Friday, September 30, 2005

Power Team and a service that "hums"

"North Port Church puts muscle in its message." That's the title of an article that appeared September 24, 2005 in the Sarasota Herald Tribune. It is an article on the (in)famous Power Team's show being performed at the South Biscayne Baptist Church in North Port, Florida--about an hour up I-75 from me. The Power Team performers claim that their performance "converts two nonbelievers for every congregation member who attends."

The church's pastor, John Cross, is quoted as giving this gem of wisdom about effective church ministry and worship: "It's all about the weekend, about making the service 'hum' ... It should not be presented in a stale, boring way."

The article goes on, "Between the theatrics, members of the group lead the audience in prayer and talk about how religion changed their lives and got them out of trouble." "The show at South Biscayne ends with the Power Team inviting people who want to accept Jesus into their lives to come to the front of the stage" and then be immediately "submerged in the church's portable baptism tub."

All of this for only $50,000. If we could get the Power Team to break into teamlets and then put on a show in every SBC church over the next year, why, with a conversion-to-member-attendance ratio of 2 to 1, we could probably see 8-10 million people baptized in 12 months.

(HT to Mark Fuss)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Bureaucrats for bureaucrats

Timothy George was absolutely prophetic twenty years ago when he said, "The exchange of one set of bureaucrates for another doth not a reformation make" (he later put his thoughts in print). I supported the conservative resurgence in the SBC. The denomination desperately needed a theological correction. Everyone who is committed to the inerrancy of Scripture has reason to praise God for the change in direction.

One of the great dangers that I see in the aftermath of this change, however, is a triumphalism that seems allergic to any kind of self-criticism. When moderates and liberals where in charge, conservatives rightly criticized their theological commitments and improper actions. When those clinging to the levers of denominational power rebuffed such criticisms or circled the wagons they were (rightly) charged with being insensitive to and detached from the churches. The moderates responded with apocalyptic threats (Leon McBeth telling a church in Bryan, Texas in 1979, "If Adrian Rogers is elected president of the SBC, our convention will be over and Southwestern Seminary will be turned into a Bible College"), condescending dismissals ("We are the architects of 'Bold Mission Thrust!' You have no idea all that is involved in that so you cannot possibly understand the importance and complexities of what we are doing") and cajoling, almost whining pleas ("We are good guys. We have noble plans. Don't derail those plans by criticizing us. Trust us!").

Now that conservatives are in charge, the theological commitments have changed, but the method of operating seems interchangeable with the previous regime. Consider the kinds of responses with which even friendly criticism is met.

Sometimes there is intimidation and the threat (subtle or otherwise) of not being truly conservative. "Don't you support 'The Cause?' The CBF crowd doesn't like what we are doing, either. You sound just like them!"

At other times criticism is met with paternalism. "You guys just don't get it. If you understood the issues and knew what was at stake, you would get back in line and support us."

Still other times the response is met with an almost incredulous disappointment that the actions of "conservatives" would be questioned at all. "We are inerrantists! You can trust us. We have 'Empowering Kingdom Growth.' We are good guys. Why are you questioning us?"

All of which brings me back to Timothy George's prophetic observation. Bureaucracies exert a self-preserving pressure on people to conform. Those who yield to such pressures are bureaucrats and they cannot abide legitimate criticism because it is perceived as a threat to the very existence of the organization. So bureaucrats tend to serve the perpetuation of the organization more than the original cause for which the organization was established.

If a man is a bureaucrat, it may not matter what his theological convictions are, because they become sublimated to the preservation of the organization. If current and future SBC leaders remain unwilling to be self-critical and to listen to legitimate challenges in the way things are done in the denomination, they will continue to see faithful, conservative pastors and churches relate the the convention with antipathy. There is a growing number of such churches and pastors who see the desperate need for reformation and who realize that bureaucrats and bureaucracies are impediments to that goal.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Cooperative Program

Richard Jackson, at the time pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church in Arizona, had one of the best one-liners of the whole inerrancy controversy that dominated the SBC during the last two decades of the twentieth century. After he fell out of favor with the conservatives he scoffed at their calls for cooperation. What they mean by 'cooperate,' he said, is that we should cope while they operate.

Now the Task Force on Cooperation that was set up in 2000 has released a report on the cooperative program and made recommendations about how to encourage its growth in the future. While at points some of the language borders on apocalyptic, there are some very good observations, as well. The following two paragraphs quoted in a BP story are very forthright.

"[T]oo many top Southern Baptist Convention leaders and officials for too many years gave scant attention or support to the Cooperative Program as they discharged their responsibilities," the report says. "It is well known that a number of our leaders in the past generation hardly ever spoke about the Cooperative Program or promoted it in one way or another. For the most part, their churches were poor models of Cooperative Program support. As a result, it has been projected that thousands of pastors and churches reduced their Cooperative Program percentage of undesignated monies as they followed the example of those who led them.

"For sure, this reality has hurt the Cooperative Program as much as anything and has been discouraging and regrettable. About that point, there yet remains a huge amount of disappointment, mistrust and even raw emotions which need to be recognized, addressed, and reconciled all across the Southern Baptist Convention."


These are very honest and astute observations. I know of Southern Baptist churches who decreased their giving to the Cooperative Program (CP) in order to follow "the example of our illustrious leader[s]" (that is a quote from an actual motion made from the floor of such a church during an annual budget review; the motion carried and the CP giving was reduced to 2.5%, to match the percentage given by the newly elected SBC president's church in 2000).

Many of the 13 proposals of the Task Force seem to miss the mark, in my estimation. They propose more promotion of and more education about the Cooperative Program. These have their place, but they are like trimming the branches of a dying tree, rather than seeking to repair it at the root.

The Cooperative Program is an ingenuous idea. It is a tremendous vehicle for the financial support of an incredible missionary force. I have encouraged both churches I have served as pastor to increase giving through it. However, as the report itself acknowledges, there is a great deal of "disappointment and mistrust" that now permeates the Southern Baptist Convention. That is why many churches have diminished their CP giving. You can educate me and try to sell me on your product all day long, but if I do not trust you, I ain't buying.

It's too bad the Task Force did not make recommendations about repentance and integrity and humility--the kinds of things that can rebuild trust. Once the horse is out of the barn it's a little late to give lessons on how to close the door.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricane Rita trials

As I write this at 10 PM Thursday I have 19 relatives traveling in 7 cars out of Beaumont, Texas, running from Hurricane Rita. Rain from outer bands of the storm is falling outside my house in Cape Coral, Florida. Rita stretches 400 miles over the western half of the Gulf of Mexico. My family has been driving for 12 hours and covered less than 100 miles in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Fortunately, they found gasoline a few minutes ago and refueled. They cannot find hotel rooms available anywhere in East Texas so they are heading toward relatives in Arkansas.

Natural disasters, and the threat of them, show us how weak and dependent we really are. God is so good to us so often that we tend to presume on His kind provisions. It becomes hard for us to pray that He will give us this day our daily bread when we have cabinets and refrigerators full of food. Trials remind us of our need for grace. We all need it every moment of every day. Learning to remember that we need God's grace when times are easy prepares us for clinging to the hope that we are not beyond grace when times are hard.

May God's grace shine through the trials of hurricanes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Every Calvinist's dream...and wake up call

1 Corinthians 13 is more often romanticized than thoughtfully studied. You hear it at weddings and see it on wall-hangings as if it were some kind of ode to love. But in at least two ways this chapter actually is devastating. One, it describes love in such a way that it becomes patently obvious that "everyone talking about love ain't practicing it." We have all witnessed godless, hateful speech and actions coming from people who think that by merely saying the words, "I love you," they are fully justified in what they are doing. The next time you find yourself harboring resentful or mean thoughts toward someone, or you assume the worst about someone, measure your attitude by these descriptions in the love chapter: "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails" (4-8a). By this standard I am forced to admit that often I am not nearly as loving as I assume I am.

But a second way this chapter devastates is in its analysis of any expression of Christianity that focuses on good things to the exclusion of the best thing. Verse 3 says that it is possible to give everything you have--money, house, car, IRA, 401K, clothes, everything!--to feed the poor and it will be of no spiritual value to you whatsoever if you are without love. Further, you could give your body to be burned, presumably for your convictions, and yet have that self-sacrificial act be of absolutely no spiritual value, if you are loveless.

Verse 1 makes the same point about eloquence. It is possible to be the greatest preacher in the world, esteemed by people far and wide and yet (even be crowned an American Idol) in reality be of no more spiritual worth a clanging cymbal.

But the verse that is most devastating for Calvinists is verse 2. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, one of the strengths of Calvinism is that it loves truth. When you find a genuine Calvinist you have found someone who is not afraid of the truth of God's Word. We value truth and want to grow in our understanding of truth. Well, verse 3 sounds like every Calvinist's dream then, when it speaks of "having the gift of prophecy [we will leave the debate about what constitutes biblically defined prophecy for another time and simply recognize that it certainly includes proclaiming truth]" and understanding "all mysteries and knowledge." What lover of truth does not salivate over that prospect? Imagine it! Finally, the lapsarian question fully resolved! The Trinity completely comprehended! The book of Revelation clearly understood! What lover of truth would not desire that?

Yet, the wake-up call comes when Paul goes on to write that it is possible to have such knowledge and understanding and still be "nothing." The greatest theologian in the world is NOTHING without love. That truth is one that we who are so openly committed to loving the truth must not gloss over. Instead, we need to meditate on it and let its truth sink deep into our minds and affections. A loving Arminian is of greater spiritual value than an unloving Calvinist. Being loving is far more valuable than being right.

Love for whom? Both God and people. I say this because of what Paul writes in Galatians 5:14, "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" We might have expected him to say that loving God fulfills the law, but he says that loving neighbor as yourself does it. How can that be? Because loving people in this way is impossible without loving God. You cannot love people sincerely if you do not love God supremely. And if you love God supremely, you will love people sincerely. So Paul can say that loving your neighbor fulfills the whole law.

An unloving Calvinist should honestly face heaven's evaluation of him. The devastation of such a critique should humble all of us and make us plead with the Lord to work in us deeply by His Spirit so that we might become more and more filled with that love that is so evident in our Lord Jesus.

When the English Puritan pastor, Joseph Caryl died in 1673, his congregation merged with the church which John Owen pastored. Owen was the greatest theologian of the Puritan era--an era that was marked by great theologians. On the occasion of their first worship service as a newly merged church, Owen preached on Col. 3:14, "Above all these things, put on love which is the bond of perfection." In that sermon, he said this:

A church full of love, is a church well built up. I had rather see a church filled with love a thousand times, than filled with the best, the highest, and most glorious gifts and parts that any men in this world may be made partakers of. (Owen, Works, Volume IX:268)


Isn't that the right attitude? We should be quick to repent of our lack of love. And determine, by God's grace, which He has abundantly showered on us in the love of Jesus Christ our Lord, to pursue love above everything else.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Calvinism's strength and weakness

Not long ago my wife and I were visiting in the home of a family who have visited our church worship services recently. We wanted to welcome them, get to know them and take the opportunity to speak to them about the Lord and our church. It turns out that they are faithful followers of Christ who are new in the area and looking for a church home. In the course of the conversation the father asked me, "So, are you a 5-point Calvinist?" Without any hesitation I borrowed a phrase from my friend, Mark Dever, and responded, "I am a slobbering 5-point Calvinist." They had a good laugh and then we enjoyed spending the next few minutes talking about confessional Christianity and historic Southern Baptist theology.

We Calvinists tend to be a peculiar lot. Our greatest strength can quickly become our greatest weakness. What is it that tends to characterize self-professed Calvinists? Love for truth. We love God's revealed truth and, consequently, we have a great appreciation for theology. In an atheological age a commitment to careful theological thinking stands out as odd--some would even say, elite. One megachurch pastor referred to Southern Baptist reformed pastors as "wine and cheese theologians.

Devotion to truth is a good thing, but left unbalanced it can become a bad thing by making us suspicious of anyone who does not agree with us at every point. When a love for truth becomes an excuse to look down on people you can be sure that the truth-lover has fallen prey to that constant danger of which the Bible warns us: "Knowledge puffs up" 1 Corinthians 8:1). What is the antidote to this tendency? Ignorance? The way some people decry theology you would think so. "Leave theology to the theologians, let's get busy for Jesus!" Those words and the sentiment behind them have dominated church life for the last 50 years.

But anyone who decries theology sets himself in opposition to the Bible. God tells us to give attention to doctrine (1 Timothy 4:14) and carefully consider it (1 Timothy 4:16). In addition, Paul tells us that much of his praying for his fellow believers focused on their growth in knowledge. For example, he writes in Colossians 1:9, "For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."

No, the safeguard against the tendency to pride is not ignorance. Instead, it is deeper knowledge. A proud Calvinist is a contradiction in terms and shows that he needs to dive deeper into God's truth until he realizes that he is but a minnow swimming in the ocean. Such an awareness breeds humility and leaves no room for looking down on others.

The Apostle Paul addresses this "head on" in his first letter to the Corinthians. I plan to make a few comments on that later this week.

Katrina relief efforts update

Pastor Fred Malone and Heritage Baptist Church of Clinton, Louisiana continue to coordinate hurricane relief efforts for Founders Ministries through several churches that were severely affected on the Gulf Coast. You may still contribute to this effort via Founders Ministries.

In his latest update, Fred writes, "I am glad to report that we have received almost $100,000 from ARBCA churches, Founders churches, and individuals..." (read more).

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Reforming churches

Should existing churches be reformed or should new churches be started. Well, that is sort of like asking whether you should love your wife or your kids. The two are not--indeed must not be--mutually exclusive. It is easy for us to slip into this dichotomous way of thinking about church life particularly if we are do not keep a realistic view of what a reforming ministry in a church looks like.

Sometimes those who are committed to the doctrines of grace entertain romantic ideas of what constitutes a "reformed church." This was driven home to me many years ago through a conversation with one of our pastoral interns. After three months in Cape Coral one of his seminary friends called him and asked him what it was like to be in a church where "Calvinism is preached every Sunday"? The intern burst his friend's bubble by reporting that in three months he had not heard even one sermon on the so-called five points. The expectation was that a "reformed church" would surely be ringing five bells every Sunday.

Another misconception stems from a utopian view of church life. Once a church is reformed, the thinking goes, then it will have arrived and will be free of problems--at least from major problems. As anyone who has been a part of a confessionally reformed church will testify, that simply is not the way it works. Why? Because reformed Christians (including Reformed pastors) are not exempt from remaining sin.

It may prove more helpful to speak of "reforming" rather than "reformed" churches (at least in contexts where the latter is not used as a denominational identifier). A reformation motto is very instructive here. A local church that is pursuing healthy biblical renewal should consider itself as ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda--a church that is reformed and always reforming. The task is never over.

When a typical evangelical church begins to pursue a course of biblical re-formation its path may be marked by various significant milestones: adopting or reaffirming a clear confession of faith, committing to the gracious practice of church discipline, adopting a more concientiously biblical view of church leaders and officers, attempting to regulate worship by Scripture, eliminating unbiblical practices that had become almost sacramental in their place and importance in church life, etc. All of these, and more which could be added, are good and healthy steps. But none of them establish a church as having arrived on some hallowed ground that we can now call "reformed" in a final sense.

There will always be a need to press further down the path of living biblically together as a body of believers. That is true for established churches that are being led into more healthy spiritual streams of church life and practice and for churches that are being started by those who are already share basic commitments on these important matters. We desperately need to see a large number of healthy churches planted across our nation (and across other nations), but we must not naively assume that starting a new church will eliminate the need to have an ongoing reforming ministry.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Ecclesiophilia

I am an unreconstructed ecclesiophile. I love (phileo) the church (ecclesia). I love the idea of the church because of the wisdom and power of God that it displays. I love the practical expression of the church in local churches. I love one local church in particular and regularly reflect on the kindness of God in allowing me to serve and be served by that body for over 19 years.

I say that I am "unreconstructed" because in modern evangelicalism the church has become little more than an add-on, an afterthought or at best of secondary or tertiary importance. The pressure to view the Christian life from this perspective is great. "Jesus and me" fits much better with our rugged individualism than does "members one of another" (Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:25) under the headship of Christ (Ephesians 5:23).

I suspect that it is the reduction of biblical Christianity to subjective experience that lies behind much of the spiritual malaise that marks American Christianity (which tends to be more American than Christian). Yet, biblical Christianity is inherently communal or congregational. Yes, one must personally and individually repent and trust Christ as Lord, but God intends such repenters and believers to live together in a church. It takes a church to raise a Christian.

Any attempt to follow Christ outside a sincere, covenanted devotion to other believers in a church will inevitably result in something considerably less than a healthy Christian. At best it gives rise to spiritual eccentricity. At worst...well, I fear it often results in missing Jesus Christ altogether. God has so designed the Christian life that we need our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We need to be disciplined by living in a covenanted relationship with them. We need the encouragement that comes from fellowship and the correction that comes from conflict.

I have often listened to brothers and sisters cite conflict or tension with fellow members as a reason for leaving a church. But that is never a legitimate reason for breaking fellowship and disturbing the unity of a church. If you are unwilling to live close enough to others so that they can offend you how will you ever learn to forgive one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32)? If you remain so isolated from other believers that you are unable or unwilling share the sorrows of your heart with them, how will you ever experience the grace that ministers through fellow believers (2 Corinthians 7:6)?

God has ordained that local churches serve as outposts of heaven on earth. Where else can we find people of such varied backgrounds and dissimilar natural tastes not merely coexisting but sharing life together? Who can do that but God? All those natural walls that separate us from our fellow human beings are destroyed by the cross work of Jesus Christ, and He is building from all peoples (Jews and Gentiles) "one new man" (Ephesians 2:14-15). This is why Paul says that the "manifold wisdom of God" is displayed "by the church" to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:10).

How can those who love Christ not love what He loves? And if we love the church, should we not long to see local congregations flourishing in biblical vitality? Shouldn't we grieve when we see churches floundering and even denying the clear commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ (church discipline)? Should we not commit ourselves to pray and labor for the biblical re-formation of local churches across our land and other lands?

This is the great need of the hour and, consequently, the unavoidable call to Christians everywhere.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Jimmy Draper recommends John Piper

In the current issue of Facts and Trends, Dr. Jimmy Draper, President of Lifeway, comments on a recent research report issued by Ellison Research on why Protestant ministers change jobs.

Among the study's many findings is this: only 25% of Southern Baptist ministers attribute moving from one church ministry to another as a result of God's call. Other reasons include wanting to live in a different community (30%) and wanting a larger church (22%). It is an interesting study and the research looks at more than just Southern Baptists.

Dr. Draper's comments are worth repeating here:

Wanting a different community, a promotion and better pay are all legitimate reasons for job changes if you are in a corporate environment, but it is a dangerous trend for the pastoral ministry. I recommend to you an excellent and challenging book written by John Piper, titled Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, published by Broadman & Holman (2002). "The professionalization of the ministry ... is a threat to the profoundly spiritual nature of our work," Piper writes. "... The love of professionalism kills a man's belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and to make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world. The world sets the agenda of the professional man; God sets the agenda of the spiritual man."


I say "Amen" to Dr. Draper's recommendation. Get Dr. Piper's book and read it. Or get it and give it to your favorite pastor. It is a great corrective to much that is wrong in contemporary approaches to pastoral ministry.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A four-year-old's testimony of conversion

Sometimes those of us who are unwilling to jump and down with joy upon hearing reports of hundreds of children accepting Jesus as their "forever Daddy" are accused of not believing in childhood conversions. To question how children are evangelized is to position yourself in the minds of some as being an unbelieving skeptic or at least an evangelism-killing curmudgeon.

But I want to be clear that I fully believe that God can and does save children. Age is no barrier to saving grace. We should long for children to be converted as children and we should evangelize children as children. But we should do so with a clear understanding that it is the same evangel that both children and adults need in order to be saved. There is no "gospel light" just as there is no "American gospel" that differs from a "Zambian gospel." The Gospel that saves children is the same one that saves adults. That does not mean that we should expect children to have an adult understanding or articulation of the faith. You cannot put a 30-year-old head on a 4-year-old child. But the grace of God that brings salvation to all men works to produce the same fruit in all people regardless of age. That is, children as well as adults who receive saving grace should be expected to be learning to say no to ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age (Titus 2:11ff).

Children who are converted can and do bear such fruit. Following is one of my favorite testimony's of childhood conversion. Her name is Phebe Bartlet and she was converted at age 4 under Jonathan Edwards' ministry. This is his account of her story. It comes from his Narrative of Surprising Conversions in volume 1 of the Banner of Truth edition of his works, pages 361-363.

But I now proceed to the other instance, that of the little child before mentioned. Her name is Phebe Bartlet* [here the editor adds a footnote which states, "She was living in March, 1789, and maintained the character of a true convert."] daughter of William Bartlet. I shall give the account as I took it from the mouth of her parents, whose veracity none who know them doubt of.

She was born in March, 1731. About the latter end of April, or beginning of May, 1735, she was greatly affected by the talk of her brother, who had been hopefully converted a little before, at about eleven years of age, and then seriously talked to her about the great things of religion. Her parents did not know of it at that time, and were not wont, in the counsels they gave to their children, particularly to direct themselves to her, being so young, and, as they supposed, not capable of understanding. But after her brother had talked to her, they observed her very earnestly listen to the advice they gave to the other children; and she was observed very constantly to retire, several times in a day, as was concluded, for secret prayer. She grew more and more engaged in religion, and was more frequent in her closet; till at last she was wont to visit it five or six times a day: and was so engaged in it, that nothing would at any time divert her from her stated closet exercises. Her mother often observed and watched her, when such things occurred as she thought most likely to divert her, either by putting it out of her thoughts, or otherwise engaging her inclinations; but never could observe her to fail. She mentioned some very remarkable instances.

She once of her own accord spake of her unsuccessfulness, in that she could not find God, or to that purpose. But on Thursday, the last day of July, about the middle of the day, the child being in the closet, where it used to retire, its mother heard it speaking aloud; which was unusual, and never had been observed before. And her voice seemed to be as of one exceedingly importunate and engaged; but her mother could distinctly hear only these words, spoken in a childish manner, but with extraordinary earnestness, and out of distress Of Soul, PRAY, BLESSED LORD, give me salvation! I PRAY, BEG, pardon all my sins! When the child had done prayer, she came out of the closet, sat down by her mother, and cried out aloud. Her mother very earnestly asked her several times what the matter was, before she would make any answer; but she continued crying, and writhing her body to and fro, like one in anguish of spirit. Her mother then asked her, whether she was afraid that God would not give her salvation. She then answered, Yes, I am afraid I shall go to hell! Her mother then endeavoured to quiet her, and told her she would not have her cry, she must be a good girl, and pray every day, and she hoped God would give her salvation. But this did not quiet her at all; she continued thus earnestly crying, and taking on for some time, till at length she suddenly ceased crying, and began to smile, and presently said with a smiling countenance, Mother, the kingdom of heaven is come to me! Her mother was surprised at the sudden alteration, and at the speech; and knew not what to make of it; but at first said nothing to her. The child presently spake again, and said, There is another come to me, and there is another, there is three; and being asked what she meant, she answered, One is, Thy will be done, and there is another, Enjoy him for ever; by which it seems, that when the child said, There is three come to me; she meant three passages of her catechism that came to her mind.

After the child had said this, she retired again into her closet, and her mother went over to her brother's, who was next neighbour; and when she came back, the child, being come out of the closet, meets her mother with this cheerful speech; I can find God now! referring to what she had before complained of, that she could not find God. Then the child spoke again and said, I love God! Her mother asked her, how well she loved God, whether she loved God better than her father and mother. She said, Yes. Then she asked her, whether she loved God better than her little sister Rachel. She answered, Yes, better than any thing! Then her elder sister, referring to her saying she could find God now, asked her, where she could find God. She answered, In heaven. Why, said she, have you been in heaven? No, said the child. By this it seems not to have been any imagination of any thing seen with bodily eyes, that she called God, when she said, I can find God now. Her mother asked her, whether she was afraid of going to hell, and if that had made her cry? She answered, Yes, I was; but now I shan't. Her mother asked her, whether she thought that God had given her salvation: she answered, Yes. Her mother asked her. When? She answered, Today. She appeared all that afternoon exceeding cheerful and joyful. One of the neighbours asked her, how she felt herself. She answered, I feel better than I did. The neighbour asked her, what made her feel better. She answered, God makes me. That evening, as she lay a-bed, she called one of her little cousins to her, who was present in the room, as having something to say to him; and when he came, she told him, that Heaven was better than earth. The next day, her mother asked her what God made her for? She answered, To serve him; and added, Every body should serve God, and get an interest in Christ.

The same day the elder children, when they came home from school, seemed much affected with the extraordinary change that seemed to be made in Phebe. And her sister Abigail standing by, her mother took occasion to counsel her, now to improve her time, to prepare for another world. On which Phebe burst out in tears, and cried out, Poor Nabby! Her mother told her, she would not have to cry; she hoped that God would give Nabby salvation; but that did not quiet her, she continued earnestly crying for some time. When she had in a measure ceased, her sister Eunice being by her, she burst out again, and cried, Poor Eunice! and cried exceedingly; and when she had almost done, she went into another room, and there looked up on her sister Naomi: and burst out again, crying, Poor Amy I Her mother was greatly affected at such a behaviour in a child, and knew not what to say to her. One of the neighbours coming in a little after, asked her what she had cried for. She seemed at first backward to tell the reason: her mother told her she might tell that person, for he had given her an apple: upon which she said, she cried because she was afraid they would go to hell.

At night, a certain minister, who was occasionally in the town, was at the house, and talked with her of religious things. After he was gone, she sat leaning on the table, with tears running from her eyes; and being asked what made her cry, she said, It was thinking about God. The next day, being Saturday, she seemed a great part of the day to be in a very affectionate frame, had four turns of crying and seemed to endeavour to curb herself, and hide her tears, and was very backward to talk of the occasion. On the Sabbath-day she was asked, whether she believed in God; she answered, Yes. And being told that Christ was the Son of God, she made ready answer, and said, I know it.

From this time there appeared a very remarkable abiding change in the child. She has been very strict upon the Sabbath; and seems to long for the Sabbath-day before it comes, and will often in the week time be inquiring how long it is to the Sabbathday, and must have the days between particularly counted over, before she will be contented. She seems to love God's house, and is very eager to go thither. Her mother once asked her, why she had such a mind to go? Whether it was not to see fine folks? She said, No, it was to hear Mr. Edwards preach. When she is in the place of worship, she is very far from spending her time there as children at her age usually do, but appears with an attention that is very extraordinary for such a child. She also appears very desirous at all opportunities to go to private religious meetings; and is very still and attentive at home, during prayer, and has appeared affected in time of family-prayer. She seems to delight much in hearing religious conversation. When I once was there with some strangers, and talked to her something of religion, she seemed more than ordinarily attentive; and when we were gone, she looked out very wistfully after us, and said, I wish they would come again! Her mother asked her, Why? Says she, I love to hear 'em talk.

She seems to have very much of the fear of God before her eyes, and an extraordinary dread of sinning against him; of which her mother mentioned the following remarkable instance. Some time in August, the last year, she went with some bigger children to get some plums in a neighbour's lot, knowing nothing of any harm in what she did; but when she brought some of the plums into the house, her mother mildly reproved her, and told her that she must not get plums without leave, because it was sin: God had commanded her not to steal. The child seemed greatly surprised, and burst out in tears, and cried out, I won't have these plums! and turning to her sister Eunice, very earnestly said to her, Why did you ask me to go to that plum-tree? I should not have gone, if you had not asked me. The other children did not seem to be much affected or concerned; but there was no pacifying Phebe. Her mother told her, she might go and ask leave, and then it would not be sin for her to eat them; and sent one of the children to that end; and, when she returned, her mother told her that the owner had given leave, now she might eat them, and it would not be stealing. This stilled her a little while; but presently she broke out again into an exceeding fit of crying. Her mother asked her, What made her cry again? Why she cried now, since they had asked leave? What it was that troubled her now? And asked her several times very earnestly, before she made any answer; but at last said, It was because, BECAUSE IT WAS SIN. She continued a considerable time crying; and said she would not go again if Eunice asked her an hundred times; and she retained her aversion to that fruit for a considerable time, under the remembrance of her former sin.

She sometimes appears greatly affected, and delighted with texts of Scripture that come to her mind. Particularly about the beginning of November, that text came to her mind, Rev. 3: 20. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in, and sup with him, and he with me." She spoke of it to those of the family with a great appearance of joy, a smiling countenance, and elevation of voice; and afterwards she went into another room, where her mother overheard her talking very earnestly to the children about it; and particularly heard her say to them, three or four times over, with an air of exceeding joy and admiration, Why, it is to sup WITH GOD. Some time about the middle of winter, very late in the night, when all were a-bed, her mother perceived that she was awake, and heard her, as though she was weeping. She called to her, and asked her what was the matter. She answered with a low voice, so that her mother could not hear what she said; but thinking that it might be occasioned by some spiritual affection, said no more to her: but perceived her to lie awake, and to continue in the same frame, for a considerable time. The next morning she asked her, whether she did not cry the last night. The child answered, Yes, I did cry a little, for I was thinking about God and Christ, and they loved me. Her mother asked her, whether to think of God and Christ loving her made her cry? She answered, Yes, it does sometimes.

She has often manifested a great concern for the good of others' souls: and has been wont many times affectionately to counsel the other children. Once, about the latter end of September, the last year, when she and some others of the children were in a room by themselves, husking Indian corn, the child, after a while, came out and sat by the fire. Her mother took notice that she appeared with a more than ordinary serious and pensive countenance; but at last she broke silence, and said, I have been talking to Nabby and Eunice. Her mother asked her what she had said to them. Why, said she, I told them they must pray, and prepare to die; that they had but a little while to live in this world, and they must be always ready. When Nabby came out, her mother asked her, whether she had said that to them. Yes, said she, She said that, and a great deal more. At other times, the child took opportunities to talk to the other children about the great concern of their souls, so as much to affect them. She was once exceeding importunate with her mother to go with her sister Naomi to pray: her mother endeavoured to put her off; but she pulled her by the sleeve, and seemed as if she would by no means be denied. At last her mother told her, that Amy must go and pray by herself; but, says the child, she will not go; and persisted earnestly to beg of her mother to go with her.

She has discovered an uncommon degree of a spirit of charity, particularly on the following occasion. A poor man that lives in the woods, had lately lost a cow that the family much depended on; and being at the house, he was relating his misfortune, and telling of the straits and difficulties they were reduced to by it. She took much notice of it, and it wrought exceedingly on her compassion. After she had attentively heard him awhile, she went away to her father, who was in the shop, and entreated him to give that man a cow: and told him, that the poor man had no cow! that the hunters, or something else, had killed his cow! and entreated him to give him one of theirs. Her father told her that they could not spare one. Then she entreated him to let him and his family come and live at his house: and had much more talk of the same nature, whereby she manifested bowels of compassion to the poor.

She has manifested great love to her minister: particularly when I returned from my long journey for my health, the last fall. When she heard of it, she appeared very joyful at the news, and told the children of it, with an elevated voice, as the most joyful tidings; repeating it over and over. Mr. Edwards is come home! Mr. Edwards is come home! She still continues very constant in secret prayer, so far as can be observed, for she seems to have no desire that others should observe her when she retires, being a child of a reserved temper. Every night, before she goes to bed, she will say her catechism, and will by no means miss. She never forgot it but once, and then, after she was a-bed, thought of it, and cried out in tears, I han't said my catechism! and would not be quieted till her mother asked her the catechism as she lay in bed. She sometimes appears to be in doubt about the condition of her soul; and when asked, whether she thinks that she is prepared for death, speaks something doubtfully about it. At other times she seems to have no doubt, but when asked, replies, Yes, without hesitation.

May God give us such conversions among our children.

Lakeshore Baptist Church in Mississippi

I just learned that Lakeshore Baptist Church near Bay St. Louis, MS had their building completely destroyed by the hurricane. Don Elbourne, who writes the blog, Locusts and Wild Honey, is the pastor. He has moved in with family in Baton Rouge. I originally stated that the church is in Baton Rouge, but that was a mistake. Read Don's commment for clarification. You may contribute financially to help them with their recovery and learn more about their needs by reading Don's blog or going to their church's website. His pictures and stories give a very personal perspective on the incredible challenge now facing many of our brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Is Jesus your "forever Daddy?"

I usually do not read "Perspective," the publication of Women's Missions and Ministries Department of the Florida Baptist Convention. However, my wife pointed out an article in the Fall/Winter 2005 issue by Dr. Sharon Thompson, the "Camp Worldlight Director." According to the Florida Baptist Convention's website, Thompson has a PhD in child and adolescent psychology and teaches at the William Carey College in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Camp Worldlight is the new name for the GA and Acteen camp sponsored each summer by the Florida Baptist Convention. According to the website, in 2004, 324 campers made "first-time professions of faith." Doesn't that language betray the superficiality of our evangelism? Now we must qualify "profession of faith" with "first-time" to distinguish that kind from the "second-time," "third-time," etc. kind. Kinda makes you long for the good ol' days when a profession of faith was a profession of faith! But I digress.

Dr. Thompson writes in her article in "Perspective" about the 200 girls who "accepted Christ" (I assume for the first time) and 247 others who were called to career missions in the 2005 camp. But, she writes, "the story of camp is not written best with numbers and statistics; however, but with faces of girls who lives were changed." Then she inserts a picture of a little girl named "Brianna" who looks like she is maybe 9 or 10 years old. Thompson calls her "one little girl with one big story" because "she asked Jesus to be her 'forever Daddy' at Camp Worldlight."

If this is the way the camp director is describing Brianna's decision, one is left to wonder (with fear and grief) just what the children were instructed to do and what they were promised would happen. If it was the biblical Gospel that Briannna was taught and called to believe then one would at least expect to see Jesus referred to as Lord and Savior.

I do not know exactly what was taught nor how the children were handled so I will not comment specifically beyond what I have already written. However, I am certain of this: those who preach a false gospel to children, lead them to give some kind of assent to such a gospel and then assure them that they are saved are guilty of spiritual child abuse. There is only one Gospel that saves sinners regardless of a person's age. To withhold that Gospel from children or to substitute something in its place in hopes of being child-friendly is to put a barrier between children and Jesus Christ.

Children, like adults, need the Gospel. If the Gospel has been lost then the most important work we can do for children is to labor to see it recovered. This is the work of reformation and is the crying need of our day.

How to help with Katrina relief efforts

If you would like to help with relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, you may now make contributions online through Founders Ministries by visiting the special page set up at www.founders.org.

Dr. Fred Malone and the Heritage Baptist Church in Clinton, Louisiana are coordinating recovery efforts for anyone wishing to give directly to local churches trying to meet local needs. His updates are also available on the page mentioned above.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Disaster Relief

I am finally returning to civilization after feeling very out of touch for the last week. The devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has been hard to comprehend. The limited news coverage that I have seen has been incredibly sobering. Many have contacted Founders Ministries asking what they can do to help out with the recovery efforts that are underway. We are working with churches and pastors in the Gulf Coast region to get information about needs and specific opportunities to help. Pastor Fred Malone of FBC Clinton, Louisiana is helping to coordinate some of these efforts.

If you would like to make a contribution that will be used by local churches in the affected areas as they seek to minister in the wake of the storm, you may send your designated gift to

Founders Ministries
PO Box 150931
Cape Coral, Florida
33915
ATTN: Hurricane Relief

Let me also note that the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams are second to none in the compassionate, efficient and generous ways that they minister in the wake of such tragedies. Often their work is done behind the scenes (cooking the meals that the Red Cross delivers, etc.), but as one who saw these teams in action after last year's hurricanes in Florida, I commend their work and encourage any support that can be offered to them.

A specific relief project that we are working on is putting together packages of books for pastors who lost their libraries in the storm. If you know of publishers who would be willing to contribute selected titles to this effort, or if you would like to contribute directly to help with the expense of this effort, use the above address and mark your check--"pastors' library fund."

Our church had the privilege of sending several such literature packages to pastors who lost their books to Hurricane Andrew years ago. Some of the men who received those selected books were very appreciative.

As more information becomes available regarding needs and opportunities, I will do my best to let you know.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Greetings from Alaska!

Donna and I just returned from seeing the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska. It was incredible, and a great reminder of God's power and majesty. The news from New Orleans is so incredibly sad. We have only been able to get partial reports since our internet access has been sketchy at best. I have particularly been praying for Steve Lemke and the others in the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary family. I just heard that our friends, Fred Malone and Joe Nesom, who both live north of Baton Rouge, are safe though without electricity.

The conduct of the many looters in the aftermath of the storm is a stark reminder of our desperate need for reformation and revival in our land. May the Lord send it.

Thanks for your patience as my blogging is hit and miss for the next few days. I look forward to getting home and getting back on a regular schedule.