Sunday, May 30, 2010

Never Alone

On this Memorial Day, we pause to pay tribute to the brave men and women who have given their lives in the service of our country. At cemeteries all around the nation, small American flags will be placed on the graves of U.S. Veterans, in a fitting tribute to those who have served. Nowhere is that honor more obvious than Arlington National Cemetery, just across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial in our nation's capitol. The 624 acre site has more than 300,000 burial plots.

Numerous service men and women are buried at Arlington each day. Some funerals are large affairs with entire families present. Others are much smaller. But one thing is for sure. No service man or woman will ever be buried in Arlington with no one attending their service. A volunteer group known as the Arlington Ladies will see to that. A member of this group attends every funeral service for every military veteran interred at Arlington.

The group had its beginnings in 1948 when Gladys Vandenberg, wife of the Air Force Chief of Staff, Hoyt Vandenberg witnessed an Airman being buried with no one in attendance other than the officiating Chaplain and honor guard. Deeply moved by the fact that no one else was there to honor the sacrifice of the Airman, Mrs. Vandenberg enlisted the help of other members of the officers wives club to form a group that would see to it that no Air Force veteran would be buried at Arlington with no one to mourn their loss. In 1972 Julie Abrams, the wife of Army General Creighton Abrams, formed a similar group to honor Army veterans. Soon the Navy had a group of their own. The Marine Corps does not have a contingent of Arlington Ladies, but they do have a representative of the Marine Commandant in attendance at every Marine veteran's service.

The Arlington Ladies may not be a huge, front page story, but what a tribute it is to their compassion, patriotism, and gratitude, that they faithfully see to it that every single service member's funeral has someone there to honor the fallen heroes. Thanks to their dedication to the cause, the Arlington Ladies see to it that none is ever buried alone.

Memorial Day 2010

On this Memorial Day Holiday, many folks will be attending cookouts, and going to ball games. Some will be enjoying the day off by boating on the rivers or lakes, some will splash in the recently opened public and private pools. Many will be travelling by planes, trains and automobiles, taking advantage of a three day weekend. Life will go on in the USA as normal. But on this day, especially, we should all take a moment to remember those who gave their lives to preserve our American way of life. We must also never forget those brave men and women who are presently serving in our military forces. Many are in harms way today as we fight on two fronts against an insidious, yet invisible enemy in an ongoing war on terrorism.

On Monday our President will place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, to acknowledge the sacrifices made by our veterans in all wars. Earlier today, in Kabul, Afghanistan, active duty troops have already had a memorial service for their fallen comrades. Across the river in Ironton, Ohio, the streets will be lined by hundreds of people to view the longest continually running Parade in America - the 139th Annual Ironton Memorial Day Parade. Ceremonies like these will be held on military installations, in cemeteries, parks, and streets of big cities and small towns all across America today. This is fitting and proper because of the many veterans who gave "their last full measure of devotion" while fighting various enemies under the Stars and Stripes that represented their homes, families, freedom, and American way of life.

May we never forget the sacrifices they (and their families) have made for us.

My own family has had its share of men who have served, and I am proud of them all. My great grandfather, Cumberland Adkins (Sr.) a Civil War soldier, and my grandfather, Caudle Adkins, Sr. served in the Army in WWI. He was gassed in the Argonne Forest and eventually died of lung cancer at a relatively early age. Dad (Caudle, Jr.) and his older brother "Buster" served in the US Navy during WWII. Dad's younger brother, Sammy, enlisted in the Air Force during the mid 50's. An uncle on my mother's side, Jerry "Bob" Stidham also served in the Air Force during the Korean Conflict. My brother, Bruce and I both had Viet Nam era service - he in the Navy and I in the Air Force.

On Linda's side of the family the heritage is just as rich. Her Grandfather, Cornelius Bowling was a WWI Doughboy, his brother, Andy, was held as a POW by the Germans. Linda's father, Burgess, served under General Patton, taking part in invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy during WWII. Her uncle, William Smith, Jr, (a Marine) was the only family member to die while on active duty - although his death was not combat related. Linda also had several cousins who proudly served in the Armed Forces.

My brothers in law, Danny, Burgess Ray, and Bob Bowling were also veterans. Danny was an Airman, stationed in England and Langley AFB, Virginia. Burgess Ray (who later died in a mining accident) did two tours of duty with the Marines in Viet Nam and served for several years as a Marine Recruiter. Bob, also a Marine, was injured while on duty, just before his discharge in the early 70's. A couple of my nephews have also served - young Dan Bowling and Christopher Bennett also served in the Air Force. My younger son, Benji, enlisted in the US Marine Corps and faced enemy fire in Kosovo.

That's the way it has gone down through history. There have been a number of career military men and women during the history of our nation, but the vast majority of our veterans have been like those listed above - average Americans who give of themselves to serve their country. Many of them never returned to their families and homes. Let us never forget their great sacrifices on our behalf, nor the unimaginable loss suffered by their families.

All gave some, some gave all.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Decoration Day" Memories

Back in the days of my childhood, we called it "Decoration Day". It was first enacted just after the Civil War to honor the dead Union soldiers, but after WWI, it became a federal holiday to honor all of our nation's war dead. In those days it was always on May 30th, and, as it is now, it was the kickoff for Summer. Our school year usually began the day after Labor Day, and ended just before Memorial Day. Neighborhood swimming pools opened on Memorial Day. There were parades, picnics, family reunions, and the obligatory trips to the various cemeteries where the remains of our loved ones were interred.

With our family, the Memorial Day activities each year were variations on the same theme. Wreaths and other floral arrangements were purchased a day or so in advance. The flowers were then loaded in the large trunk of the family car, along with a large cooler and picnic lunch. Mom and Dad would load the three of us in the vehicle and we were off on the trip south to Logan County, WV. Narrow State Route 10 was so crooked and winding, and the holiday traffic was so heavy that the 69 mile trip took nearly an hour and a half to complete. On Memorial Day, the road was heavily populated with vehicles bearing license plates from Ohio and Michigan. Most everyone tried to "get home" for Decoration Day.

Our first stop was always at my maternal grandparent's home in Holden. Papaw Stidham's wreaths were always more elaborate than the ones we had purchased for the day. Decoration Day was a big deal to him. He and Mamaw were already prepared to head out as soon as we arrived. She already had enough chicken fried to feed the whole family later in the day.

Next stop was just down the road at Valley View where my Uncle Bob, Aunt Irene and their family joined in the procession as we headed for the cemetery nestled on the hillside overlooking a community called Chauncey. At the Chauncey Cemetery, some of the family plots were surrounded by small fences, some were open. Ours was of the fenced variety. It enclosed the graves of my mother's younger sister, Hessie, and her baby brother, Buddy. My great grandmother (Hester Waybright) was also buried there, as were some other assorted cousins, etc. Even after more than 50 years I remember the routine vividly.

Papaw was director of logistics for the first two cemetery visits. The wreaths were unloaded from the respective car trunks. We kids were given floral arrangements to carry. The adults carried flowers and implements to cut the grass and weeds that had overgrown the plot since the last Decoration Day. Once we had climbed the fairly steep grade the work began as Dad and Uncle Bob would swing the primitive version of today's weed eaters. Mom and Mamaw knelt by the grave sites of their loved ones, pulling weeds with their gloved hands, and gathering up the old weathered wreaths from the previous year's visit. Then they helped Papaw gently place the floral wreaths in just the right spots. We kids would eventually get ancy to move on by the time the brush clearing was done. Before leaving, Mom would stand quietly with her arm around Mamaw's shoulders as she stood by the graves of her children, gently dabbing away tears with a Kleenex.

From Chauncey, the caravan moved on to a more remote spot on the other side of Logan. This cemetery was located off Rt. 119 on the road toward Blair Mountain. Papaw called the place "Foley" and Mamaw referred to it as "Sunbeam". Either way, it really wasn't near a town or community at all. The cars were parked along side of the road, and each of us took up our load to carry to the next grave sites. We walked across a rail road trestle and along the tracks for what seemed like a mile or so. (It probably wasn't, but it seemed that way to we kids!) At a certain spot (which I could never remember) Papaw indicated the place where we left the railroad tracks and began to climb the steep hill along a very faint foot path. By Foley's standards, Chauncey was a well kept "memorial park". This place was simply a set of ancient graves in a heavily wooded hillside. This is where Papaw's parents were buried, and the grave markers were plain stones with names and dates non professionally chiseled in.

After the routine was repeated, we made our trek back to the cars, which we had left parked along the highway. The next order of business was our picnic lunch. The food was good, the bottles of strawberry, orange and grape soft drinks were cold, and it was always great to play with our cousins.

As the afternoon wound down, we said our goodbyes and our little family headed back north toward Huntington, but not before making a stop at one more cemetery. This was the growing Forest Lawn Cemetery at Peck's Mill. Well maintained and immaculately manicured, it stood as a major contrast to the old graveyards at Chauncey and Sunbeam. Forest Lawn was where Dad's parents were buried. The final flowers were removed from the trunk and placed lovingly by the Adkins tombstone. After a brief time of reflection, it was back in the car and headed for home. There would be one more old country graveyard to visit (where Dad's grandparents and some of his deceased siblings were buried), but that would come on a separate trip to the old Adkins home place on the second Sunday in June.

The memories are still vivid, but it seems that those days were ages ago. Indeed, it was a different time, and things have changed.

Mom, Dad, and Aunt Irene are the only ones of the adults who will be in Logan this Memorial Day. Mom and Dad are in their eighties and Irene is not far behind. Dad gets around a little more slowly on his cane. Mom is unaware of the upcoming holiday, and Irene has faced some serious health issues, herself. Our cousins are scattered from Ohio to Georgia to Kentucky and Texas.

When the holiday rolls around on Monday, my brother Bruce will take Mom and Dad to Logan. They'll visit Irene and Dad's only surviving aunt. They'll stop by Chauncey Cemetery, where Bruce will climb the hill and do some weed eating around the old graves. Dad will supervise from afar, and Mom will just want to go home. On their way home, they'll make the stop at Forest Lawn, where all four of my grandparents are now buried.

I'll be on a plane headed for New Orleans about that time. I would like to be with them, but instead will have two hours of travel time, alone with my memories of Memorial Days past. I may dab away a tear or two myself.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Final Thoughts on the GCRTF Report.

Because of the alarming statistics that show our convention's plateauing and declining trends in evangelism and baptisms, I voted last year in the Annual Meeting to allow our SBC President to appoint a Task Force to study the situation and come back this year with recommendations. I was one of the first 1,400 of the 6,594 persons who signed on to be a GCRTF prayer partner. I have prayed for these men and women who have worked long and hard to bring us recommendations as to how we may be able to better "Penetrate the Lostness" on this planet. I applaud them for their dedication and their efforts. I find the report to be through and positive, and I am especially moved by the "Challenges to All Southern Baptists" on pages 17-26 of the report. I truly believe that if each of us stepped up to these spiritual challenges, we would, indeed, see a resurgence in our success in accomplishing our Christ given mission!

The Task Force will bring seven recommendations to the Convention when we meet in Orlando in less than a month. I fully intend to vote for five of them, vote against one of them (component 3), and the jury is still out on the other (component 4). As a Southern Baptist Pastor, here are my major concerns.

On Component 3, I take issue with the concept of "Celebrating Great Commission Giving". I will not go into the details of my opinion here as I have already done so in a previous post Drs. Hunt and Floyd, Jerry Rankin, and others have made a big deal about the fact that the Cooperative Program will be reemphasised, and that really this wording changes nothing about what we are already doing. Dr. Floyd's email today sets out several "facts" regarding Great Commission Giving and the Annual Church Profile. In "Fact # 5, Dr. Floyd states, " Great Commission Giving is a simple change to the Annual Church Profile Report that on last year’s report was called “Total Mission Expenditures.”

My questions are these. If nothing really changes, then what is the point? Furthermore, how will the new nomenclature have any impact on "Penetrating the Lostness"?

The issue I am still concerned about is Component number 4. The phasing out of Cooperative Agreements between the North American Mission Board and State Conventions. I was privileged to serve two years as President of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists, and I am very much aware of how important the NAMB Cooperative Agreements are to our small state work. Keep in mind that there are only just over 200 SBC churches in West Virginia, and many are very small churches in very rural areas. It is also interesting to note that the entire annual budget of the WVCSB is ONE FIFTH the size of the budget of Dr. Johnny Hunt's First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA. This should put into perspective, how small the work in West Virginia is by comparison, not just to some other state conventions, but to one single mega church!

The West Virginia Convention could not operate at the level it does without the NAMB Cooperative Agreements, or our valued partnership with the Florida Baptist Convention.

If the NAMB Cooperative Agreement were to end today, and the other recommendations of the GCRTF were implemented, the following things would happen to the West Virginia Convention:

  • Our funding formula of 80/20% for many of our state convention staff salaries would collapse.

  • NAMB would have the authority to unilaterally appoint people to work in WV and put them in place, with no cooperation with our state convention.

  • A "new and liberated NAMB" would develop a strategy for West Virginia, apart from input from our state convention and it's churches (page 10 of the report) We presently develop mission strategy and confer with NAMB for approval.

In West Virginia, if the agreements ended today, we would lose major funding for:

  • 9 of our 10 local association Directors of Missions

  • The State Convention Director of Missions

  • The State Evangelism Director

  • The State WMU/Women's Ministry Director

  • All three Campus Ministers

  • Our Resort Missionaries

  • 12 Church Planters

  • Our State Missions Volunteer Coordinator

  • 35% of our state convention budget

As you can see, this would be a true crisis for our state convention if it were to happen today. The report recommends phasing out the agreements over seven years. Even then this would be a difficult pill for the Mountain State to swallow.

Members of the Task Force have assured some of our state pastors, that we "don't have to worry about West Virginia. It will be taken care of." That is all well and good, but the report does not address how the agreements will be replaced. We are facing a lot of unknown out there and to some of us it almost smacks of the verbiage that we heard with "Obamacare". "Just trust us!"

We want to trust these men that we have long held deep respect for, but it is asking a lot, to just go along with the recommendations, with no firm answers to our questions anywhere in sight. Seriously, the whole thing is just open ended enough to cause concern, and that is why I say the jury is still out on this component.

These are my basic disagreements with the report. Many folks are in agreement with me on these points. That doesn't make us bad Southern Baptists, it just means we have a difference of opinion. Unfortunately I have already seen subtle charges that paint those who may disagree with portions of the report to be negative, and somehow opposed to "Penetrating the Lostness" in America and around the world. I can't answer for everyone who may have issues with the report, but I can say unequivocally that I love the SBC. I love lost people. I love the members of the GCRTF. I believe in the Great Commission, and I am committed to continue to lead my congregation in maintaining and growing in its 95 year history of being a Great Commission Church. We have planted other churches in the past, and we look for opportunites to do so in the future. We will continue to give 10% to the Cooperative Program We will continue to support our local association. We will continue to give to Annie, and Lottie, and Ola Cox. We will continue to be involved in Disaster Relief, and short term overseas mission trips. We believe in the Great Commission!

I'll vote my conscience on the seven recommendations from the GCRTF, but if I happen to vote "No" on two of them, don't tell me I'm not in favor of "Penetrating the Lostness".

That is one West Virginia pastor's opinion, "For What It's Worth".

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Message from Joe McKeever

Some of my readers may not be familiar with Joe McKeever's blog. Beside being a prolific cartoonist, long time pastor and director of missions, Joe posts several times per week on his website, Joe's articles and messages come from a man who is intimate with God, and his wisdom and years of pastoral experience always come through. I was especially touched by his post today. I encourage you to click on this link and consider the truth he shares about "What 'Conservative' Means". It is a message Christians need to hear loud and clear!
I have included this link with his permission.

I would encourage you to save Joe's website to your favorites, or better yet, sign up to receive his updates via email.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Arizona's New Immigration Law

Much has been said about Arizona's new Immigration Law. Most of it has been negative. The President has characterized it as "misguided". He says that full blown immigration reforms are necessary but not just now.

I think the operative question would be "If not now, when?"

We are a nation of immigrants. As someone once jokingly said, "Our forefathers have been kicked out of some of the greatest nations on earth". But seriously, other than the Native American descendants, and the descendants of slaves who were brought here against their will, most of us are the progeny of immigrants. Immigrants who came here willfully and legally. Some came to escape tyranny and persecution. Some who came were seeking a better way of life in search of "The American Dream". Yet they were people who came according to the rule of law.

Our nation has strict and comprehensive immigration laws on the books. Unfortunately, federal authorities have been remiss in enforcing those laws. With this being the case, and illegal immigration becoming a full blown crisis in some of our border states, one can hardly blame Arizona, or others in taking measures to try to stem the flood of illegal aliens.

Opponents of the new Arizona law have likened it to those of Nazi Germany. Comedians have made light of it, and certain broadcast and print media outlets have castigated Arizona's legislators and Governor for passing the bill and signing it into law. The law has been roundly criticized by the Attorney General of the United States, and the Director of Homeland Security, yet amazingly by their own admission last week, neither of them had read the text of the law, nor had they been "fully briefed" on it before criticizing it.

There is no excuse for such ignorance on the part of our Federal bureaucracy. The law is simple and straightforward, and it is only 16 pages long. Here is a link to a website that contains the text of the law.

Read it for yourself, and judge for yourself. Any of your constructive comments would be welcome.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

GCRTF - Part 3 "The Most Dangerous Component of All"

The June, 2006 Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, NC will always be a memorable experience for me. That was the year my son, Jay, a pastor in the New Orleans area was nominated for Second Vice President along with North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear, Bob Bender of Colorado, and long time SBC gadfly Wiley Drake of California. I honestly expected Greear, a well known up and coming young pastor to probably win the post. However, due (I think in part) to one of the most hilarious nominating speeches in the history of the SBC, Wiley Drake won the election on the first ballot! It is an experience Jay would probably like to forget.

The bigger surprise of the Convention, however, was the election of Frank Page to the office of SBC President. I had made the tip to Greensboro fully expecting Ronnie Floyd, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Springdale, Arkansas to be elected to replace the outgoing President, Bobby Welch. After all, Floyd was a very popular SBC pastor with a national reputation. He was pastor of a two campus megachurch in Arkansas and his name would be placed in nomination by Johnny Hunt, pastor of the great First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA. This convention saw five men actually nominated for the position. This was the first highly contested SBC Presidential race since Jim Henry had defeated Fred Wolfe in 1994. Also in the mix in 2006 was the Jerry Sutton, highly respected pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, TN.

Now, I do not consider myself an expert on all things SBC, but since coming over from another Baptist denomination in 1980, I had tried to stay aprised of the goings on in SBC life. Frank Page was a relative unknown to me. I only knew that he was pastor of a large church in Taylors, South Carolina. In my humble opinion, at that time, I thought the race would come down to the wire between Floyd and Sutton. Perhaps there would even have to be a second ballot runoff. However, the messengers to the convention seemed to be stunned when the results of the first ballot were reported:

  • Page had won with 50.48% of the vote

  • Floyd was a distant second with 24.95%

  • Sutton, third with 24.08%

The reason for the upset? I believe it was twofold. The first factor in Page's favor was the tremendous nominating speech given by the late Forrest Pollack, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Florida. Pollack's speech not only revealed much about Page, but also emphasised what I believe to be the most important factor in Frank Page's election over the other two well known candidates. Page pastored a church that gave more than 12% of its undesignated receipts to the SBC Cooperative Program. The other two churches led by Floyd and Sutton gave much lower percentages. Granted, these churches gave tremendous amounts of money to various mission works (as did FBC Taylors) but the Cooperative Program giving was woefully low in comparison.

Cooperation has long been the key word in Southern Baptist work. The giants of our Convention of the past understood the simple truth that we can all do more together than we can do individually. That is why local autonomous churches voluntarily join together to cooperate in local associations, state conventions, and the world wide work of the SBC. 85 years ago, the Cooperative Program of giving came about for the same reason. The concept was simple, but powerful in its scope. Each local church would give its own determined amount (usually a set percentage) of its undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program. That offering would be sent on to the respective state convention. The state convention would keep a self determined percentage for the mission work of that convention, and send the remainder of the local church's Cooperative Program gifts to the Executive Committee in Nashville, to be distributed among the various entities of the Southern Baptist Convention. The amounts sent to each entity, would be budgeted as determined by the local churches duly elected "messengers" to the SBC Annual Meeting.

Presently, here is how the Cooperative Program monies are divided among the various SBC entities in the SBC Allocation Budget:

  • 50% to the International Mission Board for world missions

  • 22.79% to the North American Mission Board

  • 22.16% for theological education (with 21.9% being divided among the six SBC seminaries - in a formula based on full time enrollment and 0.24% supports the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives

  • 3.4% for the SBC Operating Budget/Facilitating Ministries

  • 1.65% to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

(LifeWay Christian Resources and Guidestone Financial Services are self supporting)

Part of the monies that go to the North American Mission Board are sent back to some of the state conventions as set up in cooperative agreements between NAMB and the state conventions to help with church planting, collegiate ministries, etc. The Cooperative Program has served this Convention well for 85 years as arguably the greatest mission funding program ever known to Christendom. It allows churches such as my own to support more than 10,000 missionaries at home and abroad as well as helping keep theological education affordable for the students in six seminaries!

Our church is larger than some SBC churches and smaller than others. Our Annual Church Profile for 2009 shows a total of $41,766. in total mission expenditures. Of that amount, $25,673 (10% of our undesignated offerings) go to the Cooperative Program. The rest is given to other causes such as 3% to our local association; along with designated offerings to "those three women" - Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, Ola Cox (State Missions); SBC Disaster Relief; regular support for two national pastors at SBC churches in the Philippines; as well as local mission projects in our state and city.

Let me say loud and clear that I do not believe that 10% Cooperative Program giving should be a litmus test for what should be considered as a "cooperating" SBC church, but I think it is a good place to start. In our personal giving, Linda and I start with 10% to our local church, and then add designated amounts for offerings for other projects or ministries. I share that vision in any church that I lead, and I believe it is a good pattern for our SBC giving as well. Baptist churches are indeed autonomous and can give however and wherever they choose to outside causes, but for my money there is much more "bang for the buck" through the Cooperative Program.

To me, the most odious (and I believe, dangerous) part of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Final Report is the language on Component Three- "Celebrating and Empowering Great Commission Giving". While the Task Force gives lip service to the Cooperative Program in this article (and also in Component Six) it coins a new moniker, "Great Commission Giving". This Great Commission Giving would encompass the Cooperative Program, but also ALL mission giving into the same category - for the purpose of "Celebrating" the amount given by local churches.


Pardon my cynicism, but to this pastor the only reason for such language is to divert attention from the paltry percentages given to the Cooperative Program by some huge churches, whose pastors often seek and hold high offices in our Convention. That is precisely what happened in Greensboro in 2006. The messengers looked at the Cooperative Program giving of the churches whose leaders were running for President, and Frank Page won overwhelmingly. As someone recently pointed out in a Baptist Press article, "What has changed since 2006?" Do we as a Convention of more than 40,000 churches think any less of the Cooperative Program than we did four years ago? I think not! As I pointed out in an earlier post, I am not qualified to judge motives, but one has to wonder. If it looks like a duck...etc.

Furthermore, "celebrating" the dollar amounts of "Great Commission Giving" is, probably unscriptural in it's very language. Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount regarding the dangers of flaunting our giving. Again, I don't believe that 10% to the Cooperative Program should be a litmus test as to who is a "good" Southern Baptist, but I do think it is a telling statistic, when churches with budgets 5 times larger than the budget of my own state convention give less than 5% to the funding mechanism which best exemplifies our historic commitment to cooperation.

At the Annual Meeting in Orlando next month, I will be listening closely as to how these recommendations will be presented to the messengers for a vote. It they are considered separately I will cast my ballot against Component Three. If taken as a whole for a vote, I will reluctantly vote against the entire report, and urge my friends and fellow messengers to do the same. I believe the Cooperative Program is THAT important to the continued success of the Southern Baptist Convention in carrying out the Great Commission. That is one pastor's opinion "For What It's Worth".

(I will address my concerns about Components Four and Five in an upcoming post)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

GCRTF Report - Part 2

I thank you for the numerous comments received through email and on Facebook and through other personal contacts, regarding my previous post on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report that was released on May 3rd. If you missed the post, here is the reference The comments I have received to date have been positive and encouraging in nature. Today I'd like to pick up where I left off with Part 2 of this pastor's opinion, "For What It's Worth".

One of my dear pastor friends from Kentucky shared this rumination. "You know", he said, "If we really wanted to have a Great Commission Resurgence, we could have saved a lot of time, money, and trouble. My suggestion is that all of the messengers to the Convention stand, open their Bibles to Matthew 28:18-20, read aloud, and pray, asking God to empower us with His Holy Spirit, and then just go home and do what Jesus said to do!"

Pretty simple, huh? Perhaps therein lies the problem. We tend to make the simple, difficult. I believe it was Rick Warren who said that "We preachers are always looking for a profound way to teach simple truth. Yet Jesus taught profound truth in a simple way!" Unfortunately, we tend to fall into the same trap when it comes to organization and administration. Much of our local church time and efforts have grown extremely complicated, when what is needed is a return to simplicity and focus on the mission. (see "Simple Church" by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger) The tendency continues and grows as our individual churches come together in local associations and state conventions, and, of course, at the national level as well.

At any rate, at the Convention in Louisville last year, we did it again. We (and I am included in that number) voted to allow President Johnny Hunt to appoint a Task Force to meet and bring recommendations back to the Convention in Orlando next month. It is made up of men and women who are highly respected in SBC circles. I am appreciative of the time and effort and prayer that has gone into this process. While there are many positives in the report, this pastor is saddened by several aspects of some of the key recommendations, and alarmed at the possible ramifications for the future of the cooperative work of our Convention.

The draft final report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force is entitled "PENETRATING THE LOSTNESS". There is no doubt that the task before us is just that. However, when you read the report for yourself, please tell me how much of the Components and Recommendations really do to accomplish that mission. Much background is given to the need to return to the simple mission and focus on executing the command of Christ. No arguments here! Then the report launches into its seven components and seven recommendations to the Convention..

  • Component One - Getting the Mission Right

  • Component Two - Making Our Values Transparent

  • Component Three - Celebrating and Empowering Great Commission Giving

  • Component Four - Reaching North America

  • Component Five - Reaching Unreached and Underserved People Groups Within North America

  • Component Six - Promoting the Cooperative Program and Elevating Stewardship

  • Component Seven - The Call of the Nations and the SBC Allocation Budget

After the Components and the Recommendations to the Convention, the Task Force lists ten pages of Challenges:

  • For Individual Christians

  • For Individual Families

  • For Local Churches and Pastor

  • For Local Associations

  • For State Conventions

  • For LifeWay Christian Resources

  • For the Seminaries

  • For the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

  • For GuideStone Financial Services

  • For all Southern Baptist Leaders

In my personal opinion, the Challenges at the end of the report are the most valid aspects of the entire report, and are more in keeping with the concept of a Great Commission Resurgence than are several of the numbered components. Furthermore, I believe the challenges are more in line with the scope of the assignment and the limited authority of this Task Force.

I can only imagine the time, effort, and expense that has gone into the making of this final report. I certainly admire and appreciate those who have served, and I believe that the motives of most have been above question. Some of the recommendations, however, while not "evil" have to make one wonder - why?

Components 1 & 2 of the report are reasonable and something that I believe all Southern Baptists can back. However, I feel compelled to share my concerns on some of the other issues. In Part 3 of these series of posts I will share my concerns over Component Three - "Celebrating and Empowering Great Commission Giving". Other issues dealing with Components Four, Five, and Six will be dealt with in Part 4.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

It must have been about 1957 or so. I had been playing in the back yard on a hot summer day, doing those things seven year old boys do. I had worked up quite a thirst, so I made a bee line for the back door of the house to get a good cold drink. Mom always kept a pitcher of Kool Aid (Cherry of course) in the old Frigidaire refrigerator. Opening the cabinet door, I pulled out one of those glass tumblers that Dad would get at the Ashland Oil Station for buying three dollars worth of gas. (Things have changed a little since 1957) Guzzling that Kool Aid from the big glass gave me a red mustache that would last the rest of the day!

I wondered where Mom was. This time of the day, she was almost always in the kitchen. It was the nerve center of the house. She was usually in the kitchen, cooking, or washing dishes. If not that, she could usually be found there ironing the fresh smelling laundry that had just come off the back yard clothes line. She had one of those little metal sprinkler "do-dads" that plugged into an RC Cola bottle filled with water. She would sprinkle a little water on the item of clothing or linen draped across the ironing board. I can still remember the hiss and the steamy hot smell as the hot iron was applied to the cloth. Looking back, it seems that an awful lot of the activity in our home in those days took place in the kitchen, and Mom was the queen of the kitchen.

At this particular time, however, Mom was nowhere to be found. So unusual! I walked to the living room and looked around. She wasn't there. "Perhaps" I thought to myself "She's putting some clothes away in the chest of drawers. But a quick check of her bedroom revealed nothing. My little brother, Bruce, was getting his afternoon nap in his crib, and yet no sign of Mom. Then I heard her voice. It was coming from the bathroom of all places. "Who is she talking to in the bathroom?" I wondered, half aloud.

Walking to the closed bathroom door, I heard her voice more plainly. She was talking to someone, indeed, but for the life of me I couldn't imagine who would be in that small bathroom with her at this time of the afternoon. I heard her say my name, so quietly pressing my right ear to the door I determined to hear what she was saying about me, and to whom she was saying it.

I suddenly understood to whom Mom was talking. She was praying. And she was praying for me! It was one of those "Divine Appointments". You know what I mean? It was one of those occasions when God just makes sure He brings you to a certain spot at a particular time, to indelibly impress on your memory a particular event.

"Father" she prayed, "please take care of my boys. Bless C.J. and protect him. May he grow up to love you and please use him in your service."


She said more, of course. She prayed for little Bruce. She made petition to God for Dad, and asked Him to use Dad to win many souls to Jesus. She prayed for our daily provision, and she asked forgiveness for her own sin and shortcoming. She prayed for sick friends and neighbors, and she thanked God for sending His own Son, Jesus, to give us forgiveness and eternal life.

Now, prayer was not unusual in our home. We prayed before bed. We prayed before meals. When one of us was sick or hurt, intercession was made for us. Of course we prayed in church too. But this prayer was somehow different. It wasn't being offered at any of those regular times. Mom had no idea I was in the house. The baby was napping, she thought I was still in the back yard, and she had stolen away for a rare quiet moment alone with God.

Fortunately for me, God saw to it that I was there to hear the prayer, and to realize something that I have not forgotten over the next 53 years.

My mother prayed for me! She did it in private. She did it alone with the Father. It was not for me to hear, but God saw to it that I did. Looking back today, I realize that she has prayed for me all my life - even before I was born. I thank God for the example of a praying mother, and I thank God for how He has answered her prayers.

On this Mother's Day in 2010, I want to wish her a happy Mother's Day, and I want to thank God for Patsy Stidham Adkins. Her's is the face that pops into my mind, when I hear the word "mother".

Recently the "Herald-Dispatch" daily newspaper in Huntington, WV, solicited its readers to write a few words about their mothers. Here is the portion of what I submitted that was printed in today's paper:

"My mother, Patsy Adkins, was a stay at home mom for many years. Her days and nights were filled with caring for the three of us boys, and keeping things organized for Dad, who was a very busy bi-vocational evangelist. She was sharp as a tack and took care of most of the "business" of the family. She read constantly, loved to discuss the Bible, and taught teenage girls in Sunday School. She also always worked in Vacation Bible School in the summers.

Sometime in late 1995 we begin to notice some changes in Mom. What we first passed off as "absent mindedness" eventually became reason for concern. She obviously had trouble with her short-term memory, and her behavior patterns were changing. When the diagnosis came back -- Alzheimer's Disease -- her life, and ours changed forever.

The one who once was the rock that anchored our family, now is not sure of the name of the President, the day or year, or even her own age. What a cruel disease for such a dear lady to endure.

With Mother's Day arriving soon, and Mom's 81st birthday coming just a few days later, I know that no gifts or flowers or cards that we give her will be remembered for more than a few minutes. I also know that the day will probably come when she will not even know who we are. But we will know who she is, and will continually thank God for giving us such a dear and precious Mother."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

National Day of Prayer

The setting was in ancient Persia. A Hebrew man by the name of Daniel was facing yet another crisis in his spiritual life. Years earlier he and many of the other best and brightest from his nation had been carried away into Babylon as captives. Eventually his nation was overrun by the Chaldeans who burned the gates of Jerusalem and looted and destroyed the House of God. Most of the inhabitants of the city were herded away to Babylon to join the captives who had been taken earlier.

God had been with Daniel throughout his life in a strange land. He and three of his companions, Hannaniah, Azariah, and Mishael determined early on in their captivity that they would not yield to the pressure to assimilate into the Chaldean culture. They were privileged to receive the best living conditions, the finest education available, and the opportunity to be the "Yuppies" of the day. However, their devotion to their God, put them in precarious life threatening positions on several occasions. Yet on each occasion, God honored their faithfulness, and brought them through their (sometimes fiery) trials.

God brought Daniel to a place of prominence in the Empire. He served the Babylonian kings and became a trusted advisor to them. His national prominence continued to grow, even after the death of Nebuchadnezzar and the fall of Belshazzar and his kingdom. When Darius the Mede took the throne, Daniel gained favor with the new king as well. Darius set 120 Satraps over the kingdom, with three overseers (or presidents) ruling over them. Daniel became the chief of these three overseers, answering only to King Darius. The Bible says "Then this Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm." (Daniel 6:3)

As in many similar situations, the success of this outsider, Daniel, (a Hebrew no less) did not set well with the other jealous officials. Verses 4 & 5 summed up their frustrations:

"So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him. Then these men said, "We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God."

Isn't that a wonderful testimony to the faith and integrity of Daniel? Oh, that the same thing could be said of we Christians today!

The scheming enemies of Daniel came to the king with praise and flattery. They convinced the king to pass a royal decree that anyone who "prayed to any god or man for a period of 30 days, would be cast into a den of lions". The law of the Medes and Persians was so binding that even the king himself could not change a decree once it was issued. The plotters knew this. They also knew that Daniel was a man of regular prayer, and that no matter what the law might say, Daniel would not alter his practice, nor his dependence on the God who he loved so dearly. The king signed the decree, and the stage was set for a showdown.

Here is the part of the narrative that I love the best. "Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days." (verse 10)

Well, I'm sure you know the rest of the story.

Here is the main point I would like to make today.

The first official National Day of Prayer was authorized by Congress in 1952. In 1988 it was set as a permanent annual observation for the first Thursday in May. As a result, there are thousands of public and private observations going on across America today. We are blessed to live in a nation with the freedoms our constitution guarantees for every citizen. For many years, even unbelievers have respected our religious heritage, and we have enjoyed the freedom of religion in this nation. The constitution guarantees us that the government may not establish a particular state religion, nor may it prohibit the free exercise of religion by its citizens.

On April 15th, a U.S. District Court Judge, Barbara Crabb, issued a 66 page decision which in essence said that a National Day of Prayer violates the "establishment clause" of the constitution. The ruling stated that the President may not officially set a National Day of Prayer by proclamation. To its credit, the Obama administration announced that they would seek to overturn this decision on appeal.

My point is this. While I certainly support the freedom to have an official National Day of Prayer, EVERY day should be a day of prayer for the people of God. I am not so naive to believe that one day, we in America could find ourselves in the same precarious situation that Daniel did. What would our reaction be? Will we rail against the pagan government, file lawsuits, march in the streets, form PAC's to lobby Congress, or take matters into our own hands? Or, like Daniel of old, will we simply continue to call upon our God.

We certainly don't need a Presidential proclamation to come before the Throne of Grace. I personally hope we will always be allowed that benefit in America. But if not, may God help us to have the courage to continue to pray openly - even if the time may come when the practice is outlawed!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report (Part 1)

Last Spring, Dr. Danny Akin, President of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, delivered a Chapel Message entitled, "Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence". The text of the message can be found here

By April 28, 2009, several notable Southern Baptist Convention personalities had signed on to a declaration built around Dr. Akin's message. SBC President Johnny Hunt, Senior Pastor of the suburban Atlanta area Woodstock First Baptist Church released a declaration calling for a Great Commission Resurgence, containing the names of the signatories and asking others to sign on as prayer partners. To date, over 6500 men and women across the Southern Baptist Convention have signed that they would prayerfully support such a movement. Unashamedly, I was one of those folks who did so. Many of my friends and people I respect did the same, many others did not.

I saw no problem with committing to pray for a movement of the Holy Spirit among the greatest Protestant denomination in the world. After all, many of our churches are plateaued or declining. The number of our churches have increased, yet reported baptisms are continually decreasing. Obviously, as a Convention, made up of over 40,000 cooperating but autonomous local churches, we do need revival and a fresh anointing from our Heavenly Father. Some were more cautious than I. Perhaps I should have been more suspicious myself. But, I thought, "Who could possibly be against the Great Commission?" Furthermore, when the motion came to the floor of the SBC Annual Meeting in Louisville last June, authorizing Convention President Johnny Hunt to appoint a Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, I and several thousand others voted in the affirmative. The GCRTF was tasked to bring their report to the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting in Orlando, June 15th.

When the names of the task force were released, I felt mixed emotions. Most were well known SBC personalities. Some were from large churches, and strong state conventions. Others were employees of convention entities. My personal misgivings revolved around the fact that smaller churches (which far and away make up the bulk of the SBC) were woefully under represented, as were more of the smaller state conventions and pioneer areas.

I had long held Johnny Hunt in high regard. Dr. Ronnie Floyd, an Arkansas mega church pastor, was named to head up the task force. In 2006, Hunt had eschewed the nomination for SBC President at the convention meeting in Greensboro, and threw his support behind Ronnie Floyd for that position. Floyd later lost on the first ballot in a three way race, to a much lower profile pastor from South Carolina. (More on this later) There were two seminary presidents and a college president named to the task force, along with a State Convention Executive Director, a director of missions, pastors, a former SBC President, pastors wives, and other employees of convention entities. I can honestly say I have prayed for this group regularly for nearly a year.

When the task force's preliminary report was delivered to the SBC Executive Committee in their February meeting this year, I was extremely disappointed with what I read. There were lots of platitudes, plenty of preachy language, and new phrases (such as "Great Commission Giving") coined. The preliminary report, in this pastor's opinion, did less to address a Great Commission Resurgence than it did to basically "rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic". I am not qualified to judge the motives of anyone, but some of the points in that report simply appeared to be an attempt to restructure the North American Mission Board, gut the existing NAMB cooperative agreements with the various state conventions, unleash the International Mission Board on American soil, and divert attention from a number of the mega churches who give a very small percentage of their incomes to the SBC Cooperative Program. Some of the recommendations appear to be thinly veiled reactions to the leadership and direction of the convention under the outgoing Executive Committee President, Dr. Morris Chapman.

Knowing this was a "preliminary report", I have written very little about it. However, I have been involved in animated conversations with other SBC pastors in various states, and with our own State Convention leadership, and trustees of several SBC entities. Suffice it to say there have been a large number of my colleagues who were very alarmed about a couple of the components of the preliminary report. While there is good in the report, there was valid cause for concern. Many of us saw this report as being very dangerous to the work of state conventions (especially smaller ones and those in Pioneer areas) and perhaps a death knell to the effectiveness of the Cooperative Program, which (I believe) has for 85 years, been the greatest mission funding mechanism known to Christendom.

Being on the "prayer partner" list, I have been bombarded with communications from several of the Task Force members since the preliminary report came out in February. Basically they appeared to be attempts to "spin" the more controversial proposals, but as dissension continued to rise in the ranks, I sensed an attempt at damage control. As Task Force members heard the concerns from around the Convention, the emphasis was that this was only a preliminary report and that the final draft report would be released on May 3rd. Dr. Floyd told one of my friends who had voiced his concern, "We hear you on this! Please hold your peace until the final report comes out." My colleague agreed to do just that, and I also decided to take a wait and see attitude. The final draft report is now out. You may view the report, and all things GCRTF at the website

Some changes have been made. I like a good bit of what I read. Yet many of my misgivings still exist. This document holds the possiblity of creating a very interesting Convention meeting in Orlando next month. In future posts to this blog I will share my take on the things that concern me the most, "For What It's Worth".

Monday, May 3, 2010

Of Sprained Backs and Bruised Pride

Wednesday was one of those days. It started out not so hot, and basically went downhill from there. Back in the mid 60's I read a book by comedian Allen King entitled, "Anyone Who Owns His Own Home, Deserves It!" That title has proven true over the years. There is much to be said for renting a place where someone else is responsible for the maintenance. In keeping with that thought, perhaps someone should write a book entitled, "Anyone Who Owns MORE Than One Home, Is An Idiot."

I never set out to be a landlord, it just seemed to happen that way. We closed on the home in which we live on April 1, 1980. April 1st! Catch on? All in all it has been a good home, where we settled in and raised our boys. Now they're gone, and thirty years (and several remodeling projects) later, we're still here on 49th Street. I suppose we will be staying here until the Lord calls us to our permanent home.

Along the way we purchased the house to our left which sits on the corner of Winchester Avenue and 49th Street. That building served for 2o years or so as the office for Adkins Nationwide Insurance Agency. We remodeled the upstairs into an apartment, and by turn, both of our boys lived there for a short while, before moving on. My wife even used the upstairs for a floral design studio for a few years. After a career of 24 years I left the insurance business behind to assume a full time pastorate in a neighboring city. Since that time, the "office building" has been home to a parade of tenants. We are doing some upgrading in it at the present time, and there is a possibility it may once again be home to part of our family.

About eight years ago, the little cottage on the right side of our house came up for sale. I was still working for Nationwide at the time, and we thought the smaller house would be a great investment, and a place for our parents as they reached their golden years. It just seemed reasonable to me that one or more of them might like to be close to us while still living somewhat independently in a place of their own. Well, Linda's mom passed away, and her dad doesn't have the slightest interest in living here in town after all those years in his big place on the Little Sandy River. It's not likely that my mother or father would ever live there either. Dad would never give up all of his "stuff" to downsize into a house that could not contain it, and my mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease would never be able to live there alone.

We have had some good tenants in the little house, and we have had at least two couples who mistook it for the city dump, and treated it as such. We have an excellent family living there now and we are so thankful for how they are taking care of the place. Unfortunately, on Tuesday evening, I got a call that the water from the washer, instead of going out during the spin cycle, sprayed all over the kitchen. Although there had been some slow drain issues before, we thought we had the problem solved. We were wrong. The situation called for a plumber - a real plumber.

When I get a day off, I usually take it on Friday, but it became obvious that I would need to take Wednesday off (since I had an early doctor's appointment and I also needed to be home for a repairman who was coming to work on our own clothes dryer). Turns out the plumber and the Maytag Repairman arrived about the same time.

Wednesday was shaping up to be a mighty busy day. I was at the hospital on the previous evening, with the family of a church member who was having serious emergency brain surgery. After getting home it was nearly 3:00 AM Wednesday by the time I climbed into bed. So, when the six o'clock alarm went off, it was time to hit the ground running. Even though I was taking the "day off" I would have to be at church that evening, and I had promised the family that I would be back to check on the patient shortly before church time. So, by the time the plumber and repairman were finished, I figured I had about a two hour window to mow the grass. It needed mowing in the worst way, since we had missed the planned Saturday mowing due to rain. Now, nearly two weeks since the last cutting, it was beginning to resemble an alfalfa crop.

Besides the three aforementioned lots that we own, I also have to mow a vacant lot that runs along the back of the other three. I opted to do the easy part first, so I rolled the rider out of the storage building. Naturally I do as much of the mowing as possible with the rider. Then I have to mow around houses and the treacherous "office yard" with my self propelled push mower. Sometimes I do that task first to get it out of the way, but today I was in a hurry and just decided to hurry and do what I could on the rider, first.

For years, my hatred for grass mowing was well known by my family, neighbors, and friends. There were any number of things I would rather do than mow grass. Neatly manicured and well cared for, Jack Hollan's yard across the street always put mine to shame. He had a "lawn". I had grass. Mowing was a task I rarely had time for, and hardly relished. In short, it was a detestable task that just had to be done. Amazingly, over the past five years, I have come to actually almost like it. I know that sounds strange, but I actually did.

My battle with cancer changed the way I looked at lots of things in life. For the year that I took chemotherapy, there was no energy to do anything! After a couple of years of basically having to hire the mowing done, I took new pride in being able to mow my own yard again. Of course, the purchase of the riding mower helped a lot, but it actually became a task that I somewhat relished - a challenge that I was thankful I could answer. That is, except for one particular part of the property. The "office property", as I mentioned before lies at the corner of Winchester and 49th. The elevation of the yard is a good 10 - 12 feet higher than the street level of Winchester Avenue. The corner of the lot is a tall bank that sits at a steep 45 degree angle. It is too steep to mow up and down, and can only be done by mowing from side to side around the contour of the property.

I learned a number of years ago that it was unsafe to try to mow that part of the lot in street shoes, sneakers, or even boots. The footing is treacherous, and any dampness at all in the grass or the ground beneath makes it almost impossible to keep one's footing. Therefore I always wear a pair of metal baseball cleats to mow that part of the yard. I was wearing the cleats on Wednesday, when I took the fall.

Don't ask me how it happened. Someone asked if I was chewing gum at the time, but natural coordination problems notwithstanding, somehow my feet got tangled and I went down. Hard! It's difficult to explain how it happened, but my hands remained firmly on the mower handle, while my body twisted to one side and my left hip met the turf with a terrific force. My back was wrenched, and I quickly let go of the mower and lay motionless on the hill for what seemed to be a long time. Fearful of having potentially done some serious damage to my back, I finally allowed myself to slip down the rest of the slope and regained an upright position when I reached the sidewalk.

I made my way back to my front porch where I stretched out flat on my back to try to relieve the pain. Motionless, I stayed in that position until Linda arrived home from work. Apparently the first thought in her mind was "heart attack" and she grabbed me by the foot and called, "Are you OK?" After I told her of my graceful moves, she helped me into the house where I hit the recliner for what turned out to be the rest of the night.

My back hurt. But my pride was more severely injured. Everything in me wanted to get up and finish the job - but I just could not do it! Furthermore, I was unable to even get myself ready for church, much less drive to the hospital for a visit in ICU, and to try to stand or sit long enough to lead the church service. I am almost ashamed to admit it now, but the whole thing nearly precipitated a melt down. The grass had to be finished and my ministry responsibility called, but all I could do was alternate ice and heat on the sore back, and lie there in total frustration.

To bring this long story to an end, I had to call my son, Benji, and ask him if he could come and finish my job. Oh, the pain of it! To think that "big strong man" had to ask his son to finish the job he couldn't do himself. That hurt. Someone else had to take my place in the church service, and the hospital visit had to go undone.

The back is still stiff and sore, but apparently no serious damages (Thank God!) Unfortunately the pride is still stinging a bit as well. It all serves to remind me that I am not indispensable, and I am NOT in control. There are times that, no matter how self reliant we think we may be, we still need the help of someone else. That is a physical truth when we are young - and unfortunately as we get older, too! More importantly, however, it is also a spiritual truth.

Are you depending on your own strengths and abilities for things that are beyond your control? If so, my advice is to shed that pride and look to God for strength. He never fails.