Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Churchnet's Annual Meeting

I had a very enjoyable time this past Friday and Saturday at Churchnet's annual meeting, hosted by the First Baptist Church of Farmington, MO.  As you used to say in south Texas, Farmington is a "fer piece" from Lee's Summit where I live.  For those who don't speak "Texanese," that translates as a long distance.  It's right at 300 miles one way and there's no direct route from northwest to southeast Missouri.  I took I-70 across, skirting St. Louis to the southwest and then heading down to my final destination.

We kicked off the meeting as we have in recent years with our annual missions banquet.  The food was delicious and the program featured a verbal report and pictures from Andrij Pismenyuk, a Ukrainian church planter whom we help to financially support.  Next we heard from Ned Walsh about an upcoming opportunity in October to visit Cuba for a gathering of the four Baptist conventions on the island and to visit places where Missouri Baptists labored when Cuba was still under the work of the Home Mission Board prior to the revolution.  David and Susan Holman, both pharmacists and members of FBC Farmington, shared about their participation last summer with a medical missions team from our church to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.  Finally, I shared an update about our ongoing partnership with Guatemalan Baptists and the leadership training events that we host there twice each year in January and July.  A major component of the banquet each year is a missions offering that helps underwrite the expenses of the training events in Guatemala as well as facilitating other missions endeavors like the support for the Ukrainian church planter.  Almost $7000 was pledged or given at the meeting and we'll be contacting others on our mailing list to give them an opportunity to participate in this offering.

The worship experiences on Friday evening and Saturday morning were a wonderful mixture of musical styles with everything from a traditional robed choir to a contemporary praise band, an African American quartet from a St. Louis church, a Hispanic praise band composed of members from churches in California and Jeff City, and a trio of Filipino young ladies.  Jerry Cain did an outstanding job as always with his Bible study focus and a highlight was being able to hear Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author of Strangers at My Door: A True Story of Finding Jesus in Unexpected Guests.  Jonathan ministers at the Rutba House in North Carolina, a community of believers sharing life together.  He told the story of the origin of the name Rutba--the name for a village in Iraq where he and team members received shelter and medical assistance from a local Iraqi after a team member had suffered injuries when the car in which he was riding overturned after hitting a crater in the road which had been caused by a bomb blast.

We had the opportunity as well to attend some outstanding breakout sessions dealing with a wide diversity of topics.  We also heard from leaders of the many Baptist agencies that Churchnet partners with in Missouri including The Baptist Home, The Baptist Foundation, Word & Way, The Children's Home, Windermere, and the various Baptist universities.  It was great to see many friends from across the state and to make some new ones as well.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

An Internal GPS

Since the advent and growth in popularity of GPS devices, most of us no longer utilize what was once a standard item in a car for any road trip--a good old-fashioned map.  It was often our practice to pull into the visitors' center when you crossed over into a new state on a long trip to acquire the latest map of that state's highways.  Doing so provided a necessary break to stretch one's legs, visit the restroom facilities, and confirm with the new map that you were on the right course.  Nowadays, most of us simply punch an address into a dedicated GPS device or into our smartphones and we follow the verbal commands we are given until we arrive at our destination.

The new GPS systems are certainly handy and probably more accurate as a rule as well, given that they are constantly monitoring your progress along the journey via satellites that communicate with your device.  There's something nostalgic though about pulling out the good old road map and seeing at a glance where you'll be traveling--the cities you'll pass through, the major landmarks along the way, rivers and lakes that you'll encounter, etc. 

Deep down we all probably wish that God had given us a road map in advance for this journey called life--a map that highlighted every potential pitfall, danger, setback, and detour.  Rather than a map though, He's given us the opportunity to grow and mature in our faith as we follow Him one day at a time.  He gives us sufficient grace and strength for today alone, and He's given us His Word and the indwelling Spirit to provide guidance for our travels.  Come to think of it, we all have an internal GPS (God's Powerful Spirit).  Let Him direct your way.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Brennan Manning on grace

I love this quote from Brennan Manning’s memoir, All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir.

My life is a witness to vulgar grace — a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wage as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party, no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request — “Please, remember me” — and assures him, “You bet!”…This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try and find something or someone that it cannot cover. Grace is enough…

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Meeting of the North American Baptist Fellowship

I was privileged to attend a meeting of the North American Baptist Fellowship this past Thursday and Friday in Philadelphia.  We met at the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, a large, predominantly African American congregation of 15,000 members.  The focus of the meeting was to seek to identify and define some major initiatives that could elicit collaboration from the various bodies that make up the NABF as we looked ahead to the next 50 years.  The occasion of the 50th anniversary of the organization provided this opportunity to focus on common concerns and to seek to hammer out in small group dialogues some areas that we all felt our entities could collaborate on together.  The three main areas selected were: (1) congregational renewal/transformation, (2) systemic reform aimed at economic oppression, and (3) authentic evangelism.

All of the staff of Churchnet were able to attend so I enjoyed the time with colleagues as well as making new friends from other member bodies of the NABF.  I was able to personally meet Tony Cartledge, professor at Campbell University as well as a writer for Baptists Today, whose blog I read regularly.  He has a nice article today about the gathering.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Christian Churches in Algeria Thriving under Persecution

I read an amazing article yesterday in Ethics Daily that highlighted the growth of Christian churches in the North African country of Algeria in spite of the ongoing persecution taking place there.  Let me encourage you to click on the link and read the article if you haven't already seen it.

Several statements by Terry Smith, the author who serves as deputy executive director of Canadian Baptist Ministries, jumped out at me:

  1. The existence of perhaps a mere 200 believers at the end of the country's civil war that raged from 1991-1999.
  2.  The spectacular growth to approximately 100,000 Christians today.
  3. The testimony of an Islamic imam who while traveling to Mecca during Hajj asked a local Christian pastor to care for his wife and family in case anything should happen to him, commenting, "I can trust the Christians to care for my family."
  4. The description of attending a service in a Christian church where more than 650 had gathered and every seat was filled some 45 minutes before worship began.
The money quote though from the article was this one, attributed to one of the local Algerian Christian leaders: "We pray that the persecution won't end because we fear that when it ends, so too will end the revival."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Great Week in Guatemala

I just returned last Friday from another wonderful week in Guatemala, leading in the pastoral/leadership training conferences that we do each January and July in the city of Quetzaltenango (or Xela as it's commonly called).  I had a great trip down from Kansas City to Guatemala City, somehow qualifying on the TSA pre-approved list that meant I didn't have to take off my shoes or take my laptop out of my backpack.  (That wasn't true of the return flight however).  When I was preparing to board in Houston for the flight down to Guatemala, the agent offered me a free upgrade to economy plus seating with lots of extra legroom.  Of course I accepted his gracious offer. 

We had a record number of participants this time--92 pastors and leaders--and these represented some new churches and missions that hadn't previously participated in the training.  I typically take another pastor or conference leader or two with me and let them teach while I simultaneously translate their conferences into Spanish.  This was the first occasion in 7.5 years of leading these sessions that I've gone alone and led the entire conference.  The folks were extremely gracious as always and very appreciative of the materials that I shared.  They also interacted well with great comments and questions.

I was able to visit the Tabitha Ministry in Guatemala City on Thursday after we returned from Xela and accompanied Carol Bercian's mother and brother to pick up some uniform pants for the children that had been sewn by a local seamstress.  A Baptist church in Dothan, Alabama made a generous donation that helped with the purchase of uniforms and school supplies.  Later, Estuardo (Carol's brother) and I purchased a sound system for the Tabitha Ministry at a great price that will save them the cost of renting sound equipment for their large gatherings.

The return trip didn't go quite as smoothly as the trip down.  We pushed back from the gate in Guatemala City about 10 minutes early and I was thinking there would be no issues with making my connecting flight in Houston.  The pilot then announced that the right engine had refused to start, so it was back to the gate, deplaning, and the mechanics fixing the problem.  We got away about 2 hours late and after clearing immigration and customs and riding the monorail system to another terminal, I arrived at the gate in time to see my flight (about 30 minutes later than scheduled) pushing back from the gate.  The next flight was overbooked so I didn't make it on standby on it.  I wound up catching a flight about 6:00 p.m. rather than the original 12:20 time out of Houston.  I did have a couple of good books to read so the time wasn't wasted.

The trip overall was a tremendous blessing as always and I'm grateful for those of you who prayed for my safety in traveling and for the teaching time in Xela.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Blake McKinney on Mutual Submission in Marriage

Our pastor, Blake McKinney, was featured this morning in Ethics Daily with an excellent article on mutual submission in marriage.  It's well worth reading.