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.

December 2016 Mind of the Missionary

As the Old Testament prophets told of the coming Messiah they painted three pictures of him—a king of the Davidic line, the Son of Man, and the Suffering Servant. Read Isaiah 11, Daniel 7 and Isaiah 53 as examples of texts where these pictures of a Messiah appear.

When Jesus came the people of Judah gave attention to only one of these pictures, that of a king of the line of David. Recall, the coming of the Wisemen to worship the king and the reaction of Herod and his spiritual counselors. Jesus, on the other hand, referred to himself many times as the Son of Man. This picture is one of a pre-existent being who comes from heaven to bless God’s people. Then as the early church reflected upon the death of Jesus on the cross they discovered that his role was as the Lamb of God, the suffering servant who atones for the sin of humankind.

Why did the religious leaders of 30 AD misunderstand Jesus? Obviously, they wanted a Messiah who would meet their perceived needs, a worldly king who would defeat Roman oppression and restore Judah as a world power.

This Christmas we will worship Jesus as suffering servant, the Son of Man and as the coming king—all three. We will note how the Jews misunderstood the role of the Messiah. He came as the Son of Man, God in the flesh (John 1). He died on the cross as the suffering servant (John 19). He is coming again as King (Matthew 24-25).  This is the correct order.

As we look for his return, we must be careful to not repeat the errors of the Jews of the first century; that is, not seek to dictate to God how, when, or where Jesus will return. We are sure only of who and why. Like many of you I have expected to see Jesus here on earth during my life time. From Hitler on I have heard many world figures identified as being the anti-Christ. But none of these proved to be true.

However, there are some truths from Revelation and the Olivet discourse (Matt. 24-25) concerning how to prepare for his return. These are certain.  Among them:

*Resurrection awaits

*Judgment is coming

*We are expected to serve others, in part, by meeting basic human needs—food, clothing, shelter, water, and caring friendship

*Love God and love neighbors

*Respond to the invitation of the Holy Spirt, put one’s faith in Jesus

*Have one’s name recorded in the Book of Life

*Be watchful and prepared

Revelation describes tribulation, war, destruction—evil running wild. It describes a great battle between good and evil. It tells of a thousand year reign of Jesus when there will be true justice and peace. It describes a great city where the saved will live eternally, worship God joyfully, and attend a great banquet.

As a part of your Christmas, read again the song of Zechariah found in part in Luke 1:72-75. Jesus is the victor. He will defeat our enemies—sin, death, and Satan—so that we can live and serve without fear in holiness and righteousness.

November 2016 Mind of the Missionary

In a few days we get to cast votes for public officials. As I see it my most significant vote will be for Superintendent of Education. Developing a strong vocational education program will benefit our children, our communities and our churches.

The presidential debates have been of interest to me as a theologian. The candidates have focused on accusing the other on breaking one, or more, of the Ten Commandments – six, seven, nine, and ten. Missing is attention to the teaching that the life that pleases God begins with adhering to the first four – those about honoring and serving God. Apparently. It is unlikely that a person will do well at keeping the Commandments concerning interpersonal relationships, if he/she does not keep the first four. Certainly, keeping the first four is not very popular, or well supported, in our culture. While one hears calls for God to bless our nation, few appear to be concerned about knowing and doing His will. God’s blessings are conditional.

Later in November we will celebrate Thanksgiving. Our nation needs to ask itself to whom are we giving thanks – Washington, ourselves, fate, or the God of history. Thanks for what, to whom are questions we must ask. And then there is Christmas and its core meaning.

I have begun the process of interviewing the pastor and leaders of each of our churches concerning their vision for their church and how the association can help facilitate it going forward. This will inform the re-structuring of the association. Will keep you posted.

Thanks to Flatwoods and Mineral Springs for hosting our associational annual meeting earlier this month. They both did very well. The offering for the Children’s Home was $521. The offering for ALCAP was $384. Jordan Lollar did a great job with the introduction sermon. And so did N.C. with the mission sermon.

Thanks to our volunteers who manned the bouncers at the Face in the Window celebration. One of only two free things at the event. Scores of children had a great time. And thanks to the ladies who sold gift items to raise funds to support our ministry in the prison.

Some of you will get to read this on the final day of our Pickens Gospel Celebration. Pray. Attend. Bring the lost.

We will be working to re-activate our Bible classes here at the associational office in January. The first class will be on pastoring a bivocational church. We need 10 students to offer the class.

During the annual meeting I spoke on the history of 200 years of the Gospel Light being in Pickens County – its planting, the establishment of churches, adjustments to changes in the economy, transportation, communication, worship styles and where people dwelt. We also dealt with the association being mostly an annual event to being a 365 day organization led by an associational missionary. We celebrated the fact that 26 persons from our association have served Southern Baptists as international missionaries. And we launched a process of considering how best we can continue the work going forward.

October 2016 Mind of the Missionary

October is a very busy month for the association. Annual meeting, area wide revival, street fairs in Carrollton, Panola, and Aliceville. Let me share more about these events in hope that you will participate.

This will be the 181st annual meeting of our association. It is kind of like a family reunion. We hear praise and petition reports from each of our 34 congregations. We rejoice and we pray for our sister churches. We hear about what God is doing in our area, our state, our nation, and around the world. We rejoice and repent. We will elect a moderator and vice moderator.  We will hear from a new international missionary who was raised among us. We will hear about the mission and ministry efforts of the association. We will rejoice and recommit. Our theme will be Celebration of the Bicentennial of the coming of the Gospel Light to our area during 2017.

We will take up offerings for the Children’s Home and for ALCAP. We will enjoy fellowship meals. We will hear good Gospel music. We will sing, laugh, and renew friendships.

It is a two day event. On Monday, October 10, we will meet all afternoon at Flatwoods, off Benevola Rd. Services will begin at 1 and conclude at 5:30 pm. We will then enjoy a wonderful fellowship meal provided by the church.

Tuesday, October 11, we will meet at Mineral Springs on the old US 82 near McShan. We will start later at 2:45 pm. At 5:30 pm we will have a wonderful fellowship supper provided by the host church. And then at 6:15 pm we will go back to a time of worship and have our annual mission message. The evening session is provided for those who hold jobs which keep them from attending the afternoon sessions.

Then October 24-26 we will have the Pickens Gospel Celebration. Monday through Wednesday at the Service Center in Carrollton. The Evangelism Committee has secured three of the finest preachers in the world for this set of meetings—Pastor Fred Luter, Professor Robert Smith, Jr. and Evangelist Junior Hill. While the services begin at 7 pm, each evening we will have mini-concerts beginning at 6:45 featuring the choir from the Aliceville Federal Prison work camp, recording artists Bros. Bob Little and Marcus Wright and others.

These services are for everyone. Pray that we will see lost persons saved and believers revived.

Then on October 15 the Rubies for Life mentors will be selling quality gifts from Lighthouse Christian Products to raise money to support their program in the prison. All of the proceeds will be used for this. They will have gifts for pastor appreciation, Christmas and other special occasions. Our prices are below wholesale.  Visit their booth at the Face in the Window celebration. On October 29 the RFL mentors will have a booth with more items at the Aliceville Fall Street Fair.

Many of our churches collect canned goods for the food bank at the Baptist Center this month. We are in need of these donations. We received the food gathered by the mail carriers only for Carrollton and half of that from Reform this past May. If you want to support the associational food bank, October will be the best time to do so. Less than half of the food collected in May comes to the Baptist Center.

September 2016 Mind of the Missionary

Oh, how I have enjoyed watching the Olympics. It has been a joy to hear and read the testimonies of many athletes concerning their faith in, dependence on, and thankfulness to God. Perhaps you too heard the three women who had just won the medals in the 100 meter hurdles tell about how they had spent the day at a prayer group preparing for a race where they would be competing with one another. If I do not meet her here, I know that one day I will be able to say thank you to Brianna Holling and her friends. How wonderful to pray, worship, and testify. How wonderful to share the Good News.

School is open. Football is here. It is time for us to be praying for important events coming in October.

One is the countywide revival October 24, 25, and 26. You will find a prayer list, the names of the preachers and more to help you prepare for this event.

Another is the annual meeting of the association on October 10th and 11th at Flatwoods and Mineral Springs. Featured will be the son of Ernie and Renay Carroll, former associational missionaries here. We will be kicking off the celebration of the bicentennial of the Gospel Light to Pickens. How it was kindled here, burned brightly, was taken to other places, and what we need to do to pass the light on to the next generation.

At the recent Community Relations Board meeting at the prison, the Warden shared pictures of the tornado damage. How grateful we should be that no one was injured and no prisoner escaped.

Third, our communities of Carrollton, Panola, and Aliceville will be having festival events. In each location Christians will be giving testimonies and sharing the Good News. Pray for effectiveness. Wonderful opportunities await us.

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.