I Love to Tell the Story

I love a good story and I love good storytellers and that may be one of the reasons I love the Bible. Talk about good stories. Begin at Genesis and read all the way through and you have real people living lives of suspense, drama, espionage, intrigue, romance, comedy, and more.bible-hand-silhouette-sharing-silhouette-sunset However, the greatest story in the Bible is the overarching story of God’s activity in history culminating in the crucifixion and resurrection of His Son to save His enemies, to save us. What a story.

My friend and state missionary, Paul Clark Jr., and I share a favorite hymn: “I Love to Tell the Story.” I really love telling God’s story and I especially love sharing it with my grandkids. That’s exactly what the Bible tells us to do. Psalm 145:4 says, “One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.”

God is doing some mighty acts across our state through Tennessee Baptists, Tennessee Baptist churches, and through the Tennessee Baptist Convention. There are stories like the young Muslim man who came to Christ through our University of Memphis Baptist Collegiate Ministry, and the story of how little Vine Ridge Missionary Baptist Church in Crawford, a church of about 25 people, is weekly providing food to about 150 families in its community. Lives are being changed by the gospel in one of the most violent neighborhoods in Memphis. More than 20 youth from a state juvenile penitentiary were saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship last year. And on the stories go.

Poly Rouse became president of the TBC about six years ago when I accepted the role of executive director. As we talked, Poly and I strongly agreed that the story of what God was doing through Tennessee Baptists and our network of churches was not reaching the broader audience. My wife, Jeanne, was a champion for us simply telling the story. Read Luke 1:1-4 and you notice Luke plans to use stories to help Theophilus have confidence in what he had heard about Jesus. I want the same for Tennessee Baptists, and here are five ways we are helping you hear the stories of how God is using you to change your world.

Objective_4_CP_ICON_cp(1) We’ve drastically shifted our culture here at the TBC to better help churches make Christ known in their communities and around the world. We recognize it is about people and not programs. That collaborative effort is making for some amazing stories and I encourage you to visit tnbaptist.org/cp and watch some short video stories of how you are changing your world through the Cooperative Program.

(2) We’ve transformed the Baptist and Reflector. Our state paper has been redesigned and has a renewed mission of sharing stories that celebrate God’s activity through Tennessee Baptists while also addressing hard cultural issues like same-sex marriage to help inform a biblical worldview. Four months ago we launched the Baptist and Reflector online (baptistandreflector.org) with daily news updates from across the state and around the world. I encourage you to visit the site and read the latest stories.

(3) We’ve upped our commitment to telling God’s story in Tennessee by hiring Chris Turner to serve as director of communications. Chris was an overseas correspondent with the International Mission Board’s Commission magazine. He’s had a front-row seat for seeing God at work around the world and he’ll be the first to tell you God is as active in Moscow, Tenn., as He is in Moscow, Russia.

(4) We’re building a story- telling presence through social media. If you haven’t yet “liked” our TBC Facebook page (facebook.com/tnbaptist) or our Baptist and Reflector Facebook page (facebook.com/baptistandreflector), I encourage you to do so. It is a way to quickly communicate with us and to stay connected to important stories, events, notices, and more. For instance, “Monday Morning Quotes” has been an encouragement for many people. Our audience is growing and it is amazing to see how people all over the world are seeing how God is working in our state.

(5) And there’s more. You have access to bulletin Objective_5_GOTM_ICON_gotminserts that tell stories about Tennessee Baptists making an impact in people’s lives (call us and get those), and there are Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions video stories available for free download (GoldenOffering.org) that tell stories about how your GOTM giving is pushing back spiritual darkness in our state. These two things and more will be easily found on our new TBC website that will launch in the next few weeks.

With 145 global people groups and 3.65 million spiritually lost people in Tennessee, there are still so many life-changing stories yet to be written. Help us out. Tell us how you see God working through you and your church. We always have time for one more story.

It is a joy to be on this journey with you.

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Do You Suffer From Spiritual Inertia?

Winston Churchill could see the dark clouds gathering above Germany and drifting across Europe. It was the early 1930s and the future British Prime Minister repeatedly sounded the alarm at the growing German military might under the direction of Adolph Hitler. Churchill was often shouted down and ridiculed for what many considered much ado about nothing. The “British Bulldog” recognized his countrymen were overcome with a “political inertia” that endangered Great Britain’s bible-or-tv-remotefuture. “Spiritual inertia” endangers Christians, and especially pastors and ministry leaders if they don’t remain vigilant. The word inertia means, “lack of movement or continuous movement in a particular direction unless affected by something that alters that direction.” Another way we might define inertia is, “stuck in a rut.”

Spiritual inertia breeds a lack of joy in ministry and life, lack of vision, ineffectiveness as a servant leader, functional depression, and the real possibility of moral failure. Spiritual inertia is the route taken to spiritual apathy (lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern). I sense both spiritual inertia and spiritual apathy are creeping — and in many cases have crept — into the lives of Christ followers and collectively into our churches. So much so that a hellish darkness is growing in our land like kudzu across a Mississippi gully.

I see us settling into an isolationism from the world at the very moment we should be mobilizing for engagement as Great Commission Christians. Instead of wringing our hands in despair, we should be advancing out into our communities with a resolve to proclaim the gospel. However, we can’t do that if we are spiritually lethargic. If you sense that spiritual inertia and apathy have settled in, here are six ways to spiritually get moving again.

(1) Acknowledge your spiritual dryness. Listen, the only person you may be fooling is yourself; you certainly aren’t fooling your Heavenly Father. No problem improves by being ignored. Confess it and move on. Remember, His desire is for you to flourish spiritually and is patiently waiting to refresh your soul.

(2) Pray and reconnect with God — NOW! When farmers irrigate parched fields they open gates and allow the water to surge down channels and across dry soil. That’s what you need to do even when, especially when, you feel nothing. Let your prayers flood into God’s throne room and watch as He floods your life with His living water.

(3) Don’t wait. Every moment you delay only prolongs the journey along the path of spiritual inertia. Take action and alter that direction. John 7:37 says, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.’ ” So, stop now and drink.

(4) Own it. Yes, being a ministry leader means constantly giving yourself away. Don’t blame the sheep. Your leadership must be directed by the Shepherd’s power, not your personality and polish. Will you allow a ministry wound to destroy you or draw you closer to Christ? No one said it was going to be easy, but God knew what He was calling you to so grab ahold of your calling again and carry on!

(5) Remember other God “times.” The Old Testament writers consistently admonished the people of Israel to “Remember the Lord your God.” Do you remember all the times when God showed up in your life in power and glory? Faith is not blind. Look back, see God’s faithfulness, and ask the Lord to do it again.

(6) Let go. Are you trying to balance everything as a top priority and at a high standard? Someone has said, “Excellence honors God but excellence should never become more important than God.” Ask Him to show you the things that you need to let go of in order to recover spiritual vitality and the ability to do with excellence the truly important things.

Let’s avoid spiritual inertia and apathy all together. Let’s heed the numerous biblical warnings to be “sober minded” and to “stay alert” so that we can detect these soul killers if they do try to lay hold of us. Let’s enthusiastically advance the gospel in our communities for the glory of God.

It is a joy to be on this journey with you.

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Do You Need a Mulligan in 2016?

If you’ve ever played golf you are familiar with a golfer’s best friend: the mulligan. A mulligan is an extra stroke allowed after a poor shot, not counted on the scorecard. Usually all the players have agreed before the round that a mulligan is allowed. No, a mulligan is not professionally acceptable, but it has kept many an amateur from blowing an otherwise decent round with a single wayward shot. How about you? Could you use a golf ball sand trap close mulligan close calllife mulligan? I know many people who feel their 2015 ended on a low note and that “failure” is carrying over to start the new year. If that’s you, take a mulligan and start fresh. Here are three key ideas to keep in mind as you
“tee it back up” in 2016.

Your failure does not define you. I’ve always found it interesting in baseball that a player can consistently fail 70 percent of the time and make millions of dollars. Look at the history of the game. There have only been five people since 1920 who have accounted for a total of eight seasons where they reduced their failure rate to “just” 60 percent, and the last person to do that was Ted Williams in 1941 (when his hitting average was .405). During that same time there have been approximately 15,000 Big League players. That’s a lot of failure, yet there is a Hall of Fame for players who overcame challenges day-in and day-out, showed up to play the next day and ultimately achieved a sustained level of success. Failure did not define them and it shouldn’t define you.

Your identity is not rooted in who you are. A study done not too long ago by California State University focused on the effects of Facebook and other social media and found that Generation Y — Millennials — exhibit higher rates of narcissism, isolation, and alienation than any previous generation. One respondent said that the day-to-day decisions Millennials make, from the clothes they wear, to the coffee they drink, to the people and places with whom and where they associate, are made to build a personal brand.

But let’s be honest. Millennials are not the only ones suffering from narcissistic tendencies. Everyone does. It wasn’t enough for Adam and Eve to find their identity in the God Who created them, they wanted their identities to be rooted in themselves. They wanted to be worshiped, and its been our problem ever since. Jesus came to show us the way back. He course-corrected our worship from ourselves to Him. When you become His follower, you not only identify with Him, you identify in Him.

Jesus asks this question in Mark 8: “But who do you say that I am?” Lots of answers followed and still do today. We acknowledge Jesus as having supernatural and special abilities, and we look to Him for what He can do in our lives. Unfortunately we fail to rise above His “doing” to the reality of who He is. Our religious commitment too often revolves around the “Christian cult” of Jesus and is not born out of authentic worship purely rooted in and flowing from the reality of Jesus as God.

And that reality is where your identity is found.

Your “mulligan” is just one prayer away. I can’t think of many verses in the Bible that offer any greater relief or reassurance than 1 John 1:9. Praise God for His grace in showing us how to constantly and continuously find our way back to Him. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In that single statement, our loving Heavenly Father — the God Who created us, controls all existence with His righteous right hand, knows the end from the beginning, knows the plans He has to prosper us, and sent His Son to overcome our ultimate failure — restates that our past does not define us. If His mercies are new every morning, that means He wakes us up each day prepared to give us a new start.

So as you prepare to “tee it up” in 2016, decide that with Christ and in Christ you will put the challenges of 2015 behind you and look forward to walking closely to the Savior this year.

It is a joy to be on this journey with you.

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We Must Comfort the Brokenhearted

The Christmas season is a paradox. There’s the joy that comes from celebrating the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, the excitement of family gatherings and the fun of watching the anticipation of children and grandchildren waiting for the big day of opening presents.

Unfortunately there is the other side of Christmas; the alone side. Hidden behind the smiles and laughter, there are a lot of people struggling with being overwhelmed with life. They are discouraged, desperate and can’t shake the isolation.

They feel alone, and are in good company.iStock_000068253729_Medium

Moses spent a good portion of his life feeling isolated and alone, first while on the run from Egyptian law then while wandering the dessert with a mass of ungrateful, grumbling people.

Joshua felt alone and deeply insecure as he looked across the Jordan River and into what was to be the promise land. Moses was no longer in the picture and Joshua was, “The Man.” That realization brought a heavy sense of “aloneness.”

David felt alone while dodging and hiding from Saul as Saul sought to kill David. I imagine the solitude that comes from running for your life was significantly different than the solitude he experienced while watching sheep and enjoying the serenity of the peaceful countryside.

Paul felt alone and at times abandoned as he dealt with one trial after another. Imagine the uncertainty and feelings of insecurity that came with being imprisoned, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and ridiculed at every turn of his ministry.

And there is no greater picture of isolation and loneliness in Scripture than Jesus Himself as He struggled in the Garden preparing for His imminent crucifixion. Repeatedly finding His disciples sleeping had to add to His stress and feelings of aloneness. Then the most gut-wrenching moment in all of history:
“My God, why have You forsaken me?”

The list goes on and on: Noah, Nehemiah, Job, Ester, Isaiah, Elijah, Peter, John and many more. However, in every case – in every case – God Himself came to each individual and reassured them they were not alone.

And He reassures you, too, that you are not alone despite how desperately alone you may feel. For example:

“Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the LORD your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

“The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged'” (Deut. 31:8).

“For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake His faithful ones. They will be protected forever…” (Psalm 37:28).

“For the LORD will not reject His people; He will never forsake His inheritance” (Psalm 94:14).

“God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

“Therefore, He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service[i] to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested” (Hebrews 2:17-18)

And one of my favorites, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20).

This is just a sampling of the truth of the presence of God in the lives of those who belong to Him. What should we do with such profound statements of God’s personal reassurance? Here are four things we must do.

  1. We must anchor ourselves to these and other verses of Scripture that reassure us of God’s unwavering promise that He will not let us go.
  2. We must pray. Pray for ourselves for lost people, for brothers and sisters in Christ and especially for God to encourage and protect our pastors, ministers and their families.
  3. We must notice others. If someone appears distant, sad, alone, depressed, despondent we must reach out to them. Be concerned and express concern. Love for others is always appropriate.
  4. We must encourage others. Scottish Pastor John Watson said, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.” The type of burden shouldn’t matter. Encouragement is always appropriate, which is probably why Paul wrote, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up … .” (I Thessalonians 5:11).

By God’s grace we are never alone and reassured because of His never-ending promises. This Christmas, find someone to encourage. Be genuine, cut through the holiday congeniality and let them know they aren’t alone. Comfort the brokenhearted.

It is a joy to be on this journey with you.

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Does Your Missions Rhetoric Have Substance?

The world is in chaos. Wars rage. Terror perpetrated by evil people has nations on edge. Millions are displaced, and the debate over refuge resettlement is burning white hot. The world’s spiritual soil is as fertile as it ever has been and cries out for a broad spreading of gospel seeds. This world desperately needs Jesus.

lottine.jpg (NT Photo-oconee-1299)Southern Baptists have historically rallied to the moment and responded to the call of Christ to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. However, I believe we as Southern Baptists stand at a crossroads. Either our action will be the substance that validates our calling, or will be hollow “Great Commission” rhetoric with no action and will expose the superficiality of our Christianity.

In other words, it is time to put our money where our mouth is.

This year, IMB President David Platt made the difficult decision to downsize IMB personnel by 600 to 800 people, many of them missionaries being recalled from the field. One of the reasons for doing so was to financially restructure the organization to be a better steward of the resources the IMB receives from Southern Baptists. Another is to stretch the dollars it does receive, and that’s a variable that needs to increase.

It is currently the time of year when Charlotte Digges “Lottie” Moon, writing from China in 1887, called Southern Baptists to “consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth,” linking generous giving to the advance of the Good News. This call for financial support eventually became known as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. It is a vital lifeline to supporting our global missions effort.

But it is not our only missions-giving opportunity.

Ninety years ago, Southern Baptists established Cooperative Program giving to even more comprehensively sow gospel seeds locally, nationally and globally. They recognized we would not sustain an effort to reach the ends of the earth if we failed to reach Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Dr. Platt has often referenced the “SBC Ecosystem,” that interwoven fabric of Southern Baptist life that advances the gospel at all levels of an Acts 1:8 strategy (Example: A young person led to Christ in a local church, is discipled and introduced to missions through a Baptist Collegiate Ministry, eventually graduates from seminary and goes on to serve cross culturally through the IMB). The Cooperative Program is the beating heart that gives life to our missions ecosystem.

The LMCO is obviously vital and as Southern Baptists we must respond to Lottie’s question through this offering when she asked, “Why CPLogoBUTTONshould we not … do something that will prove that we are really in earnest in claiming to be followers of him who, though he was rich, for our sake became poor?” However, we must also respond to that question on an ongoing basis.

Unfortunately, too many don’t understand the Cooperative Program or don’t value its importance – or both. Did you know that if churches on average increased their Cooperative Program giving just 2 percent, we could replenish the IMB with the 800 lost missionaries? If churches would return to 10 percent Cooperative Program giving, the norm just a few decades ago and one of the Five Objectives Tennessee Baptists have affirmed over the next nine years, we could add 2,000 additional missionaries while also accomplishing Great Commission work on the local, state, national and international levels.

The Great Commission is more than just “going,” and we appear superficial if we never get beyond the rhetoric of inspiring people toward a general vision. We must dig down and feed our roots of stewardship and giving. When generosity fuels our gospel sowing, we “will prove that we are really in earnest in claiming to be followers of Him who, though He was rich, for our sake became poor?” We will have successfully heeded Lottie’s call.

And more importantly, Jesus’.

It is a joy to be on this journey with you.

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Are We Pressing Ahead or Falling Behind?

two-way-signLooking across the field at the opponent, it was easy to feel confident. After all, the advance scouts had done their homework, assessed the opposing side’s strengths and weaknesses, and determined this was victory for the taking. Show up, execute the plan, and walk away with the usual rout.

Only problem was, this time it wasn’t the underestimation of the opponent’s ability that led to resounding defeat. It was the underestimation of the dominant “team’s” pride and arrogance.

No, I’m not talking about college football, although you see it every week when a powerhouse plays an obvious underdog. Some days the underdog manages an upset and potentially destroys the favored team’s chances of a national championship. However, I’m talking about the Israelite army as it prepared to attack the city of Ai ( Joshua 7). Joshua sent out his scout team and it came back extremely confident, telling Joshua he only needed to send 2,000 to 3,000 men, saying, “Since there are so few of them, don’t make all our people struggle to go up there.”

What resulted was a rout of Israel’s army, and a significant lesson for us as Tennessee Baptists as we pursue the Five Objectives we as Tennessee Baptists have adopted in an attempt to see our state radically changed spiritually over the next nine years.

Joshua and the people had just come off a major victory over the extremely fortified city of Jericho. As they looked at that city, it appeared to be an impossible task. How were they going to penetrate the thick, double-walled fortress? Their army and its weapons were simply inadequate. They recognized their inadequacies and depended on God’s leadership and His strength. As a result, He ensured the victory.

However, when it came time to move against Ai, the people committed three sins that guaranteed their defeat and offer a warning to us.

The presence of arrogance. Think about it; it was probably heady stuff to march around a city and shout and see the massive stone wall crumble to the ground. They walked in, destroyed everything, and recorded an easy win. However, they forgot God when it came to Ai and decided to do it in their own strength. They paid a high price for attempting God’s work in their way.

The presence of sin. Looking at Joshua 7:1, we see that Achan and his family sinned by disobeying God’s command to destroy everything. The fortune literally scattered throughout Jericho’s rubble was a temptation he couldn’t resist. He stole what was dedicated to God and it ultimately destroyed him and his family. In the interim, it cost his nation a victory, cost the lives of several of his countrymen, and brought humiliation to Israel. Israel paid a high price for attempting God’s work with spiritually “dirty hands.”

The absence of God. God did not go out with the army that fateful day. Joshua, an obviously godly man, acted on human counsel and never asked God His opinion of their plan. The people forgot God. They paid a high price for attempting God’s work without God.

Let’s be honest. We too often are guilty of these same three things. We press ahead rather than follow behind. I confess, hoping to see 50,000 people each year come to Christ, be baptized, and set on the road to discipleship; hoping for 500 churches to be revitalized and 1,000 new churches to become a part of the TBC; and hoping to see substantial giving increases in both the Cooperative Program and the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions are unattainable goals in our own power. We absolutely need God to go before us and win the victory. However, as we see success, will we as Tennessee Baptists forget God? Will we begin to think more of our abilities and let arrogance creep in? Will we sin by touching His glory? With all my heart I pray we’ll be vigilant to avoid Israel’s three sins.

I challenge you as individuals, then collectively as churches, to search your hearts and ask God to reveal your sin. Repent and pursue God in obedience. I then challenge you to seek God, asking Him to show you where beyond your church you can reach people now with the Gospel. Let’s dedicate Tennessee to Christ for His glory, and then let’s follow Him into the field to reap the harvest.

It is a joy to be on this journey with you.

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Appreciate Your Pastor, Especially in October

 

Senior pastor reading, meditating and searching spiritual light

I can’t think of a single good reason why anybody would want to be in pastoral ministry if God hasn’t called him. But if God has called, I can’t think of any vocation more rewarding.

And don’t equate rewarding with easy. Being a pastor is not easy. It’s hard, and frankly it isn’t for the faint of heart. The hours are long and the work can drain you physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually; sometimes all at the same time. Most people have never stood over the casket of small child and tried to bring comfort to a grieving family while having your own heart ripped out in grief.

I have. That was a hard day.

Sometimes pastors cry out to the Lord and say they can’t take any more. Some days, they just want to quit. And then God does it. He sends someone to your pastor just to say, “Thank you.” Maybe it is a thank you for ministering to someone’s family, or visiting someone in the hospital, or praying with someone about a wayward son or daughter, or for offering a bit of biblical counsel, or something else. God takes that expression of gratitude and works it into the soul of a pastor as a balm of encouragement, and that encouragement is just what he needed to remind him of the great calling he’s been given to serve God and His People.

October is pastor appreciation month. I believe it is a great practice to appreciate your pastor every month, but I want to encourage you to use this occasion to pour out love, appreciation and a heaping of respect to your pastor, his wife, and their children; and don’t forget the other ministers on staff if you are in a multi-staff church, Believe me, an encouraged pastor and staff will only help your church, will honor the Lord, and will be an obvious blessing to your pastor. Not sure what to do? Here’s a hint: Make it tangible; make it count.

There are several reasons why we should honor our pastors in this way. First, God has called your pastor and placed him in a definite place of leadership. The Lord says in Jeremiah 3:15, “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart.” God’s intention in calling your pastor is so that you’d have someone leading you pastorally whose heart is in tune with God, which means someone who has your best interest and spiritual growth near his own heart.

Beyond nurturing your spiritual growth, here is another tangible benefit of your pastor’s ministry and why we should bless him. Adult male wearing a hearing aid.Do you want your kids to stay in church as they grow older? In his research on why Millennials stay in church, theologian and author, Steve Parr, found that more than 70 percent of them who remain in church do so because of the relationship they had with their pastor during their formative years. They respected and appreciated him. And remember, you contribute to the formation of their impression of your pastor. Speak of the positive characteristics and faithfulness of you pastor and they will see him as someone to respect. Have fried preacher for Sunday dinner, and not so much.

As a pastor, I am personally thankful for so many of the laypeople in our churches who understand the calling of God on the lives of their pastors and ministers. Paul calls on us in 1 Thessalonians 5:12 to “remember” our pastors. In verse 13 he says to “honor them in love.” Even as I think about this I can see the faces of so many through more than 30 years of pastoral ministry who extended some act of kindness to Jeanne and me. How that encouraged us and inspired us to love “our” people even more for the glory of Christ and for the ministry to the saints.

It truly is a joy to be on this journey with you.

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