Light at the End of the Tunnel

Faithful gospel ministry is hard.  It is often filled with deep valleys.  Just a simple scan of Jesus’s earthly ministry reveals the challenges of gospel work.  In fact, Jesus tells his band of novice followers, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. . . . You will be hated by all because of my name” (Matt 10:16, 22).  So, as Jesus tells it, gospel ministry will be filled with people who want to attach us as a wolf attacks sheep because of their hatred of us for preaching Jesus.  How is a gospel servant able to endure such hardship?

A quick glance of Paul’s journeys in Acts demonstrates the same challenges of faithful gospel ministry that Jesus spoke of with His early followers.  On his first journey taking the gospel to new places, Paul finds himself in the city of Lystra.  Jews from neighboring cities follow him there in order to stir the crowds up against him for preaching Jesus.  Winning the crowds over, the people stone Paul and drag him out of the city, supposing him to be dead (Acts 14:19).

When Paul’s companions surround him, he gets up and goes to the next city and preaches Jesus there as well (Acts 14:20-21).  After many disciples are made, Paul returns to Lystra and previous cities “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:21-22).  Imagine Paul blooded and bruised from the previous day.  He was one beaten mess, and here he is encouraging these new-found believers to continue in the grace of God.  How can gospel ministers continue in such overwhelming situations?

Encouragement.  Paul understood the absolute necessity of gospel encouragement in the face of crushing obstacles.  Encouragement is that component of the Great Commission that is often overlooked but is no less invaluable. Yes, we must pray, evangelize, plant churches, and disciple for Great Commission faithfulness, but if we want to see longevity in ministry we must be intentional about encouragement.

Here is Paul, the recipient of being beaten nearly to death with stones, as the giver of encouragement.  Let’s think of missionaries serving the gospel overseas, much like Paul in his day.  One vital piece to their longevity in gospel service is the proportion to which they receive encouragement from believers back home.

Missionaries often find themselves in a tunnel of darkness because of the demands and challenges of serving the gospel cross-culturally.  Your church, your ministry group, or your Sunday School class can be the light at the end of the tunnel for those laboring tirelessly day after day for the gospel. A text, an email, a skype call, a special package, a team visit, are all ways that you might be a light at the end of their dark tunnel, and thus provide longevity for gospel impact in places that desperately need the gospel.

 

 

When Our World Is Shattered

Last week a quiet rural community was jolted awake by a school shooting that left scores of young people, adults, and families reeling.  Marshall County, Kentucky continues to grieve as they seek to recover from an almost unspeakable act of violence, that left two precious young people dead and eighteen others wounded or injured.  This was a tragic and horrible day for this community and for every family involved.

As the community tries to recover, things will normalize but will be forever different from how things were before.  “Different” in these type of tragedies is an understatement.  According to the National Center for PTSD, 77% or more who witness a school shooting may develop post-traumatic stress disorder.   PTSD is triggered by frightening or life-threatening events.  Symptoms include pervasive and disruptive anxiety, nightmares, sleep difficulties, flashbacks, aggression, emotional detachment, social withdrawal,  on-going emotional distress, and even physical pain symptoms.

These responses are often temporary and ease with time.  However some individuals may need psychological and spiritual counseling to be able recover and cope with PTSD.

What can we do to help those who have gone through and survived such a terror-filled event?

  1. Observe behavior of those affected.   Are they demonstrating symptoms of PTSD?  Are they demonstrating behavior that demonstrates they need help or support?
  2. Be there.  People often do not need wisdom or advice, they just need to know that they are not alone and someone cares.
  3. Acknowledge their pain and confusion.  Let them know that you understand that this is a painful, overwhelming, or hurtful time.  Assure them that they are having a normal reaction to an abnormal event.
  4. Intentionally listen.  Focus on the person.  Follow what the person is saying.  Be conscious of body language.  Maintain eye contact.  Be comfortable with periods of silence.  Fixate on what you can do, not what you cannot help with.   Listen more than you talk.
  5.  Actively offer comfort.  Be with them.  Listen to them.  Walk alongside them.  Shield them from further harm.  Help them discover resources to help.
  6. Promote calming.  It is OK to weep with those who are grieving, but remember that you are there for them and seek to focus on their needs not your own.  Seek to help them reestablish normal activities and routines, such as eating, sleeping, exercise, etc.
  7. Allow them to grieve and express their grief.  Grief takes time and most people pass through several stages of grief before ready to move on from the grief event.  Everyone grieves differently and will pass through grief on their own timetable.
  8. Hugs and appropriate physical touches can offer healing and comfort.
  9. Pray with those hurting.  Prayer connects people with God, who is the ultimate source of hope.  Do not underestimate the healing that God often gives through prayer.
  10. Do not try to answer the why questions or offer theology lessons on how God acts in certain events.  In the crisis, people need to know you care, not what you may or may not know.  Let God speak for Himself to the person.
  11. Offer spiritual help when appropriate.  Those with spiritual foundations recover from disaster events in more healthy and positive ways than those without spiritual roots.   Remember to share how God has helped you in crisis times, not seek to force your faith on those affected.  Be cautious in seeking to share Christ to those who have experienced emotional trauma, as we never want to wrongly manipulate vulnerable people.

“Lord, be merciful to us! We wait for you.
Give us strength each morning!
                         Deliver us when distress comes.”  (Isaiah 33:2)

The Command to GO “Trumps” the Need

I am so thankful for the literally thousands of missionaries who serve the Lord in Kentucky each year through a variety of ministries.  Whether one serves as a long term career missionary or a short term volunteer, you are considered a missionary, “if in response to God’s call and gifting, you leave your comfort zone and cross cultural, geographic or other barriers to proclaim the Gospel and live out a Christian witness in obedience to the Great Commission” (North American Mission Board of the SBC).

Missionaries have met many of the physical, emotional and spiritual needs in Kentucky.  Through personal sacrifice and service you have fed hungry children, provided shelter for homeless families, offered accountability for a recovering addict, discipled prisoners in the jail, provided job training for the unemployed, built a wheelchair ramp for the physically handicapped, and cooked meals for the hungry following a disaster.

Why did you go on that mission trip?  What prompted you to leave your job and move your family in order to serve?  What motivates you as a missionary?  Perhaps it is your compassion for the outcast, sympathy for the poor, or simply an overwhelming desire to help those in need. Our primary motivation for serving as a missionary should be the command of Jesus to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19).  Our obedience to His call should trump any and every need that exist.

We must be aware of the needs around us and always looking for ways to meet them in the name of Jesus.  There’s nothing wrong with feeling compassion for the lost and hurting.  But His command to “go” should be our driving force, not the hungry faces, homeless families or children in need.

Faithful Servants

God is “no respector of persons” when it comes to calling out people to serve Him.  In the Bible we see Him calling Moses at age 80, and Samuel and David as young boys.

Currently there are 98 missionaries serving in various ministries across Kentucky.  In looking over this list of missionaries, it was interesting to note that they range in age from 23 to 90.  Four of them are in their 80s and, yes, one is still serving in his 90s.

Jack Simmons, along with wife Wilma (who is in her 80s), heard God’s call to missions more than 26 years ago when they met a Director of Missions who told them about needs in Indiana.  After looking over the area and trying to get something started, they just could not seem to get anything done.  Eventually they realized that God was calling them back to Wilma’s home of West Point, Kentucky, where they began meeting with children in one of the trailer parks each week.

Today, Jack and Wilma minister in two trailer parks.  The children’s program includes Bible stories, crafts, play time, and refreshments.  This ministry has also opened the door to minister by providing food, performing weddings and funerals, and making hospital visits and, at Christmas, they distribute gifts to the children.

In addition to the trailer park ministry, Jack pastors a small rural church and Wilma serves as secretary for the Salem Baptist Association.

Other Kentucky missionaries serving into their 80s are Pauline White, Shirley Barlow, and Pat Howard.

Pauline White heard God’s call to leave her home in Florida and move to eastern Kentucky nearly 15 year ago.  She served people in Harlan County as director of Shepherd’s Food Pantry, faithfully giving out boxes of food, and always sharing the Gospel message with them.  Many were fed both physically and spiritually by her service.  Pauline concluded her ministry with Shepherd’s Pantry at the end of 2017.

Shirley Barlow felt God’s call in the early 50s to be more involved in missions.  Today she directs River City Mission, a homeless shelter in Paducah.  The shelter works with individuals to overcome addictions, secure work, get back on their feet so they can go back into society and resurrect their family situation, and commit or recommit their lives to Christ.  Shirley works in all aspects of the ministry and her love for those she serves shines so brightly.

Pat Howard has followed God’s call into a number of ministries during her lifetime.  Pat’s heart has been in ethnic work for many, many years, and she has shared the hope of Christ with many through this work.  Currently Pat serves as a regional mobilization consultant with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, where she helps to enlist and encourage missionaries in her region around Bowling Green, KY.

It has been such a privilege to know and work alongside these missionaries.  They have been, and continue to be, such a blessing to me and those they serve.  Thank you, Jack, Wilma, Pauline, Shirley, and Pat, for giving to the Lord.  Many lives have been changed s a result of your dedication to His work.

Disciple-Making in 2018

As 2018 is here, let me encourage us to think about how we might use our lives for impacting others with the gospel.  As I look at churches in general, I am encouraged that many have seen the paramount necessity to take a bold stand upon biblical truth.  We stand upon the Word of God (the B-I-B-L-E, I know you remember that song!) as our sole source of authority for belief and practice.  For this bold stand and action, those churches are to be commended. Yet, there remains an urgent need.

One area of our Lord’s Church still seems to be deficient—disciple-making. The command of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 is a call to action. It is a command to “make disciples of all nations.” The issue at hand, then, is what is a disciple? Disciple means a learner or follower. Jesus says in Luke 9:23, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” According to this passage, a disciple is a self-denying, daily cross-carrying, follower of Jesus Christ. We could say, therefore, that a disciple is a life-long, radical, reproducing follower of Jesus.

The question now arises as to how Jesus made disciples and whether He passed on a particular pattern for disciple-making? Jesus taught the masses, but He invested in just a few. Jesus ultimately passed on the enormous responsibility of global impact to eleven men. How were eleven men to reach the world with the good news of Jesus Christ? The answer is one person at a time. Jesus discipled twelve men (one was not a true disciple) and within the twelve he had three and even within the three he had one.

We can see three aspects of Jesus’ disciple-making process: mentor, model and multiply. Jesus would mentor or teach the disciples about Himself and God’s Word. Jesus would also model what He taught. In other words, He showed the disciples how to live what He taught. This is much like Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” After teaching and showing, Jesus would multiply Himself by sending His disciples to put into practice the things that they had heard and seen from Him. For example, in Matthew 5- 7, Jesus spent much time teaching the disciples. In chapters 8-9, He showed them how to minister.  In chapter 10, He sends them out to do what they have heard and seen. Throughout the gospels we see Jesus mentor, model and multiply.

As we think about making disciples in 2018, who might the Lord place in your path that you can point to Jesus and help them grow in Him?  The pattern for Jesus’s disciple-making is reproducible.  In fact, it’s simple.  It’s relationships.  Mentor, model, and multiply.  In doing so, we reach Louisville and the world one person at a time.

 

 

Why Get Trained?

Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief offers several training opportunities every year for volunteers to become trained in disaster response and get connected with this Christ-centered ministry.

Why get trained?  Let me give you several reasons, why it is important to be trained if you want to respond in a positive and effective way in times of disaster:

  • People that are not connected with trained and self-sustaining organizations often rob resources from those suffering in the midst of a disaster.
  • Untrained people are much more likely to get injured, hurt, or expose themselves to health hazards, as they are typically unfamiliar with potential risks in a disaster zone.
  • Untrained volunteers are often unprepared to provide appropriate assistance and correct information to those affected.
  • Untrained volunteers lack expertise to genuinely help those who have suffered loss, and are unprepared to handle the emotional trauma of victims.
  • Untrained volunteers are unprepared to work long, stressful days in austere and rugged living conditions.  
  • Spontaneous volunteers typically lack familiarity with situation assessments and incident management. Because of this, they usually end up being in the way, rather than providing meaningful help.
  • Untrained volunteers create atmospheres where scam artists, who seek to prey on hurting and vulnerable people, can get access into disaster settings under the guise of being a volunteer.
  • The greatest reason to train is that God deserves our very best in all that we do.  In order to achieve this, discipline, effort, and knowledge are required.  Trainings are an opportunity to grow as believers, so that we are ready when God calls.

Disasters will come.  Therefore, let me encourage you, be prepared to serve by being trained.  Victims deserve that.  Other disaster relief workers deserve that.  But most of all, our God deserves that!  A little training goes a long way in making us more effective and prepared to serve with excellence for the glory of our Lord.

Check out these opportunities for training in 2017 and 2018:

January 13, 2018 – First Baptist Church of Grayson

February 10, 2018 – Mexico Baptist Church in Marion

March 10, 2018 – Shelbyville First Baptist Church

April 14, 2018 – Eastwood Baptist Church in Bowling Green

September 15, 2018 – Immanuel Baptist Church in Corbin

For more information, contact the Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief office by phone at (502) 489-3527 or (866) 489-3527, by email at [email protected], or register for training at www.kybaptist.org/dr/.

 

Christmas – A Time of Giving

Christmas is a time of giving.  We are careful to select just the right gift for our family and friends.  They may or may not be expensive gifts, for giving is a means of showing our love, our thoughtfulness, and that we care for the other person.

At church we prepare food boxes for those less fortunate.  We may give poinsettias, fruit baskets, and/or gift cards to widows and widowers, and shop for clothes and toys for children.

At Christmas time we want to celebrate together.  We give of ourselves as we open our homes and hearts to those we love.   It is only December 12th and I have already been a part of 6 Christmas parties.  It was a time of food, fellowship, and sharing with one another, that may or may not have included Christmas gifts.

For Kentucky Baptists this Christmas included the giving of Christmas Backpacks filled with food, toys, clothing items, school supplies, hygiene items, and possibly a Bible or Bible story book.  Partnering with Kentucky Woman’s Missionary Union and Appalachian Regional Ministry, Kentucky Baptist Churches exceeded their goal of 5000, by filling nearly 8000 backpacks.  Southern Baptists as a whole filled nearly 72,000 backpacks, with an estimated 20,000 of those given to children in Kentucky.  Along with each backpack, a gospel presentation was shared.

I had the privilege of participating in the distribution of these backpacks in at least three locations.  What a joy to see the smiles on the children’s faces as they were given a Christmas backpack.  A BIG thank you to all who filled these backpacks.

Today I felt a lot like Santa as I picked up and delivered large black plastic bags filled with stuffed animals from the Richmond LifeWay Store, that were donated by the customers that shop there.  Thanks to Store Manager J.B. Hall for his partnership in eastern Kentucky ministries year-round.

Homemade quilts, throws, witnessing dolls, winter coats, shoes, scarves and gloves, are just a few of the items that came from individuals and churches to share with families at this special time of year.

Yes, Christmas is a time of giving, and I have been blessed to see the generosity of people these past few weeks.  But, let’s not forget that we give because He gave.  God gave us the special gift of His Son that first Christmas.  Along with our giving, let’s not forget to give the message of Hope that He came to bring.  Won’t you share that message this Christmas!!

Merry Christmas!!

A Year Later

What a ride the last year has been for my family.  After nearly 4 ½ years of waiting for our daughter from Ethiopia, my wife and I brought her home this time last year to be with her forever family.  By God’s grace the transition has gone very well.  In fact, her personality has blossomed over the last year, as she has become a very outgoing three-year-old.  Let’s just say, she knows how to work the camera!

As I look back over the year, God has taught me much about Himself through our adoption journey.  I am amazed by God’s love for us.  The first night that my daughter was with my wife and me in Ethiopia, my wife sang “Jesus Loves Me” to her as a way to sooth her to sleep.  Every night since then, my wife or I have sung this same song to her at bedtime.  She now won’t let us lay her down for bed without singing it!  We want her to know that God’s love for her is so deep and wide and high (Eph 3:17-18) that there is no place she can go where His love is not there.  We want her to know that God loves her so much that He sent Jesus to die in her place, if she will simply believe (John 3:16).  We want her to know that the love of God is not something she earns or even deserves; it is a gift from Him (Eph 2:8-9).

Closely related to God’s love for us is His (relentless) pursuit of us.  Because Jesus loves us, this I know, He takes great pains to pursue us and bring us to Himself.  As I reflect on the long journey of bringing our daughter home to her forever family, I remember days when it seemed like there was no end in sight.  No communication.  No updates. No pictures. No progress in the process.  Just when my wife and I would feel completely defeated, God would often send us a ray of sunshine in the form of a conversation, update, picture, or word of encouragement.  All we knew was that God had called us to be her parents and we would do whatever it took to bring her home.  Oh, how much more does God do this for us!  At any and all costs Jesus relentless pursues us in order to bring us into His forever family (1 John 4:10).

While I have learned more about God’s love and His pursuit of us during this journey, I have also been encouraged that He is at work for our good and His glory.  During those dark days of doubt and frustration, I can look back and see that God was working “all things for good” (Romans 8:28).  We reminded ourselves often of God’s intentional care for our lives and that He was working behind the scenes, especially when we could not see it.  All of this waiting and hoping is meant to produce trust in God, to cause us to run to God.  Much like the father asking Jesus to heal his son, we reply to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

God has been so good to our family, but what’s even more amazing is God is good even if the past year did not go as it has.  Yet, in His kindness He has been gracious to allow this past year to be one filled with joy (yes, challenges too).  I don’t know what the next year holds, but I am grateful I know who holds the next year!

Tearing Down the Walls

In November of 1989, the East German government announced it would allow limited travel across the West German border.  within hours of this news, hundreds of thousands of East and West Germans gathered around the Berlin wall.  A massive celebration erupted and people began spontaneously tearing down the wall with hammers and chisels.  The rest is history, and in October 1990 Germany was reunified.  The wall that had divided the people was brought down.

May I ask, are there any walls in your life that divide you from others?  Walls that place you on one side and separate you from those other folks?  Perhaps the young adult with more tattoos and piercings than you find comfortable?  Maybe that Syrian family that just arrived at the airport?  Could it be the Latino family who moved to your neighborhood?  Or that homeless person standing on the street corner near your workplace?  And if you really want to get personal, how about those Samaritans?

In Jesus day, there was a huge invisible wall that stood between Samaritans and Jews.  The two cultures had hated each other for over a thousand years or so.  Jews believed that Samaritans were half-breeds, and those who had rejected the true faith by marrying pagans.  A Jew counted a Samaritan as a little less than a stray dog.

Jesus, however, broke all the rules.  Jesus had reached out to a Samaritan woman at a well and shared that God was more concerned with worshipping in spirit and in truth than whose family you were born in.  Jesus showed us that God loves the world…every person in the world.

That is why we read in Acts 8 that God sent Philip to preach Christ in the city of Samaria, and revival broke out.  God’s hammer was tearing down walls.

But God was not through.  He sent Philip on a second cross-cultural mission, and as he journeyed, his path intersected with an Ethiopian eunuch.  Philip shared with him the truth of the Gospel, and the Ethiopian became a baptized follower of Christ.  The walls of race were hammered to the ground, and the two became brothers in Christ.

Walls always divide us.  God desires to bring down the walls and to unite us as family in Christ.

We cannot experience the life that God wants to give us unless we are willing to lay aside our bias and prejudice. Who is the Samaritan in your world?  Who is the Ethiopian eunuch that God has brought across your path?   Will you take God’s hammer and help Him bring down the walls?

Kentucky Baptists have always been willing to go to the airport and travel to the farthest corners of the world for the sake of the Gospel.  God is asking us today; will we be just as willing to go to the airport to meet a refugee family for Christ’s sake?  Would we be willing to go down the street and offer a little hospitality to the family that looks a little different from us for Jesus?

Will we be those who tear down the walls?

Interested in becoming involved with a refugee family, contact the Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief office to learn more at (502) 489-3527 or by ewmail at [email protected]

 

 

Missions Participation Involves Sending, Going and Making

The idea of Christ followers being involved in missions is supported throughout scripture. Two very familiar passages are Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8. Both record the words of Christ, telling His followers to go and make disciples of all people by being His witness in all places.

The church is not supposed to only study or learn about missions. The Bible is clear about our responsibility and uses action words like “send”, “go” and “make” disciples to emphasize the church’s role.  A church that is sending, going and making will experience a high level of missions participation by its members. Participation in missions is critical to healthy church development, individual spiritual growth and advancement of the gospel.  How exciting it is to learn of churches that are missions active, rather than simply missions minded.

Below is a list of Kentucky’s top ten churches, in terms of missions participation. Missions participation refers to mission trips, church planting efforts, local ministry projects and disaster relief responses.  Each of the churches has earned recognition because they had a greater percentage of their worship attendance participating in missions this year than they did the previous.

  1. Chestnut Grove Baptist Church, Lewisport, Jerry Dalton, pastor.
  2. Charleston First Baptist Church, Dawson Springs, Patrick Yates, pastor.
  3. East Hickman Baptist Church, Lexington, Kevin Davidson, pastor
  4. Oakland Avenue Baptist Church, Catlettsburg, Mike Blankenship, pastor.
  5. Tiny Town Baptist Church, Guthrie, James “Buck” Tidwell, pastor.
  6. Williamstown Baptist Church, Williamstown, Terry Leap, pastor.
  7. Little Flock Baptist Church, Shepherdsville, Rodney Alexander, pastor.
  8. Salem Baptist Church, Irvine, Jerry Smith, pastor.
  9. Mount Pisgah Baptist Church, Nancy, Patrick Patterson, pastor.
  10. Gamaliel Baptist Church, Gamaliel, Danny Pace, pastor.

Pastor “Buck” Tidwell shared that Tiny Town Baptist Church experienced an increase in missions participation because of their initial involvement in Operation Inasmuch a year ago.  Not only did that single day of community engagement through missions projects involve a large percentage of their Sunday morning attendance, but a weekly backpack ministry to needy children was birthed as a result. Now, every week members are participating in missions because they were first encouraged to participate in a one-day mission event.

I don’t know how or why all of the churches saw increased missions participation, but I do know that the more seeds that are sown, the greater the Kingdom harvest. Pastors should lead their people to participate in missions because we’re commanded to do so and we have a gospel to proclaim.  However, there are benefits to churches that are sending, going and making disciples through missions participation.

Benefits to the missions participating church include: 

  1. Improves health and vitality.
  2. Generates passionate and exciting worship.
  3. Stimulates revitalization and growth.
  4. Develops disciples.
  5. Puts emphasis on people, not buildings or budgets.
  6. Turns focus outward, rather than inward.
  7. A greater Kingdom harvest because more seeds are sown.

My prayer is that more churches will experience an increase in the number of people participating in missions, but it won’t happen accidentally.  It demands an intentional effort by the pastor and church leadership.  What will you do in your church to encourage greater missions participation that calls people to send, go and make?