Thursday, June 28, 2012

Safe and Secure

A couple of weeks ago my grandsons were at the house, and while surfing the channels they came across a live event that glued our attention to the TV screen for the next 30 minutes. A man named Nick Wallenda (of the famous daredevil circus performing Wallendas) accomplished one of the most daring feats ever accomplished by man. I sat fascinated as he walked a tightrope from New York to Canada high above the great Horseshoe Falls of the Niagra River. As he placed one foot in front of the other, carrying a 40 pound pole for balance, he accomplished something that no man had ever done before.

Wallenda had put lots of planning into this event, He had a plan, special shoes, electronic communication equipment, a ground team on each end of the cable, appropriate clothing and eye protection…20 foot balance pole, etc. But perhaps the most important piece of equipment he had was the safety line that tethered him to the cable.

This safety line allowed him to concentrate on the dangerous walk before him, without worrying about falling to his death.

If you and I will ever accomplish any great work for Christ, we need to be able to focus on the task at hand, instead of worrying about falling. This type of fear and doubt cripples us and prevents us from enjoying the fullness of life as a believer in Christ.

This fear also prevents some folks from ever being saved.

Note with me a text from the teaching of Jesus as recorded in John 10: 27-29

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.”

Next to the assurance of Salvation, the greatest blessing we have as believers is knowing at we are eternally secure in the hands of the Savior!

If you have truly trusted Jesus as your Savior and Lord, do not let the fear of falling paralyze you in your work. Move ahead, one step at a time, looking unto Jesus, who is holding you safe in His powerful hands.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Christian Boot Camp

I spent the Summer of 1973 doing “Basic Military Training” at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and more technical trainingfor my chosen military career path at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. This basic training helped prepare me for the tasks that would lie ahead during my time of U.S. Air Force active duty, and the years that would follow in the West Virginia Air National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve. Of course there was further training I picked up along the way to help further prepare me for service, but the “Basic Training” taught us just that – the basics of what we needed to know to be effective in our service to our country.

Christ Followers need much of the same, as we seek to follow the Lord in every aspect of our lives.
The Word of God tells us so. Consider how the scriptures implore us to prepare ourselves for service to God through the learning of His Word, for:

* Christian Growth

1 Peter 2:2-3 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation-- if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

2 Peter 3:17-18 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

* Mediation and Teaching

Deuteronomy 6: 6-7 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way,and when you lie down, and when you rise.

2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

* Guidance

2 Timothy 3:14-17 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

* Facing persecution

1 Peter 3:14-15 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being
prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

For these (and other reasons) I am preparing and preaching a series of messages on Sunday mornings this Summer in “Basic Doctrines for Christian Growth and Service”. We will be looking at topics such as “Assurance of Salvation”, “Eternal Security”, “Repentance and Restoration”, “Dealing With Temptation”, “Fellowship”, “Christian Maturity”, “The Spirit Filled Life”,“Knowing the Will of God”, etc.

I hope you will join us in worship as we explore these and other basic Christian doctrines in Christian Boot Camp (no pushups or running required!)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Notes From The SBC 2012

History was made yesterday in the city that was once home to the largest slave market in North America. The Southern Baptist Convention elected its first African American President. This is huge when you think that one of the factors that helped form the Convention in the 19th Century was the slavery issue. Just as the rest of the country was so deeply divided in those days, Baptists in the south split from fellowship with their Baptist brethren in the north, over the issue. Now, a man who is most likely the descendant of black slaves, has been chosen to be the leader of the largest protestant denomination in the world.

About one sixteenth of the SBC's 16 Million members are black. The SBC Annual Meeting has long been a sea of mostly white faces. This week the complexion has changed visibly. It is a beginning (long overdue) but a beginning none the less. The election of a former street preacher from the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans to be the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention is a major step toward racial reconciliation, and toward pounding the final nails in the coffin of an ugly chapter in our history.


One of the things I love about attending the SBC Annual Meeting, is the opportunity to see so many friends and colleagues from all over the country. We have had opportunity to see many of our friends from back home in Kentucky and West Virginia, and that is always a blessing. It is also sweet to renew old acquaintances with friends from all over the country. The fellowship is fleeting, but so sweet, whether it be spending a few minutes together in the Exhibit Hall, stopping to talk briefly in the concourse, or sitting down to have a cup of coffee or to break bread together in one of the crowded restaurants.


It is also a tremendous blessing to sit under the preaching of a number of Godly men, young and old, in the Pastor's Conference which precedes the two day business sessions. It is not often one can hear the likes of Tony Evans, David Jeremiah, Johnny Hunt, and David Platt in one venue. The speakers vary in age and style, and come from various types of ministries, but each one's message will compliment the others. In the Monday afternoon session alone, Dennis Swanberg made us laugh, David Platt made us cry, and Herb Reavis made us shout. Fred Luter brought the house down on Monday evening!


Despite the euphoria surrounding Fred Luter's election, there is still some controversy here as we Baptists gather in the Big Easy. There is the Calvinism debate. Some are saying that now is the time for this "conversation to begin". Friends, this conversation has been going on for several centuries in Baptist life. The debate is an old one, and it is not going to be settled today. There are some things that we just need to leave up to God, determine that we are going to love one another despite some of our differences, and get on with fulfilling the Great Commission given to us by our Lord. We have the Word of God to guide us, and the Baptist Faith and Message as our consensus statement of faith, now let's get on with the task!


I never cease to be amazed that in spite of our differences, in spite of controversies, large and small, God continues to bless this work. It is a tribute to His power and glory alone!

I have enjoyed being here this week. I even got to have dinner with two of my precious grandsons last night! We'll wrap things up here today, and I look forward to getting home and back to work in the place of service where God has placed me.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Power Of A Personal Testimony

It's 12:30 AM and I am crying like a baby. The tears are tears of joy and thanksgiving to our Father in Heaven, and believe it or not, it is from something I've just seen on The Tonight Show!
As I sometimes do in the evenings, by 10:00 or so, I had fallen asleep in my recliner. Linda has learned that when I do such things it is futile to try to wake me. She knows I will eventually regain consciousness and make the climb up the stairs to my comfortable bed. So, she makes sure the doors are locked and all the lights are out, and leaves me in la la land with the flickering light of the television on until I snap back to reality.
Well, I did... and the Tonight Show was in its last few minutes. The beautiful Catherine Zeta-Jones was sitting to Jay Leno's far right, and a little bent man with a red baseball cap, and blue jacket was in the chair next to Leno's desk. He appeared to be in his 90's, and was in the process of recounting his World War II prisoner of war experience. With him being a member of my Dad's "Greatest Generation" I immediately took note of what he was saying.
His name was Louis Zamperini. He was a native of Torrance, California, where he was a juvenile delinquent in his younger years. However, he had been given a wonderful gift of athletic ability which led him to world fame as a track star. He had even competed for the USA in the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. After World War II broke out, Zamperini joined the Army Air Corps and became a bombardier on a B-29.
As I roused from my slumber Zamperini was telling about the events that followed the crashing of his plane in the Pacific Ocean on May 27. 1943. He told about how he and the badly injured pilot and one other crew member were the sole survivors of the eleven man crew. The story that followed was absolutely fascinating. He told of how the three or them survived for 47 days on the raft, badly injured and surrounded by sharks. The one plane they saw during the ordeal, turned out to be an enemy aircraft. It made two passes at them firing machine guns at the three airmen. Miraculously, no one was hit, and he allowed that as they "played dead", the enemy pilot must have been low on fuel and returned to their base or aircraft carrier.
As the story went, Zamperini and the other survivors eventually washed ashore in the Japanese controlled Marshall Islands. When captured, Zamperini weighed only 67 pounds (he had lost 100 pounds during the 47 days as a castaway). The three Americans were taken as prisoners of war, where Zamperini was tortured for more than two years. Much of that time was at the hand of a cruel Japanese prison camp guard, known to the prisoners as "The Bird". The guard made Zamperini his personal project, but in over a year of his torturous treatment, the young American refused to break. The story is told in a book by Laura Hildenbrand, entitled "Unbroken". I'll be ordering that book from Amazon in the morning!
As riveting as Zamperini's story was, I wasn't prepared for what came next, and that was what brought the tears to my eyes.
Leno mentioned, "I understand that you have gone back to Japan, and that you have forgiven your captors, including "The Bird" who had nearly killed you with his torture".
The old man smiled as he told the rest of the story. "They didn't know what it was called back then, but we know now it is called post traumatic stress disorder" he recounted. He told about the nightmares he suffered for years after his freedom. He drank heavily, tortured by the demons of his memory. Each night in his dreams he dreamed of strangling the life out of "The Bird". Eventually, he said, he "met the girl of his dreams and married her". After his marriage he began to cut back on the drinking but the nightmares continued to haunt him. His wife urged him to seek help, but he maintained he could handle it on his own.
One night, while choking "The Bird" in his dreams, Zamperini awoke to realize he had his wife by the throat, choking the life out of her. Terrified and injured, she told him she had come to the end of her rope and that she would file for divorce. Needless to say, he was devastated.
Then, he said, Billy Graham came to town. Zamperini's wife had gone to the Crusade one night and had given her life to Christ. She came home that evening a new woman, telling her husband that she was not going through with the divorce, but was committing her life to Christ and trusting Him to take care of the situation. She encouraged Zamperini to attend the Crusade, which he did, but he "left the meeting angry and terribly under conviction". However, he went back the next night, and after hearing Graham say, "When you get to the end of your rope, and you have no where else to go, turn to God", he knew what he had to do.
Zamperini's mind went back to his 47 day ordeal at sea, and the two and a half years in captivity, and to how he had promised God that if He would spare his life, that he would live for Him and serve him faithfully. "I realized that night, that God had kept his promises to me, but I had not kept mine to Him. The next thing I knew" he said, "I had come forward, and was in the prayer room, committing my life to Christ. I told Him I was sorry and I asked Him to come into my heart and I would live for Him."
Zamperini said, from that moment on he had never had another drink of alcohol, and that the nightmares ended forever. He was able to forgive those who had treated him so horribly, and had opportunity to visit Japan and meet some of his captors, showing them the love of Christ.
The audience erupted in applause, and Zeta-Jones was noticeably moved. Jay Leno stood and shook his hand and simply said, "God bless you".
Obviously God already has done just that!
Now that is far from what one would normally see and hear on late night television, but what a blessing to hear that little bent man, a war hero from another generation, tell that young studio audience (as well as the millions watching on television) about the saving, life changing power of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was powerful, and terribly effective. I was reminded of the words from John Newton's immortal song, "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see." People can argue about churches, denominations, and doctrinal differences, but no one can argue with the reality of a changed life!
There is nothing stronger than the power of a personal testimony of what Christ has done in an individual's life. May we be as quick as Louis Zamperini to share the Good News at every opportunity.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Blessing Of Sports Ministry

On Monday evening 80 children and their families gathered in the sanctuary of Westmoreland Baptist Church to celebrate the completion of our Upward Soccer season.
The 8 week season had just wrapped up the previous Saturday and by all accounts it was a great experience for the children, parents, grandparents, coaches and other volunteers. Our Soccer Commissioner, Kim McFann once again had done a wonderful job in overseeing this annual ministry. In the Award Celebration, each child received a new Upward soccer ball, and a gospel DVD entitled, "The Big Story", for their families to have and to view at their leisure.
Upward is a sports ministry more than 25 years old, founded by Caz McCazlin at First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, SC. It has grown in its scope and now Upward Basketball, Cheer leading, Soccer, Flag Football, and Sports Camps can be found, sponsored by evangelical churches around the world! It has been a wonderful asset to our Children's Ministry here at WBC. Some of the children who participate are from families that are actively involved in other churches, and that is fine. However, many of the kids come from families that have no church affiliation, and little spiritual influence in their lives. Upward is not nearly as intensively competitive as other youth sports league - and that is by design. In our busy world, time is at a premium, and families are often short changed in quality time together. Upward has one hour of practice per week, and one game per week on Saturday. Every child learns a Bible verse per week. Each practice has a devotional Bible lesson, as does half time on game day. When children have completed a season of Upward, they have been coached and taught by Christian volunteers, and they have been presented with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No other youth sports program can say that!
Some say that Upward is not competitive. Well, tell that to the kids who participate! The beauty of Upward is the three fold purpose that says "Every Child Plays... Every Child Learns... Every Child Wins". Parents who are looking for a hard nosed, win at all cost youth sports program will not be impressed with Upward. There will be plenty of opportunities in the lives of these children to compete in games and in life. Upward is not a youths sports league, Upward is a ministry, and we make no bones about it.
As part of the Award Celebration program, we ask for parent/guardian feedback. We ask them to rate their Upward experience on a 1 to 4 scale, with the four choices being "Great", "Good", "Satisfactory", and "Less than Satisfactory". Only two forms rated the experience as low as "Satisfactory", 87% rated it "Great" with the rest falling under the category "Good". There were no forms that listed an "unsatisfactory" rating. We also gave the parents an opportunity to give us verbal feedback as well. The two that rated it "Satisfactory" gave us constructive remarks that we will use next season to try to enhance the ministry.
Here are some representative comments from the feedback form:
"Aidan had a great season!'
"We had a lot of fun this year. I hope to have my son in the program again next year."
"The coaches were great... they were knowledgeable about soccer fundamentals. They were fun, caring, and all around super people."
"This was our first year of Upward and it will not be our last! These coaches taught my children so much. Thanks to all the coaches and staff of Upward."
"This was my son's second year. He loved it and we look forward to next season."
"As a grandparent, it was a wonderful experience. We love it than everyone gets equal playing time."
"This was exactly what my 9 year old daughter needed. Thank you!"
Upward is a lot of work, from pre registration activities, to registration, evaluations, team selection, recruiting volunteers, scheduling practice times and games, and the time involved to practice and coach the games. One might ask, "Is it worth it?" Well, on Sunday morning we will be baptizing two children who have both participated in Upward Sports this year. I think we can agree it is worth every minute of time and effort.
We'll take a short break, and then begin preparations for Upward Basketball and Cheer leading to fire up this fall!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

To Sign Or Not To Sign?

The familiar "ding" from my BlackBerry alerted me that I had received a message or an email. I picked up the device to check it out and found the five word text message from a pastor friend in another state. "Have you signed yet, Brother?"

Signed what? I really had no doubt about to what my colleague was referring.

Recently there has been a firestorm in the Southern Baptist blogosphere regarding a new document that has surfaced. The title of the article is,"A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation". An introduction to the document was published on May 30th on the SBC Today website. The introduction is written by Dr. Eric Hankins, a Mississippi pastor who will be nominated for the position of Second Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention when it meets in New Orleans later this month.

If you haven't read the document, you may see it in its entirety by clicking here.

Hankins writes that the document was "Compiled by a number of pastors, professors, and leaders in response to the growing debate over Calvinism in Southern Baptist life, it begins with a rationale for such a statement at this time, followed by ten articles of affirmation and denial. The goal was to create a statement that would accurately reflect the beliefs of the majority of Southern Baptists, who are not Calvinists. "

As of this writing, the document has been endorsed and signed by a number of Southern Baptists, including several former Convention Presidents, as well as a couple of SBC Seminary Presidents and some of their faculty members, several State Convention officers, and some pastors, evangelists, and laypersons from around the country. It appears to be a reaction to and a growing fear of the increasing number of adherents of Reformed Theology in SBC life. The "Calvinist/Non Calvinist" debate has been growing for several years now, and appears to be coming to a head, even though these differences have coexisted in SBC life since its inception.

Having won the "Battle for the Bible" during the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC, it appears that we can now no longer stand the prosperity. Now, with all of us standing firmly on the inerrancy of the Scriptures we are now de-volving into arguments about interpretation differences, while denominational leaders seek to gin up a "Great Commission Resurgence". That type of resurgence can't be planned and programmed, it can only come from God. However, does anyone believe that such a resurgence is likely to come from God while we are fighting among ourselves?

One prominent pastor has commented that "we are headed for a Civil War" in the SBC. All that is holding it back is waiting to see who fires the first shot on Fort Sumpter". I fear that this this document may be that first shot.

We all believe that Salvation comes by Grace through Faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8,9). We all believe that our marching orders are found in Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8. Yet how will we accomplish the mission with an "us against them" mentality inside the ranks of the Army of God? That mentality exists, and can be found everywhere from the Calvinist/Non Calvinist debate at the SBC level, all the way down to the State Conventions and local associations where distrust, arguments over methodology, and partisanship have deeply divided the brethren.

I have many friends on both sides of the Calvinism/Non Calvinism issue. Men whom I love and respect. Men who have various gifts and diverse platforms in ministry. We have such potential, with the power of the Holy Spirit, to change the world! Yet it seems as though there is a growing trend in our ranks to sign this statement, or sign that statement - drawing lines in the sand and daring our co-laborers to cross them.

Enough already!

Our Seminaries are the academic venues where these ideas can be studied, discussed, and debated. Each one of us must come to our own conclusions regarding these differing viewpoints, but we must not continue demonizing one side or denigrating the intelligence of the other. As a Convention, we have a statement of faith that has been hammered out, revised, and updated since 1925. "The Baptist Faith and Message" contains the Convention's messenger approved articles of faith that unite us as Southern Baptists. That should be sufficient to say who we are, what we believe, and upon what our beliefs are based. I fear that these other statements that are coming out on both sides of the Calvinist issue only serve to further divide us and hamper the effectiveness of our efforts to complete the mission our Lord has given us.

Perhaps our Dr. Frank Page, President of the SBC Executive Committee, may appoint some type of "peace committee" when we meet in New Orleans to try to hammer out some type of peaceful co-existance. But certainly we need to pray for God to intervene and bring unity to the work - before it's too late.

As for this pastor - I'm finished with signing statements. I'll affirm the Word of God, and the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and that's it. That's my opinion, and that's where I'll stand - "For What It's Worth"