You Can’t Be One and Not the Other

I gave my life to Christ at the age of nine.  I understood then, as much as young boy can, that I was making a commitment to become a Christ follower.  That meant allowing Christ to control every aspect of my life.  I knew that my life was no longer mine.  I was to model my life, attitude and actions after Him.  Whatever Christ did, I was supposed to do.

Scripture tells us to imitate Christ, walk as He did and follow His steps.  (1 John 2:6, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 Peter 2:21).   I didn’t know that I would one day serve as a missionary or go on a mission trip.  But I have come to understand that if I’m a Christ follower, I am also a missionary, because that’s what He was. 

A missionary is defined by the North American Mission Board of the SBC as a person who, in response to God’s call and gifting, leaves his or her comfort zone and crosses cultural, geographic or other barriers to proclaim the Gospel and live out a Christian witness in obedience to the Great Commission. 

Jesus became the first missionary when He left heaven and came down to earth.  God called His son to leave the comfort of heaven and go to earth.  Now that’s a change of geography and culture for sure!  His mission was to seek and save the lost who needed to be rescued.  He engaged the indigenous people of the earth while proclaiming the Gospel.  He lived His life as a witness to the Father’s love.  What a missionary He was!        

I want my life to reflect Christ and pray that people see Him in me.  If I want to be like Christ in every way, it will mean going as a missionary because that’s what He did.  I might not cross an ocean, but I will need to cross the street or grocery isle.  I might not go to a foreign land, but I will need to engage the internationals in my community.  I might not be sent by a mission agency, but I have been sent by Christ Himself (Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:19-20).  I am thankful to be a follower of Christ AND missionary – you can’t be one and not the other.    

A Vaccine in Every Arm and the Gospel to Every Home

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, almost 500,000 Americans have lost their lives due to COVID-19.  This sobering statistic and the threat of even more deaths has caused pharmaceutical companies to up their game.  They are working harder and faster, in an effort, to get a vaccine shot in the arm of every American. 

Prior to COVID-19, there was a very little desire for competing companies to work together.   But the urgency of the situation now required companies to think much bigger and bolder in-order to accomplish the goal.  One White House official said “we have to take bold action and overwhelm this”. 

As a result, Merck and Johnson & Johnson realized they could be better together and decided to work in partnership to ensure a greater impact toward the goal of defeating the virus.  Another White House official speaking about the partnership said “they understood this was a wartime effort. This was their legacy. This was their time.”

Getting the vaccines made, put into vials, and shot into arms is a massive undertaking involving many different people.  The Defense Production Act, which gives the government the power to compel companies to support a war effort, could have forced cooperation between Mercke and Johnson & Johnson.  But it didn’t have to because these two companies voluntarily chose to work together in order to address an urgent need.  As a result, millions more Americans will have the opportunity to receive a vaccination in their arm in an effort to avoid death. 

COVID-19 is a serious virus and statistics reveal that it shouldn’t be taken lightly.  However, there is an even more concerning statistic shared by the Glenmary Research Center, who reports that 85% of Kentuckians do not a have a relationship with Christ.  It’s alarming to think how many will die without Christ and spend eternity in hell because they’ve not received the gospel.  But how can they receive the gospel if it isn’t shared with them? 

The Kentucky Baptist Convention’s “Gospel to Every Home” initiative is an opportunity for associations and churches to partner together so that our neighbors, family members and co-workers might receive the gospel and avoid eternity without Christ. Getting the gospel to 1,728,681 homes is bold action and a goal that can be accomplished if we voluntarily choose to work together. We’re in a spiritual battle and this is a monumental task requiring a wartime effort!  Let’s take action with an even greater sense of urgency and cooperation than Merck and Johnson & Johnson, and get the gospel to every home before it’s too late.  

Love Thy Neighborhood

I enjoy celebrating Valentine’s Day because it presents an opportunity to show love to those I care about … and eat chocolate too!   I will always try to remember my wife, daughters, and those closest to me on Valentine’s Day.  But what about my neighborhood?   If you’re like me, I don’t associate Valentine’s Day with showing love to my neighbors, but shouldn’t I? 

Matthew 22:34-40 says “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”   Jesus was saying, don’t stop at just loving me, love those around you too.   

I have the privilege and responsibility of being a covenant member in a young church whose mission is “to love God, love people and love community.”  From the beginning, it has been our goal to show our love for God by serving our community and those in it.  

One of the many ways that we loved and served our community early on was to spend afternoons tutoring children in the local elementary school.  The elementary school we chose to serve was struggling because very few parents were involved, many of the students were new to the US and learning English as a Second language, a majority of its students were on free or reduced lunches and academically, they were only in the 14 percentile state-wide.    

Our willingness to serve and love the children opened doors of trust with the faculty who were curious as to why we cared so much.  Our tutoring helped those students who were falling behind to catch up while discovering that someone genuinely cared about them.  It provided opportunities for sharing Christ and inviting families to join our community of faith.  It encouraged the teachers and faculty who had become so discouraged in their work.

Showing God’s love to the school greatly benefitted them … and us.  That school was recognized as the greatest success story in the district.  Their growth surpassed 90% of the elementary schools in the state, earning them a special distinction as “High Progressing” school, after finishing in the 71st percentile, up from the previous 14th.  WOW, what a difference our involvement and service had made. Their principal contributed the amazing turn-around to a team effort and thanked the church’s volunteers for loving the students and showing them the love of God.    

Our service through the school allowed me to see first-hand how loving our community opened doors that would have otherwise remained closed.  I saw the smile of a child who finally understood how to complete his homework assignment. I discovered what it means to love your neighbor and most importantly, I witnessed people coming to faith in Christ because we loved God, people, AND our community.  Let me challenge you to love your neighborhood this Valentine’s Day … and eat chocolate too?    

All Life is Sacred

January is a month set aside for focusing on the sacred nature of human life. Sanctity of Human Life” Sunday will be observed throughout the Southern Baptist Convention on Jan. 17, marking the 48th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe V. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand in America.  Sadly, according to the Office of Vital Statistics, there were 3,664 abortions performed in Kentucky in 2019.

While Kentucky Baptists certainly won’t be celebrating Roe v. Wade, we will be celebrating that because of almost 50 pregnancy care centers affiliated with the KBC, hundreds of babies were spared from abortion last year.  Additionally, many women have accepted Christ because pregnancy center staff members shared the Gospel with them.

The sanctity of human life is a core principle for me as a follower of Jesus Christ.  I believe that humans are created by God and in His image (Genesis 1:27). That means that every person, from conception to death, possesses dignity and worth – including unborn children, elderly individuals and those with special needs. As Christ followers, we are called to defend, protect and value all human life. 

Human life is defended, protected and valued everyday throughout Kentucky in pregnancy resource centers that are there to support and encourage mothers through the birth process by helping them to choose life for their unborn children.

With Sanctity of Life Sunday only a few weeks away, let me encourage you to be a friend to life by offering assistance to one of the many pregnancy care centers in Kentucky.  Why not visit your local pregnancy resource center to discover ways that you can help. Learn how you can pray for and/or with center directors and volunteers.

Pray that God will:

  • Protect center personnel (board of directors, staff, volunteers, families) from any type of physical abuse or harm and from discouragement or doubt from the enemy.
  • Meet the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of center staff.
  • Lead clients to the center so they may hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Give counselors special wisdom and boldness in sharing the Gospel with clients, challenging them to live a life of obedience and purity.
  • Change the minds and hearts of mothers who are considering abortion and give them the courage to choose life and consider adoption, when appropriate, for their unborn children.
  • Bring healing and a renewed relationship with Christ to women and families inside and outside the church who have chosen abortion in the past.
  • Meet the financial needs of each resource center.

Consider helping your local pregnancy resource center in the following ways:

  • Donate baby clothing, furniture, car seats, and/or formula.
  • Provide food, clothing, and a safe place for expectant mothers.
  • Serve as a mentor for expectant mothers.
  • Sponsor a baby shower for the center with gifts of clothing, furniture, diapers, and formula.
  • Partner with a pregnancy resource center to teach young women good parenting skills.
  • Plan a mission trip to a center to do maintenance, painting, and redecorating, if needed.

The Kentucky Baptist Convention recognizes and appreciates the life-giving ministry of faith-based pregnancy resource centers in Kentucky. We encourage your support of the pro-life pregnancy resource centers with which KBC churches and associations partner. For a list of those centers, visit: http://www.kybaptist.org/pregnancycare/

KY Churches Focus on SENDING Rather Than Seating

Our God is a sending God.  Nearly every time He speaks to someone in scripture, He is sending them on a mission.  From Abraham to Moses to Paul, to us, God’s people are always being sent into the world on mission.  He sent His best and only son into the world to save us.  Jesus is referred to as “sent” forty seven times in the New Testament.   Clearly, God is a sender by nature.  Jesus sent the apostles, and He has sent us.  After His resurrection, Jesus passed on this responsibility to His disciples:  “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).

In “Gaining by Losing”, J.D. Greear challenges us to recognize that in healthy growing churches, sending capacity is more important than seating capacity.  Many churches think their primary problems are about declining baptism numbers and poor attendance. When often times, they are evidence that the church has drifted from it’s primary vision to SEND members out on mission. 

A church that is sending equips members to demonstrate the gospel every day in their workplaces, neighborhoods, and schools and be prepared to give an answer to those in our community who ask them to “give the reason for the hope that they have”  (1 Peter 3:15).

What is SENDING?  The act of enlisting, equipping and mobilizing believers to engage the world with the gospel through:

  • local community ministry
  • short term missions
  • church planting efforts
  • disaster relief work
  • vocational ministry
  • long-term missionary service

Below is a list of Kentucky’s top ten churches, in terms of missions participation. 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. Turner Ridge, Falmouth – pastor Dale Beighle
  2. First, Inez – pastor Casey Carver
  3. Finchville, Finchville – pastor David Ladner
  4. Hartford, Hartford – pastor Jason Bratcher
  5. Kelly, Hopkinsville – pastor Joshua Powell
  6. Island Creek, Manchester – pastor George Grigsby
  7. Oak Grove 2, Eubank – pastor David Gambrel
  8. Deane, Millstone – pastor Chris Dool
  9. Muldraugh Hill, Lebanon – pastor Billy Compton
  10.  Flat Rock, Orlando – pastor Gregory Burton

Let’s reach our communities, nation and world with the gospel by placing our focus on SENDING, rather than seating.    

Baptist Associations Need Our Prayers –

The Baptist association has been an important part of our history as Southern Baptists. It has been described as “the oldest cooperative unit in Baptist life tracing its existence back over 300 years.” 

The Baptist association has been defined as “a fellowship of local autonomous churches with a singular vision to work together to claim their surrounding areas and ultimately the world for the Kingdom of Christ!”

Southern Baptist associations are much like Southern Baptist churches in that they are a diverse group and are unique in many ways. Some associations are large while others are small, so they cooperate with a neighboring association to accomplish their vision, maybe even sharing an Associational Mission Strategist (AMS).

I am blessed to have been part of some great associations in my ministry.  I remember as a young man how the Green Valley Association brought churches together to do missions that our individual church could not do by itself. I’ve seen associations equip and resource leaders for ministry service through their church.  I know of several Kentucky associations that serve as catalysts for church planting, and others that lead member churches to engage in evangelism and ministry efforts.  

The Baptist Association is a value to member churches and important to their accomplishment of The Great Commission.  Therefore, Southern Baptists have chosen to recognize October 18-25, 2020 as the Week of Prayer for Associational Missions. 

Would you join with me in praying for your association in the following ways?

1. Pray for a spirit of unity and harmony within the churches as they partner together. Satan loves to cause division between believers and churches.  Jesus pointed out the importance of unity in His priestly prayer (John 17) and a lack of harmony between churches is a stumbling block to accomplishment of Kingdom goals.

2. Pray for your Associational Mission Strategist and his family. An AMS is many things to many people, but he must first-of-all be a spiritual leader. He is expected to care for and challenge churches while loving and leading pastors.  He has a difficult task. He and his family will be under attack and need your prayer support. 

3. Pray for a clear vision to plant new churches. There is great opportunity in our state today for the planting of new churches.  New churches are needed as we become increasingly unchurched and lost. Existing churches may not know how to plant a new church, but an association can be proactive and helpful to provide needed leadership and support.

4. Pray for effectiveness in strengthening existing churches. Many existing, traditional churches are struggling today. Their effectiveness is sometimes hindered by history and attitudes that limit their vision and create unnecessary challenges to outreach. An association is able to encourage and provide the resources for dysfunctional churches to become healthy and spiritually reproductive.

5. Pray for a passion and plan to impact lostness, both locally and globally.  The 2010 Glenmary reports shows that only 12.9% of Kentuckians attend a church of any kind.  Lostness in the Commonwealth abounds! Some churches need training, resources, or an evangelistic initiative like the Gospel to Every Home in-order to impact lostness. 

6. Pray that your association is challenged to resource, support and encourage every pastor.  There is no doubt that pastors are targeted by the enemy who desires to destroy their families and ministries. The AMS can be a great friend and encourager to local pastors. Fellowship and time together gives pastors the opportunity to just be themselves and share their needs and frustrations.

So, please pray for your association and your AMS during the week of prayer for associational missions. Lead your church to pray for the association and AMS too!  As the association grows stronger, the churches will benefit and become more effective in their Kingdom work.

Teachers Struggle with Back to School

It is “back to school” like no other time in our history.  School districts are debating whether to reopen in person or conduct online learning, or a combination of both!  Schools that do reopen may be faced with enforced closures if the virus positivity rate increases within the school or district. The uncertainty of how to respond to the virus has created unbelievable stress for teachers, students and parents. That stress is heightened by the polarization of the loud opinions concerning how teachers should do their job.

Our educational system is built upon the backs of caring, faithful and committed teachers, whom in most districts are underpaid and underappreciated.  There’s a huge learning curve for many since most have never taught remotely before.  Our teachers are working fast and furious to meet the demands of the time.  They know that at a moment’s notice, they may have to pivot and change course… again.

The teachers I know, and I’m married to one, desire to make a difference in the lives of their students.  They teach because it’s their passion, and in many cases, their calling.  I’ve heard teachers talk about the many unusual challenges and I’ve seen first-hand the stress that COVID-19 has created in their lives.  However, they keep pressing on, because of the students.  

Teachers are concerned that online learning may be hindered because some students don’t have access to proper technology.  Will teachers and students be safe if in-person classes are held?  Or, how do you console a child by remaining socially distant? Some wonder if they can effectively teach while simultaneously enforcing social distancing and managing the safety of their students.  The list of questions and concerns goes on and on. 

The people we depend upon to educate our community’s children are struggling and the church has an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ to them.  There are many ways that we can provide encouragement and support to local teachers and doing so will open the door for gospel conversations. It is also very likely that schools will promote and participate in your church’s activities in the future if you provide practical, loving support to their teachers.

Here are some suggestions for how your church can minister to teachers:

  • Appreciation breakfasts/lunches or coffee bars
  • Drawings for gift cards or special services
  • Provide volunteers to help with reading/after school-tutoring etc.
  • Notes of encouragement
  • Personalized care packages
  • Meal trains – volunteers sign up to deliver to teacher’s home
  • Adopt a teacher/classroom to care for
  • Donations from a classroom “wish list”
  • PRAY for them and WITH them

For more information and ideas for how your church can show support and encourage teachers during this difficult time, check out the “We Love Teachers” initiative implemented by Seed to Oaks at www.seedtooaks.com

Make Sure Zoe’s Not the Last

Last fall, Rockcastle Baptist Association hosted and implemented “Give Hope”, a Christmas Backpack distribution for children in the area.  A young lady named Zoe, who was very shy and hesitant, came and selected a backpack filled with surprises to take home.  She heard the gospel shared and enjoyed the activities and events of the day.  Later that night after arriving home, she opened the backpack to discover a Bible.  Zoe had never had her own Bible and was interested and curious to explore the stories within.  Although she struggled with depression and anxiety, while reading her new Bible she experienced an overwhelming sense of trust, peace, and joy. Zoe was so excited to learn that God could love someone like her and that He died to give her life!  Full of joy, she came out of her room crying and hugging her mom.  I don’t know the individual or church that packed and prepared the backpack for Zoe, but God does, and He worked through them to reveal Himself to a young girl in need of hope.  

Not many months from now, backpacks full of clothes, toys and food items will be distributed and the gospel shared by missionaries and church planters with other children like Zoe. I anticipate the number of families needing help at Christmas this year to be even greater because of high unemployment due to COVID-19.  Business is returning slowly in the Commonwealth, but the future remains uncertain for so many who are still out of work, or only allowed to return part-time. 

The increased need for backpacks and the hope they provide is challenged by the fact that many churches are just now returning to in-person gatherings because of coronavirus restrictions.  That challenge is exacerbated because most small groups and mission organizations who normally assume the responsibility for leading the initiative are still not meeting. 

For this reason, your help is needed so that other children can experience at Christmas this year, the joy and hope that Zoe discovered.   Prayerfully consider the following:

  • Use your social media network to promote the effort and encourage others to participate in preparing and packing a backpack.
  • Some small groups and mission organization are using Zoom, MicroSoft Teams, or Google Groups to stay connected during this time.  Use these platforms to tell about the need and share how your group can get involved. 
  • Lead your family to shop for and pack a backpack, praying together for the child that will receive it.  This is a great way for children to join mom and dad in showing the love of Christ. 
  • Take a few minutes during Sunday worship, in-person, on the parking lot or online, to promote the Christmas backpacks and determine to be the church, not just go!
  • Let us know how many backpacks you plan to pack by registering online so that we can coordinate with the needs of missionaries and church planters.

The coronavirus is not the first challenge the church has confronted when meeting needs and sharing the gospel, and it most likely will not be the last.  Zoe wasn’t the first person to come to Christ because of Christmas backpacks, and my prayer is that she will not be the last.  Let’s work together through this crisis and creatively explore how we might most effectively prepare backpacks to be shared at Christmas, so that Christ will be made known, again and again and again!

For more information about Christmas backpacks, contents, packing, dates and delivery, visit:  www.kybaptist.org/backpacks.

It’s a Perfect Fit

For several years, the Kentucky Baptist Convention has helped local churches and associations to conduct medical and dental clinics that minister to the needs of people in their communities.  The clinics have traditionally been conducted on weekends during the months of March, April and May.  However, the work to meet the medical and spiritual needs of people through the clinics begins months earlier.   The KBC equips churches, assisting with volunteer and medical personnel enlistment, evangelism training, logistics, clinic set up and a follow-up strategy.   

One of the resources provided to churches hosting a clinic is use of a modern, state of the art dental unit owed by SEND Relief of the North American Mission Board.  The cost of the unit and supplies used while in Kentucky are provided by the KBC as a service to our churches. The unit has two operatories and is fully equipped to perform most any dental service, including x-ray. 

The dental unit was purchased with Annie Armstrong Easter offering gifts and is needed to perform the services provided at the clinics, but it isn’t nearly as effective without Martha Smith.  Martha has faithfully served as the primary coordinator on the dental unit since the KBC’s first clinic.  She was ready to go again this year, until COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the clinics scheduled for 2020. 

Martha has been working in dentistry since 1975.  She brings to the clinic each weekend she volunteers, her love for the Lord, her experience in the dental field and an infectious smile.  This ministry allows Martha to mix her two passions, dentistry and helping others.  “It’s a perfect fit for me!”  The weekends on the dental unit are long.  They begin with set up and prep before the clinic opens and Martha won’t finish till the clinic ends and everything has been cleaned and put back in its place. 

It’s obvious that Martha loves what she does and just as obvious is the fact that the dentists and assistants volunteering on the unit love her.  It’s not uncommon for a church hosting a clinic to ask, “is Martha coming again?”  

Martha shared with me that she enjoys listening to and sharing with those who come to the clinics for help. God has opened her eyes through the ministry to the many problems and difficult situations people find themselves in.   They come to the clinics for medical and dental help, but Martha knows that their real need is spiritual healing that only Jesus can provide. 

Martha is thankful that God has provided this avenue of ministry for her.  “I don’t know why Christians think they need to go overseas to serve, when there are so many opportunities for using our gifts and sharing the gospel right here in our own communities”, she said. 

I’m excited and thankful that Martha is willing to use the gifts God has given her for His glory.  She and so many others are blessed because of her obedient service.  Christ followers will always find it a “perfect fit” when we use the gifts and talents God has given us for His glory. 

Will COVID-19 Distract Us from the Vision?

The world’s attention has been on COVID-19 for the last several months. We’ve seen how the virus can be passed from person to person and we’re learning daily how to protect ourselves and those we love while creatively ministering in a constantly changing world of uncertainty. I’m concerned about those who might be infected with the virus, but I’m even more concerned about those who have yet to be infected with the love of Christ.

Prior to this “new normal” surrounding COVID-19, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd announced a five-year initiative to reach every person with the Gospel in every town, every city, every state and every nation. Vision 2025 contains five major strategic actions for the SBC to accomplish by 2025.  My prayer is that COVID-19 will not be a distraction from these goals. Now, more than ever, we must work together to bring this vision to fruition because the world is looking for hope that can only be found in Christ!

One of the goals is to increase the total number of full-time, fully funded missionaries by a net gain of 500, giving the SBC 4,200 full-time, fully funded missionaries through the International Mission Board (IMB).

I find this goal humbling and challenging because our new normal is something many of our missionaries content with every day in their ministry settings. While we’re dealing with a contagious virus for what is probably only a brief period of time, our missionaries serve in places where things such as infectious diseases, intestinal disorders, flesh eating bacteria, and parasites that cause fatal diseases, are common daily occurrences.

So, how will we callout and enlist those God is leading to serve?  What will we do to contribute toward an increased number of missionaries?  I believe this goal is attainable, but it’s going to take every pastor and church taking hold of it and doing their part locally.   

Here are some practical steps that each local pastor and church can take toward increasing the number of missionaries serving on the field:

1. PREACH sermons that challenge people to go – 21% of missionaries were called to serve as the result of a missions sermon in their local church.

2. AFFIRM those upon whom you recognize God is leading – to the one who is questioning his or her abilities, your words may be the confirmation they need to go.

3. HOST a missions conference – 20% of missionaries felt called to serve after listening to a missionary speak. 

4. PROMOTE missions offerings – we will only realize an increase in missionaries going when churches send the necessary financial resources to sustain their ministries.

5. SHARE what God is doing through our missionaries – how exciting and stimulating it is to hear stories or see videos that help us to understand what missionaries are doing and how they’re making a difference.

6. PARTNER with missionaries – going becomes more personal when over a period of 3-5 years when a church is Skyping, sending teams, providing prayer support and sharing ministry resources with specific missionaries.

7. LEAD your church to engage in a short-term missions experience – many full-time vocational missionaries were inspired to go and serve as the result of a short-term missions trip.

8. PRAY and lead your church to do so – the fields are ripe unto harvest and the need for missionaries is great.

I suspect the fears and concerns over COVID-19 will pass, but our concern for the lost who have yet to hear the hope of the Gospel should never pass. Satan poses a much greater risk to humanity than COVID-19, so we should work together to make the kingdoms of this world the Kingdom of our Lord.  If our desire is to see people from every nation come to know Him, then we should be willing to do all that we can to accomplish the goal of more people going as missionaries.