General Baptist Rural Church Conference

Written by admin on February 17th, 2008

I spent Februrary 16 with about 125 members of churches in the MoArk Association of General Baptists in Malden Missouri. The topic was the up-to-date rural church. I had a great time. I encouraged them to make use of the materials under Practical Helps to study what their churches are currently doing and to consider changes. I also called their attention to the fact that the first four chapters of the report of the most recent Missouri Rural Church Study are now posted on the site. I hope that we can add a chapter each week until all 12 are up.

General Baptists are a Baptist “sub-denomination” with churches in the midwest, mostly. Their national offices are in Popular Bluff, Missouri.

On Sunday, February 24th, the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church near Boligee, Alabama will be dedicating their new building. It replaces the one that was burned by arsonists just over two years ago. It should be a blessed event. We will be taking about 1,000 children’s book which have come to us to pass along to this church. In planning their new building the ministry of a library of the children of the community was identified.

 

Hispanic Church Growth

Written by admin on February 17th, 2008

During the recent primary elections there has been a good bit of discussion about immigration. Certainly it is a complicated issue. What follows is only tangentially related to this, but it presents another facet of what is happening with the influx of Hispanics into America.

Several Spanish-speaking congregations have been planted in our area during the past decade. They have formed an “association” which transcends denominational labels. They are working together to hold weekend revivals in communities where Hispanics live. They share their gifts and graces. \

Recently about 50 persons from five of these congregations met in our building on a Friday evening for a time of worship and fellowship. They called it a reunion. I served as the host. Things got started about 9pm. Things went on until almost dawn. Singing. Praying. Preaching. Worshiping. Feasting.

What smiling, happy faces. What love for one another. What acceptance. People in a strange land. People who know that many of the natives do not want them here. People, many of whom, experienced salvation here.

During the evening I felt as though I was witnessing another chapter for the book of The Acts. God is planting and nurturing a new church planting movement here and across the nation. What a joy to witness it.

 

Depending on God. Mt. 7:6-11

Written by admin on February 17th, 2008

An early missionary to the Native Americans, Isaac McCoy, seems to have modeled this style of life as well as about anyone about whom I have learned. He worked with the tribes in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois early in his career which began in 1817.

He found them being exploited by greedy traders. He established boarding schools for the children, trained persons as farmers and blacksmiths, and advocated for the rights of Indians. Food and funds are always hard to obtain. He faced oppositions from many sources.

He faithfully, and ultimately successfully, advocated for the Indians to have a state of their own, out in Kansas and Oklahoma. This involved the removal of over 100,000 Native Americans from the east to the west.

McCoy came to be recognized as a leading expert on the life of Native Americans. He was offered, on several occasions, positions with the government which would have allowed him a very good wage and the opportunity to live in a city. He refused. He stayed focused on what he felt God had called him to do. His autobiography contains many stories about how God had provided for himself, his family and his ministry. This did not mean that he never had any problems. He suffered a lot. But he always testified to the greatness and the goodness of God.

The lesson of this passage is neglected by many of us. We depend on other power sources.

 

The Golden Rule Matt. 7:12

Written by admin on February 16th, 2008

This command of Jesus can and should be supportive of the earlier commands of seeking first the Kingdom of God, the command to not judge others critically, and to depend upon God, wholly. Consider for a while how they support one another, like the four legs of a stool. Together the four support a life of cooperation, connectedness and peace.

In college I was troubled by an agnostic professor who declared that to provide for another what you might want for yourself might be totally inappropriate. This was his critical analysis of the Golden Rule. But as I have thought about this over the years, I have come to realize that he missed the point. Jesus is not talking about stuff provided for another, but rather a sensitive to another. Martin Buber dealt with this many years ago when he contrast “I-IT” with “I-THOU” relationships.

The point Jesus is making is that just as we do not want to be treated as a thing, we must not treat others as an object that we can manipulate. As I think about the Golden Rule, it appears to me that the expression of it would do much to provide for a peaceful community. We need to try it.

 

Commemorating February 7th

Written by admin on February 15th, 2008

This past Thursday several persons gathered for a candlelight vigil at the Galilee Baptist Church in Panola, Alabama. The common bond was remembering about the tragedy of two years ago when four rural churches here in West Alabama were set on fire. Two burned to the ground and a third was badly damaged. We talked about what we had learned from God during the past two years.

Pastor Hawkins of Dancy Baptist Church was there and so was Pastor Foy of Spring Valley. Pastor Little of Galilee led the service. Morning Star which will host a dedication of its new building on February 24th, was not represented.

We spoke about our anger, our fear, our hurt, and our bewilderment on the 7th of February, 2006. We also spoke of the affirmation of the teaching of Jesus about forgiving enemies, even in that very difficult time.

The churches have repaired or new and larger facilities in three cases. New pastors serve two churches. New friendships have been forged. Help has come from all around. Many Christian friends have come and helped with the rebuilding. The arsonists are now in prison. The churches pray for them and rejoice about spiritual victories in the lives of the boys. All look forward to a time when the arsonists can come to the churches, worship, be publicly forgiven and express their sorrow.

The churches have been affirmed. Old racial barriers have been bridged. Vision and hopes for the future fuel the congregations. A repeated insight that God has brought good from evil is roundly affirmed. Much work lays before each of the congregations. But they are confident that the God who brought them through this tragedy will be with them in the years to come, whatever comes.

 

Issue of critical spirit. Mt. 7:1-5

Written by admin on February 15th, 2008

Having been a teacher much of my adult life, I have found that holding a critical spirit has been a great problem for me, personally. I seldom take things at “face value”. I look for deception and evil motives. I find some vindication of this in Mt. 7:15. But, I have missed out on a lot of joy by having such a critical spirit. I seem quite at home in this season of presidential primaries.

Perhaps there is a balance to be struck here. Perhaps, the teaching of Jesus for us to be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” has an application here. Enjoy all that you can. But do not let the crooks have a free reign.

I realize that a critical spirit can, and often is, a cover for putting someone else down in order to put ourselves up as dominant in a relationship. Often, the message is that we are wiser, better, and could do things in a fine fashion. This is true in the classroom. It can be true in the family, and even in the church.

It is not difficult to hear (look at me judging again) someone misusing this passage as a proof text for foolishly not standing against any wrong. Often I hear persons glibly declare that we are not to judge others. It very quickly results in an affirmation of the “relativism” that dominates our popular culture. In his treatment of the law back in the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus clearly declares that God has some absolute demands that inform his laws for our lives.

Certainally, Jesus is reflecting here another basic principle of the Christian life. We are to seek what is best for others, even our enemies. We are not to be critical of others to tear them down, or to gain advantage. Rather, we are to be honest assessors of ourselves and of others as a means of moving and of encourage development in righteousness.

Judging should have a redemptive purpose. When it fails to have, it is evil.

 

Seeking first the Kingdom.Mt. 6:33

Written by admin on February 14th, 2008

Here is one of the most basic principles of life. It is the summary of the point made in the teachings dealt with in the previous blog. God put us here to glorify Him. He is a God who is worthy of glory. So, we can and should glorify him, no question about it.

Rather than seek stuff, or status, or position, or my own desires, I need to be focused on being a good citizen of the Kingdom of God, one who relies on the King, the father, to provide. This certainly includes me doing my share and working for the Kingdom. I need to be responsible and pull my weight. It is important, and appropriate, to review the Beatitudes (Mt. 5:2-12) in order to be reminded of the benefits for those who seek the Kingdom first.

We must admit that this is not easy. Our American culture seems to be built on seeking stuff for ourselves, seeking status, seeking power, seeking fame. It is so easy to forget about what Jesus teaches here.

Really, I need to treasure Jesus. Peacemaking must be my goal in relationships. My actions must spring from a pure heart. I need to be merciful and forgiving. I need to expect to be persecuted. I need to know the joy of being righteous like my heavenly Father. I must confess that all too often I get deflected from doing this.

 

The Wise Builder. Matt. 7:24-27

Written by admin on February 11th, 2008

Jesus was a carpenter. I can imagine that on rainy days some of the local craftspeople in the village of Nazareth gathered in the shop and shared stories. And I imagine that the accounts concerning both wise and foolish builders were included in the stories.

Jesus draws upon these to conclude the Sermon on the Mount. Earlier he had pictured the Christian life as a journey, then as a living product, and now he round the set of illustrations out with a picture of a set of builders.

The wise builder uses a solid rock for his foundation. I believe that he returned to this picture in the famous conversion between himself and Peter found in Matthew 16:13-20. Here Jesus declares that his church will be built on the solid rock of the acknowledgment that Jesus in the very son of God.

We might continue that the foolish builder uses Satanic sand for his foundation. It seems that almost every year we are reminded of he foolish builders when rains cause mud slides and multi-million dollar homes slide down hills in California and are crushed.

 

Stuff. Mt. 6:20-34

Written by admin on February 11th, 2008

Jesus continues to teach that God must be our focus in life. Culture teaches to focus on stuff–either on getting our needs met or on getting stuff and the attendant status, so that we can declare that we are more important than our neighbors. Here and on several other occasions Jesus devalued stuff. Certainly, he promises rewards, and he teaches that we can depend on God to provide for our needs. Stuff is nice and it is needed, to some extent. But it must not be allowed to become our god.

Like many Americans I have way to much stuff. I worry about what I will do with it all when I retire and move to a retirement home. I worry about how our children will dispose of it when we die. I really can’t make use of, or enjoy, most of my stuff.

Increasingly, I am learning about the joy of share, or giving away some of the stuff that I do not need, or do not use to others. This is good, but am I running the risk of turning others into stuff “junkies” like myself.

The comments by Jesus about nature here are powerful ones. God has truly made a beautiful world. The beauty and the bounty of nature is inspiring.

Honestly, I wonder about those who do starve and do not have enough. Does this disprove what Jesus teaches here? I think not. The sins of mankind are the root cause of those times when there is not adequate amounts of food and clothing for everyone. The shortfalls that might seem to raise a question about what Jesus says here cannot be blamed on God.

So, back to the main point, Madison Ave. not withstanding, we need to get over focusing on stuff and just trust in a faithful God.

 

Fasting. Mt. 6:16-19

Written by admin on January 8th, 2008

Another of the classic “spiritual disciplines” is fasting. It involves a person focusing on getting in touch with God by neglecting to eat and drink for a period of time. I know some Christians who find this to be an important practice in their lives. Jesus engaged in this practice.

Jesus notes in our text, however, that one should not allow himself/herself to be deflected from the purpose of fasting. We are tempted to turn aside from getting in touch with God and seeking his will for our lives toward being a show-off in our pious activities in order to get the attention of men. There is irony here. An act that should be directed toward God becomes directed toward man.

Knowing and enjoying God should be the driving force behind our disciplines. Being noticed of others can take over, and we can fail to connect with God.

This is to say that fasting is to be a means to an end, not an end in itself. The primary goal is to have a focused relationship with God. Blogging or journaling has this function for me and for many others. I think that that I will elect to use these, not fasting, as my means to that end.