson (pictured here) personally on two occasions and have been very impressed both times.

My biggest disappointment was not being able to get back into the hall in time to hear Chuck Colson. I had made a quick trip to the restroom after Brunson's message, and I ran into Ken Owens out in the lobby. Last time I had seen Ken was a few weeks ago in Matewan, WV and we were both covered with mud and sweat from Disaster Relief work there. Ken and I travelled to the Philippines together a few years ago and I just fell in love with this "gentle giant" of a guy. Well, our conversation was so long, and we solved so many problems, that the time got away from me and I didn't get to hear Colson!

Some great speakers on tap for today. I am looking forward to hearing Fred Luter, Mike Huckabee, and Dennis Swanberg (among others). Also looking forward to good fellowship and visiting the LifeWay store in the exhibit area. Actual convention business begins Wednesday AM. Will take some time out this afternoon to run over to the airport to pick up my son, Jay and his music minister, Daniel Savage from New Orleans. Looking forward to seeing both of them!

Time to get my shower and head over for the convention center.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

SBC Annual Meeting In Louisville, KY

I will be leaving for Louisville after the morning worship service on Sunday for the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

I hope to be blogging each evening with a wrap up of the highlights of each day's happenings. Will also be sending out updates during the sessions on Twitter. To see these brief updates just go to http://www.twitter.com/pastoradkins .

We will be praying for the six teams of World Changers that Westmoreland Baptist Church will be hosting this week and asking for God to use them in a mighty way during their mission week in Huntington. Special thanks to Bob and Becky Moses, Thamer Calhoun, Charley Dygert, and all of the other WBC volunteers who will be sacrificing their time and efforts to heop feed the World Changers this week.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Has It Really Been 38 Years?

They stood at the altar with all the butterflies their stomachs could hold. They were really not much more than a couple of kids. Yet there they stood, deeply in love, and ready to take vows pledging to stay together until death, alone, should part them. She was a radiant 20 year old beauty - he, a baby faced fellow with a full head of thick curly hair - both of them ready to embark on the uncharted sea of holy matrimony.

The temperature in the packed church auditorium was stifling. When the ushers had illuminated the candles, it seemed as though the air conditioning might extinguish them. Some of the candles flickered dangerously close to being extinguished. So, a well meaning member of the congregation (the church's choir director) took it upon himself to turn off the A/C. Not turn it down, mind you, but off! With nearly three hundred wedding guests packed into the sanctuary, and the June 19th sun beating down upon the hot metal roof, the temperature inside the place had the well dressed gentlemen sweating profusely and the decked out ladies "glowing". Wedding programs quickly became makeshift fans, and flickered in the faces of many of the ladies in the packed pews.

Meanwhile at the altar, the young couple was oblivious to what was going on behind them. They stood there with her older sister, his younger brother, and eight other bridesmaids and groomsmen, listening intently to the groom's father read the wedding vows they were repeating. The phrases were repeated, "To love and to cherish from this day forward... for better or worse... for richer, for poorer... in sickness and in health...". They had no clue what lay ahead - (all of the above) - but they dutifully made the promises, "before God and these witnesses" as his minister/father had reminded them all in his opening remarks.

As in most weddings, the ceremony had it's comedic moments. One of the groomsmen (who had missed the rehearsal the night before) barely arrived just before the start of the ceremony. Then came the service itself, with a couple of memorable moments.

The father of the bride was very nervous about not muffing his one line during the giving away of the bride. Well, he did exactly that. Oh, he said, "Her mother and I" perfectly. He just said it too soon. Being hearing impaired, he was at a distinct disadvantage. So, when the minister intoned, "If anyone knows any reason why these two should not lawfully be joined together, let him speak now or forever hold his peace" he stopped for the obligatory pause. When the father of the bride noticed that no one else was speaking, he cleared his throat and boldly spoke his line, "Ahem! Her mother and I!". As the giggles spread throughout the row of bridesmaids and the bride squeezed her father's arm, he realized he had done something very wrong. The seasoned pastor, never flinched, without looking up, he calmly continued with the ceremony. However, when the time came for the actual giving away of the bride, her embarrassed father was gun shy. With coaching from the pastor and the bride, the "give away" transaction was finally accomplished, and the bride's father gladly took his seat beside his wife.

Then there was the issue of the ring exchange. When bride and groom came together to join hands, she whispered nervously, "Sissie forgot the ring!". In the rush of the pre wedding preparations, the Matron of Honor had inadvertently left the groom's ring in her purse in the dressing room. No problem, the show just went on without it. They were pronounced man and wife and everyone went across the hall to the church "sewing room" fellowship hall for the reception.

Apparently the ceremony "took" because now, 38 years, two children, and four grandsons later, the couple is still together. There have been good times and bad (thankfully more good than bad); economic ups and downs; good health - and a couple of years of terrible sickness, but the marriage has held through it all. Not because the couple was any better than any other, but because the marriage was based on more than just "being in love". It has been marriage the old fashioned way - one man, one woman, committed to God and to one another. A household of faith that will not fall down when the strong winds blow.

I thank my God for giving me Linda as my life partner in 1971. I am so undeserving of His love - and hers, but nevertheless, I have been the recipient of both.

Thanks for 38 wonderful years, Baboo. Thanks for the two fine sons you have given me. Thanks for your tender care for me when I was so sick, and for your love and care at all the other times as well. You mean the world to me. Thanks for everything.
"I love you more today than yesterday, but not as much as tomorrow".

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pardon Me For Asking, but...

  • Whatever happened to etiquette?

  • If your wife is alone in the woods, and no one is there to hear her, is she still correct?

  • Could someone explain that part to me again about spending our way out of debt?

  • Why exactly is Paris Hilton a celebrity?

  • Is the church getting worldly or is the world getting churchy?

  • What part of "Thou shalt not..." do you not understand?

  • Why on earth does anyone ever become a proctologist?

  • Did it ever just occur to you that nothing ever just occurred to God?

  • Why is the prep for a colonoscopy worse than the procedure itself?

  • Did you ever notice that Don Knotts wore that same "salt and pepper" suit on the Andy Griffith Show, as well as several of his movies?

  • Why was Durward Kirby Garry's sidekick on the old Gary Moore Show? Furthermore, why did Garry Moore have a show in the first place?

  • Are Pastor's kids mean because they have to play with Deacon's kids?

  • Why do we sing "Where He Leads Me I Will Follow" with our lips, but model, "I Shall Not Be Moved" in our hearts?

  • Whatever happened to Randolph Scott?

  • Why is it our kids were little heathen, but the grand kids are so perfect?

  • Is anybody really listening between 11:20 and noon on Sunday? Is there any evidence?

  • Why is it that "sin" is what other people do, but we only have "shortcomings"?

  • How much wood COULD a Woodchuck, chuck?

  • Why are teachers paid so little, when they teach future professionals who are paid so well?

  • Do dogs understand what we are saying, or do they only recognize their names?

  • Do Iraqi dogs understand Arabic?

  • If Math is so logical, why do so many people have trouble with it?

  • What if they gave a war, and nobody came?

  • What are we supposed to do with our old analog TVs?

  • Why doesn't Barack Obama do something nice for his grandmother in Kenya?

  • When I was thinking that my fiance' was "Miss. Right", why didn't someone tell me that her first name was "Always"?

  • Does it bother you that what your doctor does is called "practicing"?

  • Why does God bless us so much when we are so undeserving?

  • When did men stop standing up when a lady walks into the room?

  • Have you noticed how many people no longer remove their caps during the National Anthem?

  • Why would some folks walk a mile out of their way to tell you a lie, rather than just look you in the eye and speak the truth?
  • Why do we hurt others, when we have no intention of doing so and don't realize we have?
  • When will we get our eyes off others and their faults, and focus on Jesus and our personal relationship with Him?

  • How will people ever react to the Gospel unless we share it with them?
Pardon me for asking...

VBS Blessings

Vacation Bible School at Westmoreland Baptist got underway on Saturday afternoon with a registration kickoff party, and classes began on Sunday evening. Theme for this year's Bible School is "Boomerang Express: It all comes back to Jesus!"

Attendance on Sunday evening was an even 100 (including teachers and helpers) and on Monday night we picked up and additional 10 children. Here are a couple of photos showing some of the activities.

The 1st and 2nd graders (along with Kendall's little brother, Isaiah) practice one of the songs they will perform in the program. Below, the 3rd and 4th graders work on a project in the craft area.

I am thankful for the wonderful volunteers who are doing their part in telling these children the story of Jesus!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Some Things Never Change!

JA-39042 was our telephone number when I was a child. Our family's telephone looked like the one pictured here. We were on a party line with three other families in our neighborhood, so when we wanted to use the phone, we always had to check to make sure no one was already using the line. Also you never knew when someone else from the party line might be listening in on your conversation. The phone was big and heavy and the rotary dial made a clicking noise when you dialed the number you desired to call. It sat on a small table next to our sofa, and frankly, wasn't used very often.

Today I have a telephone that I can carry in my pocket. It serves as an address book, note pad, clock, calculator, camera, calendar, and personal planner. I can access the internet from it, receive voice mail messages, send and receive text messages, change ringtones, download music to it, and send and receive email. Oh yes, I can also make and receive phone calls on it! By the way, I've had this Blackberry for just over a year now, and I am informed that it is now somewhat outdated. Hmmmmm...

Back in the late 60's, Bob Dylan told us, "The times, they are a changin'."

True dat!

The vast differences in my two telephones are indicative of the world in which we live.

Things ARE changing - big time. In every area of life. The rapidity of change is enough to make your head swim. Change has been with us since the dawn of time, it's here now, and it's coming tomorrow. Much of the change we experience is for our good. Some of it is unsettling, even frightening! But amidst all the change, do you ever long for something solid, immutable, and unchangeable? Something that will not be outdated or obsolete tomorrow? Something that you can count on to be there when you wake up in the morning?

Deep down, we all desire that type of stability.

I have been reading the Gospel of Mark lately, and never cease to marvel at John Mark's ability to pack so much action in the ministry of Jesus into sixteen short chapters. In chapter two of the book, I have found several things that never change.

The chapter begins with Jesus miraculously healing a paralytic man, whose four friends tore the roof off the place, to get their buddy to Jesus. From there the multitudes followed Jesus and He taught them along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. From there, Jesus passes by the customs office manned by a fellow named Levi. This Levi is identified in Mark's Gospel as "the son of Alphaeus". Most of us know him by his other moniker, "Matthew", the same Matthew who wrote the Gospel that bears his name. (As a side note, one of Jesus' other disciples, one who is called "James the less" is also identified as being the son of Alphaeus. Could be the same Alphaeus, could have been another.)

Anyhow, Jesus passes by the workplace of this Levi and something quite interesting happens. Mark records the words of Jesus to Levi to be quite simple.

"Follow me."

Keep in mind, who this Levi is. He is a tax collector. A Publican. A Jewish man who had "sold out" to the occupying Romans and worked for them to collect tribute from his conquered countrymen. Usually, tax collectors like Levi not only collected the required Roman taxes, but abused their authority by collecting extra funds for themselves. Basically, they were corrupt and greedy and were perceived by their fellow Jews as treasonous thieves. This was not the type of person that most folks would expect the Great Teacher to call as a disciple. Yet there it is in black and white.

The resulting action on the part of Levi was equally amazing. Mark, in typically fashion simply puts it this way, "So he got up and followed Him." Apparently Levi was so overwhelmed in the presence of this itinerant teacher, that he was willing to leave the security of his job and comfort zone, to follow Jesus. His experience appears to be similar to that of some fishing partners, who received a similar invitation from Jesus. The Bible says, "They left their nets and followed Him."

Now, reading this, I am struck by a fact that hasn't changed in twenty centuries.

Jesus still calls people to follow Him.

Just as He issued the invitation to Levi, John, James, Peter and others, He called me. He calls you. He calls rich and poor, young and old, men and women, respectable or despicable, He still calls. The beauty is that no matter who you are, where you've been, what you've done, and how long you've been doing it, Jesus simply calls, "Follow me!" Have you answered His call? Are you willing to follow?

As we read on, we see another interesting "non changing" concept. Here is how Mark describes it:

"While He was reclining at the table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and
sinners were also guests reclining with Jesus and His disciples, because there
were many who were following Him."

Jesus went as a guest to Levi's house. Imagine that! The Great "I AM" reclining at the table of in the home of a sinner - breaking bread while surrounded by other scurrilous characters. A cursory reading of the Gospels will reveal that Jesus seemed to go out of His way to make contact with the "down and out". The narrative is full of examples of Jesus, making contact with lepers, cripples, prostitutes, sick people, lunatics, blind folks, beggars, military men, and adulterers. Why would He bother to deal with these dregs of society, that are often overlooked by the "respectable" community? Because THAT is precisely why He came. Jesus came to pardon men and women, and boys and girls from the penalty of their sin, and to offer sinful mankind forgiveness, and a personal relationship with a Holy God.

Jesus still goes to where the sinners are!

He did it then. He does it now. He charges us to take the Good News to those who need it most, yet we tend to sit in our "holy huddles" using spiritual jargon and practicing "churchianity" while the world around us faces a hopeless eternity. God help us to go to those who need to hear your message of love, grace, forgiveness, and relationship.

We read a bit further and are reminded of another thing that hasn't changed. Look at verse 16:

"When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples, “Why does He eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

The Pharisees were members of the strictest sect of the Jewish religion. They had developed an elaborate system of tradition based upon the tenants of the Mosaic law. They were literalists, in the worst sense of the word. They were so wrapped up in their traditions and hypocritical attempts at dotting all the "I's" and crossing all the "T's", that they didn't even recognize the Messiah when He stood before them.

One of the worst indictments we ever read about Jesus was similar to verse 16. "This man receives sinners, and eats with them!" was the charge. Imagine that! Jesus was criticized by the religious crowd because he dirtied His hands and made contact with those who needed Him most. If we hope to impact the world with the message of Christ, we had better get over that "field of dreams" (if you build it they will come) mindset and take the Gospel where the people are.

That brings me to the third thing that hasn't changed:

People still misunderstand and criticize those who would be evangelists.

Since we know that the enemy seeks to stop the Gospel message, why should we be surprised that he would generate hate and misunderstanding against those who would share the message of Grace. Paul the Apostle understood the need to build relationships with lost people for the purpose of winning them to Christ. He talked about using the culture to meet and connect with unsaved folks. "I have become all things to all men that by all means, I might win some", he wrote. Here in the Bible Belt we have traditionally ignored that concept and expected everyone to fit into our way of doing things. Hold a revival, invite people to church, have a Southern Gospel "singing convention, preach a message, give an invitation and expect non believers to run, weeping, to the altar. How much of the wrath of the traditional church folks would come down on ministries which carry the Gospel in a different way.

For example, consider the ministry of Vieu Carre' Baptist Church, located in New Orleans' French Quarter. In that enclave of drugs, booze, gambling, bohemian lifestyle, and moral debauchery, how much success do you think our traditional methods would have? Vieu Carre' is ministering in a culture that is totally Christless. That culture has little or no reference point to the "religious" activities that we here in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. The situation calls for a way to find common ground, and build relationships with those who are searching for something that they do not realize that they need.

We know that the enemy will bring criticism against the would be evangelist. Unfortunately sometimes the criticism comes from our own "teammates".

How sad.

Well, Jesus was misunderstood and criticized, but that didn't change a thing. He loved those who needed His touch. Listen to His reply to the critics in Verse 17:

"When Jesus heard this, He told them, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor,
but the sick do. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus showed compassion on those who needed it most. He was touched by their sin sickness and motivated by love to meet their needs. That brings me to the final unchanging point of this message:

Jesus still shows compassion to lost people.

They are sick - with a spiritually terminal disease. They are lost. They are as good as dead in their trespasses and sins. They need a physician. Not a regular doctor, but one that can resurrect the dead.

How often do we diagnose the situation and pronounce the eternal doom of those who are still unregenerate? It is true that folks who haven't trusted Christ are headed for an eternal Devil's Hell. The problem is, sometimes the way we tell them that, it almost sounds like we are glad about it.

Jesus' compassion took Him all the way to the cross to die in my place and to pay my debt. The same offer is available to "whosoever" will accept it. May we share the same compassion today for those who are lost for eternity.

That message will never change. It is our task (and privilege) to get the news out to those who need to hear it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Random Thoughts On Thursday Morning

It is a huge understatement to say that there is a lot of hate in the world today, but sadly it is very true. Yesterday an alleged "white supremacist" opened fire in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. A security guard was killed in the exchange of gunfire. Just a couple of weeks ago a notorious late term abortion provider was gunned down in the foyer of the church he attended. The news casts are full of hate, violence and evil. There is a lot of senseless violence in this world. One might wonder why, but the ancient Hebrew prophet, Jeremiah summed it up pretty well when he wrote, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?"

That explains the violent acts of pagans, but what about those who perpetrate such crimes in the name of religion or their religious beliefs? Militant Muslim extremists have killed thousands of "infidels" the name of Allah. On the other hand, there has been tremendous blood shed at the hands of those who call themselves Christians as well. How tragic is that?

Whereas some cults believe that heavenly reward comes from dispatching unbelievers to hell, true followers of Christ are called to be heralds of the Good News of eternal life in Him. It is sickening to hear of those who perpetrate violent acts of others in the name of Christ. No behavior could be farther from the true path of following Jesus. He came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.


Facebook is amazing! I have reconnected with people I haven't seen in more than four decades through this social networking website. It can certainly eat up a tremendous amount of time, but what a blessing it is to be able to keep up with old friends, share family updates and photos, and to stay loosely connected as we all go our separate ways. I have been able to keep up with many of our children's friends, who are grown now with families of their own. Recently I have hooked up on Facebook with old college classmates who are now serving God in various ministries around the world. Some, like me, are serving as pastors of local congregations. One has a children's home in Texas and does puppet ministry throughout the southern U.S. Some are serving as missionaries in South America, Africa, France, and as church planters here in North America.

I've also entered the world of Twitter, but the jury is still out my feelings toward that world. (perhaps I'm just too verbose for the 140 character posting limit!) Perhaps when I learn how to "Tweet" from my Blackberry, I may like it a little better. Unfortunately, I am so technologically challenged that I have not been able to work on that application. Jay, if you're reading this, perhaps you can help me work that out while we're together in Louisville in a couple of weeks.


Speaking of Louisville, there is a real (potentially divisive) issue shaping up for the Southern Baptist Convention when it comes together for the Annual Meeting there on June 23-24. Controversy is beginning to swirl around a "Great Commission Resurgence" document http://www.greatcommissionresurgence.com/ that Johnny Hunt and SEBTS President Danny Akin have produced and endorsed. I am one of more than 3,000 people who have signed the document, (after all, who ISN'T for the Great Commission?) but I share the concerns of many others regarding the controversial article IX, " A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure", which, in it's original form, seemed to accuse certain convention entities of being "bloated". The article has been revised twice to soften it a little, to make it a bit more palatable, but it still raises questions about the motives behind the article.

It is expected that Convention President Johnny Hunt will appoint a committee to examine the structure of the convention and recommend possible changes at next year's meeting in Orlando. There has been some talk of combining the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board into one entity. Also, someone has put forth the idea of combining all six Southern Baptist Seminaries under one board and president or chancellor. I personally oppose both of these ideas, but am open to anyway that we may streamline all of our entities to help better accomplish our mission for global evangelism.

Could be an interesting debate...


Did you catch President Obama's speech in Cairo, Egypt last week? I watched the entire thing and came away feeling like I needed a shower. He identified himself as a Christian early in his speech to the predominately Muslim audience, yet throughout the discourse, he made at least five references to "the Holy Koran", quoting verses to the cheers of the audience. Do you know ANY Christ followers who consider ANY writings (other than the Bible) as "holy"? The Koran parallels the Torah (which our Christian Scriptures also contain) but then goes off into false religion.

The President deplored the "illegitimate" Israeli settlements on the West Bank and demanded that they be abandoned. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, many years ago, made a good point when he pointed out the Arabic nations surrounding the tiny land of Israel on a map. He referenced the large Arabic neighboring countries surrounding the Jewish state, and called attention to the tiny space of Israel in comparison. "Now they want us to divide our small nation to create a Palestinian state". I fear that our traditional support of the nation of Israel is fading quickly under the Obama administration.


Speaking of the President and Israel, his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright has surfaced again with some anti semitic comments recently. When asked by a Virginia newspaper if he was in regular contact with President Obama, Wright said, "Them Jews will not let me get near him..."

It is hard for me to imagine that Obama sat under this man's "preaching" for 20 years, and yet claim that he didn't realize what a racist Wright truly is!


When my grandfather died at the age of 59, I thought of him as an old man. (he was 40 years older than me at the time). But now, approaching the age of 59 this October, I realize how relatively young he was. Today I will attend another funeral of friend. This will be the third memorial service of a friend in the past four weeks - two men and a woman, ages 57, 55, and 44. Each circumstance was different, each left me with a reminder of the fragility and brevity of life. It was four and a half years ago when I was first faced with my own mortality. That's when I heard the "C word" and was told it was incurable. With an average survival time of 18-22 months, by the Grace of God I have lived more than 2 1/2 years longer than expected.

I have been thinking quite a bit recently about the events of the past few years. Why has God spared my life this long, and taken these three, and several other dear friends, who were not even sick at the time I was told I was terminal? Certainly I was no more deserving than any others. Only God knows His sovereign plan for me - and for you. I am so thankful that God has granted me "extra" time with my family and my church. Heaven is a wonderful place, and I know I am going there when God says it's time. But for now, I relish every day He has given me.

God, please help me do what you have left for me to accomplish, and grant me joy for every day of the journey.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Real Power

One of my all time favorite passages of scripture is the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts. In the previous chapter a tremendous miracle (is there any other kind?) had taken place. Two former fishermen, turned preachers had been on their way to the Temple to offer up prayer to God. At the gate of the temple, which was called "The Beautiful Gate" sat a most pathetic figure. A man, lame from birth, who sat, begging for spare change from the worshippers going to and from the prayer services.

The lame man rattled his tin cup in the direction of the two former fishermen. The more talkative of the two (a man called Simon Peter) urged the beggar to look upon him. Those who are begging rarely look into the eyes of those whom they beseech. When he did look up, expecting to receive a handout, instead he heard a most unusual statement. The first part of Peter's reply, the beggar had no doubt heard before. "I have no silver or gold to give you...". But it was the second half of the sentence that gave the crippled beggar hope. "But what I DO have", the preacher said, "I will freely give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!" The big ex-fisherman took the beggar by the hand and immediately the life long paralysis left his lower extremities. His legs were strengthened and he immediately stood to his feet. The Bible says he walked, ran, leaped and entered the Temple shouting praises to God.

To say that this caused an uproar would be an understatement. The hundreds of people who were milling about the Temple complex heard the ruckus, saw the leaping beggar, and recognized him immediately. Realizing that a miracle had taken place the people flocked to the spot of the uproar. No doubt, Andrew, Simon Peter's former fishing partner and now fellow evangelist, helped restore order to the multitude, as Peter explained to all of the curious onlookers, the source of this marvelous healing.

Peter said that he and Andrew could take no credit for the miracle themselves. It was through none other than the name of Jesus of Nazareth, and faith in his name that this man had been made whole. Now this Jesus was a man who had claimed to have been the Son of God, and the only way of salvation. He had been sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin and he had suffered and died horribly at the hand of the Roman soldiers who occupied the city. Yet Peter announced that God had raised this Jesus from the dead, and it was through the power of the living Christ that the former lame man was made whole. Peter told them that he and John were eyewitnesses of the power of this man, Jesus.

Everyone was amazed.

The story continues into chapter four. The power of Peter's impromptu sermon at the scene of the miracle resulted in hundreds, even thousands of the people coming to believe upon Jesus. This was "marketplace evangelism" in it's purest and most powerful form. The event was not lost, however, on certain Saducees who were in the crowd. The Saducees were a liberal sect of the Jewish religion, who made up the majority of the council of the 70 ruling elders known as the Sanhedrin. The Saducees did not believe in spirits, or angels, or in the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead. Naturally the message by Peter, with the accompanying miracle, attributed to Jesus, would not sit well with this group. They ordered the Temple Guards to arrest Peter and John (I suppose on a charge of disturbing the peace) and the two preachers spent the night in the calaboose.

The powerful stuff really begins the next morning, when they are brought before the Sanhedrin. The chief priests and elders were the same Council that had condemned Jesus to death in an illegal night time meeting, just a couple of months earlier. This group was loaded for bear and were not about to put up with this sort of stuff on their watch. This was just the kind of thing that could incite civil unrest, and they knew that the Roman rulers would not allow any such shenanigans. They came right to the point. The two preachers were brought into the intimidating environment which included the High Priest and the other elders. There was no interest in the results of the miraculous healing, the only questions on their minds were, ""By what power or by what name have you done this?"

I have always been thrilled at the response of Peter. These men were human. They had just spent the night in jail. They were certainly outnumbered and were in dire circumstances. After all, this was the same crowd that had sent their Lord to His death. What might it hold in store for them? They must have been nervous and apprehensive, but it doesn't come across in the Apostle's response. Here it is direct from the New King James Version:

"Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: "If we this day are judged for a good deed done to
a helpless man, by what means he has been made
well, "let it be known to
you all, and to all the people of Israel,
that by the name of Jesus Christ of
Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God
raised from the dead, by Him this man
stands here before you whole. "This is
the 'stone which was rejected by you
builders, which has become the chief
cornerstone.' "Nor is there salvation in
any other, for there is no other
name under heaven given among men by which we
must be saved."

Wow! How do you suppose that tasted? No words wasted. No backwater taken. No words minced.

The narrative says that the Council closely examined these two men and noted that they were common and uneducated, but they marveled at the boldness of Peter and John. There was much that the Council didn't understand about them, and their faith, but one thing was for certain - these men had been with Jesus - and it showed! The Council was outraged, and understandably so. The main problem was the former lame beggar who had been made whole, stood there as "Defense Exhibit A" and there was nothing they could do to deny that a miracle had taken place. The bold smack was that it had been performed in the name of, and by the power of this one whom they had recently crucified and was now said to be risen.

Knowing that the former beggar was living proof, and that everyone in town knew about the miracle by now, the Council could not deny it. So they decided on what they determined to be the best course of action. Peter and John were threatened with severe punishment, should they ever preach or teach again in the name of Jesus. Again, the preachers' response was bold and firm:

"But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. "For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."

Knowing that there was noting they could do to explain away the miracle, and fearing the public outcry if they tried to punish these preachers, the Council could only warn them again. The threats were very real, and were taken seriously by the two disciples. Upon being released from custody, Peter and John made a bee line for the inner circle of the church in Jerusalem. Verse 23 tells that the two men shared all of the threats with the rest of the church.

This was the first major crisis faced by the church in Jerusalem. This was the beginning of what would become very heavy persecution against Christ Followers. What would they do?

I think it is most important to first note what they DID NOT do.

  • They did not go into an emergency strategy session to plan their response.

  • They did not seek out the "Judean Center for Law and Justice" to handle their case.

  • They did not seek reparations for defamation of their character

  • They did not demand their rights

  • They did not picket the temple

  • They did not form a Political Action Committee to help get their own folks on the Sanhedrin.

  • They did not do most of the things that evangelical Christians do today when persecution arises.

What they DID DO is explained in verse 24:

"So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God ..."

They prayed. That's it. When persecution and threats came, They just prayed. But notice that this was not a lame little "now I lay me down to sleep" prayerette. These folks got hold of the throne of God. Notice a few important aspects of their prayer:

  • They raised their voice to God.

  • They prayed in a spirit of unity

  • They gave glory and honor to the Father

  • They prayed the scripture

  • They recognized the fulfilment of prophecy

  • They acknowledged that God knew of their plight

  • They prayed for boldness that they may proclaim His message

  • They prayed for the power of the Holy Spirit

  • And they asked it all in the name of Jesus!

Now here is the best part of the entire narrative to me. Did God hear that prayer?

"And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness."

What do you think?

Now in closing, consider this. They did not pray for retribution. They did not pray for the persecution to go away. They did not pray for victory over their enemies (that was already accomplished by Jesus). Christ had long before warned them that the world system hated Him and it would hate them also.

So they simply prayed for boldness in the face of persecution.

Perhaps we are missing the mark in 2009. There is a power failure among Christians today. It results from our own feeble efforts to combat evil in the public square, when what we NEED is a renewed filling of the Holy Spirit and a boldness to proclaim the Gospel of Grace in the face of the Enemy. Government won't do it. Charitable organizations can't do it. The Gospel of Christ will change lives - for time and eternity.

I don't know about you, but I am praying for a renewed Spirit Filled Boldness to proclaim Christ, and the anointed power to do so on every possible occasion.

The Pastor and Public Policy

Today I sat in a meeting in a local hotel at a "Pastor's Roundtable" that had been scheduled to discuss efforts to get a proposed Constitutional Amendment protecting the traditional definition of marriage on the ballot in West Virginia. Jeremy Dys, and the Family Policy Council of West Virginia have been working for some time to make this happen. The idea is a simple one - that marriage should be defined as a union between one man and one woman. Obviously I support that concept. Polls indicate that 90% of West Virginians hold this belief as well, and would vote for such an amendment to the state constitution, if given the opportunity. A legislative head count also indicates that the issue would pass by a large margin in both houses of the legislature, should the measure get to the floor.

There is no provision for petition or referendum available to West Virginia voters, but the only way the question of a constitutional amendment can come before the voters, is for the legislature to vote to put it on the ballot. But the voters is West Virginia were not given the opportunity to voice their opinions through the voting booth. Why? Basically because two delegates in powerful committee chairmanship positions kept the bill from going to the floor of the House of Delegates for an up or down vote.

As a citizen, this drives me up the wall. Aren't our representatives obliged to listen to those whom they represent? I communicated with several Delegates and State Senators regarding this issue during the regular session. In most cases I was told that, while they were personally supportive, and some even co-sponsored the measure, they were powerless to get the issue out of committee. The Governor saw no reason to offer such an amendment since the state already has a "Defense of Marriage Act", and the House leadership is in lockstep with the Governor. However, as anyone who watches the news or reads the paper knows, DOMA's can easily be declared unconstitutional if the right case gets to the right judge in an appeals court. The only thing that can keep this from happening is to simply amend the constitution do define traditional marriage - something that 30 other states (including neighboring Ohio and Kentucky) have already done.

Part of me is political. I can't help it. It's just there. Some of it is due to my heritage. Some of it is due to my passionate world view, and my deep felt belief that Christians should be involved in the public square. That part of me began to come out in the meeting this afternoon.

"The only thing these people understand is votes!" I said passionately. "Except for a few intense ideologues, most of these politicians are only interested in which way the wind is blowing. Their main interest is to get reelected. You can try to handle them with kid gloves, but it's going to take boxing gloves to really get anything done." I continued, "The best bet is to pour everything you've got into getting those two particular delegates (from Charleston and Morgantown) defeated in the next election. That will send a message that we mean business."

Political Science 101, pure and simple.

Then the old conflict came up again in my spirit. As a pastor, just what is my role in public policy?

Some feel that the Pastor must be at the center of these activities. That school of thought sees the minister as a glorified lobbyist and political activist. Others feel strongly opposed to Pastors being heavily involved in public policy. Some are just apathetic. I, personally am conflicted. Let me explain why.

My mind went back to February 13, 1996. It was a defining moment in my ministry. After nearly a quarter of a century in the ministry, I got a recall.

I sat in a crowd of 40,000 pastors at a Promise Keeper's Pastor's Conference in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, and God spoke to my heart about my personal involvement in politics. That's not what Tony Evans' message was about, but it was during that message that God spoke to me. Now, I'm not one of those guys who claims to always be hearing the voice of God. Of course I do hear Him as He speaks to me through His word, and as He leads and teaches me through His Holy Spirit. But there have been times - very few in number - but real, nonetheless, that God has gotten "right in my face". That night in Atlanta was one of those times.

Did He speak to me in an audible voice?


It was much louder than that!

I was coming to the end of my first term on the local Board of Education. I loved what I was doing, and felt that I had wonderful opportunity to represent Christ in that particular arena - and that is what I tried to do with all my might. Just before leaving for Atlanta, I had gone through some catalogs containing information about yard signs and other campaign materials. My thoughts were that I would place my order when I got back from the Clergy Conference, but after my confrontation with the Lord, that order was never sent in.

What did God say to me that was so profound?

It was really very simple.

"I didn't call you into public service. I called you into ministry!"

That was it. No bolt of lightning, no heavenly choir singing, but what a humbling moment it was! Like Isaiah, in chapter 6 of his prophecy, I was broken before the Lord.

It was a recall to His original purpose for me. Upon my return, and at the next meeting, I told my fellow School Board members, about my specific decision not to seek re-election, and the reason why. That confrontation with the Lord is something I am obliged to remember every day that He spares my life.

I had to remember it again today.

So therein lies the conflict in my heart. What is my role as a pastor in public policy?

When I hear of such meetings and strategy sessions, I feel compelled to be involved. Yer my first allegiance is to what my Father has called me to be and do. The Good News of Jesus Christ is the primary message. Then the manner in which Christ impacts our lives comes into play. Following Jesus and making disciples is our main task, teaching new Christ Followers "all things that He has commanded us". Does it spill over into every area of our lives? Of course it does. Do I stop being a citizen? No, but I have to remember that I am first and foremost a subject of His Kingdom. Jesus Christ changes lives. Furthermore, the only way we will ever create lasting change in the world (or even just in our state) is not through the ballot box, but through changed lives. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of salvation to everyone who believes.

Personally, I have committed to never again be identified with partisan politics. While I will speak from a Biblical world view to issues of morality and public policy from the pulpit, I will not allow myself to be pigeonholed into a particular "camp". I have even gone so far as to change my voter registration to "Independent". My prayer has become this, "God please help me be reminded that my greatest impact is not through flexing political muscles, but by leading people to a personal relationship with you, through Jesus." Effectual fervent prayer will surely have more impact than all the political strategy in the world.

Perhaps the day will come that we will hold more "pastor's roundtables" around the state to focus on the life changing power of the Gospel - and pour our energies into executing a strategy to bring our state to Jesus - the way the early church did it.

More on this later...