Friday, December 25, 2009

The Christmas Story

Luke 2:1-20 (New International Version)

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,"Glory to God in the highest,and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Where's the line to see Jesus?

Check out this new Christmas song and video.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Favorite Christmas Carol

There are a lot of wonderful Christmas carols and songs, but my favorite is "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I continue to pray for peace and good will!

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sharing the Good News at Christmas

I have always loved the celebration of Christmas. I grew up in a large family and my parents made it a very special time for our family. There were many special activities at school and at church. We drew names and purchased gifts for each other. We worked hard at surprising each other. The gifts were not usually very expensive, but they were special anyway.

Our family loved Charles Dicken's famous tale, A Christmas Carol. I have continued the tradition with my family. I am something of a Dicken's fanatic. The story reminds me that through the ages men and women much like Scrooge have been changed by a new awareness of the meaning of Christ's coming. When I was a boy we had an old album that was a recording of a radio broadcast of the Dicken's story. We literally wore out the album. A number of years ago my brother found a new release of the old recording on CD and gave us each a copy. I have listened to the tale many times since I received it. It is incredible how it brings to my mind Christmas experiences from my childhood.

Christmas is that kind of experience for God's people. The celebration is a reminder of the incredible significance of his coming—his Advent. It is an event that helps us to recall what God has done for us. It is a celebration of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God. John's prologue says, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us!" We could never have found our way to Him, so He came to us. The most important gifts we ever give are the gifts that carry something of ourselves in the gift. God gave us Himself, in the person of His Son. It was this gift that changed everything. In Him is light and life.

I hope you will remember during this Christmas season, with all its activity, to offer a special gift to someone. Share with someone the message of His birth. Maybe their heart is cold or their life is empty like Scrooge. Share with someone who needs a Savior the good tidings of great joy. That is why we celebrate Christmas.

I also want to thank the Baptists of Missouri for keeping Christmas all year long. Your commitment to missions and evangelism demonstrates your belief that the coming of Christ has changed everything. Thank you for your gifts to our mission efforts. We invite you make a gift to our World Missions Offering to help share the message of his coming with people around the world. It is my prayer you will sense God's presence in a special way as you celebrate his birth. May God grant you opportunities to announce his coming to someone who does not know him, and may he bless you as you continue to serve him in the New Year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Local ABC Station to Air Documentary

I just received word today from John Baker, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Columbia, that ABC, KMIZ-17 will be airing the documentary "Different Books, Common Word" on Sunday, January 3, at 3:00 P.M. This is an excellent documentary and addresses the ways in which people of differing faiths can have constructive dialogue and positive relationships.

I wrote about the documentary and provided some background links in my November 5th post. I am very grateful to Gene Steinberg, station manager at KMIZ, for agreeing to air the documentary, and for his willingness to give it an excellent time slot for viewing.

“Different Books,Common Word” is created by EthicsDaily.com, a Baptist Christian ethics organization out of Nashville, TN. The documentary focuses mostly on Baptist/Muslim dialogue, but the principles presented can be applied widely.

Please plan to promote this film at your church in your bulletins, newsletters, etc., to help secure viewership for this excellent and inspiring show. For more information you click here.

Christmas Mission Gifts

I wrote the following article for our e-message newsletter:

I love Christmas. I mean, I really love Christmas. I love the season and the decorations. I love the classic Christmas movies and short stories. I love the Christmas cookies and candies. I love the fellowship with friends and family. I love the music and worship services during Advent. Most of all I love the story of Christmas. Christmas is a love story. It is the greatest of all love stories. It is the story of a loving and long-suffering God who never gives up on his creation. The scripture says at just the right time he sent his son to redeem them. The story makes it clear that God never gives up on his mission.

Christmas is a great time for us to promote World Missions. Missions allows us to join in sharing the Good News with people around the World. It is the Good News first announced to shepherds by the angels. Our World Missions Offering goes to support the work of the Baptist World Alliance. The Baptist World Alliance is a fellowship of 214 Baptist unions and conventions comprising a membership of 36 million baptized believers in a community of 105 million around the world. The BWA unites Baptists worldwide, leads in evangelism, responds to people in need and defends human rights. Neville Callam is the General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance.

Each year at this time Baptists across our state give to mission causes. We are committed to faithfully channeling those gifts as we are instructed by local congregations. Therefore we send gifts for World Missions to several mission organizations. If you are looking for a place for your mission gifts we invite you to channel them through our convention.

I was visiting with a pastor recently who shared that one Baptist laymen in his church suggested they use “plan C.” He said what is “plan C?” The man said the Missouri Baptist Convention has provided plan A and plan B depending on your desire to support the litigation against our institutions. He said I recommend we use “plan C” and send our mission gifts to the Baptist General Convention of Missouri where we can be confident none of it will go to fund litigation.

I liked his idea. Mission dollars should not be spent on litigation. They should be used to share the greatest love story of all time. They should be used to introduce men, women, boys and girls to our Savior. What better way to celebrate Christmas than to give to missions. We invite you to help us share the message of Christ around the world. I hope you will include World Mission causes on your Christmas gift list.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thankful He Came

I wrote the following article for this week's Message page in Word&Way:

My Thanksgiving will probably be very much like many of yours. Our sons and their wives and our grandchildren are coming home and our family will be together. My wife’s parents always spend Thanksgiving with us. We have a great time visiting with each other and catching up. Like many we will have too much good food, but we enjoy the fellowship. We will talk and laugh and watch some football.

We also give thanks. At our Thanksgiving meal time we invite each family member present to share one thing for which they are especially grateful. It is always interesting that no one normally mentions any "things." Most of the family expresses thanks for people, family members, and the blessing of being together. In reality, when we get serious, it is our relationships and the time we have together that we value the most.

This week also leads up to the first Sunday of Advent and the celebration of the coming of our Savior. I am reminded that our most important relationship is Christ. He is the one who enables us to put our lives in perspective. He is the one who forgives our sin and gives us hope for the future. Most of all we are grateful for our Savior.

If your house is like ours, Thanksgiving launches our preparation for Christmas. We normally begin our decorating for Christmas in the days following Thanksgiving. It some ways it is very appropriate to begin our preparation for the celebration of His coming at Thanksgiving. The gift of our Savior is our primary reason for giving thanks.

The Christmas season is hectic for many people. It is important as we move into the season to remind each other about the significance and purpose of Advent. It is a time of preparation. It is a time for reflection as we examine our lives and prepare to allow Him to "re-decorate" our lives according to His plan.

It is a time not to be overcome with the commercial nature of the secular celebration of Christmas, but a time to rediscover the opportunity to give. In a real sense we are never more like God than when we give to those in need. A number of years ago my brothers and sisters decided to end our tradition of drawing names and exchanging gifts. Instead we contribute funds and allow one member of our family to take the lead in providing for a family in need at Christmas. Many families help their churches do similar things each year.

Maybe there is no better way to give thanks for God’s gifts than to share these gifts with someone in need. As we gather to give thanks and move toward the Advent celebration, I am thankful he came! I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Different Books, Common Word"

EthicsDaily.com has produced another timely documentary. If ever there was a time when Baptists and Muslims needed to begin genuine relationships and dialogue it is today. In 2007, 138 Muslim scholars and leaders issued an open letter to Christians. The letter was called "A Common Word Between Us and You," and it sought to improve relations between Muslims and Christians in all parts of the world. Click here to read the letter from Muslims. In 2009, the Baptist World Alliance, the largest body of Baptists, wrote a response to the letter. Click here to read the letter from Baptists.

The EthicsDaily.com website says, From Boston to the Bible Belt and from Beaumont to the nation’s beltway, Baptists and Muslims are changing history with the way they change each other. Tired of being defined by extremists, some Baptists and Muslims in the United States have sought and found common ground: the common word in both traditions to love God and love neighbor. The courageous Baptists and Muslims in “Different Books, Common Word” will surprise you.

I am grateful for the leadership of the EthicsDaily.com staff in producing this documentary. I hope you will watch your ABC listings for the times when it will air in your area. The program will be supplied to ABC-TV stations beginning in January 2010 through an arrangement with the Islamic Society of North America, the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission and ABC. You will also be able to order "Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims" on DVD in January 2010.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Stewardship of Life

I wrote the following article for our Message page in the next issue of Word&Way:

I have always loved the fall with its cooler weather and beautiful autumn colors. Every year I wish it would last a little longer. It seems the leaves just reach their peak colors and then they fall and fade away. Bettie Jo and I have been riding bicycles on the Katy Trail this fall and the colors have been wonderful. I guess I also enjoy watching football games in the fall, too. I enjoy all the seasonal changes, but I must admit this is my favorite.

I also enjoy the weeks leading into a season of Thanksgiving.
Incredible as it seems, we are only a few weeks from our annual Thanksgiving holiday. I am not sure how much time we spend “giving thanks.” When I was serving as a pastor I almost always shared a series of messages during November on Christian stewardship. Sometimes I even have a chance to preach on stewardship during an interim pastorate. I know it may seem strange, but I have always loved to preach on stewardship.

My father always preached on Christian stewardship.
I was in seminary before I discovered that many pastors are hesitant to preach on stewardship. In reality stewardship is an outgrowth of Christian discipleship. To be a Christian means to bring our entire lives under the rule and reign of Jesus Christ. Christian stewardship is a recognition that all of life is a “stewardship” given to us by God. We are accountable to God for how we use our lives—time, talents, energy, gifts, etc. I am pretty sure that includes our finances. I learned at an early age that God was not just interested in what I gave to my church through my tithes and offerings, but he was just as concerned about how I used the rest of my resources.

Each of us is a steward of life and responsible for our choices.
Just as we hold the charitable causes we support accountable for how they use our gifts, we are also accountable. Churches are also accountable. Our convention is also accountable. We are accountable to the churches we serve and to all those who support our ministries. Ultimately, we are accountable to God. Maybe the best way to “give thanks” to God is to use wisely the resources he gives us. Given the difficult economic conditions we are confronting this year it is a particularly important time to be good stewards.

I regret that some believe using tithes and offering to fund litigation against faithful Baptist ministries in our state is a wise use of these resources.
Our convention leadership has a different perspective. We want to invest our resources in these ministries rather than attempting to control them or harm their ministries. If you are looking for a way to channel your gifts, we are available to serve you. The Baptist General Convention of Missouri forwards all gifts as instructed by churches and donors. None of our resources are used for litigation. Our mission is to serve churches and church leaders as they fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. We would love to partner with your church as you live out your stewardship of life.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Understanding Religious Liberty

Ethicsdaily.com published an article by Zack Dawes. Zach is a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ministerial resident at Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. The article was entitled "Christians Support Religious Liberty -- for Themselves." He points out "Christians ought to be the champions of religious Liberty, yet Christians often defend their religious freedom to the exclusion of others."

Dawes correctly says, "The
First Amendment is intended to protect the freedom of religion (free exercise clause) and the freedom from religion (establishment clause). Yet one is left to wonder why the concept is so difficult for many Christians to grasp. Even if Christians happen to be the overwhelming majority in a community, this does not abrogate the First Amendment, which protects individuals from having religious beliefs forced upon them." He points out Christians might view things differently if they found themselves in the minority in their community.

Check out his article here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Religious Liberty is God's Gift

I attended the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty Board Meeting earlier this week in Washington, D.C. It was a good meeting which concluded with a White House Briefing at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Tuesday afternoon. The briefing focused on areas related to both domestic and international religious liberty issues.

The U.S. Constitution, in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights, contains twin guarantees concerning religion. The first requires that there be no establishment of religion and, second, that the freedom of religious expression is protected. Taken together, and interpreted broadly, these clauses provide strong legal protections for religious freedom. I believe they provide protection for the freedom of conscious God gives to each of us. Religion should never be coerced. Rather it should be a free response to God.

Baptist have historically stood for Religious Liberty, and I am grateful we have the opportunity to support the BJC in it advocacy and educational work on behalf of all Americans. If you are not supporting the work of the BJC personally or through your church, I hope you join me in providing support for this work. Check out the BJC at www.bjconline.org.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Incredible Changes and Opportunities

Our Board of Directors approved a strategy planning process for our convention in June. A diverse Strategy Planning Leadership Team of 25 people from across our state is giving direction to the process. We are currently completing a data gathering stage which includes congregational listening sessions, an online survey, and leadership interviews with new paradigm ministry organizations. If you have not completed the online survey we encourage you to go to our website (www.baptistgcm.org) and click on the link on our home page. The survey only takes a few minutes, and your input is a valuable part of the process.

Our world is changing at an incredible pace, and our churches are confronted with hundreds of new challenges and incredible opportunities every day. Services and programs once provided by denominational organizations no longer seem relevant to the needs of many of our churches. Church leaders now face problems we could not have imagined only a few years ago. When I was a boy we received reports and updates from missionaries on the field slowly, and they seemed so far away. Today we talk with missionaries almost daily with voice over IP (internet provider) and video conferencing. Churches access training sessions via the internet and network with churches in another state or on another continent. Communication and technology seem to change almost daily. Churches now have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to keep their members informed and to facilitate small group communication and dialogue.

All of these changes sometimes leave church leaders struggling with problems and concerns we did not have to address only a few years ago. Some churches need help with the transitions. Others need assistance in identifying and engaging the new opportunities they have to minister in their community. As incredible as it seems in the midst of these opportunities the overwhelming majority of Baptist congregations in our state are plateaued or declining in attendance. Some do not know how to adjust to the incredible pace of change in our society.

Our mission is to serve churches and church leaders as they fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. We desire to help churches they seek to lead to their members and others to love God and love each other. We serve them as they seek to make the rule and reign of Christ a reality in their world. One of our great advantages is we are a young and dynamic denominational organization which is not encumbered with large bureaucracies or traditions. We are lean and flexible servant organization. We can change to become more effective. Our current strategy planning process is designed to allow us to re-examine both who we are and how we approach our ministry to local congregations. We want and need your input. Help us know how we could best serve your church. Share your ideas and suggestions. I would love to hear from you at jimhill@baptistgcm.org or (888) 420-2426 extension 705.

While our world is changing the Gospel is not. God still loves every person. We still have the incredible privilege of sharing the Good News with those trying to find their way through this world. We hope our strategy planning process will help us prepare to more effectively serve churches committed to this task. We would love to partner with your church.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

BGCM Strategy Planning Survey

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri stands at a special moment in the organization’s brief history. We are nearing the completion of our first five-year plan. Our convention organization, staff and ministry looks significantly different than when we completed our first planning cycle in 2004. It is important for us to explore ways we can expand the vision which began with First Priority. Our convention has the opportunity to take a fresh look at who we are as a people and what God desires us to be and do in our day. The foundation to making the vision for the Baptist General Convention of Missouri a reality is the updating of our strategy plan. As we begin the process a 25-member Strategy Planning Leadership Team with representatives from across our state is gathering data through congregational listening sessions, leadership interviews and an online survey. You can click the link below and complete a survey. Your answers will be confidential, and we are grateful for your input.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Loving Enemies

I teach a Bible study class at my church for young professionals. In reality, I moderate a discussion time because the class members are generally very open and the dialogue is good. We have been working our way through the Sermon on the Mount. This past week we made our way to that difficult passage about loving your enemies.

Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV)
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In Jesus’ day the command to love one’s neighbor would be understood by a Jew to refer to another Jew. It does not really sound that much different from our day. We tend to love our family, our friends, people like us, and those who help us. Jesus response was, “What’s different about you? Everyone does that! Even people who do not believe in God love those groups!”

I don’t know about you, but I think this is one of Jesus’ hard sayings. Love your enemies? That does not seem right at all. I think we sometimes confuse love and like. We really do not have to like someone or agree with them in order to care about them. If we care about them we act in their best interest. Christians are seen to be sons of the Father who is in heaven when we allow his love to be expressed through us. God’s love does not show favoritism. God’s love is shared with friends and enemies alike. God always acts for the good of every person.

Jesus calls us to live in a radical new way. This new way of living is only possible as he possesses more of us and our lives reflect more of his character. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Do not waste your time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less." May God grant us a the grace to love our enemies.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Faithful Reform in Health Care

August 20, 2009 - Statement by Faithful Reform in Health Care

140,000 people of faith participate in historic call with faith leaders and President Obama


The following press release was prepared regarding the conference call held with faith leaders from across the country on Wednesday, August 19. I participated in the call. Check out the report of the call below.

Cleveland, OH - An estimated 140,000 people of faith listened to a conference call with faith leaders and President Barack Obama in an historic 40-minute conference call on Wednesday afternoon. Sponsored by the Faithful Reform in Health Care Coalition and more than thirty other religious organizations, the call was part of the continuing massive mobilization of people of faith around the issue of health care reform. The focus was to energize faith advocates around the moral imperative for making REAL reform happen this year.

Faithful Reform in Health Care member organizations were well-represented on the call, including a denominational executive, local clergy, a health care professional and people of faith victimized by our current health system. All who spoke addressed the urgency of moving forward together for a health care future based on our shared faith values. Call participants were urged to encourage truth-telling, to model civil discourse, to maintain a steady moral drumbeat for reform, and to lead in hope.

The Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), emphasized that we have the moral vision and the policy expertise to make reform happen, but not the political will to succeed. She emphasized how important people of faith will be in creating political will by engaging with our members of Congress in the coming days.

Congregational pastors, priests and rabbis reported the work that they are doing to engage their congregants and communities in health care reform and reminded us about how intimately our lives are connected to those who suffer in our current health system. A Muslim physician reminded us how difficult it is for health care providers to do their work in our current system.

President Obama and the White House Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes addressed concerns, most notably, clarification of the President's priorities, issues around cost, abortion funding, and conscience protections for health care workers. They both emphasized how very important the faith voices will be in making health care reform a reality this year.

President Obama concluded the call with the reminder that "men and women of faith have shown what is possible when we are guided by our hope and note our fear." People of faith have historically been at the forefront of social reform in our nation's history, and that hope-filled leadership will be no less important as we work for health care reform.

Faithful Reform in Health Care coalition members and their congregations will be among the leaders in follow-up activities by raising a moral vision for our health care future the weekend of Aug. 28 - 30 in Health Care Sabbaths, Candlelight Vigils and other public events that will be held across the country.

The link to a recording of the call is available at here.

Contact Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care, 216.325.0010.

Faithful Reform in Health Care is the largest interfaith coalition of national, state and local organizations and individuals working for health care reform in the United States. It is the collective voice of faith communities committed to a vision for a health care future that is grounded in their shared sacred values.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Caring for the Health of Everyone

Everyone is aware that our nation is in the midst of a great debate regarding the future of health care in our country. I am sure we would not all agree on the appropriate strategies to fix the problem, but I think most of us would agree we have a real problem.

I serve on the board of Missouri Impact, an ecumenical and interfaith legislative advocacy network for social justice. I also serve a chairperson of Missouri Christians Against Racism and Poverty. Both organizations are giving their primary focus to the health care debate. The members of Missouri Impact, out of our various faith traditions, have declared our conviction that health care is basic human right and that it is a moral imperative to advocate for quality, affordable, health care for all with particular concern for the most vulnerable.

The following facts speak to the urgency of this debate:
• almost 50 million Americans are without health coverage
• as 14,000 Americans are losing health care coverage each day
• additional thousands are being denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions
• over 20,000 people die each year for want of health care
• a major cause for bankruptcy is personal and family medical debt

I realize the issues are complex and many of the solutions are costly, but I find it very difficult to believe we cannot find a solution. As a Christian I believe every person should have access to quality, affordable, heath care.

It would be impossible to read the Gospels and not be aware of the compassion and concern Jesus had for all types of illness and health problems. In Matthew 14 the scripture says, And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed. In Matthew 15 it says, Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them.

I come to the health care debate seeking to have the same type of compassion and concern that Jesus expressed for all people. I believe God’s people need to be a part of the debate. I believe we should be looking for solutions which are compatible with our beliefs and convictions.

Missouri Impact is urging people of all faiths, and people with no religious affiliation who possess a concern for justice and the common good, to join us in telling our members of Congress to approve legislation which gives all people the opportunity to choose an affordable private or public health insurance plan.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hill Brothers Plan 2010 Holy Land Trip

Three Hill brothers: Jim Hill (BGCM Executive Director), Drew Hill (Pastor of FBC, Sedalia) and Pete Hill — and some minister friends will be leading a trip to Israel in 2010. The group will leave on January 12, 2010, for an 11-day trip and return on January 22, 2010.

The trip is truly an investment in your spiritual growth. In Israel the tour will visit Caesarea (by the Sea), Haifa, Megiddo, Nazareth, Cana, Tiberias, take a boat ride to Capernaum, see the Mount of Beatitudes, Church of the five loaves and two fishes, Caesarea Philippi, Jericho, Qumran, the Dead Sea, Masada, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and much more.

The cost of the trip is $2,651 plus fuel surcharges and the cost of a light lunch each day. If you are interested in more information, a trip itinerary, or detailed cost information, contact Jim at jimhill@baptistgcm.org or (573) 659-3838. We hope you can join us for this special trip.

A Heart for the Search

A few days ago I rented an underwater metal detector (a first for me) from a local scuba diving shop and helped my youngest son with an important search. He was swimming in a lake in a city park in Columbia where he lives and lost his wedding ring. It would have been difficult for anyone, but Josh has only been married for six weeks. Replacing the ring was not an option he wanted to consider. It was not just the replacement cost, but the idea that he would not have the special ring Sabrina had given him.

When we arrived at the city park and I saw the lake, I was not very optimistic. It was a pretty large swimming area filled with lots of children and adults enjoying the sun and water. It had been two days since the ring had slipped off his hand, and while he knew generally where we should begin our search it was clear the activity in the lake could have moved or buried the ring.

We spent almost two hours with the metal detector identifying pieces of ear rings and other metal objects. Sometimes we were never able to find an object even though the detector indicated something was there. The water was so dark that we had to have our snorkeling mask almost on the bottom to see. We took turns holding the detector and diving. We were both getting a little discouraged. I sent Josh down a second time to search a location that “beeped” loudly on the metal detector even though the first effort did not result in a find.

Suddenly, he began kicking and then exploded out of the water. He screamed, “I found it!” He said he was about to surface because he had been down as long as he could hold his breath. He brushed his hand over the area a final time revealing the outline of a ring, and when he grabbed it he knew it was his ring. We had a great celebration.

Our experience reminded me of the Parable of the Lost Coin in Luke 15: "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

We called Josh’s wife and his mother to announce the ring was found. It was a great find and a wonderful celebration. The scripture says there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels over one sinner who repents. The angels are in the presence of God. I am not sure we always remember how important each individual is to our heavenly Father. I am not sure we always put much effort into the search for lost sheep, lost coins, and lost sons and daughters. But, when we lead a lost son or daughter to our Savior, it is a cause for celebration both here and in heaven. May God give us a heart for the search.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Thinking Strategically about the Future

Our Board of Directors voted to approve a strategy planning proposal during our June Board Meeting. It seems incredible, but we are already in the fifth year of implementation of our First Priority Strategic Plan. Our current 5-year plan was developed during a comprehensive process implemented during the 2004-2005 convention year. Since we are in the final year of the plan, it is again appropriate to begin thinking about the future.

Joel Barker in his video Leadershift says, leaders must focus the majority of their efforts on the future. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me the future usually arrives before I expect it and often before I am ready for it. The Baptist General Convention of Missouri is beginning its eight year. We are a young convention, but God has already blessed our cooperative ministry in a wonderful way. From the very beginning we have sought to be a different type of denominational entity. I have served in a wide variety of denominational roles, and I have come to realize that it is incredibly easy for these organizations to believe the churches exist for their benefit. Nothing could be further from the truth. The denomination exists to serve churches and to facilitate the joint efforts of local congregations.

Our current plan says the Baptist General Convention of Missouri’s mission is to serve churches and church leaders as they fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Our vision has been to be an organization that gives first priority to serving churches. I believe we have taken some significant steps toward realizing this vision. Several years ago our board voted to serve any church desiring our assistance whether the congregation was supporting our ministries or not. Our convention staff is made up of practitioners who are located throughout our state as we seek to be accessible to our churches. Our team leaders include specialists in the areas of leadership development, congregational health, church planting and missions mobilization. We have put in place retirement and health insurance programs for church staff members. We also provide comprehensive search committee resources and services.

Over the last four years we have become members of the North American Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance. We have become a part of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, and established partnerships and relationships with Baptist conventions in Texas, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Our have built a missions partnership with the Baptists in Guatemala and China. In addition to supporting all our Missouri Baptist institutions and agencies, our convention also supports the Baptist Center for Ethics, the Associated Baptist Press, and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. I am incredibly proud to be a part of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.

However, as proud as we are of our early years as a convention, we know God has more in store in the years ahead. We are beginning the planning process for the next five years. A leadership team will begin leading the process in the next couple of months as we begin thinking strategically about the future. We want to “think outside the traditional paradigms.” What is the nature of the world where we serve today? What are the challenges and concerns of the churches we serve? How can we most effectively serve these churches? What new opportunities confront us today? What does God want us to be and to do in the next five years? I am very excited about the opportunity to gather with Baptists from across our state and explore the answers to these and other important questions. We will be providing an invitation to participate in an online survey as a part of our planning process, but I want to invite you to send me your suggestions and thoughts. Let us know how we can better serve your church.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Life Transitions

The older I get the more I realize that life is about transitions and change. That may be why it seems hard sometimes. None of us really like change. Bettie Jo and I sometimes reflect on how it seems we are becoming our parents. Sometimes it scares us, but not all changes are scary.

Our youngest son is getting married this weekend. I have the wonderful privilege of conducting the ceremony as Joshua David Hill and Sabrina Nicole McKechnie publicly shared their marriage vows. Josh is ten years younger than his brothers, James and Joe. The age difference delayed our official empty nest, but in reality Josh has been on his own for a couple of years. He has 15 hours left to complete a degree in forensic science. He hopes to work in a crime lab when he graduates.

We are excited about officially welcoming Sabrina into our family. Josh and Sabrina began dating while they were in high school. There are few transitions in life that impact us more than the decision to get married. I often share in my pre-marital counseling that marriage is never exactly what we expect. It is always less and always more than we expect, but it is obviously a very important life transition. I hope for Josh and Sabrina that their marriage will offer them the same opportunities to grow, the same joy, and the same adventure that I have found in mine.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Helping the Church Find a Voice

Baptists always have opinions. We like to say that a group of three Baptists will have at least four opinions on almost any subject. Our commitment to local church autonomy and the priesthood of the believer seems to give us the freedom to express our opinions. I am grateful for our heritage, but sometimes it seems we find it difficult to find our voice. While we love to share our thoughts and viewpoints, seldom do we take a stand on justice issues in our communities. Often there seems to be a disconnect between our faith community and the world around us.

Jesus made it a point to speak on behalf of the poor and the most vulnerable in his world. His calls for justice and compassion sometimes put him at odds with the religious establishment. The economic downturn in the world economy has caused many people and congregations to take note of the needs of those who are losing their homes or their jobs. The truth is thousands of people were struggling to survive in our communities long before the current economic crisis. Maybe the crisis has helped us pause and take note of the needs of those around us.

I believe the church needs to find a fresh voice today. We need to become advocates on behalf of those who seem to have no voice. Estimates indicate 729,000 Missourians have no health insurance. At least 150,000 of these are children. Obviously, the vast majority of these are the lowest income groups in our state. A recent study indicates almost 10 Missourians die each week for want of health care coverage. Church food panties and other social agencies are struggling to find enough food to feed the hungry. Hospitals providing emergency room care for the uninsured are losing millions of dollars every year and driving up costs for everyone. We have a health care and human need crisis.

What would Jesus say and do in response to these needs? I believe he would feed the hungry and care for the sick. I believe he would speak for justice and compassion. I believe he would speak to those in power in both the religious and political arenas. Our state legislature has voted down what would be a very modest allocation to provide health care to the most vulnerable children in our state. With what would be only a token amount in our state budget we could have responded to children in need and taken a step toward providing quality, affordable health care for all Missourians. This is not a Republican or a Democratic issue—it is a moral issue and an issue the church should address.

If the church does not stand up for those in need, who will? If the church does not call for compassion and justice, who will? I have visited with my legislators, and I have written to them encouraging them to find a way to work together to care for those in need. Our state seal says “let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.” The health care needs in our state are just one of many issues the church should speak to today. I hope you will help your church find a voice to speak for justice in your community.

(This article was written for the BGCM e-message. You may sign-up for the e-message here.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

A New Beginning for Baptists

The North American Baptist Fellowship began discussions with former President Jimmy Carter in 2007 regarding a gathering of the Baptist family from across North America. The New Baptist Covenant Celebration last year in Atlanta was the culmination of these discussions as thousands of Baptists from across denominational, racial, national and geographical boundaries came together for worship and dialogue. It was one of the best Baptist meetings I had ever attended. It was out of that experience that several of us began discussions about the possibility of a similar regional gathering for the Baptists of the Midwest. The result of these discussions that began almost a year ago was the Baptist Border Crossing.

I had the privilege of serving as co-chair for this historic gathering with Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, II, the pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City. His father, Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, Sr., Pastor Emeritus of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, was one of the driving forces behind the Summit. Estimates indicated that somewhere between 900 and 1,000 people participated in the Baptist Border Crossing Summit. The worship, preaching and breakout sessions were a wonderful beginning.

The Baptist Border Crossing was all about “beginnings.” It was about an opportunity for Baptists to begin to get to know each other. It was about individuals, churches, and denominations forging new relationships. It was about overcoming racial and social barriers to explore new partnerships with brothers and sisters in Christ. It was about Baptists discovering opportunities to collaborate for the sake of the Kingdom. One participant wrote me after the event to say, “As one who attended the new Baptist Covenant event in Atlanta, I had no expectation that we could do a Regional event that would match the Atlanta event in spirit and in quality; yet you accomplished it.”

As wonderful as the Summit was, I have much higher hopes for the follow-up on this historic gathering. What if during this year when we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the beginning of Baptist work, the Baptists of the Midwest made a commitment to a “new beginning?” What if we decided to cross all the borders that have historically kept Baptists apart—racial, denominational, geographical, social, economic, and cultural? What if we accepted the fact that everyone who claims our Savior as Lord is our brother and sister? What if we intentionally began building relationships across these borders and boundaries? What if churches made a commitment to partner with other churches to learn from each other and to more effectively impact their communities for Christ? What if we humbled ourselves to acknowledge that we need each other?

One of best parts of being involved in the planning for the Baptist Border Crossing was the opportunity to meet and work with Baptist brothers and sisters I would not otherwise have known. The process of planning the event allowed me to make some new friends and deepen my understanding of God’s Kingdom. It is my hope and prayer that the Baptist Border Crossing will be a new beginning for Baptists across Missouri and the Midwest.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Baptist Border Crossing Photos

Click the link below to check out the photos from the Baptist Border Crossing Summit.

Photos

Reflections on the Last Week

I am so grateful that many Baptists have begun to place more emphasis on Holy Week. There is so much to learn from the last week. The last week in the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ, traditionally begins with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This is the celebration of Palm Sunday. When the people heard that Jesus was making his way from Bethany to Jerusalem they went out to meet him. They spread their garments and palm branches in the road. They shouted and cried out, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest! (Mark 11:9-10)

Actually, it was not the last week of his life--he is alive today. But, it was the final week prior to his death on the cross and his resurrection. It was certainly the climactic week of his earthly life. So much happened during these brief days. So many important events. So many special moments. So many lessons still to be learned by his followers. Have you ever thought about how important that week was in the lives of the disciples? Some time after the death and resurrection of our Savior. Some time after the emotional highs and lows. Some time after they had had the opportunity to reflect upon everything that had happened. Some time later the gospel writers were led by the Spirit of God to begin to record the events of his life. There was so much to be written.

How do you capture his life on paper? What do you include? How do you decide what to leave out? Everything seemed so important now. Brief encounters that seemed unimportant at the time are so clear and vivid now. Late night meetings between the two of us when he answered my questions. John struggled with this difficulty. He says there were many other things that Jesus did--besides those he wrote about. He felt so over whelmed with the magnitude of the writing task. If everything were included the world would not be able to contain the books that would be written (John 21:25).

I believe that God led them in their writing and in their choosing. I also believe that God led them in a personal way. Each writer reflected from his own perspective as he recorded life changing words. Maybe God led them like he leads us. Maybe they wrote what they remembered most. Maybe they wrote about the things that impacted their lives most. Whatever the method of inspiration they wrote about the last week. Jesus lived approximately thirty-three years. That is more that 1700 weeks. The writers of the four gospels dedicated a great deal of their accounts to only one of those weeks. It was the last one.

By the present chapter and verse divisions the four gospels include 3779 verses comprising 89 chapters. The first thirty years of his life are recorded for us in only 208 verses. The background, announcements, and record of his birth are parts of only five chapters including John's unique approach to the beginning of his gospel. In addition to his birth these verses contain glimpses from his childhood and youth. Undoubtedly, Mary's memories furnished these sketchy outlines. The visits of the shepherds, the magi from the east, his circumcision, and the visit to Jerusalem at age twelve are briefly outlined.

The balance of the gospels is dedicated to the three years of his ministry. This is more than 3500 verses to record the significant events in the life and ministry of the Son of God. Only 3500 verses for more than 150 weeks. The amazing thing is that 1258 of these verses are dedicated to only one week. The last week.

More than one-third of the verses in all four gospels are committed to this week. Thirty-eight per cent of both Matthew's and John's gospels record the events of the last week. What an impact that week made upon their lives. What vivid and penetrating memories they must have had of the events of the last week.

The Christian church for centuries has celebrated the birth of our Savior. Advent celebrations have a significant and rightfully central place in the church calendar. However, there is no doubt that Easter is the crucial holiday in the Christian church. It is the event at the center of human history. It is the moment when sin and death were overwhelmed by redemption and life. When the gospel writers made their notes they wanted us to see Jesus as he approached the climactic events of his life. They wanted us to see him as he dealt with their unbelief, confusion and selfishness. (The gospels writers are so honest in dealing with their own sinful lives.) They wanted us to see how he struggled and found victory. They could not help but tell about this week--the last week--when their lives were transformed and redemption was born. They could not help but write about the events that formed the lessons of life. They learned so much about life and death during the last week. I hope we can, too.

Faith & Family Summit

Wallace S. Hartsfield, Sr. challenged those who attended the Baptist Border Crossing to attend the Faith & Family Summit which will be held at the State Capitol in Jefferson City on April 16th. I have met with the group planning this special event over the past few days. CCO clergy and congregations in Kansas City, led by Rev. Rayfield Burns, were compelled to act on the need to further fund children's health care through the federal and state match for CHIP (child health insurance program) expansion and to support coverage for low income working adults. The group has been working to Cover All Children with health insurance for two years now. At this point while it looks like adults will be covered, children have been cut out. A decision recently by the Senate appropriations committee closed out any new funding for children's health insurance.

As people of faith, we believe that looking out for the most vulnerable among us is a moral imperative. Children and low-income adults, as well as people with disabilities and seniors deserve our protection. As people of faith, we believe that budgets are moral documents that reflect our priorities and best intentions.

On April 16th, faith leaders from across the state are gathering at the state capitol in Jefferson City to address the legislature with our concerns, our experiences and our hope.

This day will consist of three parts. First, upon arrival at the capitol we will convene an Inter-religious Healthcare Roundtable Discussion from 10:30-Noon. Here religious leaders will discuss the future of healthcare for Missourians and how the faith community can be involved in shaping that future. Second, those who have traveled to Jefferson City will meet with legislators from 12:00pm to 1:00pm to share their healthcare concerns, as well as other social determinants of health care that are impacting the members of their community such as predatory lending, lack of health related transportation and keeping families together through stopping preventable foreclosures.

The day will be centered upon the last event of the day, which is the Faith and Families Rally in the 3rd Floor Rotunda beginning at 1pm to 2pm. We will hear reflections of faith and powerful testimonies of those dealing with healthcare situations. We will also provide an opportunity for elected officials to address the religious leaders and families present regarding how they will respond to the pressures affecting our children and low-income families.

I hope you will join me and others at the Faith & Family Summit on April 16th!

Baptist Border Crossing

I have not posted to my blog for several weeks because I was so involved in the final preparations for the Baptist Border Crossing Summit. The Summit was held April 2-4 at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty. The Summit was a grand experiment as we attempted to bring the Baptist family from the Midwest together for worship and dialogue. The impetus for the gathering was the New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta last year. The Baptist Border Crossing Task Force has been working for about 10 months in preparation for the gathering. Rev. Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, II served with me as co-chair of our task force. His father, Rev. Wallace S. Hartsfield, Sr., was a driving force behind the event.

The Baptist Border Crossing event was a wonderful blending of Baptist traditions. We should have been working on this type of event years ago. The process of working with the Border Crossing Task Force provided opportunities for me to build relationships with brothers and sisters I would not have known without this effort. Many of us are not going back to the way things were. I look forward to a new day in Baptist life, when all Baptists stand together on issues of justice and when we work together to share the message of Christ with our world. It was exciting to see American Baptists, General Baptists, National Baptists, Cooperative Baptists, and Southern Baptists coming together with those from the Baptist General Convention of Missouri to worship and to explore ways to extend Christ’s Kingdom. If you were not able to attend you may contact our convention office for a copy of the program (bettiejo@baptistgcm.org or (888) 420-2426 ext. 701). You may also want to watch the archived video of the worship sessions at the website.

I have been receiving e-mails from many people who attended the event. I have included some of their responses below:

I was privileged to attend all of the plenary sessions for the Baptist Border Crossing, and I was impressed with the fine planning, the high caliber speakers and the worship leaders, the smooth flow of the program, and the thoughtful presentation of the key themes of the weekend. As one who attended the New Baptist Covenant event in Atlanta, I had no expectation that we could do a Regional event that would match the Atlanta event in spirit and in quality; yet you accomplished it. Thank you. I commend the work of the planning committee. Job well done!

We...had a wonderful time at the BGCM Meeting, the Banquet and the Baptist Border Crossing. We greatly appreciate all the hard work...

I thought the Baptist Border Crossing event was outstanding. Thanks for all of your hard work making it happen.

GREAT job! It was good to be there and see so many friends.

Thank you for your leadership in making Baptist Border Crossing happen. It was the best meeting I have attended in years. We had 18 from our church in attendance and they all were very excited about they experienced.

I want to express my appreciation to you and all the others who worked so diligently and sacrificially to make the Baptist Border Crossing Summit such a wonderful experience.

I hope you are feeling good about the time and energy you put into the recent Border Crossing event. ...We had 18-20 people attend. Most of them also came to the BGCM meeting before and the banquet, too. ...Many of them were talking last night at church about how great the meeting was. It had a tremendous impact on folks and will lead to increased cross-lines cooperation in Springfield.

I am so grateful for all those who worked to make the Baptist Border Crossing Summit possible. It is my hope and prayer that God will take this beginning and use it to bring the our Baptist family together in a way we have never experienced.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Reflecting on Our Priorities

I wrote the following article for our BGCM Message in the next issue of Word&Way.

I have been away from my home church for several months while I have been filling the pulpit for one of our churches which is without a pastor. While I have enjoyed the opportunity to preach, I was also grateful for the privilege of worshipping with my church family on Ash Wednesday. The service was the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is the period of the liturgical year (forty days) leading up to Easter. Our pastor, Dr. Doyle Sager, and the other worship leaders helped us consider the significance of this special period in the church year. In a sense, Lent is a time of reflection as we reconsider and reorder the priorities of our lives. Because some Baptists do not follow the traditional Christian church calendar, they have missed out on the significance of this important season through the years. I believe it is important to pause of reflection, especially since many of us live very hectic lives.

A few days ago I was listening to a news broadcast concerning the condition of our nation’s economy and all the factors contributing to our current recession. The commentator mentioned the downturn in our economy had forced many people to reconsider their spending priorities. I thought about the fact that many non-profit organizations, institutions, churches and Christian ministries have been forced to deal with a loss of revenue. Obviously, some people have lost their jobs and had other economic setbacks that have made it difficult for them to continue supporting their church and other charitable causes at the same level as their past support. While this is understandable, I wonder if some of the lost revenue may be more a reflection of new priorities. Stressful times cause some people to be more selfish and others to be even more generous in their giving.

Jesus often talked with his disciples about their priorities. In Matthew 6:24 he said, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” In chapter 16, verse 24, says, Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The Christian life is about a new set of priorities. It is about what we give up, who we serve, and what is really important.

Life experiences sometimes cause us to reflect. The death of a loved one may cause us to remember what really matters. Economic stresses caused by a recession, a job loss, or poor choices may lead us to re-evaluate our personal spending priorities. No one would desire a recession, a personal financial setback or other crisis, but sometimes God uses difficult times in our lives to help us pause for reflection. What is really important? Do we really need all the “stuff” we think we need? What is the best use of our time and energy? How can we become the person God created us to be? What is the purpose of life? Maybe this Lenten season offers us a special time for reflecting about our lives. I think it would be a great time for us to allow God to help us see ourselves. May God guide us as we reflect on our priorities.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why Baptist Border Crossing?

Some people have asked me, Why Baptist Border Crossing? I want to share my thoughts about this historic effort. John’s Gospel says Jesus prayed for his disciples and for all believers in the moments just prior to his arrest. He prayed for the realization of his redemptive work in their lives. He prayed they would be one.
John 17:20-23 (NIV)
20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

I do not think it was an idol wish on the part of Jesus. I believe the scripture teaches the “body of Christ is one.” Paul certainly understood the church was one body.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NIV)
12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

The oneness of the body of Christ is a theological reality which church is seeking to live out each day. It seems incredible that Baptists, who profess to be a people of the Book, could so easily ignore its teachings. The Christian church is one under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Yet, our experience of the church is so fragmented and divided. I am not na├»ve about the difficulties of bringing the modern-day body of Christ together. In many respects we more closely resemble the warring religious parties of the New Testament era than we do the church Jesus Christ died to establish. However, surely a first step is to seek to build relationships within the “Baptist” portion of the Christian church.

This commitment is why our convention is a part of the North American Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance. But it is not enough to be brothers and sisters in name only. We must genuinely become one. We must love each other, serve each other, and serve our Lord together. We cannot possibly do that unless we know each other and begin to build genuine friendships and relationships. The Baptist Border Crossing is a call to the Baptist family across the Midwest to come together crossing all the borders and barriers which traditionally keep us apart—geographical, racial, denominational, economic, political, etc.

I believe the Baptist family and the larger Christian community is stronger when we collaborate and partner for the sake of the Kingdom. We miss a great deal when we isolate ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not a simple thing to bring a diverse group of Baptists together for worship and discussion, and it is even more challenging to explore a meaningful ongoing relationships. I can appreciate the incredible challenge before us as we seek to explore what God is doing in this Baptist Movement in a way that engages and involves our denominations and organizations and yet avoids the dangers of attempting to institutionalize a movement.

Baptists need each other. We need to get over our biases and work through the racial and cultural differences that have often kept us apart. This does not mean we have to merge into a single body; however, it might mean that we eventually have fewer Baptist bodies. Most importantly, it means we find a way to work together for the sake of our churches and Christ’s kingdom. It means we humble ourselves enough to admit that we can learn from each other. I serve an organization made up of predominantly Anglo congregations. We could profit a great deal by a greater sense of collaboration and partnership with our African-American brothers and sisters. Black congregations often do a much better job of identifying with and engaging their communities. Many times they do a better job of empowering leaders for service, and many of us have come to understand the vitality and power in their worship is much more than can merely be attributed to the cultural differences expressed in worship styles. We have much to learn from our Black brothers and sisters. Our first step is to get to know each other.

It is tragic that some Baptists want to isolate themselves from those who may not have the same traditions or identical interpretations of God’s Word. Baptist Border Crossing is an opportunity for us to say “we are one.” In spite of all our differences, we are one and we need each other. It is my hope that we will find a way to come together in a fresh way as we consider a new level of relationship. I hope all the Baptists across our region will be interested in being a part of this effort. Check out Baptist Border Crossing and join the effort.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

North American Missions and The Baptist Family

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri is receiving an offering this spring for the North American Baptist Fellowship. Missouri Baptists historically have received an Easter Offering for national missions. We believe there is no better way to collaborate for missions than to join with the Baptists of North America in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our convention became a member of the North American Baptist Fellowship a few years ago. The following year we became a part of the Baptist World Alliance. The North American Baptist Fellowship is one of six regional fellowships that make up the Baptist World Alliance. Alan Stanford recently resigned as our General Secretary. A search process is underway to secure a new General Secretary. Dr. David Goatley, General Secretary of the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention, is President of the North American Baptist Fellowship. David will be one of the keynote speakers at the Baptist Border Crossing event April 2-4, 2009, immediately following our Annual Meeting.

The North American Baptist Fellowship is the way we join hands with Baptists from across our nation and Canada as we seek to reach our world for Christ. Your gifts to our North American Baptist Missions Offering will help to underwrite the collaborative work of this organization. If you have mission offering for other causes we will be happy to forward them on your behalf.

Our Annual Meeting will be held Thursday, April 2, from 1:00 to 4:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit. We our abbreviating our Annual Meeting to allow our messengers and guests to attend the historic gathering of Midwest Baptists—the Baptist Border Crossing at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty. Our Annual Missions Banquet will be held Friday evening during the Baptist Border Crossing at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church. The cost is $12.00 and you may pay at the door, but you need to contact our convention office to make reservations (bettiejo@baptistgcm.org or 888-420-2426 ext. 701).

Check out the event website (http://www.baptistbordercrossing.org/) for more information, to register, or to secure hotel information. The President of the Baptist World Alliance and the President of the North American Baptist Fellowship are both keynote speakers for this event. Other speakers include Carolyn Ann Knight, Tony Campolo, and President Jimmy Carter. The breakout session will allow you to get acquainted with our brothers and sisters from other Baptist conventions. I hope you will make plans to join us for both of these important meetings.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln's Birthday

I must confess that I have been a fan of Abraham Lincoln since I was a kid. I am not sure whether it was the pennies I began collecting at about 7 or 8 years of age, or my first visit to Washington, D. C., at about the same time. (I still collect pennies, and my collection is much more impressive than when I was a child.) I was captivated by much of what I saw in our nation's capitol city, but I was particularly fascinated by the Lincoln Memorial.

As I grew up and began to learn more about our former presidents, I became a great admirer of Lincoln. His words, memorialized in his speeches, were often profound and challenging. Even in his brief addresses he insightfully confronted his hearers with their current realities and called upon them live up to their ideals and values. I guess my greatest appreciation for him lies in his courage and leadership.

Few leaders have confronted challenges more weighty than he did. I believe he sought to speak the truth and do what was right. I am not sure we can ask anything more of our leaders. This is true whether we are talking about political leaders or church leaders. We desperately need leaders today who have integrity and courage. I sometimes wonder what might have become of our nation if Abraham Lincoln had not been elected president. Leaders can and do make a difference. We need church leaders who will call God's people to live out their faith. It is easier to go along and get along, but how the church of the 21st century needs leaders. I wonder how many of our messages will still be quoted 150 years from now.

The Gettysburg Address
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
November 19, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why Not Lead?

I wrote a series of six articles for my blog last year about Leadership. The thrust of the articles was to share my thoughts regarding Joel Barker's Leadershift--Five Lessons for Leaders in the 21st Century. In reality it was a kind of running dialogue between me and Barker's video presentation, his leadership principles and their application to local church ministry. If you would like to review them the links are below.

Like everyone else I have been watching and reading the reports regarding the recovery and stimulus plan that is working its way through congress. I listened to several commentators on the radio today as I traveled. Some complained that our new president had not provided more leadership in solving our nations current problems. (That sounded a little strange to me when you consider the complexity of the problems and the fact that he has only been in office about three weeks.) Other reporters were frustrated at the Washington politics and lack of leadership in the House and Senate. While I certainly hope those who are much smarter than I am will find ways to help our country work through the multiple challenges we face, the discussions on the news programs prompted me to think about "leadership" again.

Solving a problem is really a leadership issue. We need information, background data, and a critical examination of the problem, but ultimately problem-solving is a leadership issue. Someone has to identify the problem, pull together the resources (people, information, etc.), and develop a process or strategy to solve the problem. The more complex the problem the more information and input on the process may be needed. Unfortunately, most problems do not "go away" on their own. I am convinced our current economic and housing crisis will not. I am praying for those who are working on the solution.

As I consider church life, I realize that many churches have been living with difficult problems that negatively impact their ministries for years. A great many churches and pastors want to avoid conflict and disagreement at any cost. In reality conflict is a natural (and even healthy) part of every organization made up of people including the church. Many church leaders do not understand how to work through problems and conflicts in a healthy, productive way. Sometimes a small problem has grown into a major crisis just because no one provided leadership to find a solution.

I realize that change and growth are never easy. I also know they never happen without some conflict and frequently they create problems. However, these problems are why we need leaders. Leaders who are courageous enough to take on the serious challenges before them. Leaders who are not afraid to help a church move to healthy ministry even when it means helping people work through problems. So my question is, Why not lead? I believe it is a part of our calling as ministers and church leaders. Those with leadership gifts should use them for the benefit of the Kingdom. Maybe there has never been a time when we needed leaders more--in our government and in our churches.

Leadership Articles:
Leadership 1 - Definition & Roles
Leadership 2 - Focus on the Future
Leadership 3 - Understanding Change
Leadership 4 - Complex Systems
Leadership 5 - Leadership Styles
Leadership 6 - Shared Vision

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Everyone Needs a Hug!

Some friends invited Bettie Jo and I to go the Missouri-Kansas Game last night at Mizzou Arena. I had not been to a game in the new arena. More than 15,000 people packed the arena to watch this episode of the Border War. Missouri had a very difficult first half shooting only 24 percent and turning the ball over frequently, but the second half was different story. Missouri kept trying to climb back into the game--edging closer and closer. A young man sitting in front of us was almost beside himself--jumping and cheering. He gave me a couple of "high fives" at keys moments. When Missouri scored the go-ahead basket with 1.3 seconds remaining and then held on to win, he went crazy (along with the rest of the crowd). He hugged me and everyone else he could reach. It was a great game (if you cheer for Mizzou).

The experience reminded me of a report I heard during the inauguration of President Obama. The news reporter talked about being in the crowd on the national mall during the inauguration. She said she had never worked a crowed where everyone was willing to be interviewed. She went on to say that each time she finished an interview the person hugged her.

Special moments sometimes cause us to form an immediate emotional bond with people. Several years ago I was leading a group on a trip to Israel with my brothers. My older brother and I were talking about how our family has always been "huggers." He suggested that I should hug the people in the church where I was serving as pastor. He said you should particularly hug your widow ladies. Everyone needs a hug.

I must admit I came home a little skeptical. Not because I disliked hugging (I grew up in a family of huggers). I was not sure how people would react. I remember asking some of widow ladies as they greeted me following our worship services if they would like a hug. You cannot imagine the overwhelming response I received. Their responses ranged from "Oh, yes" to "Please!" to "I would love to have a hug." One lady whispered to me as I hugged her, "I cannot remember the last time someone hugged me." Before long I was hugging almost everyone, including big, burley men. People would come up and say, "Can I have a hug, too?"

I hate to admit it, but my big brother was right. People (even shy and reserved people) long for a sense of connection. There is something about a hug that causes us to feel we are not alone. Christianity is about reaching out to people. It is about touching their lives and ministering to their needs. It is about inviting them into the family. I don't think we have to wait for special moments to reach out in love and compassion. Everyone needs a hug!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Celebrating Baptist Freedom

The following article was written for the next issue of Word&Way.

Baptists around the world are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first Baptist church. Church historians tell us that English Christians living in Amsterdam, Holland, gathered for worship and began practicing believer’s baptism. They had all been baptized as infants in the Church of England, and no one in their fellowship had experienced baptism as a believer. They were committed to the belief that church membership should be based on a personal confession of faith followed by believer’s baptism. Their conviction brought them into direct conflict with the Church of England when the group, led by John Smyth and Thomas Helwys, returned to England and started a new church. The group openly asserted every person must have complete spiritual freedom.

I was a student of church history in college and seminary. I believe religious liberty, believer’s baptism, the priesthood of the believer, and the autonomy of the local church may be some of the most significant contributions of Baptists to the life of the Christian church. In a real sense they all speak of freedom, liberty and responsibility.

It seems a little incredible to me that during a year when Baptists are celebrating 400 years of freedom the Missouri Baptist Convention leadership is still committed to making everyone do things their way. After nearly seven years of litigation and rulings by the local and appellate courts that went against them, these leaders are still committed to spend millions of dollars attempting to get control of institutions and ministries that are faithfully carrying out their God-given ministries. Never have they said these institutions and ministries have strayed away from or failed in fulfillment of their mission. They just want to be “in control.” That does not sound like Baptist freedom to me.

The Missouri Baptist Convention also voted over the past few years to require churches to be singly aligned with the MBC. They redefined that to mean several things. First, you have to affiliate with the SBC and only the SBC including financial support of their work. Secondly, your doctrinal statement must meet their standards, which essentially means it is in agreement with the SBC statement. Finally, your church cannot financially support or send representatives to any other national and/or state convention or organization which serves and/or acts as a national and/or state convention. That does not sound like Baptist freedom to me.

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri approaches things in a different way. We have no desire to control institutions or dictate to churches their doctrinal statements, how they relate to other churches, or how they channel their mission gifts. Our first priority is serving churches. While we welcome and encourage churches to support our ministries, our Board of Directors voted several years ago that we would serve any church desiring our help, whether they were supporting our ministries or not. We contribute to all the Missouri Baptist institutions without a desire to control them. We have joined forces with the larger Baptist family through partnerships, collaborative efforts, and memberships in the North American Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance. If you are tired of the litigation and denomination organizations that dictate to churches, we invite you to explore a new relationship with our convention. Let’s celebrate the 400th Anniversary of Baptist work by discovering religious liberty again. Please call on us if we can be of help to your church.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New Relationships and New Opportunities

I am serving as a co-chairperson for the Baptist Border Crossing Task Force. The Task Force is providing leadership for the planning of a regional gathering of Baptists from across the Midwest. The event will be one of several regional events that are being planned as a follow-up to the New Baptist Covenant Celebration held in Atlanta last year. Our Task Force includes representatives from Kansas City area Baptist groups, including the National Baptist Convention USA, the National Baptist Convention of America, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, American Baptist Churches USA, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, and the General Association of General Baptists. Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, II, Senior Pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, is serving as the other co-chairperson for the Task Force.

The Baptist Border Crossing event will be April 2-4, 2009, at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty, Missouri. Participants from all Baptist groups in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas, and Nebraska are invited to participate in this historic event. Plenary speakers for the event include Tony Campolo, David Coffey, David Goatley, Carolyn Ann Knight and President Jimmy Carter. Breakout sessions will be led by facilitators from the various Baptist groups and will deal with issues such as poverty, peacemaking, religious liberty, and diversity.

The 7th Annual Meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri is scheduled prior to this special event on Thursday afternoon, April 2, 2009, at First Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit. This year’s Annual Meeting will be abbreviated to one session to allow all our messengers and guests to attend the Baptist Border Crossing event. Our president, Dr. Randall Bunch, will be speaking during our Annual Meeting on Thursday afternoon. I am very excited about the potential this process and the event have for laying the groundwork for a new level of relationship and collaboration among the Baptist family in the Midwest. I am delighted to have the opportunity build new friendships with my Baptist brothers and sisters. I would encourage you to check out our website (http://www.baptistgcm.org/) and the event website (http://www.baptistbordercrossing.org/) for more information. Click here to view or download the Baptist Border Crossing flyer. I hope you will make plans to be a part of our Annual Meeting and this special Baptist gathering.