August 2016 Mind of the Missionary

The Executive Board voted last month to invite the Louis Johnson family to live in the Missionary house in Carrollton for the coming year. Louis will serve as worship leader at Carrollton Baptist Church and will assist missionary Farley with developing an associational strategy plan. He and Dr. Farley will be interviewing the pastors and key leaders of our churches concerning how the association can be helpful to them and to the churches. Louis will be paid by Gordo First thru mid-June 2017. The hospitality ministry of the PBA will be moved to the Ammons house.

State Missions Director, Rick Barnhart, will be the featured speaker at the next Executive Committee meeting on Monday, August 15.  He will launch the associational strategy planning process at that time. Our association structure and process date from about 1980. Since then Pickens County is much changed and so are our churches.  The focus of the plan will be on what we need to be doing in 2021.

*Since 1980 the county has been de-industrialized, losing about 2,500 jobs. Others have come, but the net loss has been more than 1,500. Most of our workers now commute daily to either Tuscaloosa or the Golden Triangle.  The life rhythms of many of us have changed. Churches struggle to handle this change.

*Our population has aged. Many in our churches draw retirement income. So, our churches have low, but stable income.

*The prison has brought more residences, but most of the staff does not live in the county. It offers great opportunities for mission and ministry efforts.

*The four-laneing of US 82 across the county, seems to be bringing more new settlers. So, many of the churches in North Pickens can grow.

*The business sections in our towns are diminished and our churches have fewer business and professional persons in them.

*Ministries in the jail and hospital have prospered.

*The Baptist Center has become a major ministry.

*Weekly radio Sunday School lessons have been added.

*The state convention is providing more training for the basic programs in our churches.

*The association is helping to fund church starts and other ministries beyond our bounds.

*Mission teams are being sent out by the association.

*2017 will mark the 200th anniversary of the Gospel Light coming to our area.

*I will need to retire soon.

All of this and more suggests that we need to make a good plan, one that is in accord with God’s general will for churches and one that is specific to our setting. My hope is that each of our pastors and the leaders of our churches will actively participate in the process. The plan will guide our structuring of the association and our search for new leadership.

I worked with a VBS in the Sapps community for one week in July.  It was a joy. Along with Mrs. Janet Estis I taught the students how to play the harmonica. Work on the rebuilding of Sapps community is moving forward. Recently, a team from Habitat for Humanity was there.  They were hosted by West End Baptist church. Incidentally, Bro. Jim Robinson is the new pastor there. Good man with good skills. He also serves as a hospice chaplain.

 

July 2016 Mind of the Missionary

The 4th of July has always been special to me. Freedom is precious. During my life the freedom of my nation has been threatened time and time again. Now is no exception.

Baptists played a central role in securing freedom for us. The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in order to gain the support of the Baptist Christians. Our Baptist forefathers should be credited for not only freedom of religion, but also the right to own guns, to speak our minds, to have privacy and all of the rights protected by the first ten amendments to the Constitution. I wish that the Baptist Bashers knew that their very right to attack us is guaranteed by our early Baptist leaders such as Roger Williams, Isaac Baccus, and John Leland.

For many centuries the national governments required all of their citizens to belong to the denomination supported by the king. In England it was the Episcopalian, in Spain the Roman Catholic, in much of Germany the Lutheran, in Scotland the Presbyterian and so forth. Those who did not want to conform were punished. Many were even killed.

In the Sixteenth Century men and women all across Europe questioned this arrangement. Their argument ran like this. Beyond this life awaits Judgment by God. We will be accountable to God for what we believe and how we behave. Consequently, individuals should be given freedom of conscience. Accountability presupposes freedom. For the Baptists salvation came by a person personally responding to the invitation of the Holy Spirit to believe in faith that God would forgive one for his or her sins.

Apparently, the rulers of nations and of religious denominations believed that for the society to work properly everyone should share the same religious beliefs. So, Baptists were persecuted. For example John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, spent many years in jail. The colony of Rhode Island, established by Baptists Roger Williams and Dr. John Clarke, was the first colony to offer freedom of religious beliefs to its citizens. This was true not only for Christians, but for Jews and Muslims as well.

About 1750 a great revival swept through the American colonies. Many responded to the invitation of the Holy Spirit, experienced forgiveness and the new birth. Many joined the ranks of the Baptists. When the colonies, having won their freedom from England sought to form the United States, the support of the Baptist was needed. So, while some states in New England had established Congregationalism and some in the South Episcopalianism, the nation as a whole supported the Baptist position and allowed freedom of religion.

So, this Independence Day please recall your Baptist heritage. And when some express the desire to suppress the free exercise of a faith which is clearly in error or are critical of you for wanting to evangelize Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Mormons and others, just remember the Baptist way. It is not easy. But the Baptist way is to both affirm freedom of religion and to share the truth with those whose beliefs or behavior are in error.

 

June 2016 Mind of the Missionary

A busy summer of ministry and missions beckons many of us. Homecomings have begun in our churches. VBS season will launch is a few days. Mission trips including those directly related to the PBA, Brazil in June and Kentucky in July. Revivals. Help with the recovery of the Sapps community, materially and spiritually. Add in – Weddings. Graduations. Singings. Vacations. Gardens. Putting up food. Fishing. Some will look for new jobs. Others will be preparing to move away to college.

Pray about all of these matters, and others. Pray particularly for our mission teams in Brazil June 17-26 and in Kentucky, July 18-24. May the harvest be plentiful. The income from our Baptist Center Thrift Store will benefit these missions. A chapel will be built in a small town in Brazil. About a fourth of the cost will be covered by a $5,000 grant from the income at the store. This is the sixth such building supported by income at our thrift store. The items sold and given away at the store come from donations of the people of our county. The operation of the store, for more than 25 years, is made possible by about 50 volunteers who work a day or more in the store each month. Prayerfully consider volunteering one day a month, Wednesday through Saturday. Call Joyce Ferguson, 205-375-2642, for more information. And continue to donate good used stuff to the thrift store. Not only is a new church built and dedicated, but several hundred new believers are harvested.

Funds from the income of the thrift store will also help with a day camp at Galilee in Panola, camp for children and youth at Unity Grove Campground, Sapps spiritual renewal, and many other ministries during the summer.

Our other mission team will be returning to Princeton, Kentucky for the third time. It was there we learned about Rubies for Life which has been so effective at the Aliceville FCI. The team will be working with a Job Corps camp. We are seeking to plant a Christian Woman’s Job Corp at the Aliceville FCI camp this summer. Pray for these endeavors too.

We want to invite our churches to consider having a block party this summer or fall and use the resources of the association. Call me and let us discuss the process. My cell is 205-463-8833. The office is 367-8632.

The Diabetes Support Group after more than 10 years has concluded its monthly meetings here at the office. Diabetes continues to be a major issue in our area. We served well and that service is now ended.

A retreat for bi-vocational pastors is planned for Saturday, July 16th at Alabama Lake in the Benevola community. It begins at 7:30 am.

Our work at the prison is getting back in place. Charlie Wilson, Glenn Sandifer and I are again offering Samford Extension classes both in the FCI and in the camp. Rubies for Life and the quilting classes will start soon.

There will be opportunities to help and to contribute to the restoration of the Sapps community. The Serving Aliceville Together team has done some great work. Contact Kenny Gibson, the EMA director, to volunteer.

Rev. Bob Little, the pastor of Galilee in Panola, has signed a recording contract with a major label. He will be doing some concerts. You can access tracks at Amazon.com and at the other download sites like googleplay and itunes.

So, here comes a busy, blessed summer of service.

May 2016 Mind of the Missionary

Thank you for your prayers. Been through a difficult time, but am much improved. Thanks also for those who have picked up the slack and kept the work of the association going in my absence from the office. Among the things on my mind in recent days have been setting up the association to transition to a new leader when I retire, celebrating in 2017 the coming of the Gospel Light to Pickens County, and getting in place a plan to help the ladies at the prison successfully return to society.

My first day out was a Saturday at the Baptist Center Thrift Store. I was again impressed with how the needs of needy persons are being met by this ministry. We were able to provide resources to a displaced lady and her child to get started in a new place. I rejoiced as many donations were brought in. I hope that you all will do likewise as you do some spring cleaning.

The next day I worshiped at Springhill. Good service. We are blessed with some wonderful congregations with excellent pastors who bring Bible based sermons and provide a feast of biblical truth. This was followed by dinner at the Farmstead in Columbus.

Monday evening I attended, with more than 100 other persons, the Thank You God Rally. It was a wonderful event. We heard testimonies about how God had protected and how He had blessed through the storm. Recovery needs to involve both material and spiritual issues. Thanks to Charlie Wilson and Aliceville First for hosting this event.

Then Tuesday I attended the meeting of the unmet needs committee. Good progress is being made in Sapps, but it will be a long process.

If you need gifts for Mother’s Day, Graduates, or Father’s Day, we have lots of great gifts at great prices. We also have baby, wedding, and anniversary gifts. All proceeds go to support our prison ministries. Come by the office Monday thru Wednesday from 10 to 2.

Looking forward to a great summer filled with Vacation Bible Schools, mission trips, work in Sapps, and revivals.  Thanks again for your prayers.

March 2016 Mind of the Missionary

Please continue serving and praying for the folk who went through the Groundhog Day storm. We will hold a “Thank You, God” Rally at Aliceville FBC on Monday, March 21 at 7 pm. Plan to attend.

The storm and its aftermath has been the focus of the association this past month. Lots of wonderful testimonies of God’s protection. Lots of serving of those in need. Lots of sacrificial efforts. Lots of expressions of Christian love. God is, and will continue, to bring good out of the storm.

While our ministries in the main prison are on hold for now, new opportunities have been presented to us at the camp. While our ministries to the staff at the training center were halted, the Aliceville FBC cookie ministry has blessed the staff in other ways. Pray for the staff as they work at getting the prison back to normal operation.

The Disaster Relief team of our association was out at dawn in Carrollton on Wednesday. That day they removed a tree and tarped the roof of Salem MB Church. The congregation is so very grateful. Thursday they were joined by teams from our neighboring associations, totaling 76 workers. They completed 26 jobs. By Saturday nearly 200 volunteers were working in Sapps. On the second Saturday the ALSBOM Chaplains, 20 or so, walked through the damaged area sharing the Gospel and praying with the survivors. I am so grateful to Gary Rogers, our DR leader and to the churches for providing a tractor for our team to use in moving the logs to the road. I saw how much it helped. In the TV coverage our team was very visible.

We are thankful to our EMA director, Kenny Gibson, for getting in place the storm shelters which surely saved several lives when the storm passed through. The Red Cross and Salvation Army did great work. The county road department, including Bro. Mike Bonner, did a wonderful job of removing trash from the roadsides. And day after day Pauline Hall and Lois Bruce manned the reception center at the fire station. While Clayton Grammer and James Hall, who had the vision of a Disaster Relief Team for the association, did not benefit from it, I could not fail to note that the storm passed by their homes and that their neighbors were blessed by their vision.

Clothing and food have been brought to and distributed from the community center in Sapps. But there is much more to do going forward. Homes will need to be rebuilt. Spiritual healing and physical healing will need to occur. I hope that we will have an “in association” mission team effort this summer which could include a block party, community revival, vacation Bible schools, and hosting construction teams. I hope that this can be presented at the March 21 meeting at Aliceville FBC. We’ll have more on this as things develop.

The PBA has received monetary gifts from individuals and churches to help those who had losses in the storm. We will accept additional ones. Distribution of the funds will be handled by decisions of the Associational Council, which is comprised of the officers of the association. We will also coordinate with Kenny Gibson in our work. Presently, we are not accepting clothing and food for the storm victims. Contact the Sapps Community Center regarding such items. This will be a long process. While many household goods will be needed, most of these will not be required for several months.

February 2016 Mind of the Missionary

Congratulations to the University of Alabama football team on becoming National Champions. Thanks to all of those who are harvesting deer and thus making our roads safer. Thanks to those who responded to this column last month and are working on the theme of SERVE ON in our churches.

An idea for a theme for next year came to mind recently, and I want to share it with you. In 1817 the first settlers moved to Pickens County and the Gospel Light was planted here. So, in 2017 we will mark the bicentennial of the Gospel beginning to shine here. By 1822 churches were formed. Revivals and camp meetings were held. A mission to the Choctaw Indian tribe was opened. Efforts were made to evangelize the slaves. As communities and as towns were formed more churches were planted. Through the years more than 70 churches have been connected to our association.  Nearly 10,000 persons have been members of these churches. About 30 persons from these churches have served as foreign missionaries. Nearly 300 have been called into ministry and served congregations here in our country.  If the success of other denominations was added to this, the totals would triple or quadruple.

The light of the Gospel has shined here over these 200 years. So, let’s give thanks for the faithfulness of those who brought it here. Let’s give thanks for those who have been faithful to share and follow this light through the years. And let’s commit to double our efforts to keep it burning brightly in the years to come.

I believe that God has rewarded us for our faithfulness by bringing the Federal Prison here. And we have responded well. The Gospel light has been kindled there and burns brightly. As we reach the women there with the Gospel, as we teach and disciple them, as they return to their homes, many of them even to other countries, the light of the Gospel will be carried from here to many other places. How exciting is this?

My hope is that we will come up with projects and events that will share the light with everyone in our area, will help the light shine more brightly, will support our efforts to send the light to other places, and will give thanks for those who shared the light with us.

Thanks to the 50 or so board members who came to the meeting at Ladow. The vo-tech program is up and going. Impressive. Will be expanded with a new facility in Carrollton soon. To my mind this can really set the course for our county for the next few decades. It is not very likely that a major industry will come to our county. But industrial jobs are within easy commutes to the east and to the west. The widening of US 82 will improve access. If many of our youth get trained to hold these jobs, they will not need to move elsewhere for work.  And for people in our neighboring counties who want their children to be in good, smaller high schools and get well-trained for blue collar jobs, this will be a good option. This is happening in Hale County.

With our children being able to stay and others moving here, the future of our churches will be brighter. And the light of the Gospel will draw them.

January 2016 Mind of the Missionary

Our next Executive Board meeting has been moved to Tuesday, January 12 at 6:30 pm at the Ladow Training Center. We will be introduced to the new vo-tech program. We will also consider how to address the theme for 2016, SERVE ON.

*S – Start new churches. We are supporting a new church start in Portland, Oregon. Our international mission team will help build and launch a new church in Brazil. Locally, we need to investigate the restart of a Spanish language church, perhaps in Gordo.

*E – Evangelize the lost. The youth ministers are planning two area wide evangelistic events, the first one on April 3. Our evangelism committee is working on a plan for an area revival in November.

*R – Revitalize the churches. Recently I received a ten year report on the cumulative work of the churches in our association. Membership has increased. Worship attendance has increased. Income has increased. Financial support of missions has increased. But participation in the basic programs of our churches has declined—Sunday School, Discipleship Training, WMU, Brotherhood, Missions Education, and Music.  Several of our churches have stopped having worship on Sunday evenings. Several of our churches need to pray and work along the lines of being revitalized.

*V – Volunteerism. The work at the Baptist Center has grown greatly in the past decade. It is a great ministry run totally by volunteers.  More than 50 of us are regular volunteers in ministries at the prison and the jail. Many are volunteers on the mission trips of the association and of the churches each summer.  We are doing well in this area.

*E – Engaging the Culture. We still have much of the traditional culture of the rural South here, it seems. Plantation, Hardscrabble farm, Freedmen. But there is a growth of the newer, electronic, social media culture here as well. James Hammock addressed this at the annual meeting. We were encouraged to use the media as good Christians should. We must not let ourselves be caught up in the gossipy, unloving posts. Self-centeredness is not a Christian virtue. Humility is. We need to work on ways to use social media for outreach and pastoral care.

As 2016 progresses, let us keep thinking about these points and keep ourselves, our churches, and the association on target.

During the visit of our twin grandsons from Poland, I was introduced to the Thomas the Train videos.  Good moral lessons.  I learned that the creator of the series was a Church of England minister.  Like Fred Rogers on PBS, a Christian using modern media to present the Gospel, particularly with regard to relationships.  Let us draw resources that are good, shun those that are not good.

December 2015 Mind of the Missionary

Is the celebration of Thanksgiving Day a victim of the secularization of our society?  It seems as though the media and many merchants sped from Halloween to Christmas. The origin and the purpose of Thanksgiving is to give thanks to God for His bounty, His provision, His care, His providence, His blessing—personal, family, community, and nation. Seemingly family, food, and football have become the focus of the celebration. While this trinity is good, it is neither as good or as great as God.

It seems that faith in God is under attack from some fanatics—ISIS, militant atheism, and cults. A fourth enemy is the classic afterwhile group. For years we have had to deal with this fourth threat—those who seem to think that they can delay commitment to God until near the end of their lives.  They seem to want to be the sovereigns of their lives until near the end, when, just in time, they will “accept Jesus”. They, to their minds, will get to avoid Hell. While many experience death in ways where this option in not available, others may find their understanding of salvation to be flawed when death comes to them. Truth is, God, not us, is in charge.  He expects us to live for Him now. Matthew 25 teaches God is not to be controlled by us, but us by HIM.

A common error of the cults is to not know Jesus as the unique Son of the Triune God who came as the Lamb of God to save those who trust in His work on the cross. Jesus was truly human and truly divine. Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses, Adventists and other false cults do not have a true understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done, is doing, and will do. Read the book of Hebrews.

Islam also fails to understand who Jesus is and thus it too is a false religion. It also does not understand or practice love which is so central to the Christian faith. Among the benefits of the Baptist way has been the belief that God can take care of Himself.  We contend that there must be freedom of religion. This is because each of us is accountable to God for what we believe and how we behave. Unlike us, Islam has a history of forcing persons to accept their religion.

Sociologists are telling us that atheism is growing here in our country. More and more persons are declaring that they do not believe in God. Their reasons vary. Some have had a bad theology and when God has failed to answer their prayers as they wished, they decided that God does not exist. Others have wanted to be the “captains of their fate” and thus have refused to acknowledge the lordship of God. Still others have wanted to sin and have killed God, in their minds, so that they would not be accountable for it. The basic issue, in my mind, is that so few in our country have truly embraced the Christian lifestyle.  Some who have taken on the label of atheist are not so much rejecting God as they are the misrepresentation of God by some Christians. They do not know God and His will. They are arrogantly asserting their reasoning power to be greater than that of God.

The Bible clearly teaches: 1. God is the Sovereign Lord of History. 2. He has a general will for all persons which is outlined in the Ten Commandments and the Great Commandment to love God and our neighbors. 3. He has a specific will for the life of every human being. Those who fail to see this are condemning themselves to an eternity of suffering.

So, let’s reclaim this season.  Let us express our gratitude to God for His blessings, material and spiritual. And let us celebrate the birth of the Messiah.  It is He who came to reveal the ultimate truth, to win the victory over Satan, sin and death.  It is He who provides forgiveness and invites us to participate in His victory and enjoy life eternal. And it is He who gives meaning to our individual lives and to history.

November 2015 Mind of the Missionary

The 180th annual meeting of our association will be memorable. On Monday we met at our youngest and northernmost congregation, Calvary of Fayette. Sam Wiggins moderated the meeting. He and Glenn Sandifer were re-elected to the leadership position. The theme was SERVE ON by Starting Something New, Evangelizing, Revitalizing Churches, Volunteering, and Engaging Culture.

We looked at the new things God is doing among us with a focus on Rubies for Life at Aliceville FCI. We were taught by Bro. Tommy Winders regarding how and when to share the Gospel. We are to be Fishers of Men. Ours is a Great Commitment, Great Commission, and Great Commandment. By video Bro. Mike Hall shared with us what he had learned at New Salem over his 40 years as pastor there. The church has grown greatly and is now housed in a beautiful facility. It began 70 years ago in a brush arbor.

Seventeen of our churches reported regarding what God is doing in and through their ministries. Regular visitation, firewood, cookies, and other service ministries were reported. Care for the young, the lost, and the elderly were highlighted.

Bro. Tim Meherg of Reform set the stage for the meeting with the traditional introductory message. Great music. The offering for the Children’s Home totaled $558.

The afternoon ended with a wonderful fellowship dinner furnished by the host church. God has a great church at Calvary. Beautiful people in a beautiful building—focused on being real Christians.

On Tuesday we gathered at Galilee in Panola. While its history stretches back nearly 165 years, it is the newest member of our association. Among those in the congregation that day were at least five persons who helped with the re-building of the church after its fire in February 2006—Henry and Gypsey Helmers, Gene Ferguson, Don Pritchett, and Charles Ashcraft. It was moving to see the fruits of this labor. Bro. Bob Little, pastor, shared a video which told the story of the fire and the reconstruction.

Among the things Bro. Mike Hall shared with us concerning his learnings from 40 years pastoring the same church had been the need to be flexible. When the projected discussion of the relationship between Gospel and Blues music could not be done as placed due to a death of a family member of one of the presenters, Bro. Bob handled the teaching by demonstrating how he has taken the music of the Blues, baptized them with the Gospel message, communicating it to hurting, lost persons. This was an important learning.

Volunteers reported on mission trips to Ohio and Romania sponsored by the association. Janet Estis provided a heads up on the On Mission Celebration, scheduled for February 20-24, 2016.

Bro. James Hammack spoke to the messengers concerning how to use social media in a biblical manner and thus use it as a Gospel witness.  Very helpful. Then Bro. Gene Dawkins brought the annual missions sermon.

Eight of our churches reported concerning what God has been doing in and through their congregation. The offering for ALCAP totaled $301.

The meeting was concluded with a fellowship meal provided by the host church, Galilee. Another great church.  Another great day.

The attendance at Calvary was 78. The attendance at Galilee was 57. We will be meeting in 2016 at Flatwoods on Monday and Mineral Springs on Tuesday.

So SERVE ON. Individuals, groups, churches. Three GCs.  Great Commitment, Great Commission, and Great Commandments.

October 2015 Mind of the Missionary

Basic Beliefs is the title of a course I am teaching at the prison camp currently. It is offered through Samford Ministry Training Institute. It is the fifth in a set of courses leading to a certificate in Christian Ministries. Our purpose is to equip the Christian inmates to be effective witnesses, godly persons, and Bible teachers in churches upon their release. Connecting to a church upon release can be crucial for them. They will be a benefit to the church, make friends, and be helped in finding employment.

Glenn Sandifer and Mel Howton taught the previous classes with good results. Clay Carroll, the recently arrived new head of Religious Services, wants to see the SMTI program expanded both in the camp and in the prison. Several of our PBA ministers received this certificate when we were offering these courses at the PBA office. With so many internationals at the prison, there is an awesome opportunity to send out missionaries, effective missionaries, from right here in Pickens County through this program. With the very popular and effective Rubies for Life, we are impacting many lives here and, in days to come, around the world.

The course I am teaching includes eight topics—authority, God, humankind, salvation, Christ, the Christian life, the church, and last things. These are important topics for all Christians to know what they believe. I have published extensively on all of the topics except the last one. My thoughts on it reflect the historic premillennial position, not the complex dispensational one. I could hope that all of our churches would commit to studying these topics. You can find some of my writings on most of these topics on the webpage www.ruralchurch.us. I will be glad to help the churches prepare for studies of these topics. They might be scheduled on Wednesday nights or Sunday nights in our churches. James Hammack of West End is our new Discipleship Director. He will be encouraging us all to be serious about discipleship studies.