Thursday, June 27, 2019

Lesson Learned

The lessons we learn in life seem to stick with us (or at least me) based on the ‘way’ or ‘how it it’ that I or we learned them.  For instance, when I was a kid my dad told me the fire was hot.  Believe it or not, I was an obedient kid and didn’t stick my hand in the flame (in his presence), but when he wasn’t around?  I now know that fire is hot and will burn!!  You could say that truth is “branded in my mind (and on my finger).”  Examples of this could be told ad infinitum but you get the idea.  The way you learn something, either through experience or repetitive teaching, determines how well something ‘stays’ with you AND how well you really understand it.

Now to the natural world.  Since moving in our present house, I have begun a little ‘raised garden.’  The idea came from my pastor and friend, Tommy.  Living in an area and serving 2 wonderful counties where farming is the primary vocation or advocation, my little raised garden is but a speck, but it’s mine and I enjoy it.  This year, this garden has taught me a spiritual truth. 

Being neither a farmer or a flower guy, nor a horticulturist, the ability to recognize a plant by its leaves, shape, color, or smell (see how little I know) is beyond me.  Candidly, while many talented and experienced people are all around who can do this, I am not one.  So, when I buy my plants for my little garden I depend on the ‘labeling’ which the nursery or Walmart’s Garden Center places on the plants.  GRIN

Well, you guessed it, this year I chose two kinds of tomato plants, two types of bell peppers, zucchini, and squash.  I planted each stalk, watered, and waited.  Expecting cherry tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, green bell peppers, yellow bell peppers, squash, and zucchini, I watered twice each day and waited.  We lost our squash and zucchini after just a couple of pieces because of ‘lack of watering’ as we were out of town for almost two weeks, the Roma tomatoes have done okay (a dozen or so tomatoes), and the Green Bell peppers are doing well.   But guess what?

The “Cherry Tomato’ plants are doing well, the only problem is, they are not producing cherry tomatoes, rather they  producing a habanero type of green (and hot) pepper.  The pepper is good, mind you, but certainly not a ‘cherry tomato’.  Also, the Yellow Bell Pepper hasn’t turned yellow yet, it’s green as can be.  Perhaps if I let them die, they will turn yellow.

As I looked at my little garden the other day, honestly a little disappointed in the production, it is just like God spoke this word in my ear, “You will know them by their fruits.”  I honestly believe that 21st Century American “Christians” need to hear this message loud and clear today.  We must  be told that the ‘fruits’ we produce reveal who and what we really are.  When I see those plants in my little garden, they are where they are supposed to be (in the soil)  doing what they are designed to do (producing fruit), yet they are a disappointment to their owner (me) because I expected something different.

The Bible says that we are “known by our fruit and our love.”  As far as I can tell, these are the two ways which the Bible says the world will recognize us.  My question today is this; “What kind of fruit am I producing?”  It is easy to ask that of others, but sometimes it stings when we ask ourselves the tough questions. 

Stephen Covey would interject habit #2 of the “Seven Habits for the Highly Effective Person”.  It is, “Begin with the end in mind.”  The Bible says, “Whatever you sow, you will reap.”  While I thought I knew and understood this truth, thanks to this garden, I can say, “Lesson Learned.”  

Monday, June 24, 2019

A Word From the Past

Years ago, my parents introduced me to a broadcaster named Paul Harvey.  I used to love his “And the rest of the story” because it was so pointed, poignant, and powerful.  He was not known to mince words, but he was not unkind.  He was not a news reporter, he was more a cultural observer.  I was reminded of his voice and humor when I read the following on a Facebook feed.  At one time, I had the audio of him delivering this message.  While it is not ‘politically correct’ (neither am I) and espouses the work of a ‘devil’ (which I believe because the Bible teaches it – and the world largely denies it), these words, spoken 50+ years ago reach the level of prophecy because they are coming true or have come true before our very eyes. 

If you wanted to destroy the USA, what would you do?  Would you use a frontal assault on a country that has arguable the greatest military might in history?  Would you attempt to detonate an explosive device in some strategic location?  Would you attack the borders?

While some will say, “The devil doesn’t care enough about this country to attack it”, I would counter that the USA, with all her spiritual warts and wrinkles, stands as a bastion of Religious Liberty in this world.  Under her banner of protection, citizens are (at least supposed to be) free enough to express themselves and their core beliefs in Jehovah God.  This in itself makes her a target for the devil.

How do you take down such an empire?  That is, an empire ‘of, by, and for, THE PEOPLE?’  Here is a reminder of what Mr. Harvey said all those years ago.

If I were the devil…

If I were the prince of darkness, I would want to engulf the whole world in darkness. I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree — thee.

So, I would set about, however necessary, to take over the United States.

I’d subvert the churches first, and I would begin with a campaign of whispers.

With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: “Do as you please.”

To the young, I would whisper that the Bible is a myth. I would convince the children that man created God instead of the other way around. I’d confide that what’s bad is good and what’s good is square.

And the old, I would teach to pray after me, “Our Father, which are in Washington …”

Then, I’d get organized, I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting.

I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.

If I were the devil, I’d soon have families at war with themselves, churches at war with themselves and nations at war with themselves until each, in its turn, was consumed.

And with promises of higher ratings, I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames.

If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellect but neglect to discipline emotions. I’d tell teachers to let those students run wild. And before you knew it, you’d have drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door.

With a decade, I’d have prisons overflowing and judges promoting pornography. Soon, I would evict God from the courthouse and the schoolhouse and then from the houses of Congress.

In his own churches, I would substitute psychology for religion and deify science. I’d lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls and church money.

If I were the devil, I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious.

What’ll you bet I couldn’t get whole states to promote gambling as the way to get rich?

I’d convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun and that what you see on television is the way to be.

And thus, I could undress you in public and lure you into bed with diseases for which there are no cures.

In other words, if I were the devil, I’d just keep right on doing what he’s doing.

Please DO NOT FORGET – These words were spoken over 50 years ago.  Today, let’s covenant together to pray for a people to return to the God of Creation, The God of our Fathers, and the God of the Bible, who is only found through His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

ACP–from another Person

After writing my last pitiful blog encouraging all to fill out their ACP, I received this article, written by Roc Collins (formerly a Mississippian), through a tweet from Dr. Randy Davis.  Randy said, “That will preach, Dr. Roc”.  Take a minute, it will be worth it.

Be blessed.


JUNE 14, 2019

By Roc Collins
Director of Strategic Objectives, TBMB

I recently overheard someone cynically remark, “It seems like everybody is way too focused on numbers in church.” I understood what he was saying, but I would argue that focusing on numbers is a godly pursuit.

Before I deepen the chasm of cynicism even further, please hear me out. Every number represents a person so valuable to God that He’d be willing to send His only Son to die in their place. That’s value! As it’s been said: We count people because people count.

Here are four important reasons why counting makes an eternal difference.

Roc Collins

(1) Counting is consistent with the Bible.  In almost every book of the Bible there is a number.

  • About 3,000 saved and baptized at Pentecost.
  • That number spiked to 5,000 a little later!
  • We read in God’s Word that Jesus fed over 5,000 (a number) with five loaves (a number) and two fish (another number)
  • A shepherd counts his sheep. Note: You can’t find the 1 until you count to 99.
  • A widow counts her coins.
  • David counts his warriors.
  • And in Psalms we learn that the very hairs of our head are numbered.
  • Why, there’s even a book in the Bible called Numbers!

Are numbers important to God? Apparently so. And with the number of lost people on a beeline course to hell, counting should not only remind us to reach the lost, it should  passionately compel us to reach them.

(2) Counting helps us correct.

In every sport and every postgame press conference, the coach is handed a stat sheet. The stat sheet is filled with numbers. The numbers tell the story of the game- triple doubles, pass completion percentages, shots on goal, number of sacks, free throw percentages. For any coach, this information is gold because it allows him to make adjustments and prepare strategies for improvement. Think about it for a second. Every game has a clock. Every season has an end. Our mission is no different, but the stakes are eternally higher.

Our numbers remind us of the mission and we are on the clock. Think about it.  There are infinite game plans and strategies, but no team has an infinite amount of time. We don’t either. The Psalmist prayed, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

So what does wisdom look like when applied? Proverbs 11:30 answers the question: “He who wins souls is wise.” Every time we look at a clock, we should be reminded that our time is fleeting, and people need Jesus.

If that’s our focus, we will wisely number our days and have gospel conversations because people count. If our heart’s not broken for that man repairing your car, the girl bagging your groceries, or your neighbor next door could spend eternity separated from God, then we need to correct our perspective and look up at the clock. One day the horn will sound and the final story inside the numbers will be told.

(3) Counting helps us connect.

At the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, your numbers are very important to us, because we want to help you win. When it comes to helping churches, your numbers in the Annual Church Profile we collect every year are gold! Keep in mind, no one is going to call and shame you when you have a rough season of ministry. We all have those seasons, don’t we? Just ask Elijah, Jeremiah and Job. They all counted their losses. Calling you to implore you to shape up is not what we do. We are here to support and serve you any way we can and counting helps us do that. We serve churches. It’s job one.

(4) Counting will help us celebrate.

When your church celebrates baptisms, growth and spiritual breakthroughs, we all want to celebrate with you. I remember days in my ministry when the funds were low and the work was dry.

Then, out of nowhere, we’d see a student get saved, a family join the church, an alcoholic husband do a 180-degree turn and enter a support group or a business man called to the mission field. Sudden outpourings of God in dry seasons inspire everyone.  Like the leper Jesus healed, we can’t help but tell somebody!

When a small church in Tennessee baptizes five people after years when the baptistry didn’t get a drop of water, we celebrate it!

When a church plant doubles in attendance and opens a food distribution center to feed 50 families in the community in one month, we get a fire in our souls. We’re inspired! Every single baptism listed on the ACP is a soul saved from eternal separation. That’s why we count.

When you receive the ACP form next year, please remember that this isn’t just a dry, rudimentary document or another nagging task sent to you from bean counters. It’s an opportunity for us to celebrate, serve and track the hand of God around our state.

Focusing on numbers is not a vice. It’s a virtue. Why? Because, behind every number there is a person precious to God. That person deserves to be counted.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

ACP–It’s more than you think!

About this time each year, many people within the church begin to wring their hands in fear and frustration because the time is coming when we, as Southern Baptists, are asked to turn in a report of our numbers, successes and failures,  for the past 12 months.  We call it the ACP which is short for “Annual Church Profile.”  For better or worse, over the past few years, there has been an effort to update the way we report as well as an attempt to streamline what information we actually turn in. 

The year we changed from SBDS (Southern Baptist Directory Services introduced in 2000) to the SBC Workspace (in 2016), was a difficult year for many reason.  Pointing fingers does us little good.  It was tough for everyone involved.  But honestly, now we are past that and it’s time for all of us to report once again.  I am taking a few minutes to write this because I DEEPLY believe we need EVERY CHURCH to report.  Sadly and truthfully, some have little desire to do so. Let me give each of us a couple of things to consider and hopefully, we can get 100% of churches to participate.

Let me begin by challenging a misconception.  That misconception is that “SBC CHURCHES are asked to report for the purpose of “honoring or humbling a work.”  In other words, we can brag if our numbers are big and be scolded if our numbers are small.  Admittedly, some have attempted to make our reporting into the ‘brag or belittle’ weapon, but that is not the focus nor is it to be accepted in such a way.  Years ago, I heard someone quip, “The only people who don’t talk about numbers are those who have no numbers to talk about.”  Whether this statement is right or wrong is of little importance in the grand design of our calling.  It is my belief that every church ministry needs to report ‘whatever numbers’ they have, large or little, because it is the work of the Kingdom.  If I pastor a church and we only baptize a few, disciple a few, and lose member, it becomes a personal motivation to seek God’s will more on a personal and collective level.  If my numbers are large, I should thank God for His blessing and ask Him to keep me from being or becoming prideful and, at the same time, as Him to give me a vision for those yet to be reached. 

Just this past week I spoke with Dr. Johnny Hunt, long time pastor of Woodstock-FBC and now the Evangelism Director for NAMB, to ask him about the numbers he quoted the conference on Associational Leaders.  He said (what we have read and heard):

  • We have had a decline in Membership for the past 15th years
  • We have declined in Baptisms for the 8th time out of the last 10 years

Make no mistake, as Southern Baptist we must regain our spiritual traction that has sustained us in days past because we are not reaching lost people, we are largely not discipling those who profess Christ, and we are not being the salt and light in this ever-darkening culture.  HOWEVER, in speaking with Bro. Johnny, I pitched to him the truth that, as Southern Baptists, WE DO NOT REALLY KNOW HOW WE ARE DOING.  Why?  Because many churches do not report anything.  In fairness, we have church members who don’t want to be bothered and pastors (sorry men) who could care less about reporting.  The result is this: Every time, I personally hear a statistic, I question its accuracy because, in my spirit and experience (from my small portion of the world), it seems we are simply not gathering enough credible information to know where we stand in fulfilling our mission.

Bro. Johnny did not even let me finish my question because he knew what I was saying.  This is what he told me.  “When I first came to this position at NAMB, I commissioned a 3rd party to study this very truth.  We discovered that 33% of churches are not completing the ACP.”  To know Bro. Johnny is to know he keeps a pretty hectic schedule and we did not have time to develop that conversation any further, you know, to talk about the ‘whys’ and ‘how we can change this dynamic.’  Candidly, if we are to pray through to gain God’s mind and then develop a strategy that helps God’s churches work together to reach the lost and unchurched, we need everyone to participate and cooperate. 

Cooperate!  There is that word again.  Sometimes we forget that Article 14 of the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) is entitled “Cooperation”.  This concept that we put in print, is the one that sets us apart from all other evangelical ministries.  Our Missions Program is called the “Cooperative Program (CP)” for a reason.  It is how we do missions, ministry, and life together.  We COOPERATE.  When we do, things get done and we don’t things largely go undone.  The Bible says, “A Cord of 3-strands is not quickly or easily broken.”  Whether you have 34 churches in an Association or 48,000 church in the SBC working together for the Kingdom, we are able to do much more because of our connections and cooperation than we can independently because the cord is not easily broken.  It’s that simple.

All that I have written is to make the case that we should strive, one and all, to complete our report this year so we can assess the impact (or lack thereof) we are making that we might be better stewards of the sacred challis called the “Gospel of Jesus Christ” so that we might become more proficient in sharing His good news both in word and deed.  We report so we can know how well we are doing what we have been called and commissioned to do.  “WE” are important because “WE” are the sheep of HIS PASTURE.

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