The destruction of hurricanes Harvey and Irma and their impacts remain fresh, as well as North Korea’s threats, and other stories capturing the attention of our nation. Amid those things, losing track of immediate, ordinary, and ongoing spiritual and practical needs becomes a real possibility. So, this week, I offer six reminders of activities that need intentional attention during these times.
Number one: pursue God. Interact with Him. Seek Him. Distraction stealthily encroaches upon diligence. Its lures, sometimes undetected and uncomfortably natural, are utterly sinister. Spend time with God. Nurture and cultivate your spirituality. Saturate yourself in His word. Cast off every hindrance. Enjoy your Savior.
Number two: live evangelistically. God crafted every Christian into a multiplying saint. No exceptions exist. Look for ways to practice evangelistic living. Prompt others to move closer to Jesus, even to believe in and follow Him. Start with family and work outward. A sea of lost people surrounds every saint, especially in New Mexico.
Number three: love your family. Husband, love your wife. Cherish her. Parents, love your children. Protect, provide for and nurture them. Talk about God and faith at home. Have fun with each other, too. Serve each other. Invest personal attention, time, energy and resources into family relationships.
Number four: serve and support your church. Build relationships with church members. Nurture unity. Participate and serve in church ministries. Faithfully tithe. The entire tithe belongs to the local church. Splitting it among good causes is philanthropy, not tithing. Biblical tithing outweighs philanthropy. Tithe first.
Number five: personally observe Pastor Appreciation Month. Plan to say “I love you and value you” to your pastor, his wife, and any children they still have at home. Dote on them. Write notes. Give gifts. Serve them in some way. Appreciate them. Care for your pastor during October. After making your plan, help your church plan.
Finally, number six, give to the Mission New Mexico State Missions Offering. In New Mexico, hunger remains rampant. Neglected and troubled children need care. Orphans need homes. Struggling and fractured families need help. People need places to retreat and seek God. Churches need reviving. Ministers need crisis care. Disaster victims need relief and assistance. The MNM State Missions Offering funds these ministries. Give on October 1 or during October. Planned giving exceeds giving pocket change. Be generous to those who need you and other New Mexico Baptists to work together.
Stay focused, New Mexico Baptists. Those are the six reminders. Stay on track with God. Live evangelistically. Love your family. Serve and support your church. Observe Pastor Appreciation Month. Give to the MNM State Missions Offering. You and I, along with other believers, are God’s plan. Focus matters. He has no “plan B.”
PS. Don’t forget Pastor Appreciation Month in October!
I never cease being amazed at the spiritual openness and curiosity of people in New Mexico.
On one hand, I hear people talk about the deplorable moral condition of our state. On the other hand, I hear Jesus saying “look,” “go,” and “love.” Jesus is not wrong. He sees beyond depravity and sees people lost and without God in the world. He saw me that way.
But, where do I find this openness and curiosity? Everywhere! In 2012, as many have heard, God did a work in my heart and life that changed me. I began giving out tracts—one by one. By now, I have given out hundreds of them. Only once has someone declined my tract. Only once.
Rather than rejection, people have thanked me. Servers have read the booklet right there while I explained it. I have had people shake my hand. They have smiled. A few have cried. The reaction has been uncanny. Rejection is rare.
When I tell people about my journey, I tell them about giving away tracts. With each story I ask, “When I held my tract out to them, do you know what they did?” The answer is simple: “They took it.” Time after time, they took it. I never expected that when God launched me on my journey. Without doubt, He has paved the way. He is the reason they took it, not me.
Here are some recent stories of my tracting journey. I still do it, and people still take it.
I was meeting a friend at a Subway sandwich shop for lunch. I was ready and had prayed asking God to help me see lost people and give away a tract. As we stood in line, I recognized the prompting in my heart. The lady making my sandwich needed a tract. After paying for our sandwiches, I held out a tract to her. Its bold lettered title was in plain view: “Steps to Peace With God.” “I’d like to give you something,” I said. “This is a little booklet that tells a story that changed my life, literally. Maybe it could change your life, too.”
I opened to the back page and continued, “I’ve written my name and email address here on the back page in case you have any questions.” Then I finished, saying, “I know you don’t have time to read it now. Just put it in your pocket, and check it out later. Thanks for serving us.”
Then, I did it. I held out the tract toward her. Do you know what she did? She took it. It happens every time.
Another time I was picking up a guest for a BCNM meeting. He flew into the airport. After I met him at the arrival area, we headed for my car. Driving out, I had to stop to pay for parking. I recognized again the prompting with which I have become familiar. I was uncomfortable with the situation—having a guest with me. I hoped not to appear like I was trying to show off. Actually, I was very uncomfortable. Yet, I obeyed.
The parking attendant gave me my receipt, and I started. I said the same thing that I said at Subway. The woman smiled. She was appreciative, not dismissive.
Then, I did it. I held out the tract toward her. Do you know what she did? She took it.
At a hotel, during a banquet meal, I recognized the familiar prompting once more. Hotel staff were everywhere. I went looking for one whom I could catch and who could speak English. I approached the serving supervisor. She was harried, but paused as I spoke.
I said the same thing as I said at Subway and the parking lot. She smiled, too. She listened. She did not interrupt or stop me. I try not to take long because most people are busy.
Then, I did it. I held out the tract toward her. Do you know what she did? She took it.
On my 30th anniversary, I was eating with my wife at a nice restaurant for lunch. A kind, attentive young man tended our table and met our needs. He did a great job. I sensed the same prompting. So, I got out a tract to be ready when he came by. I did the same thing with him as I had with the others. My approach is not fancy.
Then, I did it. I held out the tract toward him. Do you know what he did? He took it.
I have a feeling they would take it from you, too.
Beyond spirituality, Southern Baptists (SBs) share some important practical distinctives. Two of them are fellowship and cooperation.
So, how do SBs function together? The answer has two sides. One side relates to tasks. The other side relates to relationships. Both are equally important. Each depends upon the other. Both share a dual application, too. Task and relationship refer to happenings inside a local church, as well as happenings between local churches. In this column, I tackle cooperation. Next week, I will process fellowship.
Cooperation impacts everything from church government, to committees and teams, to Bible studies and work groups. SBs believe every believer is important to every other believer in the church and in other churches. Cooperation is how SBs get things done. They do them together, not alone.
Of course, no cooperative venture is perfect. Individuals’ uniquenesses and imperfections challenge cooperation both on a local church scale and on a denominational scale. An estimated 46,000 congregations filled with individuals generates seemingly unending challenges. Yet, SBs do cooperate. They get it done. They consider it that important.
Cooperation requires intentionality and maintenance; otherwise, cooperative endeavors flounder and stray. Eventually, without attention, cooperation vanishes. Its vulnerability explains the importance of SBs’ annual meetings and convention-wide missions offerings. Those things keep churches and individuals engaged in cooperating together. There is no other way.
Cooperation makes the Southern Baptist Convention truly unique. Many SBs do not understand that cooperating with the SBC, the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, or a church’s local Baptist association is entirely voluntary—totally. Any church can withdraw cooperation at any time, upon its own decision to do so. That means SBs cooperate because they want to, not because they must.
Other denominations control local churches and exercise authority over their activities and decisions—sometimes vetoing local actions and choices. Since denominational relationships rely upon voluntary cooperation, the SBC can only request a church’s participation or decision, but cannot demand it. For SBs, local churches form the top layer of the denominational power flowchart. They have no pope, president, or general chairman over the church. Only Jesus Christ stands above the church.
But, cooperation does not mean every Southern Baptist church is identical. SBC churches vary in size, structure, ministries, financial practices, staffing arrangements, worship styles, musical preferences, architecture, schedules, dress codes and more. Cooperation arises between these dissimilar churches because they find common ground, like the Great Commission and doctrine, around which they can rally together.
Cooperating Southern Baptist churches realize that, together, they can do things that no single church can do alone. Cooperation birthed SBs’ Cooperative Program, a voluntary giving channel that funds most of the SBC’s cooperative ministries. Cooperation also birthed the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board, which have thousands of Gospel missionaries in the field. It birthed the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Cooperation is how SBs train thousands of ministers through six extraordinary seminaries.
As impressive as those cooperative ventures may seem, they are not all that SBs do together. SBs also established the SBC Executive Committee, LifeWay Christian Resources and GuideStone Financial Resources. Each entity does something SBs wanted to do together. And, though not governed by the convention, Southern Baptist women with a concern for missions together created Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU). All of these cooperative ventures thrive today because of SBs’ cooperative spirit.
In all of these cooperative endeavors, individuals from different churches across the United States still work together face to face. They serve on boards and vote at various national, state, and local convention or association meetings to decide what they want to do together. But, most of all, they serve together all over the world while they continue serving in their own community through their local church. Through cooperation, SBs push back spiritual darkness and spread the Gospel around the globe, literally.
Unlike other denominations, SBs can look at everything the SBC is doing and say, “I’m part of that; that’s mine.” People who cooperate together share a sense of ownership and wholesome pride about their work together.
Formal church training programs once included education about our cooperative denomination. But, today SBs are slowly forgetting who they are. If that continues, their unique identity will fade and ventures that were once cooperative efforts could take on an independent life and stray from Southern Baptist ideals. SBs must remember and practice cooperation. Without SBs, it cannot happen.
I’m proud, thrilled, and passionate to be a Southern Baptist. I love what other SBs and I are doing together. I love that I can participate and serve. I love having partners from every state. I am not saying everything is perfect. Neither do I agree with every detail. But, no one else is able to do what we are doing. I’m part of that. That’s mine!
Over the last several posts, I’ve been walking through four steps of spiritual growth or discipleship. The four steps are one way of viewing the disciple-making process.
Assuming that Christians easily stall out in step two, as I’ve observed, they never quite make it into the third step where their focus substantially shifts to investing themselves in others. They remain, then, in a step focused intentionally on helping them take care of themselves spiritually. Spiritual progress benefits everyone until a person stalls out, as if his or her current spiritual state is the destination.
The Bible instructs saints to love one another, among the list of individuals who should be targets of their love. The list ranges from enemies to a person’s spouse. But, focus on love for “one another,” for other saints. Love inherently demands a focus on another person. If saints stall out in step two, focused intentionally and intently on their own well-being, where is the mental focus and energy for loving others? How does one care for others, when their whole spiritual realm focuses them on themselves?
Stalled out spiritual growth is one reason people don’t perceive the love that Christian’s claim to extend. While well-meaning Christians claim to love everyone, some of them are so focused on themselves that they don’t do the things that actually demonstrate love. Love requires doing. Here’s what I mean. The biblical “agape” love described in the Bible is utterly selfless. It consists of five powerful components - I’ve mentioned them before. To love, one must have a genuine desire to be with the other person, a real affection for the other person, unshakable loyalty to the other person, a rousing concern for the other person’s needs and burdens, and a lavish generosity to the other person. Love means giving, sacrificing, and inconveniencing one’s self for another person with no expectation of return. It’s exhausting. It’s demanding. It’s costly And, it’s utterly selfless.
As long as we’re still working on our own spiritual walk, we’re too inwardly focused to focus on others. At some time, every Christian must come to a point where they realize salvation is more than being saved from the wrath of sin. It also means helping others make progress along the journey. If a disciple is a person who trusts Jesus, lives with God, build’s saints and expands God’s kingdom, then every Christian needs to plunge into the last two steps: building saints and expanding God’s kingdom.
Moving on to step three matters. Much of Christian ministry depends on step three and four spirituality. Maturity demands that we keep on growing. If you don’t know what steps come next, grab your pastor or enlist a spiritual mentor. But, don’t settle for stalling out. I’ve not conquered steps three and four, but I’m enjoying seeing how my growth in both of them affects others. Remember, whether we grow or stall out, we’re having an impact. Each saint needs to ask himself or herself if his or her impact is the impact God intends.
Previously, I have (1) explored defining a destination for the task of disciple making, (2) proposed a four-step process for the task, and (3) described the first two of those steps. Basically, those editorials covered the part of disciple making during which a disciple remains spiritually self-centered. In the paragraphs that follow, I venture farther, covering two more ideas. First, a discernible and definitive shift splits the spiritual growth process into two segments. Second, churches cooperating to make disciples must practice flexibility with each other. Ministers and church members need to practice humility, learn from each other and not disagree too heartily when plans differ. So, here goes.
Idea one. At some point, growing believers shift from limited concern about their own godliness to concern for the godliness of others. I see it happen in a sequence, others see it occur organically, but we both see it. Somewhere within the growth process, growing believers add spiritual concern for others alongside their spiritual concern for themselves. They never stop caring about themselves. But, establishing healthy spiritual habits enables them to devote attention to helping others along the journey. In the shift, they discover evangelistic burdens and abilities and increasingly desire to help other saints grow. The shift marks a believer’s transition from being a consumer Christian to being a producer Christian.
Before the shift, believers respond to opportunities saying, “I can’t,” or, “That’s not my skill set.” I send back a hearty, “Not yet.” I know God’s intentions and where He is taking them. Eventually, they will master caring for themselves at a level that yields extra spiritual attention they can invest in others. Failing to make the shift can happen without a good mentor or without solid spiritual assistance. Churches must purpose to guide believers past the realm of “me” into the realm of “others.”
Idea two. Cooperating together necessitates addressing the “humility” component of disciple making. I’m not right, and neither is someone else. Only Jesus is right. Some pastors see disciple making sequentially, like I see four steps. For others, the process is circular. Still others describe disciple making as an ad hoc process whose organization resembles a bowl of spaghetti. Essentially, we must agree that disciple making has to occur and that churches must pursue it. People, somehow, must become more and more conformed to the image of Jesus. Evangelism meshes inseparably with disciple making. The two are a single journey. How churches do disciple making will vary, but facilitating that journey is the Church’s assignment.
I like my four-part definition of a spiritual champion. Yet, I recently heard a three-component, very different and theologically compelling description. Was four more right than three? I don’t think so. Yet, ministers and churches easily argue over such things. I discovered my approach thoughtfully, like others discovered their approaches. Each of us is committed to having a plan and doing something. That is God at work!
My approach consistently produces disciples. I also watch other disciple makers do the same task very differently with similar consistent results. Some churches create grand, detailed programs. Others feel their way along with each new believer, seeing what works for him or her. The litmus test of disciple making is Christlikeness. Every disciple-making plan must produce disciples or be discarded. Talon Noh, Mountain Valley Baptist Church’s pastor, describes disciples as believers who submit to the word of Christ, reflect the character of Christ and engage in the mission of Christ. I would say it with four pieces; he uses three. But, we’re both talking about the same thing. However we do it, sameness of approach isn’t as important as effectiveness. Disciple making must produce disciples!
Crossing the Lines
The ideas behind this blog emerged from my study and preaching of a message I titled "A Single Step." It was an unexpected message out of Philippians 2:12-18. I'm the one who was surprised. I had a whole different idea of where the sermon would go. Then, I got into the text and followed it. That led, eventually, to the response by individuals after the message. God worked in me and in our congregation. He's still at work.
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