November 2017 Mind of the Missionary

At the end of the book of Deuteronomy, there is a description of Moses that sounds daunting …”And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders, which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh….” (Deuteronomy 34:10-11)

As Claren and I begin this journey with you all at Pickens Baptist Association, we see the footprints of Dr. Farley, whose influence and witness has helped shape the leaders and churches within the PBA. At the annual meeting, we heard testimony after testimony of Dr. Farley’s mentoring, presence and help throughout his 20 years of service. I can imagine a little how Joshua felt as he was to be the new leader of the Jews, a little overwhelmed. As a matter of fact, the Lord came and spoke directly to him…”Therefore arise…as I was with Moses, so I will be with you, I will not fail you, nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage.” (Joshua 1:2, 5-6)

These words comfort and encourage me as Claren and I start our ministry with you. We understand that our task is not to undo nor erase what Dr. Farley and Miss Jacque did but to build upon the foundation which they and the other previous Director of Missions laid. May we be found faithful in doing so.

On another note, Claren and I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of your love and hospitality. Your hugs, smiles, meals, visits, love offerings, and phone calls are gratefully appreciated. These sincere expressions of concern have made us feel at home. Thank you!!

In the upcoming issues of the “Mind of the Missionary,” I hope you will get a better idea of what God is putting on my mind and heart to share with you.

Until next month…

Blessings,

Brother Lyle

October 2017 Mind of the Missionary

Saved for Serving is the title of a book written by one of the international missionaries who grew up in Pickens. Emma Fox Puthuff served from 1885 to 1889 in Brazil until health issues brought her home. She and her husband continued to serve in Texas and Arkansas where she published this book. The title captures what the Christian life is truly about. It seems to me that modern Christianity has lost sight of this. First, some understand that it is all about “going to heaven” when we die. They seem to think that all one needs to do is to “pray the sinner’s prayer,” get baptized, and do more good deeds than bad, defined by themselves, and then when they die Jesus will usher them into what Revelation describes as the New Jerusalem. As a song of a few decades ago declared, “they are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.”

The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus came to defeat our enemies so that we can serve, without fear, in righteousness and holiness. Luke 1:71-78. Again, in the shadow of the cross, Jesus describes the judgment scene as being a time when the saved and the unsaved will be separated. Matthew 25:31-46. The criteria of separation seems to be whether or not a person has given evidence of living a serving life. Actually, the message of the Gospel is that we must both believe right and behave right. One without the other will not work. Jesus illustrates service in the Matthew 25 passage with six simple acts of service—giving a cup of cold water, food, clothing, shelter, and visiting the sick and the imprisoned. We are helped in this in our association with the Baptist Center Thrift Store, the Lydia House, and ministries in the county jail and in Federal Prison.

Just before the teaching of Jesus concerning Judgment, we find a parable told by Jesus about three servants. Two lived responsibly and served the interests of the master as faithful servants. The third focused on his own well-being, rather than the wishes of the master. The first two servants were told, “Well done good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful with a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of the Lord.” Matthew 25:23. The third was sent to outer darkness, which is understood as hell, simply because he did not serve his master.

In reflecting on my 20 years of service in the Pickens County Association, I truly believe that Jesus will say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Many good things have happened here. The association provides opportunity for members of our churches to be Good and Faithful Servants. The association is focused on being a full-partner in the mission enterprise of our denomination. Saved folk can serve. Saved folks will serve. Ask yourself, what will your master say to you?

Fearless Living in Troubled Times, a new book by Michael Youssef, addresses the issues that I presented in this article. I encourage everyone to get a copy and read it.

September 2017 Mind of the Missionary

The key to the effectiveness of a church, or an association of churches, is volunteers. So, in my next to last column I want to express thanks to the several hundred volunteers that have served with me over these 20 years. You know who you are and God knows as well. Many of you will hear God say to you one day, “Well done….” for the service you have done.

The focus of our association has been to enable every believer in Pickens Association churches to be a Great Commission, Great Commandment, victorious servant of God. This is done through a set of ministries, programs, events and projects. Here are several examples—

 

*Baptist Center—volunteers who staff the store receiving, sorting, displaying donated items. Preparing food boxes. Informing the managers of needs they see in their communities.

*Mission teams—like the volunteers who worked in Gatlinburg this summer and many other places away from here beginning in 2004 with a trip to Vermont. Or like teams that have gone to Brazil since 2005 and built chapels, held health clinics, Vacation Bible Schools, and door to door evangelism.

*Prison ministry—God has entrusted us with a wonderful opportunity to evangelize, disciple, and congregationalize women from around the world. FCI Aliceville can become a major source for sending missionaries for decades to come. Women who come there are dealing with guilt. They learn that God loves them, will forgive them, and has work for them to do. Many are being saved. Many are learning the truth of Scripture. Many have a sense of calling on their lives to share the Gospel now in the FCI and in the future where they settle. Women from as many as 20 nations have been entrusted to us. We have planted three vibrant churches. We are teaching the Bible to many women. We are encouraging the inmates to serve God. Response has been great. Persons from our churches, and churches too have volunteered to serve in the many ministries that are going on there. A related ministry is one that serves the inmates at our county jail.

*Pickens Bible Institute—several of our ministers teach classes here at the PBA office on the Bible. Since many of our ministers are bivocational and have not had seminary training, this is a ministry which aims at improving the quality of worship and instruction in our churches.

*Disaster Relief Team—volunteers who help with cleanup after storms here and across America.

*Ministries at the community celebrations within the bounds of the association—Face in the Window Day, Mule Day, Reform Christmas Parade, Panola Day, and others. The Gospel is shared by volunteers.

*Block Party Trailer—used by many churches for special community events.

*Radio Sunday School class—weekly broadcasts on FM 100.8. The Gospel is shared. Explanation of how one becomes a Christian is given. Good Bible study is demonstrated. It is hoped that the quality of Sunday School teaching is enhanced through this program.

*Events for age groups—children, students, senior adults and others.

 

In each of these cases volunteers have made these ministries happen. Thank you. Many of the volunteers of two decades ago are now with their Lord. One day, not too soon I hope, I will be able to thank them again. But to those who are still here, I hope that you will continue to be a good volunteer in the years to come as a new DoAM arrives. He will likely find additional ministry needs and will seek to launch additional projects, events and programs. As times and needs change some of the current ministries will need to change.

Recently, I came across the fact that one of the early missionaries from our association, Emma Fox Puthuff wrote a book entitled, Saved to Serve. Although I have not found a copy to read, I am taken by the title. This is what being a Christian is about. I fear that some among us are confused and think we are saved only so that we can go to heaven when we die. While there is truth here, for the interim, in that dash between our new birth and our going to heaven, God has volunteer work for us to do. Read Matthew 25:31-46. Saved to Serve. What are you doing? What ought you to be doing?

August 2017 Mind of the Missionary

Shakespeare wrote that life is like a stage. We make a brief appearance and then pass on. True. But in reality we are on several stages most days and many different ones in our lifetime. In October I will be changing roles in the drama of the life of our association and picking up more activity in several other of the dramas that I am a part of. Husband, father, brother, grandfather, church member, neighbor are some of my more important roles. As I move from one stage and one role to another, the constant is myself and the biblical worldview, about which I wrote last month. It informs how I interpret the activities on each stage, what my role is, how I should play my role, and how I seek to shape the action on that stage.

One of the sacrifices of being a Director of Missions is that one cannot play the church member role as often, as well, and as regularly as one would like to do. To visit in other churches has required for me to sacrifice many of the joys of participation, regularly, in the life of a congregation. My plan is to address this in the body of Spring Hill. It has a great preacher, a good fellowship, a progressive and caring congregation. From the elements of the biblical worldview I hope to help make our worship by helping with the music. I hope that I will be able to help others join into the fellowship of this church. I hope to be supporting of what it does week by week.

Even before retirement I will be attending its annual Homecoming Sunday, August 13. These are good events. Many persons raised in that church will recall special times and meetings with the Holy Spirit in that place.

Last month I outlined in this column the elements of a biblical worldview. It has and will inform me as I perform in my various roles on the several stages of my life. It will help me interpret each of the dramas in which I find myself. It will help me identify threats and opportunities. The commands of God will also inform me as to how I should perform my roles, how I ought to relate to the other actors, how I should react to the events unfolding before me, and give me guidance as to what outcomes I should seek in the scene unfolding before me.

It is clear from the teachings of Jesus that my life and your life ought to be one of serving God, His Kingdom, and one another. Rather than to dominate or exploit others, I am to seek their well-being. When we do this for one another in a relationship, this works very well. Jacques Ellul declares that Christians are to be salt, light and sheep. We preserve the dramas in which we have a role; we share truth, or light, with our fellow actors. And we faithfully follow Jesus. With his Holy Spirit present in our lives, guiding, informing, convicting, we consistently seek to do what is right and what is good.

Since December 1961, I have played the role of husband. Since November 1966 this role expanded to include the related role of Father. In retirement I plan to focus more energy on these roles. With aging come health issues. Jackie has always been a better server than me. Health issues make one more aware of the need to serve and to be served. We have struggled with allowing ourselves to be served. But we must. Please think about your roles and your stages and how God wants you to behave in each of them, as well as the connections between them.

July 2017 Mind of the Missionary

Elements of a Biblical Worldview

  1. The world, the universe, was created by the triune God out of nothing and thus began space and time.
  2. As the crown of creation he made mankind in his image with an eternal soul.
  3. His purpose was for mankind to live in fellowship, community, with one another and with God.
  4. After a time, some of the spiritual beings who served God in heaven rebelled against him.
  5. In turn, the leader of the rebels, Satan, successfully encouraged mankind to disobey God and join the rebellion. The virus of sin spread. Humans were born into a culture which reinforced rebellion, which was characterized by lust, pride, and sloth. The core issue was, and is, POWER. Who is in charge here?
  6. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to call humankind back to the original purpose of fellowship among God, spiritual beings, humankind, and all of creation, we are told that God entered into a covenant with Abraham and his heirs to call others to accept and live by God’s initial purpose. Rewards are promised for those who work at this faithfully.
  7. The Old Testament is mostly an account of the success and failure of Abraham and his descendants in living in fellowship and calling all of humankind to repent and live according to the will of God.
  8. God, who is characterized as Great, Good, Loving, and Free, provided the Ten Commandments and other laws so that people would know how he wanted them to live. Also, he provided a system whereby the people could make sacrifices to atone for their personal and societal sins. And God sent prophets to warn and remind the people regarding the will of God. The prophets also revealed that God would come to live among humankind, provide a new and expanded covenant, and that he would make the ultimate sacrifice to pay the sin debt for all believers. God also punished the nation for its rebellion. This included a period of exile and restoration.
  9. In the fullness of time Jesus was born. He came to defeat sin, death and Satan so that we would not fear but live in righteousness and holiness. When Satan killed Jesus, he was released from space and time limitations, so no more temptations. The resurrection demonstrated overcoming death.
  10. Believers benefit from the victories won by Jesus. We are delivered, forgiven, and declared righteous. We will live eternally in heaven with God and the redeemed.
  11. Jesus makes a new covenant with the church. We are his people. We are to serve him and one another. We are to call all humankind to repentance, to faith, and to obedience to his commandments.
  12. One day Jesus will return to earth and establish a perfect Kingdom. He will rule with the assistance of the martyrs. Justice and mercy and righteousness will characterize this kingdom. Resurrection, judgment, punishment, and rewards will be elements of life in the kingdom.
  13. Then the New Jerusalem will come down from heaven, creation will be restored and eternity will be.The function of a worldview is to provide one with a frame for understanding what is going on; history is the story of the struggle between good and evil, that God is active in history moving it toward his appointed ends, we are free as individuals to cooperate with and obey God, and we will be accountable to God for this. Of course, our response has eternal consequences. Are the leaders of our churches, communities and nations operating in terms of the biblical worldview.

June 2017 Mind of the Missionary

It seems that it has become customary for politicians to conclude their speeches with God Bless America. I often wonder is this a command, or a request? Those of us who know Scripture, realize that it can only be the latter. To be blessed by God, personally or as a nation, comes with requirements.

First, we must recognize that God is Sovereign. He is in charge. He has plans for us and for our nation. He is dealing with rebels – Angels and persons. He wills for us to love and obey him. He wills for us to love and serve one another.

Second, he wills that we live in community with him and one another. For this to happen we need to tear down the wall of separation, class, gender, race, and worldview which Satan uses to promote hostility. We must be committed to justice, mercy, and loving kindness for everyone. We need to believe that since all of us will one day give an account to God for what we have done and failed to do, we must protect freedom of conscience. He wills for us to give evidence that we are indeed his children by feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty and clothes to the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison, and doing other ministries to care for others. During a life time, this will mean that we will both serve and be served. Often at the same point in time we are an agent of service and an object of service. Imagine how wonderful this could be. Caring and being cared for.

Third, as persons, and as a nation, we should seek blessing from God in order that we will have resources to bless others. It is not a matter of declaring that you are more blessed than your neighbor. And while we might believe our nation is the best and most blessed, this should call forth gratitude, not arrogance. How can we promote freedom, good health, and the good news of the Gospel to nations around the world? These questions should be ever on our minds.

On Mother’s Day at the Sonic in East Columbus the two servers with whom we interacted wished us a blessed day. It had been. It was. Encounters of blessing flowed all around. This should characterize our relationships with others.

May 2017 Mind of the Missionary

Each May we conduct a week of prayer for Associational Missions. May 22-28 are the dates for 2017. With my retirement in October, there are some prayer concerns of great importance. Please involve your family and your church in prayer concerning these following items:

 

  1. The search committee as they consider persons who might serve as our mission director in the coming years. The work of the association has changed significantly in the past twenty years. It has grown as God has given challenges and opportunities to us.
  2. Wisdom in knowing how to organize the work of the association going forward. Our goal is to provide the churches and their members opportunities to be Great Commission Christians. Our structure dates from 1982. It reflects the design of the then Home Mission Board. Where we are and how we can serve has changed. We need to seek the mind of God concerning how to be faithful, effective, efficient, and loving in following the Great Commission.
  3. The Baptist Center has grown significantly. It does great ministries and provides resources to the association. Ask for wisdom in how to operate it well.
  4. The prison with nearly 2,000 inmates, most of them from other countries, ask God what he wills for us to do there.
  5. With most of our pastors not having formal education regarding the administration of a church, the preparation of sermons, the leadership of worship, or the interpretation of Scripture ask God how he wants the association to strengthen our pastors.
  6. With the decline of persons able to play the piano, ask God to provide answers so our worship will be vital.
  7. With so many of our pastors over 60, pray that God will call and men will hear and respond.
  8. Ask God how you and your church can be supportive of the mission of the college and career school scheduled to open in Carrollton in the fall of 2018. Surely it is in the best interest not only of our youth but also of our churches and communities.

 

These are very important topics of prayer at this time. Please do so. Please share God’s response.

March 2017 Mind of the Missionary

I truly enjoy ice cream, pizza, diet Dr. Pepper and kettle potato chips. I would like to eat my fill of these every day. However, I am told that this is not a good meal plan. I need some meats, fruits, and vegetables. I must limit my consumption of fats, carbohydrates, and sugars. And I need to get exercise both of my body and my mind. I need to also sleep well. Balance and moderation are called for, if I am to have a healthy body.

The Apostle Paul liked to compare the church to a human body. Each of us is like an organ of the body. We have a function to perform. The health of the church is dependent upon each of us playing our role. While some roles are not prominent, all are important. He declared that the healthy church, like the healthy body is one where the members put the health of the church before their own interests, where relationships are informed by the Golden Rule, where each one rejoices in the work of the others.

The church has several basic functions it must perform to be the body of Christ. Essentially, it must recognize that Christ is the head of the church and that the church must focus upon doing his will in the place where the church serves. Here is a list of the basic functions:

*Worship. The church must praise God in public worship, regularly. The minds, hearts and wills of the members must be involved. The five senses–hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling and feeling should be impacted. God is glorified. We are reminded of our dependence on and our submission to him.

*Witness. The good news of the Gospel must be proclaimed and persons invited to commit to becoming a part of the body–using their gifts and graces for its health.

*Disciple. The church must provide opportunity and resources for its members to grow spiritually, coming to understand and commit to the teachings, worldview, and lifestyle of Scripture. Mentoring the new by the experienced believers is a task of the churches.

*Minister. We need to care for one another. Paramount for us should be considering how we can practice the Golden Rule in our everyday relationships. This is counter-culture. Culture teaches us to put ourselves first. Not so, followers of Jesus. This calls for us to be sensitive and responsive to the material and spiritual needs of others. When we are practicing the Golden Rule we are ministering to others and they are ministering to us. Imagine what things would be like if most of us were living like this. Joy would abound. Suffering would be checked.

*Mission. We are to be Great Commission folk. Jesus told those assembled for his assent back to the father to practice these first four functions as they moved about. In recent centuries we have become more intentional about moving about and sharing the Gospel by appointing and supporting missionaries. Nearly 30 have gone from Pickens County with the support of our churches to other nations as career missionaries. And many others have gone on short-term mission trips.

Let me note that the primary function of the Pickens Baptist Association is to undergird the work of the 34 affiliated churches in performing these five tasks and addressing more directly the missionary task in the territory where the association and its churches serve. In recent years this has been primarily at the Aliceville FCI. Through these efforts nearly 500 inmates have made professions of faith, more than 100 baptized, and more than 1,000 ministered to and discipled through Rubies for Life, Samford Ministry Training Institute, meals for staff, Kairos and other efforts.

Three Protestant churches started by the association there have been started within the walls. And these churches are performing these five tasks well and being blessed of God. Women are leaving the prison with a testimony about being saved and/or restored here. Many of them are returning to other nations and serving there as volunteer missionaries.

In addition to these five tasks, the Apostle Paul identifies four marks of a good church–unity, purity, mutual submission and spiritual warfare. But this will be the subject of another column. How is your church doing in regard to these tasks and marks? How are you contributing? How might the PBA help your church? If you have not, it is because you ask not.

February 2017 Mind of the Missionary

I recently read a new book by columnist Thomas Friedman, Thank you for Being Late. The theme is to understand the impact of change, particularly electronic communication, on our lives. Certainly, here in Pickens County there has been tremendous change since 1998 when I came. Few people had computers and were on the internet. Very few smart phones. No texting. We shopped in stores, not online. Very few TV channels for news and entertainment. The textile industry still provided about 1,000 jobs for our residents. We could buy new cars in the county.

Friedman identifies six important learnings for himself coming from his many interviews with key leaders in government, business and industry.

  1. America is becoming more diverse and, for him, this is a good thing. While he makes a good case for this, he neglects the importance of a society having shared values, a common set upon which laws can be based and followed. For many such values as freedom of religion, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, security, property rights, traditional family and rewards for hard work seem threatened by change. Some of us worry that “the baby is being thrown out with the bath wash,” that in blissfully accepting diversity we will set the stage for chaos.
  2. He found that many successful persons believed that being mentored by a successful person was the key to their success. I hope that one application for this truth here in our association will be experienced pastors mentoring the young pastors and other church leaders will mentor those who will take over the leadership in years to come. Today most of our pastors are local and not formally trained as ministers of the Gospel.
  3. Friedman sees that for a community, or a nation, to prosper, and for there to be peace and order in the world, the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” needs to be actively practiced. Perhaps this is the corrective to weakness I see with number one above. However, from my perspective the Golden Rule is not consistently applied by most in their everyday lives, nor in the practices of businesses and government. He suggests, and I would certainly agree, that this must become a priority. For this to happen, in my opinion, it needs to begin with an emphasis on it in our churches. If millions of Christians around the world would do so, then there is hope.
  4. He continues that isolation is a great threat for our nation. True. But so, to my mind, is an uncritical embracing of diversity and all change. One of the great fallacies of popular culture is that change is progress. Often it is, but often it is not. For example, consider the context of television and music entertainment. Lots of trash. Or consider mind altering drugs. Or consider the failed efforts of communism. Change is not a synonym for progress.
  5. So, while we should benefit from changes in our lives: personally, family, community, nation and world, I cannot just accept these changes uncritically. In many cases the change has been at least as bad as what it aimed to correct. It seems that the election of Donald Trump can be interpreted as many Americans feeling that some of the changes in the past couple of decades were not beneficial. Certainly, there are flaws in how things are structures and there are flaws in how we live. Changes need to be changed. But there needs to be a criteria for judging changes. To my mind this is found in the Word of God. There we find principles for how to conduct our lives, how to relate to others, both neighbors and enemies, how to have a family, a business, a community, and a nation. If change is to be made, make in a way that reflects the will of God.
  6. Finally, good relationships, good transactions, good neighborhoods are based on trust. Here the Golden Rule comes back in. Trust comes out of repeated experiences with one another. It can and should build and expand over time. What a wonderful thing it is to have a trust relationship with another person.
  7. While I doubt many of you will take the time to read this book for yourselves, I do hope that you will consider its points and work for better relationships on all levels in the coming year. Work on being a Golden Rule person in 2017.

January 2017 Mind of the Missionary

We have just celebrated the birth of the king of kings. Later this month we will inaugurate our new US president, Donald Trump. We are commanded to pray for him and for our other leaders. Recently, while worshiping with Hebron, pastor Randy Gray took as his text Ezra 9:8, “a little space of grace.” His point was that in years past we have been heading in ways that are not pleasing to God, as a nation, as churches and as individuals. Hopefully, the coming years will be a time when there can be correction and getting back on course as a nation, as churches and as individuals.

Life is about, he continued, seeking and doing the will of God as individuals, as churches, and as nations. Perhaps you, like me, were troubled about how little attention was given to the topic of God’s will in the recent political campaign.  He was mentioned only as a postscript, a request for his blessings on the nation. I heard no mention of the fact that blessings seem to be conditional on our being in compliance with his will.  You and I, our church, and our nation will not be truly blessed unless we are doing the will of God.

Jesus taught that the core will of God is for us to love him, totally, and that we love our neighbors as well as we love ourselves. Mention of this truth was missing from the campaign rhetoric. Rather, the will of Satan that we love money, sex, and power was the focus of both campaigns. These are the idols that Jesus came to destroy. If we worship any, or all of them, they will destroy us as individuals, churches and as a nation.

Our popular culture teaches us to worship these three idols. Often they are in harmony with one another. Position of lots of money is touted as the means to sex and power. The same is true for each of the others. Movies, television shows, music, and products all promote the worship of this satanic trinity. Take for example Sunday night NFL football.  Millionaires  pushing one another around to the cheers of the beautiful cheerleaders.

Please join me in committing to pray for our town, county, state and national political leaders. Pray that they focus on the common good, religious freedom, opportunities for each citizen to be involved and contributing to the well-being of others. Pray that we will have a period of peace, that diseases will be conquered, that hatred will fade. Pray that we will come to appreciate the gifts and graces of others. Pray that attitudes of exploiting others will die. Pray that serving others, not being served, will be the goal of each one of us.

Pray that the next few years will prove to be “a little space of grace” and that each of us will take advantage of the opportunities it provides.  In the current age, the church is God’s primary agent. Pray that our churches will focus on their true head, Jesus Christ, will know his will, and work to carry it out. If I read the book of Ephesians correctly, God’s general will for each church is that it be pure and holy, characterized by mutual submission and fighting against Satan, not one another. God also has a specific will for each church. Make that a matter of prayer regularly in your church meetings.