On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to make some brief remarks to the Executive Board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. As president of the convention I have the unique opportunity to speak to the men and women charged with the oversight of our state convention executive leadership and staff. During the previous day I sat in on a number of meetings to learn in greater detail about the inner workings of the convention.
These meetings revealed good and bad news on many fronts. The good news came as reports are coming in from all over the state about churches and leaders buying in on the Texas Hope 2010 vision. The bad news centered in on the economic woes faced by the convention and our member churches. Due to the recession and other factors the BGCT is facing monumental challenges in trying to make ends meet and to do the work of the Kingdom assigned to us from above. Over the past several years I have been monitoring our financial position from afar. Now that I have access to first hand knowledge I believe the struggles have changed. In the past I believe many of our financial struggles were self-inflicted, but now I believe we have been caught up in the wave of recession sweeping our nation. In addition many of our churches were devastated by Hurricane Ike, and their ability to join in our cooperative efforts was severely hampered. One of the key motions made at the meeting was the authorization to use of up to $2.5 million in reserve funds to weather this storm.
In light of these dark economic days, I felt compelled to speak to the board from a text in Psalm 37. David wrote, “Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell in the land and find safe pasture.” The phrase “trust in the Lord and do good” captured my imagination. I wondered as I meditated on this truth if it was really possible to do ultimate good if you do not trust in the Lord. Granted it is possible to do good things, but the ultimate good our world needs and longs for, the kind of good that marks our heritage as the children of God. Trusting God leads to loving enemies and those on the margins of life. Trusting God leads to going the second mile and working behind the scenes when no one is watching. Trusting God leads to sacrificially giving so orphans can find a home and the hungry can be feed. Trusting God leads to planting your life in an inner city so those who cry in the night can find hope in the morning.
During these difficult economic times BGCT churches face many challenges. How our churches respond will color and dictate our future cooperative efforts. The BGCT is our churches and when our churches struggle we struggle, and when our churches succeed we succeed together. The temptation facing most of our churches is the temptation to circle the wagons and fight for survival. It is the temptation to pull back and do less so we weather the storm.
The question we must ask ourselves to quote a classic novel, “Is this the worst of times or the best of times?” Many would think this question is out of context, but I believe it is the right question for our day. Could this actually be the best of times? I believe for those of us in Kingdom work the answer is a resounding YES! This is the best of times because the gods of the West are crumpling at our feet. Young and old alike are confronted with the empty promises of the American dream and must begin to question what Kingdom offers the most hope. Do you believe it is an accident that the Lord led us to launch Texas Hope 2010 in a day such as this?
Imagine the typical BGCT church. If you can you are much more gifted and creative than me. There is no typical BGCT church. We are a miracle of Kingdom proportions. We are by far one of the most diversity and amazing families in the Kingdom. We practice heaven on earth each and every Sunday. We have large churches towering over the suburbs of our major cities and we have small churches fortified in the inner cities. BGCT churches dot the plains of West Texas and are nestled in the piney woods of deep East Texas. BGCT churches stand at attention on practically every square of every county seat town in Texas, while across the land the “Day of Pentecost” is reborn as Texas Baptist speaks practically every language under the sun. There is no average BGCT church, but the vast majority of our churches are small in number but big in heart. Most BGCT churches average less than one hundred in attendance and voluntarily cooperate together so they can be part of something much bigger than themselves.
Let’s imagine this small BGCT church trying to make decisions about their immediate future. There is a real temptation to believe the bleak nightly news reports and to board up the windows like someone hunkering down to weather a hurricane. Conversations turn toward cutting back and being conservative. The Cooperative Program gifts are in play as some question the logic of sending money to help others when there are so many needs at home.
There is an alternative however to cutting back. The alternative is “trusting the Lord and doing good”. It is the alternative of doing more not less. Imagine this small church with a big heart decides to take the message of Texas Hope 2010 into the streets and byways around them. Let’s imagine they begin to reach out through their concentric circles of concern. Let’s imagine as they share the “hope of Christ” that men and women, boys and girls come to faith and Christ and join the movement. Slowly the church of one hundreds adds two, then ten, and then ten more. By the miracle of the harvest, the church of one hundred is now a church of one hundred and twenty or one hundred and fifty. Even though the average member is still struggling to make ends meet the church as a whole has more than ever. Truly the resources are in the harvest.
Imagine a dry dirt farmer on the plains of the Middle East, it has been a long winter and the pantry is bare. Hidden away he has a sack of seed for harvest, but his family is hungry and he could mill the seeds and feed his family for a week or two. Or he could plant the seeds and hope and pray for a harvest. By faith he chooses to plant the seeds casting his fears aside and embracing the future with hope. Could this be the context of the words of Psalm 126? The Psalmist wrote:
5 Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 He who goes out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him.
Psalms 126:5-6 (NIV)
As Texas Baptists, “Trust in the Lord and do good.” Let’s sow down Texas with hope and trust the LORD for the harvest!