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Ed Jordan: Faith during uncomfortable times

Posted: 5/26/17 at 9:30am. Column by Ed Jordan.

What would it be like to become stronger in our faith? If we had more faith, perhaps the craziness of our world would not unsettle us as much as it does. Or perhaps with more faith, God would be moving mightily in our lives and thereby eliminating all our frustrations or obstacles.

I suppose much of this question focuses on one’s perspective of what a life blessed by God looks like. What is faith, and what is its purpose and role in our lives?

What does it mean to be blessed by God? Does it mean that you never have difficulties and that everything in your life flows flawlessly? I don’t think so.

David had great faith and defeated lions and a giant; yet his life was filled with sorrows, many of which involved his own decisions or pain from the death of many of his children. So faith does not assure a trouble-free life. Actually, faith grows stronger during tough times.

Faith is rarely exercised in the life of a person who is self-sufficient, whether that self-sufficiency is from wealth, position, power, or giftedness. When we can do it ourselves, we rarely surrender ourselves to God and trust him to carry us through the difficulties as we walk with him in the fires and complications of life.

I wish that the reward of faith was a cushy life, but that is rarely so. Yes, when we get to heaven, there will be no more pain, no more sorrows, and no more difficulties. But in heaven we will live by sight rather than by faith. Meanwhile, this side of heaven, the Bible teaches in Romans 1:17 (NLT) “This Good News tells us how God makes us right in His sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

It does not take faith to step out onto solid ground. It takes faith to step into a hot air balloon and believe that it will hold you up.

It does not take faith to step out onto solid ground. It takes faith to step into a hot air balloon and believe that it will hold you up. Standing in the basket of a hot-air balloon on the ground is not the same thing as entrusting yourself to the basket’s floor as it soars upward. Faith believes that you will come safely back to land, and if you have ever done that, you know it is rarely a soft landing as the basket bounces and skids across the landscape.

Many people desire to acquire a stronger faith, but few people want to live uncomfortably in order to strengthen their faith.

Faith does not grow in flowers of security. Faith flourishes when we follow God into new places we have reservations about. Faith flourishes when there are only invisible means of support to rely upon.

Few of us want to make decisions that require faith and then behave in peaceful trust knowing that God is in control and will take care of us as we do what He told us to do.

We often desire a giant faith, but we want it available through an instant Faith Dispenser, quickly giving us all of the benefits with none of the sacrifice. It is not faith to expect God to give us the rewards of faith without any of the risks required to exercise such faith. Risk-free scenarios rarely bring opportunities to enlarge and strengthen our faith.

A comment in Streams in the Desert states: “You will never learn faith in comfortable surroundings.” Faith empowers us to sail on in the storm, stating with Paul in Acts 27:25 (ESV): “So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”

Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn,

ed-jordan2Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. You may also read his past columns.

He can be reached at szent.edward@gmail.com.

    Ed Jordan: Weekends…Who Needs Them?

    Posted: 5/25/17 at 9:30am. Column by Ed Jordan.

    Germans seem to live for their summer month-long vacations. Most Americans live for their weekends. So how important is the concept of getting off for 52 weekends a year?  If you were to no longer get weekends off (regardless of whether it occurs on Saturday and Sunday), how would that affect your life?

    Weekends have become a major part of our culture and lives, so much so that Wednesday now has the nickname of “Hump Day,” since from then on it’s all downhill until the weekend. How stressed would you become if you had to work six or seven days a week, with no weekend, week after week? How would it affect your life? What events would be dropped from your life if you didn’t have two days off to rest and rejuvenate for the next workweek?  The anagram TGIF wouldn’t exist if the weekend did not start at 5 p.m. on Friday for so many people.

    Many people assume that all American workers get two days a week off—a weekend. However, people working in many occupations do not get a weekend. Many small business owners cannot take a weekend off, since there is no one to manage the store when they are gone. Owners of many restaurants work six or seven days a week, as do many pastors and also doctors doing their residencies. Where numbers of police officers are limited, they are on call, even on their days off. It’s the same for many emergency workers, doctors, hospice workers, firefighters, and many others.

    We all have a need for a Sabbath (a day of rest) for physical rest and renewal.

    The “Thank God it’s Friday” slogan kind of says it all. None of us are superman or superwoman. We all have a need for a Sabbath (a day of rest) for physical rest and renewal. We also have a need for emotional and mental renewal, and in particular we have a need for spiritual renewal each week. That’s one of the things attending church provides us.

    In the Creation account in Genesis 2:2–3 (NLT): “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.”

    It seems strange to read that God rested on the 7th day (e.g., Saturday). Did God need to rest because He was tired? No. He rested to establish a pattern for us to follow. It is humans, and our human makeup, that require rest, recharging, and renewal before starting a new week.

    Rest and renewal are needed in our whole system. Physical rest is vital to emotional and mental health, and work is vital too. Anyone who works in the human care-giving professions realizes firsthand that such “work” drains the person on every level.

    When people go a week or more without rest they become stressed, their coping powers are reduced, and their efficiency decreases. This fatigue effects one’s physical stamina, mental functioning, and emotional stability.

    Any job that carries a lot of responsibility and decision making is also taxing, and the way to stay at a higher level of functioning is to take at least a day each week to rest. A two-day break is even better. Rest does not need to be total inactivity. Doing something not affiliated with your weekly work can be a refreshing change.

    When we moved to Hungary some years ago, the weekly routine for workers was that work ended Friday afternoon. On Saturday mornings the stores were open until noon for people to purchase groceries for the weekend’s meals. But with most people having small dorm-room style refrigerators, one could not buy a lot of groceries at one time. This took some getting used to for us, but we adapted.

    I remember late one Saturday morning when the hot-water knob on the kitchen sink broke in half, with the hot water running. I had to scurry out to try to find a store where I could buy something to fix the sink. It had to be a store near enough to get there before it closed. Try doing that when you don’t speak their language and they don’t speak yours!

    With three minutes to spare I found a store and bought a pair of pliers to close the hot-water valve. We then waited till Monday to buy a new knob.

    Weekends … who needs them?   We all do!

    ed-jordan2Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. You may also read his past columns.

    He can be reached at szent.edward@gmail.com.

      Tony Brooks: 5 Things to Consider while Reaching the Baby Boomer Generation for Sunday School/Small Groups

      Posted: 5/23/17 at 10:00 am. Post by Tony Brooks.

      “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18 NIV)

      So many of our churches are trying to figure out how to reach the Millennial Generation (born between 1980-2000.) We do need to reach the largest generation in the US for Bible study. Many churches are more geared to reach the Baby Boomer Generation (born 1946-1964), which is the second largest generation. Keith Lowry from the Baptist General Convention of Texas shared some valuable information at a National Sunday School Directors Conference in Boston last week. Here are some thoughts shared by him, and my commentary (in italics) as a young Baby Boomer:

      1. Don’t leave them behind! When so many churches are focusing on young adults, this is the group that can impact the church in many ways. They want meaningful worship (participatory), and to make an impact for a ministry. They spent the majority of life working to build up wealth and personal status. They realize that mentoring and investing in others will bring more satisfaction at this point. How are you involving this generation in worship and ministry? As a Baby Boomer, I don’t want to sit in a chair and listen to someone lecture, or sit in a pew. I want to participate, and know my participation counts in the church and community.
      2. Think of them when planning. They want opportunities for fun and recreation. Have them plan some of the social events for a class. They will want to do some things differently for fun and recreation. Many of them also put everything into work. They lost their family in the process. How can you help build family for them? In the process of losing family, they lost a lot of their wealth. A financial planning for retirement class may be a great option to help them. (They may want to go skydiving, play sports, take risks…are you ready to do so? Many are not living close to family. Are you willing to invite them into your family during holidays or other times? We can all use help in preparing for retirement. Many lost most of their wealth during the Wall Street crisis. What can your church do to set up a small group about financial futures? I lost over half of my retirement during that time and still haven’t recovered.
      3. They want to be valued! They feel overlooked. Some of them served as volunteers for the church for many years, but the church is focusing on reaching younger families. Some become part of the DONE generation. How are you showing how important they are to you without guilting them into doing something? Sometimes they simply need to see that someone cares about them and not what they can do.
      4. Don’t label them! They don’t like being called senior adults! They will not join a senior adult class, group, or small group. Using the title “Minister of Senior Adults” to try to reach them will send them further away! Call the staff member simply “Minister of Adults.” Change the name of classes to meet this generation.
      5. Caught between generations! This one was not mentioned but was important to me. Some are trying to care for aging parents facing health issues, while caring for adult children. My mom is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and still living at home. She is 10 hours away. I try to help my sister with encouragement, some financial assistance, guidance, and a call to mom every day. (Sometimes she calls many times in a day.) Because of the economic crash for retirement around 2008, we have not been able to help as much financially for our children (many student loans.) We continue to help, but not as much as we want. This is a major stress that Baby Boomers face. Perhaps a support group for this generation could make a huge difference in knowing we are not alone, and helping us discover resources to help.

      This is our second largest generation, a group of people who often feel that the church is not listening. Does this sound familiar? It should. Maybe the Millennial Generation and Baby Boomers have more in common than we think.

      Brooks-TonyTony Brooks is our Sunday School/Discipleship Specialist and Field Strategist for the Southside Region. You may email him at tony.brooks@bgav.org.

      Follow Tony on Twitter: @TonyBrooks7 

        Gary Chapman: Bloom Where You’re Planted

        Posted: 5/22/17 at 5:00pm. Post by Gary Chapman

        Imagine I have a $1 million bill. Now if you know anything about US currency, you know my bill is a fake. After all, the largest currency amount currently printed by the US Treasury is $500.

        But, for now, let’s pretend the bill is real. And some of us are particularly adept at pretending. In 2004, a woman in Covington, Georgia, tried to pay a $1,675 tab at Walmart using a bogus $1 million bill. Then in 2012, a man in Lexington, North Carolina, attempted the same thing while purchasing a vacuum cleaner and microwave at his own local Walmart. Honestly, if you were trying to pass a fake $1 million bill, wouldn’t you shoot a little higher than home appliances?!

        But since we’re just pretending, I want to be especially generous and give you my $1 million dollar bill. Will you take it off my hands? What if the bill were wadded into a ball?  Would you still want it? Imagine I found the bill in a mud puddle, that it still has mud on it, you can see tire treads where cars have run over it, and the bill is still a little soggy. Will you take it? What if I ripped the bill in half? In each case, my guess is you’d be more than happy to take my $1 million bill. Wadded up, dirty and soggy, or spliced together with tape, it’s still worth $1 million.

        Making this offer to you is just a facetious way of highlighting our value to God. No matter where we’ve been or where we are now, you and I are of even more value to our Creator than the most pristine $1 million bill you could imagine. That’s an important truth for those like me who are getting along in years.

        Which brings us to the title of this article, “Bloom where you’re planted.” Some would imagine that phrase is found in Scripture, maybe in Proverbs. Though it’s not found in the Bible, the sentiment of “bloom where you’re planted” certainly is found there. For example, we read in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Most agree, though, that the origin of the statement goes back to the 16th century Bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales. He is first credited with the statement based on his quote, “Truly charity has no limit; for the love of God has been poured into our hearts by His Spirit dwelling in each one of us, calling us to a life of devotion and inviting us to bloom in the garden where He has planted and directing us to radiate the beauty and spread the fragrance of His Providence.”

        To better grasp the message of “bloom where you’re planted,” let’s break down the phrase starting with the second part: where you’re planted. That seems to imply something happening to us—something beyond our control. Something or someone has planted us. The reality is we didn’t simply decide to show up on this planet. We were planted at this particular time and in this particular place by a God who has a purpose in mind for us.

        Granted that purpose may not be so apparent to us and may even change some as we enter new seasons of life. Years ago, Janie’s mom had a shamrock in her kitchen window.  In time, its blooms fell off, the leaves beginning to droop and turn brown.  So, thinking the shamrock was dead, she threw it on a pile of dirt in the backyard.

        She then bought a small cactus to replace the shamrock. The pot containing the cactus needed some dirt, so she took some from the pile out in the yard, and placed the cactus in the same kitchen window. Much to her surprise, green shoots began to sprout around her cactus. As they grew, it was obvious that this was the shamrock she had thrown away. It thrived and made a very unusual looking plant as it grew around the cactus. What seemed to no longer have a purpose continued to flourish in God’s hand, just in a different way.

        It’s a lesson I’m having to relearn at this stage of retirement. My health and energy aren’t what they used to be. I don’t move as well or as quickly as I did at one time. But as hard as it is for me to grasp, I’m still of value and purpose to God. If I’m willing, I’m still useful.

        Others have discovered the same.

        • Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her mid-60s when her Little House on the Prairie books were first published.
        • Colonel Sanders took his first Social Security check and began shopping his Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe.
        • John Glenn rode the space shuttle at age 77
        • Gladys Burrill ran a Marathon in Honolulu at age 92
        • Caleb and Moses were old men when they made their marks

        There’s still life and purpose, even when we may assume we’re past our prime.

        Which brings us to bloom. If I recall my English grammar, there’s an understood “you” in front of bloom.

        You bloom. God will do his part.

        You bloom. God will do his part, but our attitude and our willingness can be difference-makers, too. Those we do have control over.

        When I think of bloom, I think of Scott. Scott was a young man in a youth group I led while at Whitehaven Baptist Church in Memphis. He was the prototypical athlete, good at everything he tried. It was just assumed he would play someday for his favorite team, the Auburn Tigers. But when he was 17, Scott fell head first from his water skis into a lake bottom he couldn’t see. His spine was severed and now for almost four decades, Scott has been a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair. But his faith and attitude have carried him through all these years. He even wrote an inspiring book about his experiences, Best When Broken. That’s attitude.

        More personally, I recall an occasion several years ago, shortly after I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. On this particular day, I was feeling the effects of a flare with its accompanying aches and fatigue. It happened that my pastor, Charles Fuller, stopped by my office. I was wondering aloud to him if the RA would eventually take my ministry from me. To this day, I recall his wisdom. “Gary, if you’ve got a mind and a mouth, God can use you.” Talk about an attitude adjustment.

        In the end, whether or not we will bloom where we are planted hinges, in large part, on our choice. It’s not circumstances that knock us down. It’s our attitude. In fact, it’s my conviction that attitude trumps circumstances every time. True, I’m not the “me” I used to be. But it’s time for me to stop being so self-absorbed and feeling sorry for myself. My longing for a past I’m not going back to is just wasted effort.

        Maybe I can’t do what I used to do. But I can still embrace the world I live in – right now. I can still serve a purpose! For one, I want to keep learning. I firmly believe that when you stop learning, you die just a bit faster. I’ve discovered a new ministry through writing. I may not be all that good at it, but I do enjoy it. Through life coaching, I’m able to encourage others and express belief in them. It’s just one more way of paying forward the investment made in me by so many others.

        We are planted by God with a purpose. In part, that purpose provides a path to our own sense of meaning and fulfillment. But, it’s not only about us; it’s always about honoring God. In spite of our circumstances, we still have value and purpose to God. We are never in the wrong place or the wrong time to honor God. Let’s determine, let’s decide to bloom where we’re planted. Let your light shine.

        41i6hfgcn2l-_sx322_bo1204203200_Dr. Gary A. Chapman was involved in leadership training with the BGAV prior to his retitrement.

        He is a certified life coach who lives in Roanoke and is the author of Discovering My Niche.

          Red Truck Season

          Posted: 5/19/17 at 3:20pm. Article by Caitlin Figura.

          “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

          The Red Truck Ministry is a perfect illustration of the importance of right timing in any partnership, missions venture, or Kingdom-sized dream.

          Dr. Robert Putt, senior pastor of West Lynchburg Baptist Church, sees the rightness of God’s timing in the early success of the Lynchburg Baptist Association’s (LBA) Red Truck Ministry. The Red Truck Ministry has recently fed 184 families and engaged over 60 volunteers in its first four weeks of operation in a Lynchburg food desert, an impact five years in the making.

          Five years in the making

          In 2012, the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) received a grant from the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering for a mobile grocery unit that would bring fresh produce, meat, and dairy to Virginia’s food deserts. Food deserts are economically disadvantaged communities in which residents lack access to affordable, healthy food.

          Soon after receiving this grant, the BGAV welcomed Joel Ingram as a hunger specialist. After much discussion and research about the proper vehicle, Ingram drove to Pennsylvania to purchase an old Coca-Cola delivery truck for the venture.

          Over the next year, a Disaster Response volunteer refurbished the truck to accommodate the necessary refrigerator and freezer units. After the Red Truck’s debut at the BGAV meeting in Roanoke that year, it was field tested in Richmond at Northminster, an urban congregation with an existing feeding ministry. There, a team developed a system for setting up the shopping experience and learned the importance of providing products appropriate to the cultural preferences of the community.

          Recognizing the opportunity

          In 2016, a group of pastors in the LBA’s weekly minister’s meeting began discussing the problem of food deserts in their own community. For three years, the Red Truck had struggled to find a long-term home with the right church, association, or agency, despite early interest and excitement.

          As the pastors prayerfully sought a way for their congregations to improve community access to healthy food, their Field Strategist, Tony Brooks, happened to mention the availability of a Red Truck mobile grocery unit.

          The group of pastors had become convicted by Lynchburg’s need and their opportunity for impact through the research of Randolph College’s Dr. John Abell. The economics professor had conducted a 2011 food desert case study and a 2014 project on Lynchburg’s hunger-poverty nexus. The pastors learned that while many Lynchburg ministries are focused on the issue of food scarcity, only four of the 34 food pantries in the city are located within one of the eight food deserts identified.

          In the Red Truck, the pastors saw an opportunity to improve food access and build community in these previously unreached food deserts. Guided by principles of trust building and a willingness to “work across denominational and theological boundaries,” the group identified an existing partner in Jericho Baptist Missionary Chapel, which has proximity to several food deserts.

          While the Red Truck’s effectiveness is in its mobility and capacity to reach multiple communities, the group recognized the importance of working through an anchor congregation in each neighborhood to provide followup and build relationships between the Red Truck’s weekly visits.

          Desiring to provide spiritual as well as physical support, the pastors also ensured the operation would include a significant ministry of prayer to community members shopping at the Red Truck. Volunteers take the time to “listen to the heart issues of people,” Putt says, to “share stories, empathize with, and hug on” one another. One recent prayer time resulted in a young family whose five children were sleeping on the floor receiving a home visit from a pastor and new mattresses for the entire family.

          Mobilizing the community 

          Although the BGAV donated the Red Truck to the Lynchburg Baptist Association as “an answer to prayer” and will provide additional support through World Hunger Funds, the group of pastors knew their biggest challenge would be recruiting the large base of volunteers needed to staff the ongoing ministry. What they did not predict was how much support they would receive from “community folks taking ownership of the work,” says Putt.

          In addition to LBA pastors and lay leaders helping with driving, product pickup, inventory, truck maintenance, setup, and distribution, Putt says people who live in the community in which the Red Truck has begun operations are showing up every Wednesday, even “standing out in the rain” to “help out and give back.”

          The Red Truck Ministry is also seeing an outpouring of generosity from farms and nonprofits throughout the region, especially after being highlighted in a local news story. The Red Truck is receiving produce from Liberty University’s Campus Farm and apples from the Society of St. Andrew, a connection made at a recent Mission Matters event. In addition, Shelton Miles, beef cattle farmer and pastor of First Baptist Church of Republican Grove, plans to provide River Bluff Farm beef for the Red Truck at a reduced price.

          Expanding the ministry

          The Red Truck is currently at Jericho Baptist Missionary Chapel every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and will soon begin making stops on an additional day in a different location. However, the ministry wants to ensure healthy partnership with the community and a sustainable volunteer base are in place for this expansion.

          To continue building volunteer engagement, another Red Truck volunteer training will take place at West Lynchburg Baptist Church on Saturday, May 25, from 10 a.m. to noon. As the LBA plans to share the Red Truck with other associations for use in Appomattox and Altavista, volunteers from all over the region are welcome. There is no cost or RSVP required to attend.

          As momentum around the Red Truck builds, Dr. Putt is quick to remind that it’s “a God thing—nothing we’ve done; just the right time, right circumstances, and right people for it to work.” Nevertheless, in this opportunity the association and community have recognized a “time to build up…a time to embrace…and a time to love.”

          Donate to programs like the Red Truck or request funding for your own hunger project through the BGAV Hunger Ministry.

          Use the USDA Food Access Research Atlas to identify food deserts near you.

          Learn more about Virginia food deserts from this VSU documentary.

            JRBA Churches Rally Together to Rise Against Hunger

            Posted: 5/18/17 at 2:25pm. Submitted by Phyllis Tyler.

            On May 7, 2017, the James River Baptist Association (JRBA) held its ninth meal-packing event for Rise Against Hunger (formerly Stop Hunger Now). RAH is an international hunger relief organization that distributes food and life-saving aid to the world’s most vulnerable people and works to end global hunger by 2030. Across the world, 792.5 million people don’t receive enough nutrition to lead an active, healthy life.  In 2016, 376,000 volunteers around the globe personally worked at Rise Against Hunger events, resulting in one million lives being nourished through meals and other aid.

            JRBA became involved in this outreach in 2010. Since that time, they have raised over $58,000 and packaged 216,053 meals for hungry people in Ivory Coast, Haiti, Uganda, the Philippines, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, and Nicaragua. Maysville Baptist, individuals, and the Baptist General Association of Virginia have partnered with JRBA to make this possible.

            One hundred sixteen volunteers, representing 12 area churches, gathered at Maysville Baptist Multi-Purpose Center to work cooperatively in getting the meals packed and ready for shipment. Participants of all ages worked on various tasks to get the work done. From putting labels on boxes to carting 50-pound bags of rice and soy to multiple bagging stations, there was a job for everyone. The 32,184 meals packaged at this event are tagged to go to Orphan Network in Nicaragua.

            This effort is just one way in which the churches of JRBA emulate their motto, “Accomplishing Together What We Cannot Do Alone.”

            If you would like more information about this annual event, please call the JRBA office at 434-983-7385.

             

              Tony Brooks: Graduating from Sunday School

              Posted: 5/16/17 at 8:00 am. Post by Tony Brooks.

              As I pondered those who are graduating from college (and remembered my own graduation years ago), I prayerfully thought about a disturbing trend in Sunday School and this question: When did adults begin to think they had graduated from Sunday School? (Feel free to remind adults that graduation from Bible study is possible when we breathe our last breath here on earth!)

              Many, however, equate Sunday School as a great place for children and youth to learn about the Bible but feel as though they themselves have graduated from it. Once you reach adulthood, you have heard the stories and no longer feel like you need to attend. For us to help adults return to Sunday School, there are a few things we need to consider:

              First, it may be time to recognize our own fault in the misperception about Sunday School. Most churches do a great job celebrating the milestones of childhood and adolescence in Sunday School. We often have a Promotion Sunday where we recognize persons being promoted to the next level. We help first graders by providing Bibles and share how this is a book they will continue to learn from and grow. We help our children who are transitioning into the student ministry with fellowship events and ministries to connect them to others who will be in the Sunday School class. What do we do when they graduate from high school and college to keep the excitement and connection to others in the class? How do we communicate the importance of being a part of the small group (community of faith) we call Sunday School for adults? (Of course, that is why I am adamant about ministry care lists, service projects, and fellowship events through Sunday School classes as a way of connecting!)

              Second, typically Sunday School teachers for children and youth are more creative in using learning styles and teaching methods. When persons move to the adult classes, they discover many are lecture-based and less dialogical in nature. We need to help our teachers become more innovative in teaching adults for transformation and not just knowledge. I heard years ago from our retired Children’s Ministry Specialist for Virginia Baptists, Diane Smith, suggest that Sunday School for young adults needs to be more like children’s classes in their teaching styles and methods. I would agree!

              Third, it may be time to move past calling it Sunday School for adults. One of the churches in my region has a class of 40-50 people every Sunday with ages ranging from 20 to 60. They call the class, “The Gathering.” It is a master teacher model with art, music, and PowerPoint presentations. Persons in the class do not invite friends to Sunday School, but to “The Gathering.” It takes away the stigma of the name but functions like a healthy, Sunday School class.

               Finally, find other times to have open Bible studies instead of just Sunday morning. I have already suggested this idea in another blog, but it is vital for the church to grow in discipleship. Adults’ perception of Bible study at other times may not carry the stigma of Sunday School on Sunday mornings.

              Brooks-TonyTony Brooks is our Sunday School/Discipleship Specialist and Field Strategist for the Southside Region. You may email him at tony.brooks@bgav.org.

              Follow Tony on Twitter: @TonyBrooks7 

                Ed Jordan: Beauty-Full

                Posted: 5/15/17 at 11:08am. Column by Ed Jordan.

                Springtime has arrived, and the hills and valleys are full of flowers. Green carpets are beginning to appear, with dazzling and delicately colored flowers decorating them. Who does not take time to stop and smell the rose, or bend down to examine a wildflower? Actually, most of us don’t! Seldom do we pause in our hurried lives to experience the incredible beauty God has created.

                The hills are alive with the sights and aromas of flowers. The beauty of nature reflects the beauty of the God who designed and created it all. Nothing says this more than a world full of flowers.  Just today I saw roses, huge magnolia flowers on 4- foot trees, ground flowers, and azaleas. Today I purchased some flowers for Mother’s Day which include lilies, tiger lilies, and daisies. Flowers are amazingly beautiful, diverse, and dainty.

                The word “beauty” refers to qualities that give pleasure to the senses. The ocean is beautiful and wild flowers are beautiful, as are mountains and mountain streams and starlit skies. Yet all these beautiful things pale in comparison with God, the Creator of all things.

                When we see God’s love, we experience the beauty of love.

                In Psalm 27:4 (ESV) we read: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” Some of the synonyms for beauty are words like: pleasantness, kindness, delightfulness, and favor.

                The world is full of beauty, because it is full of God! It is merely reflecting in small ways the beauty of a great God. Beauty is not merely visual either. Just think of all the varied things associated with beauty: fresh air, sunlight, clouds against a blue sky, mountain lakes, musical arrangements, love, joy, peace, colors, and hues.

                Then there are things we eat fresh baked bread, pies, cakes, elegant desserts, main course meals, fruit salads, and unique appetizers. Many things create a beautiful mood such as soft lighting, swaying music, candlelight, the glow of a fireplace, or a cozy room from which to watch snowflakes fall.

                People are also full of beauty. Some have beautiful faces, eyes, hair, smiles, manners, courtesy, or mannerisms. Some create beautiful experiences because of all the special things they do. Some are wordsmiths who create beautiful pictures or thoughts or moods within our minds. Some play musical instruments that reach out and burst beauty into our hearts.

                The Psalmist said that his top priority was to seek to live in the presence of God all the days of his life, and while there to continually gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. By doing this, he was able to experience the pleasant nature and beauty of God, which made it possible to see beauty everywhere else.

                When we see God’s love, we experience the beauty of love.

                Whenever we experience God’s peace, we find the delight and calmness of peace.

                Whenever we see God’s light radiating from God like the colored prisms of light reflecting off of a diamond, we experience the greatness of God and his beauty, and we realize that our light and beauty pales in comparison to God’s.

                In this we experience the beauty of humility, recognizing that God loves us enough to share himself and the whole beauty of his created world with us. We can’t create such beauty as God has created, but we can experience it; and if we are rightly attuned to God, we can share it with God and with others.

                Look around you today. Look at the colors—the sophistication of life. Where do you see beauty around you? Where in that beauty do you see traces or starbursts, of God?

                One of the best blessings in life is to live in God’s presence, experience him in worship, and delight in the beauty that radiates from him.  Once you see and experience God’s beauty, why not radiate God’s beauty to others?

                ed-jordan2Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. You may also read his past columns.

                He can be reached at szent.edward@gmail.com.

                  Ed Jordan: Prince or Pauper?

                  Posted: 5/11/17 at 8:00am. Column by Ed Jordan.

                  Which term better describes your life, a prince or a pauper? Which term do you wish described your life? A prince is defined as someone of wealth, position, an heir to a king, royal, or a person held in honor.  A pauper is someone deprived of the money or resources necessary to live—one with very little.

                  Snow White was a pauper who dreamed of one day having her life changed by the arrival of a prince—someone who would fall in love with her and sweep her off her feet. So she would sing, “Someday my prince will come, someday I’ll find a love, and how thrilling that moment will be, when the prince of my dreams comes to me…”

                  It is interesting that no one ever sings: “Someday my pauper will come, someday we’ll fall in love, and how poor then my life will be, when my pauper’s in love with me.”

                  It is interesting that no one ever sings: “Someday my pauper will come, someday we’ll fall in love, and how poor then my life will be, when my pauper’s in love with me.”

                  Most of us spend much of our lives dreaming of becoming virtual princes or princesses, of living a life where we don’t have a care in the world. Yet no matter how rich one becomes, or how powerful, there are always people who are richer and more powerful than ourselves. And no matter how much we might feel like a pauper, there are always people who are worse off than we are.

                  For most of us, the terms prince and pauper are strictly terms that denote one’s financial condition. Yet there are other ways to look at the terms. A prince has a special status, based upon who he is related to, just as a princess is also a person of special status who is related to someone with title, honor, or position. They may or may not be wealthy.

                  Many princes were paupers, having the title and position, yet with no personal wealth or belonging to a kingdom that was bankrupt. And sometimes a pauper (or frog) was a prince in disguise, hoping to have someone love him as a person rather than love him for his money and power. Some who are materially paupers are intellectually or spiritually princes. So what seems like an easy question is not always so easy to answer.

                  When a person becomes a Christian, they are born again into the kingdom of God. They then become adopted into God’s family and become joint heirs of God through Jesus Christ. We who were paupers and had nothing to offer God are suddenly family members of the King of kings, and Lord of lords. We who had nothing gain everything. This is what Peter says in 1 Peter 2:9–10 (ESV):

                  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

                  In Ephesians 3:15–19, Paul prays for all of us who are spiritually paupers, that by faith we would have an experience with Jesus which will change us from paupers to princes, from not belonging to belonging, from lacking everything to realizing that in Christ we have everything. Here is part of Paul’s prayer found in Ephesians 3:16-17 (NLT):

                  I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.

                  In Christ, God gives us access to His glorious, unlimited resources by giving us his Spirit as well as inner strength to live as his royal children. Christ comes to make his home in us as we place our faith in him. He gives us God’s love, to transform us and to motivate us. Read the other verses and stand in awe of the glorious riches God has bestowed upon us as Christians.

                  Are we paupers? Yes, because without Jesus we are unable to sustain our lives. Are we princes? Yes, because God in Christ welcomed us into his family when we placed our lives and our trust into Jesus.  While the world looks at Christians as bankrupt and destitute, God looks at us as princes and princesses. And that is what we are!

                   

                  ed-jordan2Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. You may also read his past columns.

                  He can be reached at szent.edward@gmail.com.

                    Tony Brooks: 4 Ways to Encourage Training on the Go for Sunday School/Small Group Leaders

                    Posted: 5/8/17 at 4:05pm. Post by Tony Brooks.

                    There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV)

                    Time is a precious commodity. We all have the same amount of time each day, but many of us are pulled outside of work and leisure. Some are raising children and involved in their many activities. Some are caring for parents or even grandparents along with work. Though I still think every Sunday School/Small Group leader should be involved with at least one training event each year, I believe we need to help provide some training on the go! Here are some ideas:

                    1. Provide a technology outlet to learn. Not all, but most people, have technology either by phone or computer. Why not set up a way for teachers and workers to communicate throughout the week and learn from each other? Set up a closed Facebook page for your teachers. Provide commentary helps, videos, and stories tied to the Scripture for Sunday. If Facebook won’t work, set up an email grouping by age group, or use some other technology. Why are teachers on their own? Years ago there was a Wednesday night weekly workers meeting where someone would provide some commentary and other resources for the lesson on Sunday. Not many are willing to make that commitment. Use technology to assist you.
                    1. Discover webinars or make your own. There are many programs like Go To Meeting that you can use to do a webinar on a time that fits your workers. You can also check out our webinars that are recorded at: https://bgav.org/sundayschool/teach/ 
                    1. Provide a one-page motivational piece to hand out. I have several Sunday School Directors who will use parts of my blog along with things they want to communicate. They will hand it out every Sunday morning as a motivational piece for their leaders. They are receiving a lot of positive comments. 
                    1. Our website provides a lot of help. I have job descriptions, webinars, blogs and pages for all leaders in Sunday School that could easily translate for Small Group Leaders as well. Here is the link: https://bgav.org/sundayschool/

                    As I have shared all along, you have one of the most important callings in the world as you disciple others with God’s Word. We must keep learning to do so.

                    Brooks-TonyTony Brooks is our Sunday School/Discipleship Specialist and Field Strategist for the Southside Region. You may email him at tony.brooks@bgav.org.

                    Follow Tony on Twitter: @TonyBrooks7 

                      Ed Jordan: Hopelessness or Hopefulness?

                      Posted: 5/3/17 at 10:25am. Column by Ed Jordan.

                      The other day I read an interesting paragraph written by G.K. Chesterton. He challenged his readers to disengage from their pessimistic worldview for merely an hour, even if by choosing to “dream for one mad moment that the grass is green.”

                      From listening to news reports, one could figuratively assume that there is no green grass left anywhere in this world; there is only burnt earth. That viewpoint is a symptom of people who are held in the grip of hopelessness. Hopelessness is the absence of hope. But is it really true that there is no hope? Is all the grass in the world brown, even in springtime?

                      How did the world become so hopeless, you might ask? If we would be honest for a moment, and actually step outside our preconceived conclusion that the sky is falling, we can trace the source of hopelessness back to ourselves.

                      How do people arrive at the conclusion that life is without hope? Is it because the world is currently a mess, and we seem helpless to set it right? What is the source of the mess, and why do we feel unable to change things? Is it not because there is a deep-seated mindset that has prohibited hope from being considered as a part of the solution?

                      The development of this worldview has been a long process. You see, hopelessness, by definition, is the absence of hope. Whenever we close God out of our worldview, out of our lives, and out of our society, then we close hope out of our world.

                      If we live in hopelessness, we declare that there is no hope, because the events are unchangeable.

                      While we all occasionally feel that some circumstances may seem hopeless, situations only become hopeless when we remove God and hope from the solution formula for addressing those problems.

                      But God is not limited by what limits us. God can step into the situations of our lives, and whenever he injects himself into our situations, there is hope that things can change. To acknowledge hope is to acknowledge that there is a God, and God is not incapacitated by our finiteness nor our impotence. Expunging God from our lives, culture, and worldview expunges hope.

                      So in reality, the world becomes hopeless when it is godless. I do not mean this as a statement of morality (or immorality), but rather I am referring to a worldview that sees the world as a closed system where there is no God to intervene or change things. That worldview denies God, making people god-less, which thus eliminates hope and leaves one hope-less.

                      For decades our culture has made a purposeful effort to negate the reality of God, i.e. belief in the existence of God in our world, and ironically thereby have eliminated the one real basis for hope.  Whenever a people, or culture, negates God from life, they also negate hope, and they therefore end up hopeless because they have no God and no one to change their miserable existence. In Ephesians 2:12 (ESV) we read that before people became Christians, we were all “separated from Christ … having no hope and without God in the world.”

                      But when we follow Jesus, our hopeless lives change into hope-filled lives. Peter stated this in 1 Peter 1:3-5: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

                      So now, believers in Jesus do not live as people who are without hope! Christians daily experience Jesus living within them, working in and through their lives, answering prayers and intervening in many of life’s seemingly “hopeless” situations.

                      A world alive with God is a world filled with hope. God and hope neutralize hopelessness, because nothing is impossible with God. How is the level of hope in your life today? Do you live without God’s hope and thus in hopelessness, or does God’s presence in your life fill you with hope?

                      ed-jordan2Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. You may also read his past columns.

                      He can be reached at szent.edward@gmail.com.

                        Tony Brooks: 4 Advantages of Having Sunday School/Small Groups at Times Other Than Sunday Mornings

                        Posted: 5/2/17 at 12:00pm. Post by Tony Brooks.

                        There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV)

                        Remember when most people came to church for Sunday School on Sunday mornings? The time has changed for many reasons. What are you doing to adjust and to help people grow? Sunday School and small group leaders need to consider other times to reach people beyond Sunday morning. Here are some thoughts:

                        1. Other times provide more time for transformation. Many attendees often come in late for Sunday School and leave early. If parents have multiple children, it is hard to get them ready. Some leave early to pick up children for worship, and others head to choir. At the most, teachers have 30 minutes to share the lesson. Many teachers do not get to life application and transformational possibilities. Remember Sunday School is to lead to life transformation and not just Bible knowledge!
                        2. No worries about space. Some churches are outgrowing their space. Since other classes or small groups are happening at other times and places, this is not a problem! They can meet anywhere at any time.
                        3. Reaching new people is easier. There are 40-60 percent of adults who work on Sunday mornings or are involved in sports/extra-curricular activities with their children. Guilting them about not being there Sunday mornings will not work. In fact, you will drive them away. Give them options for small group Bible study at other times. What about members in nursing homes that cannot come? Provide a class during the week for them. You may get unchurched people to come to your house or a restaurant more quickly than they would come to the church on Sunday mornings. Many have done this with great results.
                        4. Community building is easier. Small groups and alternative times for Bible studies give more time and allow other activities to take place. The goal is life transformation. Jesus used everyday life situations to lead to transformation. Having a meal or service opportunity may lend itself to greater transformation and community building.

                        Times have changed. Are you ready?

                        Brooks-TonyTony Brooks is our Sunday School/Discipleship Specialist and Field Strategist for the Southside Region. You may email him at tony.brooks@bgav.org.

                        Follow Tony on Twitter: @TonyBrooks7 

                          3 Ways Towards a Better Mentality of Organizing in Our Ministries

                          Posted: 4/28/16 at 8:00am. Article by Darrell Cook.

                          As a young campus minister, I read several books on time management and organizing, and I also picked up tricks and tips from observing others who organized well. The things I picked up seemed to stick and turn into habits only when I used them to change my thought patterns. Like in so many other areas of life, when I change my mentality, my actions are more likely to change. That being said, here are three key places where shifting my way of thinking really helped me to be wiser at organizing:

                          1. Value planning and organizing as a spiritual venture. Don’t feed the mentality that oversimplifies by separating ministry into spiritual parts and administrative parts. We often act like there is nothing spiritual about planning and organizing, but remember that Paul lists administration among the spiritual gifts (I Cor. 12:28). Yes, there are times we can get too tied to our desks and devices. No, I have never started a story about God’s fruitfulness in our work with students with the phrase, “It all started when I was doing my monthly report…”  But when I have prioritized and done my administrative work well, I am less distracted and can fully dive in to the other parts of ministry with better focus and purpose.
                          2. Don’t just absorb administration. I have observed that a lot of people either avoid or absorb administration. As a young minister, I often put off planning and attention to details so I could do the “more exciting” parts of ministry.  Planning, evaluating, and organizing would only get the leftovers of my schedule. The better we get at administration, the more we understand the importance of it and can stop the patterns of avoidance; on the other hand, there is a problem with the other extreme—when I absorb administration so that others don’t have to deal with it. As I work with staff members who are half my age, it is so easy to think, “I’ll let them dive in with the relational parts and I’ll keep the systems and details organized.” But to  do this regularly is to rob them of the chance to learn how to lead and organize well. The same is true with the students that I lead; I must leave room for them to try (and sometimes fail) to organize well—coaching them through the details instead of doing those things for them.
                          3. Practice saying “no,” and celebrate when you successfully do. Is anyone out there a people pleaser? I see those hands, so you can put them down now. (Mine is raised too, by the way.)  A dozen or so times a month, I am asked by various people to do things that don’t fit our vision or mission. The people-pleaser part of me wants to say yes to each request, to save the day for someone, to not risk being labeled “unhelpful.” What do these moments have to do with organizing well? A friend of mine says often, “The secret to concentration is elimination.”  When I choose to not be discerning and say “yes” to everything, I am adding more plates to spin and cats to herd, hence my ability to focus on the parts that matter most is diminished. And I need to celebrate from time to time when I am able to deliver a wise “no,” because my people-pleasing roots run so deep that even after that “no” is spoken, I can still feel guilty for not “making that person happy.”

                          Many of the young adults that we minister to are stepping out into independence and becoming students of the “how tos” of life. So as a minister to young adults you are, whether you like it or not, a modeler of many things. Have fun growing in your own stewardship of organization, because the ripple effect in the lives of those watching can be significant.

                          Kairos-Logo-1To learn more about the BGAV’s network of collegiate and young adult ministries, visit www.kairosinitiative.org.

                          Darrell Cook is the Baptist Collegiate Minister at Virginia Tech.

                            Religious Liberty Committee Spotlight: Baptists and Religious Liberty

                            Posted: 4/27/17 at 5:30 pm.

                            Religious Freedom: What is it, and why should persons have it? Check here each month to see how historic Baptist and other champions of religious freedom have answered these questions. These spotlights are sponsored by the BGAV’s Religious Liberty Committee.

                            Read previous spotlights.

                            Some sermons need to be heard again and again.  The month of May is a good time to read the century ago sermon, “Baptists and Religious Liberty,” preached by George W. Truett (1867-1944) on the steps of the Capitol Building, Washington, DC, May 16, 1920, 3:00 PM.  

                            The Southern Baptist Convention was holding its annual meeting in DC, and Truett, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, TX, was asked to deliver a sermon on religious liberty.  

                            Below is an excerpt heralding the unique role of Baptists in the pursuit of religious liberty for all civilization.  

                            Indeed, the supreme contribution of the new world to the old is the contribution of religious liberty. This is the chiefest contribution that America has thus far made to civilization. And historic justice compels me to say that it was pre-eminently a Baptist contribution. The impartial historian, whether in the past, present or future, will ever agree with our American historian, Mr. Bancroft, when he says:” Freedom of conscience, unlimited freedom of mind, was from the first the trophy of the Baptists.” And such historian will concur with the noble John Locke who said: “The Baptists were the first propounders of absolute liberty, just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty.” Ringing testimonies like these might be multiplied indefinitely.

                            Click here to read the entire sermon.

                             

                             

                              World Malaria Day – More Than Simply Awareness 

                              By Dean Miller

                              Virginia Baptist churches and individuals have been diligent over the past five years in their response to the More Than Nets project. The gifts of finances, talent, time, and energy have been literally life-giving for the people of the Yendi region of Ghana.

                              We now find ourselves racing around the final turn and headed toward the finish line. We need to purchase only 20,000 more nets to complete this project.  And we can accomplish this over the next few months if we set our minds to do so. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, at our annual meeting in November, we could celebrate the completion of this project with the Ghanaian Baptists? Let’s join together and raise the final $200,000 over the next six months. The funds you contribute save lives physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

                              In honor of World Malaria Day, we want to do more than just simply raise awareness. We want to make a difference in the world’s needs. What if you were told that all the residents of Tyler, Texas; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Burbank, California; and Cambridge, Massachusetts were going to die over the next 12 months. Would you take notice? Would it make a difference? Would it matter if you learned that 70% of these losses were children aged five and under and that a child would die every two minutes? And what if you learned that $2.5 million could save each and every one of those lives? Something tells me that, together, we would find a way to save those lives. 

                              Welcome to the way of life for most of sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to 90% of malaria cases and 92% of malaria deaths each year. Nearly half of the world population is at risk of contracting malaria, with approximately 212 million cases reported in 2015 and over 429,000 deaths. Malaria is an infectious disease caused by the Plasmodium parasite, which is transmitted through the bites of female Anopheles mosquitoes.  It must be treated, or the infected person will eventually die.

                              These stark truths are the reasons that the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) chose to work alongside Ghanaian Baptists in the northern part of their country in an effort to arrest the spread of this disease. The simple plan is called More Than Nets, and for a mere $10 we are able to purchase a chemically treated mosquito net ($6), transport it to the village ($1), provide proper education on its use ($2), and share the lifesaving message of Jesus Christ ($1).

                              To date, we have distributed over 80,000 nets to 270 villages and planted 245 churches. Thousands have come to know Christ. And as a result of the net distribution, the local clinics have been able to record a 43% decrease in malaria cases in those villages. The global rate of decrease over the past decade has been around 25%, but our efforts have proven to be more effective. There are many organizations that distribute mosquito nets to affected regions of the world, so we are notbreaking new ground.

                              However, one of the things that we are doing differently is that we are creating an environment of regular followup on the use of the net once it is distributed. Many organizations simply deliver nets to villages with no instruction on use or on other methods to reduce the mosquito population. In our partnership, the local leadership makes regular visits to the churches in these villages to assist the village pastors through prayer, training, and encouragement.

                              While visiting, they walk through the village and ensure that the nets continue to be used as instructed. To be clear, the nets are not used as a means for conversion or church participation. Everyone in the village receives a net. But the church is an effective means for follow-up, encouragement, and accountability. Emmanuel Mustapha is the pastor of a local church and serves as our key leader in the area of our work.

                              He explains:

                              “The distribution of the mosquito nets in the Yendi District is God’s love working through God’s people in the lives of many. Mosquitoes are more than a great nuisance to the people; they are an enemy, yet one cannot fight them with guns; the treated nets are the weapons to fight them.”

                              More Than Nets had an initial goal of 100,000 nets, which we hope to complete this year. But because of the relationships that are being built, the strength of the indigenous church planters, and their desire to change their world, I believe that this will continue to be a mutually beneficial partnership. That is what happens naturally when you choose to walk alongside someone with shared values and a passion to change people’s lives.

                              I find it somewhat amazing that something as small and fragile as a mosquito can cause so much devastation. And yet I also find it equally amazing that something as inexpensive and simple as thin, fabric netting can provide protection for several years that may ultimately save a person’s life. And this simple device will definitely make that person’s life (and his family’s life) more secure emotionally, physically, and even spiritually.

                              It does not take much of anything to make a difference in this world, near or far, when we choose to do it together. I think the hardest part is simply making the decision to actually DO something.

                              So, as we mark this day this day to raise awareness of this disease, I believe that awareness is simply not enough. Skip your coffee or dessert today and choose to do something; it really can be that simple.

                              www.facebook.com/MoreThanNets

                              www.bgav.org/morethannets

                              More Than Nets

                              Your contribution to More Than Nets literally helps save lives through mosquito netting and church planting in Yendi, Ghana. Our goal is to purchase 100,000 nets and plant over 300 churches. We are well on our way and need your help to reach the goal!

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