Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ephesians 2:14-18 "Breaking Down The Walls"

Sunday's message entitled "Breaking Down The Walls," an exposition of Ephesians 2:14-18is perhaps the most important message I have ever preached. Never before have I preached a message that so clearly articulates the vision that Immanuel Baptist Church and every other church must have. Find the audio here. Click to stream. Right click to download.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The So-Called News About Jimmy Carter and the SBC

Over the last couple of days, I have had several questions from church members about Former President Jimmy Carter's "announcement" about severing ties with the SBC. My response has been that this is not news. Carter has been saying this for ten years. As for my opinion, I don't mind at all. I am happy for people who have a low view of the Bible and a heretical view of salvation and Jesus Christ to remove themselves as far from the Southern Baptist Convention as they wish. However, Al Mohler has offered a much more profound response to this so-called news on his blog. Find it here:

Sorry, President Carter . . . This Argument Falls Flat

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Logos Bible Giveaway

Logos Bible Software is giving away 12 deluxe editions of God's Word every month. I sure would like to win one of them so I am posting this as a shameless attempt to better my odds.

Logos Bible Software is celebrating the launch of their new online Bible by giving away 72 ultra-premium print Bibles at a rate of 12 per month for six months. The Bible giveaway is being held at Bible.Logos.com and you can get up to five different entries each month! After you enter, be sure to check out Logos and see how it can revolutionize your Bible study.

Ephesians 2:11-13 -- Remember Two Things (Audio)

The first imperative statement in Ephesians is found here: REMEMBER. We are admonished to remember two things. Click here to stream audio, and right click to download.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Difference Between Criticism and Charges

I'm currently reading Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears book VINTAGE CHURCH. Much to my surprise, at least after reading 120 pages of it, I am finding it to be the best book on Church I have ever read, and would highly recommend it. I hope I don't run across something in the second half of it to make me regret saying that.

Especially relevant for me today are some key statements in the book about church leadership.

"An elder is not a helper that does a lot of work for the church, because that is the definition of a deacon. Rather, an elder is a leader who trains other leaders to lead various aspects of the church. ... To do his job, that man (the pastor/elder) must not be offered blind obedience or given complete unaccountable authority. Rather, he must have the freedom, trust, authority, respect, honor, and support of the elders and other church leaders to actually lead the church. If not, there can be no leadership; leaders will no longer lead the entire church working on behalf of the best interests of the gospel but will become representatives of various agendas, departments, factions, and programs in the church. Without a senior leader, dissention will come as people fight over resources; there will not be decisions but compromises, which are the death of the church. As a general rule, the best person to hold the position of first among equals is the primary preaching pastor. Indeed, 1 Timothy 5:17 says, 'Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.' While all elders deserve respect and honor, the primary preaching pastor is worthy of double honor. The pulpit is the most visible place of exercised authority in the church and is where most criticism and opposition is focused." (pp 71 - 74)

"Paul the preacher has many things to say about preachers in 1 Timothy 5:17-19:
'Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. ... Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.'
" ... it is imperative that this honoring includes protecting them from the pain of critics. Indeed, the preaching pastor, along with every other church member, should be held accountable for charges of sin. Nevertheless, a church and its leaders must learn to distinguish between charges and criticisms. Charges of actual sin or false doctrine should be investigated biblically and thoroughly. Criticisms are to be dismissed and not given the same level of attention as a charge. Every preacher will be criticized, and the pain of criticism is one of the great struggles of every preacher." (pp 89 - 90)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Audio: Ephesians 2:8-10, Saved By Grace

In this key passage of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul answers two crucial questions about our salvation. First, how is it that we are saved? Second, for what purpose have we been saved?

Find the .mp3 file here. Click to stream, right-click to download.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Truth is Stranger than Stranger Than Fiction

(Spoiler Alert: This is not a film critique or review. It contains spoilers, giveaways about the major twists of plot and ending to the film. If you haven't seen it, and don't want me to ruin it for you, stop reading here. If you have seen it, don't plan on seeing it, or don't care about it being ruined, then read on.)

The old adage, "Truth is stranger than fiction," is so time-worn that it is nearly cliche. The story that is told in the film "Stranger than Fiction" is also time-worn, but will never be cliche. It is a story about a man who is going to die, but he doesn't know he's going to die. But then in a bizarre sort of way learns that he is going to die. And knowing that he is going to die changes the way he lives. OK, that part is cliche. It has even found its way into a country music song, confirming its cliche-ness. But there is more to this story. In fact, there is an old, old story that is written between the lines of this screenplay.

The film is billed as a comedy, and with Will Ferrell in the lead role one may expect that slapstick and sophomoric humor which has made him famous (not to mention wealthy). While the film is funny and lighthearted throughout, there are moments which do not feel comic at all. In one ironic scene, Harold Crick (played by Ferrell) learns the difference between comedy and tragedy from Professor Jules Hilbert (played by Dustin Hoffman): "In a tragedy you die, in a comedy you get hitched."

Karen Eiffel (played by Emma Thompson) is a renowned novelist with a decade long case of writer's block. Harold Crick is a tax auditor with a case of life block that is probably even longer. But the two develop a symbiotic relationship when Eiffel begins unknowingly telling Crick's story, and Crick can hear her telling it in his head. Crick learns from the narrator in his head that he is going to die. He doesn't know when or how, but is determined to figure out the mystery. When he meets Eiffel face-to-face, he pleads with her to change the ending, leaving her perplexed. Upon reading the first draft, Professor Hilbert claims that it mustn't be changed because it is the masterpiece of her stellar career. Crick must die just in the way that Eiffel has narrated.

Long story short, Crick doesn't die the way she narrated. In fact, he doesn't die at all. Oh sure, the events unfold just as she originally penned. Crick throws his life in front of a moving bus to save the life of a young boy. Viewers, like the bystanders on the curb, are certain that he is dead. Moments later, the scene shifts to the hospital where Crick is recovering in traction.

Herein is the Truth that is stranger than fiction. We are living out a grand story, a metanarrative being told by a Third-Person Omniscient. It is God's story. He knew how it would end before it began. And in God's story, the hero is not Crick but Christ. Like Eiffel's story in which Crick must die, in God's story Christ must die. But neither are tragedies in the end. For starters, both "died" sacrificially, laying their lives down to save another. Crick laid his life down in front of the bus to save the helpless boy in the street. Christ laid his life down on the cross to save helpless sinners. And secondly, death does not have the final word in either story. After meeting Crick, Eiffel changed the ending to her story. Crick in fact did not die, but received a second chance at a fulfilled life and a romantic love. Christ did die, but His death was not the end. Through His glorious resurrection He lives, offering all who come to Him a second chance at abundant life and divine love. God never changed the end of His story. The hero had to die, but death would be swallowed up in victory.

Upon reading the revised manuscript, Professor Hilbert asks Eiffel, "Why did you change the book?"

She responds, "Lots of reasons. I realized I just couldn't do it."

Hilbert questions, "Because he's real?"

And Eiffel states, "Because it's a book about a man who doesn't know he's about to die, and then dies. But if the man does know he's going to die and dies anyway, dies, dies willingly knowing he could stop it, then, I mean, isn't that the type of man you want to keep alive?"

After reading of his own death, Crick finds Eiffel on the street one evening and says, "It's lovely ... I read it, and I loved it, and there's only one way it can end. ... This seems simple enough. I love your book, and I think you should finish it." In other words, Crick has seen the way he will die, and he accepts it, knowing that it is a good way to go out, a poetic and beautiful way for his life to end, and that the result of his death will be great success for the author.

God's story, like Eiffel's is about a Man who is going to die. He knows He is going to die. He accepts the reality of His imminent death and says to the Author of His story, "It's lovely ... I read it, and I loved it, and there's only one way it can end. ... This seems simple enough. I love Your book, and I think You should finish it." In other words, Christ has seen the way He will die, and He accepts it, knowing it is a beautiful way to go out, laying His life down for sinners. And He knows the result will not be a Pulitzer Prize for the Author of His story, but glory (Compare John 17:1 and Hebrews 12:2 to what Crick said on the street). He knows He's going to die, and dies anyway, dies willingly knowing He could stop it. And He is in fact alive today, risen from death. Isn't He the type of Man, the type of God-Man, you want to be alive? He is. This is not fiction. It is stranger than that. It is Truth (John 14:6).

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Immanuel's Philosophy-Theology of Worship

Immanuel Baptist Church
Our Philosophy-Theology of Music and Worship

At Immanuel Baptist Church, we believe that God, because of His glorious attributes, is worthy of our worship. The English word "worship" is a modernized term of the antiquated word "worth-ship." Worship, therefore, was originally understood by English speakers as ascribing unto God the praise and adoration of which He is uniquely worthy. While His actions toward man are gracious and wonderful, it is His ontological nature (who He is in and of Himself) that prompts us to respond to Him in worship. Thus, even if God never acted beneficently toward man at all, He would be no less worthy of worship. His divine actions, however, are directly related to His nature and His attributes. We come to know His attributes through His actions. So, in our worship, we respond to God with praise for both who He is and what He has done, namely and chiefly, the redemption He has secured for us in Jesus Christ.

We worship God because He is worthy of worship, but also we worship because we have a biblical mandate to worship. Some of the relevant Scriptures include (but are not limited to) Exodus 20:1-11; Deuteronomy 6:13-15; 1 Chronicles 16:8-36; Psalm 2:11-12; Psalm 29; Psalm 95; Matthew 4:8-10; John 4:19-24; Romans 12:1; Philippians 3:3; Revelation 4:9-11; Revelation 14:6-7; Revelation 15:4. These passages make clear that the right and biblical responsibility of humanity toward God is to worship Him. In addition to God's worthiness and the biblical mandate, we believe that worship gives us the opportunity to confess our common faith together. In worship we set forth and reinforce what we believe to be true about God. This becomes a strong point of unity for the church locally and universally. As we worship God, we join our voices with the saints of times and places, adding our confession of faith to theirs (Hebrews 12:1-2). Finally, in worship we not only express our faith to God, but we proclaim that faith to others. Future generations of believers from our families, our community and the nations observe the content, the manner, and the Object of our worship, and are made audience to a proclamation of divinely revealed truth about the Triune God as we engage together in worship (Acts 16:25; 1 Corinthians 14:23-33).

We do not believe that worship is synonymous with the Sunday morning gathering of the church, though worship should be a central reason and activity of the church's gathering (Acts 2:42-47). Worship can and should be both individual and corporate. The entire life of the Christian person should be characterized by continual worship. When the church gathers for worship, we have come to do together what we have been doing individually while apart (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17, 23). Nor do we believe that worship is synonymous with music, though it is fitting to worship God through music (Psalm 33; Psalm 96; Psalm 150; Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:18-21). If God is worthy of worship because of who He is, then music cannot add value to the worship we bring before Him, though it may bring enjoyment and an aesthetically pleasing element to our worship. Central to worship is not the amount or style of music that accompanies it, but rather the Object who receives our worship, namely God alone. Worship is not about what we receive, but what we offer as we come before the Lord. For this reason, worship should never be primarily directed at our own likes and preferences, but rather to His.

Immanuel Baptist Church worships the Triune God on a foundation of several core convictions. First is that our worship should be biblically informed. The Bible is God's inspired and authoritative revelation to man, and in it we find an accurate description of who God is (and therefore why we should worship Him) as well as instructions and examples of proper worship that God receives and honors. In addition to being biblically informed, we believe that worship should be God-ward in its focus. Our songs, our prayers, our offerings, and our speech in worship should reflect the fact that we believe God is listening and that these things are being brought to Him rather than to one another. Thirdly, we believe that true worship should be Christ-centered, for it is only through Christ that we have access to the Father. The redemption that Jesus Christ has purchased for us in His substitutionary death and resurrection has provided a way into His presence, and worship should reflect this truth. We also believe that worship should be Spirit-led. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would glorify Him (John 16:14), therefore if we would glorify the risen Lord in worship, we must sensitively yield ourselves to the Spirit's leading. Finally, we believe that worship must be substantive, addressing the absolute truths of God's attributes and actions, rather than merely focusing on earth-bound matters such as human emotion and sentimentality.

We have observed the church of Jesus Christ in twenty-first century America selling its birthright of biblical worship for a mess of pottage not unlike the exchange between Jacob and Esau. For this reason, we believe that the church in our day could be greatly helped by returning to what was known in bygone days as "the regulative principle." Many churches seem to conduct worship according to what is known as "the normative principle," meaning that unless something is expressly forbidden in Scripture, it is permissible to include in worship. The regulative principle, on the other hand, looks to Scripture for direction in what elements to include in worship. As stated in the Philadelphia Baptist Confession of Faith (1742), Chapter 22, "... the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way, not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures." Worship, then, on this principle would include prayer, the reading of Scripture, preaching and hearing the Word of God, the singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, the collection of offerings, as well as the ordinances of the Lord's Supper and Baptism. All of these find clear statements of biblical support in the New Testament.

For much of the history of the Christian church, music has been a prominent feature of services of worship. It is prescribed in both the Old and New Testaments as an acceptable mode of worship. While we affirm the appropriateness of music in worship, we are cautious to avoid equating music with worship or emphasizing music to such an extent that the style or performance of music in worship detracts from the God whom we worship. Music, like all other aspects of worship, should be biblical in its lyrical content and would ideally be directed toward God and not men. While exercising care to not use music in an emotionally manipulative way, we also acknowledge that music in worship should have an emotional tone. The book of Psalms demonstrates how wide a range of human emotions can be engaged in singing praise to God. Chiefly, music should reflect the human emotions of joy, gratitude, and reverence for God, though at times it may be appropriate to sing songs that mourn the deadliness of sin, that honestly confess the human condition, and that express attitudes of human need and dependence upon God. In each case, the tune of a song should be reflective of its emotional tone. Music in worship should also be intelligible. When music is offered in worship in such a way that the lyrics cannot be heard or understood, the worshipper is not able to engage his or her mind and affirm the truthfulness of they lyrics. We also believe that music in worship should be authentic and genuinely offered. This means that we prefer (as much as possible) that music be played live and on acoustic instruments rather than through recorded media or electronic augmentation. We recognize that this preference can be overly-restrictive and difficult to enforce, therefore we do allow for exceptions, so long as they are indeed exceptions rather than the rule. Related to this concern is our belief that the bulk of music in worship should be congregationally sung, in order that the worshiper may be actively engaged in the offering praise of God. While one may regularly hear a choral anthem or a piece of solo music in worship at Immanuel, too much of this would reduce the congregation from being active participants in worship to being merely spectators of a performance. Finally, we believe that music in worship should be offered with excellence in view of the fact that God deserves our very best offerings.

At Immanuel, our primary musical instrument employed in worship is the pipe organ. While many churches today are moving away from the use of what was known in former days as "the king of instruments," we believe that the pipe organ is particularly suited for congregational hymn singing. The pipe organ has been the primary instrument in Christian worship since the Middle Ages for good reason. It is uniquely capable of capturing the range of emotional content, from loud and triumphant rejoicing to soft and hushed tones of quiet meditation. The primary selection of hymns sung in worship at Immanuel consists of the classic and time-tested hymns of the Christian faith. While we do not oppose modern music that meets the criteria described above, we rejoice in being able to join our voices with the saints of church history in offering to God timeless songs of theological truth. Our driving vision at Immanuel is to be "A Church for All People." Therefore we do not isolate one particular musical preference or taste that may be time- or culture-bound, but choose instead to praise God with the songs that have crossed the boundaries of time and place and language. On any given Sunday, our congregation may sing a song written by an eighth century North African monk, a sixteenth century European reformer, and a twentieth century American pastor. We believe that this represents a truer picture of the Church of Jesus Christ than what is depicted in the singing of a monolithic slate of songs from a particular era or locale.

The great classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach regularly marked his compositions with three letters at the end: SDG. This stands for the Latin expression, "Soli Deo Gloria," which is translated, "To God Alone Be Glory." It is our desire that all that is done in worship, whether singing or preaching or any other single element, would be done for the glory of God. We welcome you to join us for what we hope will be a rich experience of worship at Immanuel, and pray that you will encounter God powerfully through the expository proclamation of His word and the biblical acts of corporate worship. Soli Deo Gloria.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A Brief History of Immanuel

In 1945, when the Bailey Memorial Baptist Church which met on West Court Street (three blocks from the present location of Immanuel Baptist Church) dissolved, a small group of dedicated Christians saw the need for a new work in this area of Greensboro. On February 1, 1946, 34 charter members, including some former Bailey members, constituted Immanuel Baptist Church. Later that year, a building fund was started, and the property on which Immanuel now sits was purchased in August, 1947. Since the days of its founding, Immanuel has sought the enabling of the Holy Spirit to make a significant impact on Greensboro and the world for the glory of God.

The meeting place of Immanuel Baptist Church has evolved from the house on West Court Street to a small chapel on the present property, to the current sanctuary building which was completed in 1957. In 1950, a pastorium was built on the present property which was demolished in 1989 to accommodate the need for more parking. The three-story educational building was completed in 1963, featuring spacious classrooms, a small chapel, the church offices, kitchen and fellowship hall. The beautiful and majestic present sanctuary is the result of a major renovation project in 1988. The sanctuary exemplifies the treasured elements of church architecture through the centuries: light and height. With twelve towering arches of stained glass windows depicting full-color scenes from the life of Christ and icons of Old Testament teachings and a prominent arch surrounding the cross of the baptistery, the attention of the worshiper is drawn upward, in a symbolic gesture of reverence toward God. The sanctuary pipe organ was originally installed by E. C. White (the church's first organist), Jr. and has been expanded and reworked at various times through the years. In 2009, construction began to enhance the accessibility of the sanctuary building by adding a vertical lift.

Since its beginning, Immanuel has been committed to reaching out to people of all walks of life with the Good News of Jesus Christ. The early church grew rapidly as young families from neighboring communities (Ardmore Park, Hillsdale Park, Rolling Roads, Piedmont Hills, Glenwood, Highland Park, Hunter Hills and Lindley Park) began to attend and unite with the fellowship. During the height of the civil rights struggle that was prominent in Greensboro during the 1960s, the church began to reach out to people of all ethnicities. The first effort to do so was in 1964 with the establishment of the Frazier Baptist Chapel, a congregation focused on reaching the Lumbee Native Americans. In 1976, Frazier Chapel united with Immanuel as one congregation. Immanuel was also instrumental in establishing the Good News Baptist Church, the first African-American congregation in the Piedmont Baptist Association.

The defining event in Immanuel's history came in 1967. It was then that Immanuel's pastor, Dr. Paul Early, challenged the church to open its doors to all people regardless of ethnicity. This was received well by the church and community and Immanuel became a diverse body of Caucasian, Native American, African American, and International Christians. In 1970, Immanuel began the International Fellowship, a ministry reaching out to International students and others by offering them "Friend-Families", English language training, and opportunities to hear the Gospel message. An International Bible Study came into being through this ministry which still meets every Sunday morning at Immanuel. Today the International Fellowship has become a separate non-profit ministry, The Piedmont International Fellowship, which is supported by Immanuel and sister churches in the Piedmont Baptist Association.

The ministries of Immanuel Baptist Church have reflected the vision of being "A Church for All People" to the present day. The love of God for all people has been a core value of Immanuel that has given birth to local and international mission efforts. In 1994, demographic shifts in the community surrounding the church caused many to wonder if the congregation may be more prosperous and viable by relocating to suburban areas beyond the city's center. The congregation held firm to their commitment of being salt and light to all people in the urban context where Immanuel finds itself today. Though such a move may have proven successful in human wisdom regarding the retention of some members and the rapid growth of others, Immanuel has remained committed to "blooming where God planted us." Today, though the membership has declined numerically, the passion to reach all peoples with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and still drives all that is done.

In addition to Immanuel's own ministries, the facilities are also shared with the Greensboro Chinese Christian Church, the Ethiopian Christian Fellowship, and the New Arrival Refugee School conducted by Lutheran Family Services. In 2009, Pastor Russ Reaves led the church to establish a Mission Strategy Team. This team will develop and promote ministries and mission efforts that aim for making a strategic imact for the Gospel in our community and to the ends of the earth. Presently, the church cooperates with a number of local ministries and the sister churches of the Piedmont Baptist Association, North Carolina Baptist State Convention, and the Southern Baptist Convention to meet the needs around us. Our prayer is that in the days to come, we will have a sharper focus on the mission task to which God has called us in order that the members of Immanuel might effectively pursue the glory of God in making Christ known at home and abroad.

Past Pastors
Rev. Forrest Fraser (1946-1949)
Rev. Troy Robbins (1950-1958)
Dr. Paul Early (1959-1974, Pastor Emeritus)
Rev. Neil Yonce (1975-1978)
Rev. Melvin Green (1979-1980)
Rev. Jack Hinton (1981-1982)
Dr. Jim Jarrard (1983-1989)
Dr. Henry Newton (1989-1997)
Rev. Larry Thompson (1998-2002, Interim Pastor 2002-2005)
Rev. Russ Reaves (2005-Present)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Encouraging Events in Louisville

When I posted my initial reflections on the 2009 SBC in Louisville, I promised my blog readers (both of them) that I would write more later when I had the time. I still don't have the time, but I am afraid if I don't do it now, I may never get around to it. So, I have two posts (including this one) that I want to write. This one you are presently reading deals with some "good news" (note the lowercases, as opposed to the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus) out of Louisville, and a future post will deal with some things that concern me coming out of this year's convention. You may find it amusing that some things will be filed under both headings.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I am very excited about the Great Commission Resurgence Taskforce. In particular, it excites me that the voices involved in this discussion include Danny Akin, Al Mohler, Al Gilbert, Frank Page, and David Dockery. As one studies the Southern Baptist Convention's history, one will find certain "shaping influences" at key points in the Convention's history. I believe we are at just such a crucial juncture now, and these men need to be involved in the shaping that must take place today. Let me lay all my cards on the table about my respect for these men. I am biased toward some of them for deeply personal reasons. Al Gilbert pastors my home church, but before he did I came to know and respect Al as a leader at the International Mission Board. He was a key figure there in enabling churches to better connect with the global work of Southern Baptists, and it is my hope that this will be one of the outcomes of this Taskforce. Danny Akin is the President of my Alma Mater, Southeastern Seminary. I began attending Southeastern months after Paige Patterson resigned to go lead Southwestern. The Seminary was well served by Dr. Bart Neal as Interim President, but I and many others had strong hopes that Dr. Akin would be the name put forward as the new President. I was so delighted when he came to Southeastern because I had developed a deep respect for him as a preacher and theologian. He demonstrates Christlikeness in his demeanor, being gentle and at the same time unflinching in his convictions. Frank Page was ordained at the church I now pastor in 1974, and I was so grateful that he agreed to return to Immanuel to preach in June of 2008. I was one of the many who voted for Frank to be our Convention President in 2006. He is a gifted preacher, a Christlike leader, and one of the "nice guys" of our Convention. I have no personal connection with David Dockery or Al Mohler, but I believe them both to be top-notch Baptist theologians who represent us well every time they rise to speak or put pen to paper. It gave me great pride to see the way Dr. Mohler was received by the congregation at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology where he showed the Reformed Evangelicals gathered there that Southern Baptists could hold their own in the theological forum. If our future course as a denomination is going to be charted by any group of people, I could offer no better names than these.

There seems to be some confusion among the rank-and-file Southern Baptists as to what a Great Commission Resurgence is and why it is needed. As I understand it, it is a logical outflow of thirty years of "Conservative Resurgence" in our midst. Having drawn some important theological lines in the sand, the natural question should be, "So what?" It is not enough to feel good about having a carefully worded statement of orthodoxy in print if we do not do anything about it. Hopefully the outcome of this Taskforce will be to show Southern Baptists how, having stood on the right truths, to now step out and make a deep impact in the world for the cause of Christ. To the average pastor or church-goer, our denomination seems to be "top-heavy" and less than "user-friendly" at times. Rather than facilitating missions and evangelism engagement, denominational bureaucracy can sometimes be a deterrent. If this Taskforce can bring back practical ways that the Convention can become a better mobilizer of the churches and their members, then it will be a smashing success.

I am also very excited by the number of interested young leaders in our midst. Frankly, over the last few years, I have been disappointed in the way "younger Southern Baptists" have carried themselves and been caricatured by others. We are not all "emergent," not all "Calvinists," not all "radical," and not all interested in throwing away every vestige of the Baptist heritage. To be sure, however, some are. Many of those are distancing themselves from the Convention now, and I am not convinced that this is a bad thing. I see nothing wrong with the Convention saying, "This is the way we are going to go, and if you are not comfortable with that, you are welcome to leave." Some of us are and remain Southern Baptist by choice, and while not quite content with the status quo, we are at least willing to proceed slowly, kindly, patiently, and respectfully for the greater good. This year in Louisville, I was encouraged to see many present who are my age (mid-30s) and younger (!), and to find some older Southern Baptists listening to our concerns. "Just trust us," is not a battle-cry that my generation wants to hear. We admire the strong convictions on which some of our forerunners have stood for the sake of the Convention, but we are also not so naive as to turn a blind eye to some of the failures of that generation. It is not "us" versus "them," and it must never be assumed that "our way" is better. But in Baptist life, iron must sharpen iron, and we must all be willing to be held accountable by one another.

The "9Marks at Nine" (which might have been better called "9Marks at 9:45") events on Monday and Tuesday nights of Convention week were highlights for me. I have a deep respect for Dr. Mark Dever and his ministry at Capitol Hill Baptist and 9Marks. Having the opportunity to gather informally following the day's events and hear him, Danny Akin, David Platt, and others share theological and ecclesiological insights was a blessing that I hope will be repeated in coming years. Some of the discussions that took place in these sessions need to make their way across the hallway onto the Convention floor. Seeing a broad generational diversity present at these meetings gives me hope that they will in the future.

I am encouraged that Southern Baptists seem to be outgrowing our willingness to be swayed by impassioned but hollow rhetoric and emotional appeals. While several speakers at the microphones spoke as if they were embarking on a new "witch-hunt," the Committee on Order of Business, the President, and the messengers did not seem to be swayed by their statements. I was glad to hear our President, Johnny Hunt, and the Committee on Order of Business address the tone and language used by some of the speakers from the floor. Another illustration of mature discernment involved the Resolution on President Obama. This was a well-worded Resolution that spoke well to the things we should celebrate about his election as well as voicing our opposition to some of his public policies. When General Pinkney attempted to amend the resolution by inserting a "red herring" statement about homosexuality in the school system, the messengers rightly rejected the amendment. As it was stated, the amendment just did not belong. Additionally, many of the same concerns about the homosexual agenda in public education could have been (and WERE) stated on the Convention floor during the Bush administration. I am not certain, however, that in some years past the messengers would have defeated this amendment. I have seen well-written resolutions butchered by impromptu motions to amend which addressed irrelevant issues. In those cases, I believe that the messengers were swayed more by the volume and rhetoric used at the microphone than by sound reasoning. Thankfully, this was not the case this year.

The International Mission Board report is always one of the highlights of the Convention for me. This year, more impressive was the presentation made just prior to that report. Jim Richards, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention of Texas, handed Jerry Rankin a check for $100,000 on behalf of his state convention to contribute toward the shortfall in Lottie Moon giving for this year. I hope there were many State Convention executives in the room witnessing this and taking note of the response of the messengers. Increasingly, Southern Baptists are saying louder and louder that it is not right for State Conventions to cling to a larger percentage of Cooperative Program dollars than they forward on to our Mission Boards and Seminaries. It is no secret that one of the reasons so many lined themselves up against the Great Commission Resurgence is because of fear that one of the outcomes of this Taskforce will be a call to States to move toward AT LEAST a 50/50 split of Cooperative Program dollars. God bless Jim Richards and the SBCT, and may their tribe increase.

I must say a word about the exemplary leadership of Dr. Johnny Hunt at this year's SBC. No small number of Southern Baptists had concern about his ability to lead the denomination as a whole given his outspoken criticism of a large and growing segment of Baptist life (the Reformed/Calvinist movement). I believe all fears were settled as we observed a humble and genuinely cooperative spirit from the Chair. Johnny Hunt's soteriology has not changed over the last twelve months, but he showed us in Louisville was that, even when we don't agree on every point of doctrine, we can be kind to one another and listen to one another for the good of the Convention. We may never know this side of heaven, but Johnny Hunt's Presidency may have prevented another massive upheaval in the SBC, resulting in the exodus of a large number of people and/or churches.

A great blessing of Convention week was visiting the campus of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to take part in the 150th Anniversary Celebration. God's hand is upon this institution, and we can rest well knowing that this Seminary and five others like it are shaping tomorrow's Baptist leaders. Dr. Mohler and those in attendance in the Chapel Service on campus showed the true spirit of what being a Bible-believing follower of Christ is all about in the way they honored and received Dr. Duke McCall, for whom a new wing at the Seminary was named. Those unfamiliar with Baptist life (probably stopped reading a long time ago) should know that Dr. McCall's years as Southern's President were tumultuous at times, and he was the "Baptist Pope" during the period from which the Conservative Resurgence sought to break free (did I say that carefully enough?). Surely, Dr. McCall was surprised by the recognition and reception he received.

Finally, and for good reason, I will mention the rise of B21. I save this for last, because I know the least about it. I was not aware that this movement even existed prior to the Convention and was unable to attend their luncheon/discussion during the week. From everything I see and read about this group, I can say that I am thankful that it exists, and see great promise in it for being a healthy and constructive think-tank for younger Southern Baptists. I like the names I see surrounding this movement and I applaud the focus of it, stated on the B21 website (www.baptisttwentyone.com) as "We embrace our past, believing this faith has been proclaimed in our Southern Baptist heritage. We work in the present, believing the Kingdom effectiveness of Southern Baptists will be in proportion to our fidelity to the Gospel. We cooperate for the future, believing the only hope for the people of the world is the Gospel of King Jesus."

I am proud to be a Southern Baptist. It is my denominational home by choice for doctrinal and missiological reasons. Danny Akin said it well, and I fully intend to steal this statement and make it my own -- "As long as I feel like this ship is moving in the right direction, I can stay on board." It might move slow, but it is going in the right direction. I leave Louisville excited about our future, and excited to return next year to Orlando and hear the report from the Great Commission Resurgence Taskforce (and go to Disney World now that the boycott is over!).

Ephesians 1:15-23 -- Praying for One Another (Audio)

Paul's prayer for the Ephesian believers is a great example for us in how to pray for one another in a meaningful and spiritually significant way. Click here to listen, or right-click to download.