When We All Get Together

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In July of 1977 our extended family gathered at the Alacca Bible Camp near Harpster, Idaho on the Clearwater River. My great-grandmother, Arvella Adams, was 85 years old, and her nine surviving children (she birthed ten), gathered with their families for the only Adams family reunion of my childhood. There were 85 of us; cousins and uncles and aunts, grandparents too. Some of us were close and saw each other frequently. Others met at the reunion. But we were all part of Grandma Arvella’s family and that was enough reason to gather. I remember it as a fun weekend, with food, games and stories. The following month some of us gathered again, only this time it was for the funeral of my 14-year-old brother, Mitch. None of us knew in July what August would bring.

Next week several hundred Northwest Baptists will gather at the Great Wolf Lodge in Ground Mound, WA. On Monday we’ll enjoy a Great Commission Celebration, followed by our Annual Meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. We’ll conduct a little business on Wednesday morning, but much of what we will do is worship together, learn some of what God is doing through us, gather information that will strengthen our ministries, catch up with old friends and make a few new ones.

The churches from which we will gather are located in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. We have 508 affiliated churches and church plants, with about 140 averaging 30 or fewer in worship, 250 averaging 50 or less, and about 90 churches averaging over 100 in weekly attendance. Remarkably, as we cooperate together, our churches, large, medium and small give about $2.85 million to missions through the Cooperative Program, and another $950,000 through cooperative mission offerings internationally, in North America, and in the Northwest.

Over the past year, our cooperative mission efforts enabled us to start 20 new churches in four languages. Additionally, upwards of a thousand from hundreds of churches received training in small group ministry, Bible teaching, VBS, preaching, pastoring, evangelism, worship, disaster relief, chaplaincy, church planting, and missions. Many of our churches engaged in direct mission efforts in Asia and in other parts of the world. In July, 113 Northwest Baptists, from 23 churches, served as volunteers in a Southeast Asia megacity where over 1,100 IMB missionaries and their children gathered for an extended time of retreat and training.

And here’s something you probably haven’t heard about. Ivan Montenegro, who leads our Spanish language church planting, worked with farmers in Northwest Washington to conduct evangelistic meetings among migrant peoples. Ivan describes them as “mini Billy Graham” types of meetings. The farmers were extremely helpful in getting the migrant farm workers to the meetings. And in one glorious Sunday in September, 25 Spanish-speaking pastors baptized 1,500 people! We know of nothing like it ever happening in the Northwest. Many of these migrant workers live in California, Texas and other places, and our Hispanic pastors are working to get them connected to Baptist churches where they live.

When we gather Nov. 11-13, we will celebrate what God has done through us. We’ll spend time reading God’s Word and praying. Children and teenagers will lead us in our public Bible readings. Moms, dads and pastors will lead us in prayer. Several gifted Bible teachers and preachers will bring messages all three days that we gather.
Those who gather will bring expectations and hopes and concerns. These will be met with smiles and tears, praises and prayers. One addition to this year’s gathering is the provision of “soul care,” where pastors, or pastors and wives, can schedule to meet with a fellow pastoral pilgrim whom God has equipped to listen and care for other pastors. This pastoral pilgrim has traversed some difficult trails and I’m so glad he’ll be with us. If you want to schedule a time to meet with Pastor Joe Chambers, click on the following link https://calendly.com/nwbc/soulcare?month=2019-11.

It’s going to be a sweet time, Northwest Baptists. We don’t know what the next month or the coming year will bring for any of us. There will be births and deaths, joys and sorrows, victories and setbacks, but I believe this year’s Northwest Baptist Family Reunion will help prepare us for the year to come.

A More Excellent Way

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The second mile … the longest day … the shot heard round the world … the golden rule. These phrases bring to mind images, thoughts and memories. Some relate to an historical event, but many come from the Bible. “A more excellent way” is a phrase that comes from the Scriptures. You might recognize it as a quote from 1 Corinthians 12, concluding Paul’s discourse on spiritual gifts and transitioning to one of the most beloved passages of Scripture – 1 Corinthians 13.

Known as “the love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13 is a poem that not only celebrates love, it reveals loving behavior in glorious detail. Because it is frequently used in weddings, the context of the teaching is often overlooked. The church in Corinth was a divided church, a sinful and deeply troubled church. Much like the church today, they valued giftedness and celebrity more than love. But 1 Corinthians 13 says that love is superior to supreme intelligence, mountain-moving faith, sacrificial generosity, and death-defying spiritual courage. A person who truly loves God and others is a greater gift to the church than anything else in the whole world!

Our churches need love. Our communities need love. Where will North westerners find love if they don’t find it in God’s people? They’ll find it nowhere. There’s a country song about “looking for love in all the wrong places.” That’s a description of every person before they find love in Jesus Christ.

A More Excellent Way is the theme for the annual meeting of Northwest Baptists. More than a theme, this phrase expresses the deep yearning we all have for God’s love. We’ll celebrate how Northwest Baptists are loving their communities. We’ll remind ourselves that how we love “the least of these” (another of those precious phrases) matters more to our Father than most anything else. In testimony and message, in Scripture readings and prayers, maybe even in reports, we’ll be called to live “a more excellent way.”

Northwest Baptists annual “family gathering” begins November 11 with a Great Commission Celebration and continues November 12-13 with the annual meeting. We’ll gather at the Great Wolf Lodge in Centralia, WA so bring the kids and grandkids. The water park is available to those attending our meetings and the room cost is deeply discounted for NWBC attendees.

Speakers include Richard Blackaby, Dennis Pethers, Carlos Rodriquez and NWBC President, Dustin Hall. Each of these men love the Lord and His people, and they are being used by God to build and bless His Church.

A funny thing happened in our home recently. My wife Paula took her blood pressure shortly before I got home and it was 110/62. I turned on the television news shortly after arriving and it was full of political conflict and other things that can stir emotions and boil blood. Paula checked her blood pressure 15 or 20 minutes into the news and it had shot up to 135/80! She’s been telling me ever since that I’m killing her by watching the news! But here’s the point, the news relates to things we have little control over. It’s probably better to focus on matters in which we can make a difference. We can “love our neighbors.” We can serve Jesus in our community. We can make a difference where we live. We need to pray for our leaders and our nation, but most of our attention should be given to people in whose lives we can make a difference by living “a more excellent way.”

A Heart for Pomeroy

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Recently I preached at FBC, Orofino, ID, population, 3,142. Orofino is a beautiful town on the Clearwater River, a few miles upriver from where the “Lewis and Clark Expedition” camped and made the five canoes in which they travelled all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Church members are currently seeking God’s man to serve as their pastor.

While in Orofino, a person made an offhand comment about a former Director of Missions having “a heart for Pomeroy.” Apparently he wanted to get a church started in the little town of Pomeroy, but it never happened. Pomeroy is in Washington State, 75 miles west of Orofino, with a population of 1,388. It is the only town in Garfield County. An internet search shows seven churches in Pomeroy, none of which are affiliated with the Northwest Baptist Convention.

But it was the phrase, “a heart for Pomeroy” that struck me. The phrase captured my attention because I have driven through Pomeroy many times “on my way” to another place, but I’ve never stopped in Pomeroy. It’s an attractive little town, but as many times as I’ve driven through it, I have not stopped, nor have I developed “a heart for Pomeroy.” I have thought about the fact that we have no church there. I have wondered if the churches that are there provide a faithful gospel witness in that town, but I’ve thought the same about dozens of other towns I drive through on my way to someplace else. It’s impossible to truly have a “heart” for dozens, or hundreds, of specific communities spread across thousands of miles of roads in the Northwest.

No, I don’t have a “heart for Pomeroy,” certainly not like that Director of Missions had many years ago. What’s more, I don’t personally know a person who has a “heart for Pomeroy,” at least none of which I’m aware.

That causes me to ask two questions. First, “Is there a person who has a heart for Pomeroy?” Second, “Is it important that someone has a heart for Pomeroy?” The answer to the first question is, I don’t know if there is a missionary/pastor/lover-of-Jesus who has a heart for Pomeroy, but if there is it’s probably someone who lives there, or near there, and who feels a deep sense of responsibility to reach that town for Christ. If there is one living person who has a heart for Pomeroy, it’s someone who knows that little town, or has someone they love living there, and they don’t want the one they love to be left without a faithful gospel witness. If there is a person alive with a heart for Pomeroy, it’s a person who has prayed for Pomeroy, and as they prayed names and faces came to mind.

Now for the second question, “Is it important that some living person has a heart for Pomeroy?” I believe the answer is yes. And if the answer is yes, who will that person be? Most likely it will be someone who feels responsible for Pomeroy, spiritually responsible, like the Director of Missions did. It may be someone who grew up there, or has family there. It will be someone who believes that every person deserves to have a gospel witness. If a person has a heart for Pomeroy, it will be a person deeply burdened that every child in the town has someone praying for them and sharing Christ with them. It will be someone who believes that every human being is made in the image of God, and thus every person is valuable and someone for whom Christ died, and that every person for whom Christ died has a basic right to know who Jesus is and what He did for them.

Every community needs people who love Jesus who also “have a heart” for their community. The tragedy, as I see it, is that we have far fewer people than we once did who are tasked with the responsibility to see that every town, and neighborhood, and people group, have a church ministering to them. There was a time, only a decade ago, when virtually every county in America had a Southern Baptist missionary working full-time to reach that county. In many places, like where I serve in the Northwest, a missionary might be assigned four or more counties. Still, there was at least one person in that part of the world who was responsible to “have a heart” for the people there.

We still have missionaries assigned to certain areas, but not as many, and they are assigned to vastly bigger territories. We can discuss and debate the strategic choices which were made, and are being made, that brought us to these reduced numbers. But it is probably more helpful to explore the question, “What do we do now?” The answer, I think, is that we need “average Christian people” (is there such a thing?) to invest themselves in Kingdom service, asking God to “give them a heart” for their city, for their people, and for their neighbors.

There aren’t enough “professional clergy” (a worse term than “average Christian”), or called-out missionaries, to assign to every community. We need more, many more, farmers and teachers and homemakers and business people who have “a heart for Pomeroy” and a heart for your town. Will you be one of those?

Travelling to Orofino and driving through Pomeroy was important for me, as was following the trail of those first explorers and being reminded of their do-whatever-it-takes mentality. It was that pioneering, overcoming spirit that brought people out west. And when you join a pioneering spirit to the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life, you have a heart that God can use to bless a city.

An Encouraging Word about God’s Work in the Northwest

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In a world where tragedy, scandal, and politics dominate the news, sometimes you need to hear a good, refreshing word. With that in mind, I want to share some of the really good things that have been happening in the Northwest.

As I write, 28 are gathered in our Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) building, learning how to serve churches as “transitional pastors.” These are men who’ve spent their lives as pastors, and now they will continue to serve churches that are seeking their next pastor. These men are lifelong learners and in ministry lifelong learning is the “fountain of youth.” It keeps you relevant, effective, and vigorous. Helping church prepare for the next pastor, and find a good pastor, is probably the most important and helpful thing we can do for a church.

This spring a preaching conference served 40 pastors, followed by another on reaching and caring for people (Count the Cost), with about the same number attending. “Count the Cost” is something you’ll be hearing more about as it will help any church regardless of size, location, ethnicity or language. We’ve also had 128 attend children’s ministry and VBS training this spring. Our annual Women’s Summit had 302 women, by far our largest attendance ever. One person told me that she brought a friend who was a Buddhist and she gave her life to Christ at the Women’s Summit!

Our annual Youth Conference had 440 in attendance, with 12 professions of faith. Our NWBC youth ministry leader, Lance Logue, invited two boys playing basketball to join the conference. They said they weren’t there for the conference, but he told them they were welcome to attend. They did, and both boys prayed to receive Christ!

In April we had 247 gather for our annual NWBC Church Planter’s Retreat. This included 58 pastors, 45 wives, and over 100 of their kids. Twenty-two volunteers taught the VBS curriculum to the kids. Languages represented among these church planters included English, Spanish, Korean, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Romanian and Mandarin. And we had four new churches launch on Easter Sunday!

What about Disaster Relief? In April 140 DR volunteers attended a two-day training event, preparing for wherever they might be deployed. If you have a disaster in your area, know that we have people ready to serve. DR chaplains have been called upon in school shootings and other traumatic events.

You are providing all types of leadership training and resources by supporting missions through the Cooperative Program. When people are trained, you are providing the training through the NWBC. When Disaster Relief volunteers are deployed, you are sending them through the commitment of your church to invest in a cooperative mission’s strategy. At our church planting retreat, I told all of our church planters that every cooperating NWBC church is investing in them through Cooperative Program missions giving (and through the Northwest Impact Mission Offering).

I know I’m giving you a lot of numbers, but these numbers represent people, and most of these numbers represent people trained for ministry in our churches – your church! Is it making a difference? Yes! According to our Annual Church Profile information, worship attendance increased in our NWBC churches to 33,433 in 2018, up from 29,412 in 2017. Small group attendance increase to 20,406, up from 18,455 in 2017. Total baptisms reported by our churches were 1,742. This number is down from 1,954 the previous year, but the general trend over five years is up. That said, we must make sharing the gospel a top priority and it is our commitment to help you by providing resources and training yearly.

One final word: please pray for the 115 people from 26 of our NWBC churches who will serve hundreds of IMB missionaries and their children in Asia this coming July.

I hope this brief report encourages you as it does me. It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!

Black Holes and the Gravity of Death

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It’s been a week since we saw the first stunning photographic image of a black hole. A network of telescopes dispersed across the globe, called Event Horizon Telescope, zoomed in on the massive monster 55 million light-years from earth in the constellation Virgo. With a mass 6.5 billion times more than that of our sun, and a diameter estimated to be 23.6 billion miles (the diameter of earth is 7917.5 miles), the science which enabled the photo has been over 100 years in the making (Lisa Grossman and Emily Conover in Science News, 4/10/19).

The term “black hole” speaks to the fact that its mass is so great that even light cannot escape its gravitational pull, thus it is black. It is the ultimate trap from which there is no escape, thus it is a “hole” into which we cannot see and from which nothing can emerge.

Science fiction writers have spun terrifying tales about being consumed by a black hole. And though that would be horrific, I’m sure, the black hole that is more fearful, and an ever-present reality for every human being, is the black hole of death.

If succumbing to the gravitational pull of a black hole seems impossibly remote, succumbing to the black hole of death is a certainty we are reminded of almost daily. Beginning with Abel, every person ever born has been consumed by death; Enoch and Elijah are the only exceptions noted in the Scriptures.

The certainty of death, and the fear it evokes, has been recorded by all peoples throughout history. Most civilizations have theorized that there is another life beyond the black hole of death, but this hope of another life was impossibly shrouded in darkness. There was simply no way to know for sure whether the Egyptian Pharaohs would receive the afterlife for which they so extravagantly prepared. The same was true for the ancient Chinese or the Norsemen of Europe. Both ancient and modern religions have theorized what might come after death. But how could one know for sure? Because death was a black hole, no one had ever broken free from its gravitation pull and emerged to describe what the hole of death held.

And then came Jesus. Like all before and after Him, Jesus Christ entered into the black hole of death. He was as dead as any person who has ever died. Totally and completely dead. Unlike all others, however, Jesus plunged into the black hole of death willingly and voluntarily. And, unlike all others, Jesus was liberated from the black hole of death after three days. No one before or since has emerged from death finally and forever, except Jesus. Jesus restored life to Lazarus following his death, but like others in the Bible who were raised to life, Lazarus only emerged from death’s black hole temporarily. He died again on another day.

When Jesus emerged from death’s black hole, He rose triumphantly and victoriously as The One who forever defeated death. Until the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death was a black hole whose gravitational pull was impossible to overcome. Even today, no one but Jesus Christ has emerged from the black hole of death. He remains the sole overcomer of the grave.

However, the Bible contains a promise, multiple promises, actually, that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the first of many. “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). And, “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16).

This week Christians will remember the death of Christ on the cross, the day in which He plunged into death’s black hole. By His death He secured the eternal salvation of all who trust in Him. But even as we remember the death of Jesus, we do so knowing that Resurrection Day followed shortly three days hence, forever removing the sting of death’s black hole.

The universe God created is vast and mysterious beyond our feeble ability to see and know. When we get glimpses of it like we did with the black hole photo, we are stunned beyond description. What is more amazing, however, is that the God who created all that is, loves us and knows us, even to the detail of numbering the hairs on our heads. And because of this, we are set free from the fear that death will be a black hole of separation from all those we know and love.

If you haven’t yet given your life to Jesus Christ, do so now. Come to Jesus and experience life now and forever.

Chinese Baptist Church, Seattle, a Missions Success Story

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Recently Paula and I attended Chinese Southern Baptist Church (CSBC) in Seattle where we joined them in celebrating 35 years of ministry. Founded by returning missionaries to China in 1984, Pastor Andrew Ng has led the church for more than 30 years. The church was formed by reaching Cantonese speaking people, most coming from Hong Kong. On this day, they baptized six new believers and also had the blessing of recognizing the very first person baptized when the church was founded 35 years ago.

CSBC represents the best of missions in the Northwest. Not only do they continue to reach people for Christ, this church which was begun through the Cooperative Program (CP) giving of Northwest and SBC churches, is now a leader in CP mission giving themselves. They also participate in the Northwest Baptist Convention partnership with our international missionaries (IMB) in Asia.

Of particular interest is that Chinese Southern Baptist Church now has an English language ministry that is larger than its Cantonese ministry. Of the six baptized the Sunday we were there, four worship with the English language congregation and two with the Cantonese congregation. Pastor Matthew Zwitt has led the English language ministry for eight years. Under the wise leadership of Pastor Ng, the church came to understand that as it ages, and the children grow, English would become the preferred language of second and third generation immigrants. Also, an English language ministry has enabled them to reach people beyond the Chinese community. We met people from Vietnam, Japan, China, Taiwan, Macao and the United States, worshiping together in English. Pastor Zwitt speaks only English, with no Cantonese ability. Still, he has learned that culture is broader than language, and he has learned to thrive in a majority Chinese-culture church.

CSBC is successfully transitioning into an English language majority church, which is what most of our immigrant churches must do to remain vibrant and effective into the future. The experience of CSBC is not unique. The Northwest has Korean, Russian, Japanese, Vietnamese, Romanian, Burmese and Spanish majority churches that have strong English-language ministries. In one Vietnamese church, the pastor preaches in both languages, moving back and forth, seemingly without effort, from one language to the next. Most churches have separate worship services for English. One church worships in English, but has small groups in multiple Asian languages. They are taking various approaches, but in their own way, our immigrant churches are seeking to reach people, including their own children, with the message of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we wonder what our mission efforts accomplish. Missionary work is never easy, but assessment is aided by time, even a lifetime, and by remembering that God has been writing its story all along.

Jesus and your Neighbor, that’s the Test

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Jesus said, “I tell you … there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

One of the most striking characteristics in the ministry and message of Jesus is his attention to the value and importance of a single individual. Much of what we know about Jesus comes from his interaction with one person and his parables that focused on the worth or behavior of a single person – Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman at the Well, the man born blind, Lazarus, Mary, Martha, Peter, Pilate, the Rich Young Ruler, the Prodigal Son, and so many others.

The value that Jesus places on a single person is one of the most important and attractive qualities of Jesus. The “end-justifies-the-means” ethic of tyrants and bullies who are willing to sacrifice the individual for some “higher purpose,” or for the “greater number,” is devastatingly refuted by Jesus’ treatment of the most ordinary humans.

Recently I’ve been thinking about this as it relates to two things. First, some in positions of power and influence are willing to damage an individual, or fail to seek justice for an individual, in order to protect an institution. The institution could be a church, denomination of churches, or a particular “ministry.” In order to “protect the ministry,” an individual person is hurt or allowed to suffer. Second, organizations, including ministries, are tempted to suppress the truth (poor performance numbers, mistreatment of individuals, etc.) when they think the truth will bring a “backlash” from the constituents (the people paying the bills).

When did Jesus ever mistreat an individual in order to protect the religious establishment? When did Jesus ever suppress the truth, fearing people couldn’t handle the truth? The answer to both questions is – NEVER. Jesus never hurt an individual, no matter how unimportant some thought they were, in order to please the religious established or protect the religious institution from others learning the truth.

There are two questions that will help you know how to handle any difficulty or ethical situation you will face in life: What does God say about this? And, how does it affect my neighbor? Other forms of the two questions might be: What does the Bible say? And, how does it affect an individual person?”

I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot, mostly because my sleep has been disturbed by leaders suppressing the truth, or hurting an individual, in order to “protect” the ministry. We never protect our ministry by suppressing the truth, even if the truth is ugly … especially when the truth is ugly. God’s people can handle the truth. What they can’t handle is hiding the truth or avoiding the truth.

Equally disturbing is a willingness to let a person suffer, or to actually harm a person, in order to protect or promote the “ministry.” God will not, He will not ever, bless a ministry in which a person is deliberately harmed, or in which harm is not redressed.
The test is really quite simple, Jesus and my neighbor. If I’m good with them, nothing much will go wrong. If I am good with them, I don’t need to worry about my “religious institution” or establishment. And with that said, I can now sleep undisturbed.