Louisiana Baptists Are Gathering

This year has brought about more challenges and cancellations than any of us care to recount. For those meetings and events that were scheduled, more times than not, they happened virtually rather than in person. This has been true for us as Louisiana Baptists.

Therefore, I am excited to meet in person for the annual meeting of Louisiana Baptists. We have made significant changes to the format to streamline our business while complying with COVID considerations, but our plans are to gather in person for this important, once-a-year event.

So please join us on Tuesday, November 10, in Guinn Auditorium on the campus of Louisiana College in Pineville. Registration will open at 11 a.m. and the meeting will begin at 12:45 with worship led by Ricky Draper, Worship Pastor at First Baptist in New Orleans. We will conduct business, hear reports, and celebrate God’s faithfulness amidst the great challenges of 2020. The meeting will conclude about 5:00 p.m. following a message from Steve McAlister, Pastor of Westside, in Natchitoches.

Resilient will be our theme – certainly appropriate for this year. We realize it may require resiliency to make it to this year’s annual meeting, but we do hope you will come and gather with other Louisiana Baptists as we corporately commit ourselves to advancing God’s Kingdom in our state. Visit LouisianaBaptists.org/AnnualMeeting to pre-register your church’s messengers.

Lord, We Are Weary!

Lord, we are weary! Especially your people in Louisiana.

First, it was COVID-19. We spent weeks leading the nation in cases per capita. We went home. The economic impact of that is still being felt. When people went home, gas prices plummeted. So many of our people who make their living in the oil and gas industry suffered. Some were retired before they planned to retire. Others were not so fortunate. They are just unemployed. We are weary.

Then hurricane season arrived. Six times we have been in the “cone of uncertainty.” The “cone of uncertainty” became the “certainty of catastrophe” with Hurricane Laura. We. Are. Weary.

We are weary of blue tarps, if there is even something left to tarp. We are weary of FEMA. We are weary of the hum of the generator. And yes, we are tired of our new guest Jim Cantore. We are weary from all that has been lost. We are weary of the debris that is piled up at the road waiting to be removed.

Like Elijah of old, some days we want to find a tree to sit under to pray, “Lord, I’ve had enough.” But Lord, and I’m laughing to keep from crying, the tree was blown down by Hurricane Laura.

And, now comes Delta. Dear Lord, we’ve run out of names this year and have turned to the Greek alphabet. Lord, we are weary.

And Lord, while we are confessing, we are worried. We are worried that Delta will finish off what is left of us. We’re worried people are so weary that they won’t return. We are worried that the volunteers, who have blessed us so much, won’t return because they too are weary.

And so, we wait. We wait the next advisory. Will Delta shift east or west? A little slower or a little faster? What’s the exact timing? How long will we be without power this time?

But Lord, as we wait, help us, more than anything, to wait on you! For you have told us in your word, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) I am going to claim that peace today, even as I work on the thanksgiving part. We don’t see an exception to the “anything”–no footnote that exempts hurricanes, so we wait in prayer.

And as we wait in prayer, help us to wait in faith. You said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” (Proverbs 3:5) That challenges our faith as we pray.

And as we wait, help us worship. As you have reminded us so many times before, it’s hard to worry and worship at the same time. So please, let worship consume us, so worry won’t.

And we will watch. We will watch for you. We remember Jehoshaphat’s prayer, “We do not know what to do, but we look to You.” (2 Chronicles 20:12)

As you told Moses, with the Red Sea before him and the army of Pharaoh behind him, “Stand back and see the salvation of the Lord.” (Exodus 14:13)

So Lord, take your weary, worried, and weakened people, and be strong on our behalf.

Connecting Your Six Degrees

I’m sure you’ve heard of the six degrees of separation. Popularized in music, stage, and screen, the idea is that all people are six degrees (people), or fewer, social connections away from another person. To put it another way, we all know someone who knows someone who knows someone, until in only six relationships, we are all connected.

A few years ago, I attended a Texas Rangers baseball game in Arlington. At the Ball Park in Arlington, there is a playground area for young kids. During the game, I went with my son Josh, about 8 at the time, to play some of the games. As I was watching Josh play, I found myself in a conversation with a rather excited woman—dressed head to toe in Texas Rangers attire. I happened to be wearing a University of Louisiana at Lafayette t-shirt. She asked me about the t-shirt and indicated that she had lived in South Louisiana for a brief time as a child. She asked what brought me to the game. I said I was just visiting the area and wanted to take in a game. I wasn’t really a fan of the Rangers, but a baseball fan. Then she asked whether I was going to be at the game on the next evening. I indicated that I was not. Then she said, “That’s too bad, because tomorrow night my son, Rob Bell, is going to be the starting pitcher for the Rangers. That’s his kids out there playing.”

God encountered Moses in a burning bush calling him to go to Pharaoh to lead the people out of Egypt.  During the ensuing conversation, God revealed the name, I AM, to Moses. It’s an unusual name, isn’t it? But you see, each time that God revealed a new name, He was revealing something about Himself.

Yahweh is a name that indicates the personal nature of God.

Until this point in Moses’ life, God was a God of history. He was the God of His people. God was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From this moment forward, God would reveal Himself as a personal God. I’m afraid that for far too many people, God is still just a God of history. He is the God of a story – but God wants to be known by you in a deeply more personal way.

As I reflect back on my encounter with the woman at the ballpark, I realized her reason for being at the game and my reason for being at the game were worlds apart. I was there because it was something to do while on a trip. She was there to watch her son. I was there to have something to do. Her presence was personal.

Two things stand out to me about my conversation with her:

  1. She was excited.
  2. She was going to tell somebody that her son played for the Rangers. I happened to be that someone.

Shouldn’t we as God’s children be equally, or even more excited than this baseball Mom? If we are, we’ll seek similar conversations and opportunities that ultimately point people to Jesus.

Whether you’re participating in the Who’s Your One effort or our own Here for You campaign, there are ways to engage those we encounter in potentially life altering conversations.

Six degrees of separation?

This may be true of relationships in this world, but it’s not good to be separated from God – even if it’s just one degree.  If you are not personally connected to God, today is the day to become personally connected to Him. God promises to draw close to you if you’ll draw close to Him (James 4:8).

If you are connected to God, seek someone who is not and ask God to use you to bring them at least one degree closer to Him.

God says He is “I Am.” Do you know Him in this personal way?

Duration

One of the most frequently asked questions I’ve received in recent weeks is, “Are y’all almost finished with Hurricane Laura relief?” That’s a relatively easy question. “NO! Not even close!”

Sometimes, the question will vary slightly – “How long will y’all be helping?” That answer is also easy, “As long as it takes.”

The reality is what took Hurricane Laura only hours to destroy will take months, or longer, to rebuild.

With that in mind, here is a true story I read earlier this year that has stayed with me.

Last basketball season, Hamilton Christian of Lake Charles defeated White Castle High School in the finals of White Castle’s tournament. White Castle is south of Baton Rouge and more than two hours from Lake Charles. When Hamilton Christian loaded their bus after 9 p.m. on Saturday for a victorious ride home, their bus would not start. Hamilton’s coach, Dexter Washington, returned to the White Castle gym and asked their coach, Troy Green, “Do you know anyone with a bus who can bring us back to Lake Charles?” Without hesitation, Coach Green said, “I can.” And, he did.

As wonderful as that story is, it’s Coach Green’s explanation that has stayed with me. When asked about his unexpected, late-night bus trip he replied, “The tournament is not over until the last team gets home.”

So it is with the sizable task before us – our job is not done until everyone gets home. We’re in this for the duration.

Thank you to the many who have already volunteered. If you can send a team, touch base with your Disaster Relief contacts and let them know of your availability. If you can’t go, pray for God’s hand of restoration and provision and give to support the ongoing relief efforts.

As we continue the grind of clean up and rebuilding, this is my prayer for us, “… may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we do for you.”
1 Thessalonians 3:12

Moments that Challenge Us to Respond

World War II, the assassination of JFK, the Space Shuttle Disaster in 1986 and again in 2003, the OKC Bombing in 1995, 9-11, Hurricanes—What do they all have in common? They are historical moments that impact life. They change things. September 11, 2001, changed our world. Some defining moments are historical moments that link all of us. In Louisiana, we add now Hurricane Laura to all of her ancestors.

Isaiah lived in uncertain times. The familiar words of Isaiah chapter 6 underscores this reality: “In the year that King Uzziah died.” This was a defining, historical moment in Isaiah’s lifetime. The books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles reveal that Uzziah reigned for 52 years as King over Judah. Remember kings in this period of history were recorded as either good or bad according to their adherence to God’s law given through Moses.  Uzziah is recorded as a good king. He was a strong military leader. He had weapons that were advanced for his time that shot arrows and hurled large stones from towers. In sum, Uzziah’s reign was a good reign. His death brought uncertainty.  Would the next king follow in his steps? Would the new king lead the people closer to God or farther away from God? For a person like Isaiah who earnestly and eagerly sought after God, these were difficult times. These difficult times led to a defining moment for Isaiah—a moment that would change his life forever.

The Progression from Disaster to Defining Moment

How can historical moments of crisis and disaster become defining moments?

Look Upward! The sum of what Isaiah experiences is although King Uzziah is dead, God is very much alive. The sum of our Laura experience is although some have suffered devastating loss, God is very much alive.

Look Inward! Times of uncertainty ought to cause us to look within. Actually, for Isaiah, this is a by-product of his upward look. Because Isaiah sees the holiness of God, his attention is taken from the situation around him to the sin within him. Notice the first part of his confession: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips.” Isaiah enters the Temple trembling concerning his situation, but in meeting God, he trembles at his sin.

Only after Isaiah acknowledges his own sin does he mention the sin of the ones around him. We usually get this backward.

Look Outward! Finally, in the midst of uncertain times we need to look outward. In this experience of being in the Temple, God ultimately calls Isaiah to be a prophet. God needs people in uncertain times to speak a word in the midst of the chaos. In times of crisis, many are overwhelmed. Many are looking to see if there is any hope. Many will look to the church, but only see similar panic and chaos. We will have many opportunities if we can look outward.

God uses historical moments in our lives to capture our attention. The question is whether we will allow these historical moments to keep our attention. May the Church rise to the occasion!

The Giants Just Keep Coming

2 Samuel 22:7

In my distress I called to the Lord;
    I called out to my God.
From his temple he heard my voice;
    my cry came to his ears. (NIV)

My Facebook memory notifications are reminding me that this week marks four years since the historic floods in South Louisiana. Our church at the time had 50 families with water in their homes. In some ways, four years seems like a lifetime ago. So it is with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita of 2005. So it is with 9-11, now nearly 19 years ago. One day, we will talk about COVID-19 the way we talk about these other life catastrophes.

All of those were, and are headline-dominant, history-making, life-altering events – giants, if you will.  And in this COVID-weary season, there often appears to be no shortage of these giants. They simply keep coming. Their shadows cover our attempts to recapture some degree of normalcy in our ministries, our families and our culture.

We know about David’s battle with Goliath, but the rapid succession of giants coming against David, as recorded in 2 Samuel 21:15-22, is not as familiar. In the span of eight verses, we learn of four giants coming against Israel. All four were descendants of that great giant, Goliath. All were notorious in one way or the other. One even had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot! Words like “again,” “another,” and “after that” dominate this portion of the story. Sometimes, the giants seem to keep coming—again and again.

We’re not facing literal giants but COVID, civil unrest, political bickering, and economic uncertainty all could qualify as giants. And the toll these giants inflicted on David, leave their mark on us as well.

As you read 2 Samuel 21 and 22, notice these truths:

  1. Battling giants leaves us exhausted (2 Samuel 21:15). David was a warrior. He was accustomed to battles. He was victorious for the most part but after a while, the constant battles with giants began to exert their toll on him. One of the most frequent comments I hear from pastors across our state is they are exhausted. Some have become so fatigued, they have left the ministry. But be encouraged because …
  2. God sends us people to help us with the giants. David killed Goliath, but he didn’t kill any of the four giants of 2 Samuel 21. God knows when to send others to our aid. When your tank is empty, God often fills it with the assistance of others.
  3. God hears our prayers. There’s no mention of prayer in 2 Samuel 21, but in David’s reflection of the events in 2 Samuel 22 we see that he “called to the Lord” and God “heard.” Perhaps you could use the reminder today that God hears when we call. In our exhaustion, in our distress, we may not “feel” like He hears – but He does.
  4. God receives our praise. You would think 2 Samuel 22 belongs in the Psalms. This beautiful Psalm fits the narrative of the victory over the giants in 2 Samuel 21. It brings to mind the one leper among the ten who immediately returned to Jesus to offer Him praise for the healing from his leprosy. David recognized that his deliverance came from God. Let us do the same.

Today it’s COVID-19 and all the consequences that accompany a pandemic. Tomorrow – only God knows. The giants will keep coming. But . . . God. God is present. God knows our condition. God hears. He provides. Let us praise Him, even in our exhaustion, because He is worthy of our praise.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.] – Matthew 11:28 (AMP)

Mid-Year CP Giving Report

As we pass the mid-point of what seems like an extremely long year, several words come to mind that would be descriptive of how I feel about 2020.

Unexpected would definitely be one of those words. No one expected COVID-19. No one saw the social unrest that has unfolded over the last several months.

Another word would be uncertainty. It’s no surprise that unexpected events such as the ones we’ve experienced lead to uncertainty. Economic uncertainty. Health uncertainty. Emotional uncertainty. What can we do? What should we do?

But even in the midst of these unexpected and uncertain times, I would include the word grateful.

I’m grateful God has been faithful. Samuel sums it up well for me when he said, “So far, the Lord has helped us.” These unexpected and uncertain times have not caught Him off guard.

I’m grateful for the spirit I’ve seen in Louisiana Baptists. You’ve been creative, stretching yourselves, utilizing unfamiliar technology for many of you, as you’ve continued to minister to each other and your communities. You have exhibited a God-honoring spirit that shows we may have been confined, but we were not contained. You cannot quarantine good news.

I am grateful for your faithfulness in giving to the Lord through your church which supports missions and ministries across Louisiana and beyond.

Click the button at the top of the page and download this year’s CP mid-year giving report. The numbers may look a little different than in past years. But in some ways they are more meaningful. They were given during a time when the markets plunged, when energy prices tanked and when unemployment soared. They represent a love for the Lord and His mission that is humbling to observe.

You have blessed me during these unexpected and uncertain times and I am grateful to the Lord and to you.

A Reasonable Request

“But his servants caught up with him and said, ‘… if the prophet had asked you to do something hard and heroic, wouldn’t you have done it? So why not this simple ‘wash and be clean’?”  

2 Kings 5:13, The Message 

We have prayed for COVID to go away – but it continues to spread. 

We have prayed for a return to some degree of normalcy – but it continues to elude us.  

We’ve prayed for the scientists who are working feverishly to develop a vaccine – and there have been encouraging reports in recent days. 

And now our governor, at the request of a Louisiana pastor, is asking us to pray again.  

 During this pandemic, if a renowned scientist asked us to do something difficult to help expedite COVID’s exit, we would probably volunteer for the task. I’m asking Louisiana Baptists to respond positively to the governor’s request.  

 The verse above is from a familiar story in the Old Testament. Naaman was a powerful military figure, but Naaman was a leper. He learned of a person, a prophet who could cure him of this dreaded, incurable disease.  

 He was expecting the prophet to say something that would cure his leprosy or tell him to do something that would reverse its effects. 

 Instead, the prophet sent his servant to tell the military leader to go and dip himself in the Jordan rivers seven times and he would be cured. It was a reasonable request. 

Today we would say he was “outraged.” He stormed off in the same condition in which he arrived. His servants caught up with him and began to reason with their master.  “… if the prophet had asked you to do something hard and heroic, wouldn’t you have done it? So why not this simple ‘wash and be clean’?  

If you’re familiar with the story, you know Naaman reluctantly followed the prophet’s direction and was healed.  

Our governor has requested all the people of faith in Louisiana to join in a season of focused prayer and fasting on July 20-22.   

I believe this is a reasonable request and I encourage you to participate as you are able.  

I’ve heard people say something along the lines of “I’m so over this,” meaning they are weary of dealing with COVID, the fear it has caused and the interruption it has brought our lives. 

We all want COVID to go away. We want our kids to safely go back to school. We want a return to some degree of normalcy, which includes returning to our buildings for worship and Bible study. So Louisiana Baptists, let’s respond positively to this request and join our hearts and our prayers with those around the state on July 20-22 

 Let me close with Paul’s charge to the early believers living in Ephesus, which I believe is applicable to our current circumstances, “Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers” – Ephesians 6:18, NLT.  

What Do We Do When We Need a Win?

At the risk of sounding like the cartoon character, The Born Loser, I confess to you that I’ve had my share of losing. In four seasons as a high school football player for example, we won 6 of 40 games and 2 of those 6 were taken away for using an ineligible player.

I’m not sure how you’re feeling, but as we reach the midpoint of 2020, it sure seems like we could use a win right now. Recent statistical research among Southern Baptists and Louisiana Baptists reminds us we are losing ground on almost every number we count. The recent Supreme Court decisions regarding the redefinition of “sex” and the striking down of a Louisiana law mandating abortion providers have hospital admitting privileges feel like big losses. The escalation of racial tensions driven by injustices cause us to wonder if we have lost ground as it relates to race relations in America. And, if you believe many of the news reports, we seem to be falling behind in the fight against COVID-19.

I don’t know about you, but I sure could use a “win.”

So, this begs the question, what do we do when we need a win? I want to encourage us today to do at least three things.

  1. Watch your words. Blaming somebody else is not going move us towards a win. Recently, several of our SBC leaders produced a video spot where they agreed, “It’s on me!” I love that spirit. I join them. “It’s on me.” I can do better. I must do better.
  2. Keep Working. Looking back on my high school football days, one thing that I have always appreciated about my coaches is that they never let us quit. We practiced and prepared as hard and as long in week 10 as we did in week 1. Even though we have lost some ground, we must keep working. There is always something to do. Let me offer one real solution in light of the Supreme Court decision against Louisiana abortion law. Let the decision prompt you to make a donation to your local pregnancy center, the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home, or even a family who is working toward adoption. Take a loss and make it your win.
  3. Keep reminding yourself that ultimately, we win. If losing has taught me anything in life, it has taught me that winning is sweet and never to be taken for granted. When I went on to play football at a small college, we won our first 7 games my freshman year. I won more games in my first 7 college games than my four years of high school. And, it was sweet! The Bible is clear that ultimately those of us, in Christ, will win.

So, think on these words . . .

Galatians 6:9 – Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.

1 Corinthians 2:9 – What no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human heart has conceived—God has prepared these things for those who love him.

Isaiah 50:7, Living Bible – Because the Lord God helps me I will not be dismayed. Therefore I have set my face like flint to do His will and I know that I will triumph.

Re-gathering the Church

Louisiana Pastors and Church Leaders.,

We have received a number of requests to help churches interpret the phasing aspects related to the re-gathering of congregations. A wise Seminary professor once lectured, “The definition of a fool is he who tries to guess what is going to be on the test.” Therefore, we have intentionally remained silent on what re-entry means to the churches of Louisiana until we heard from the Governor. As you probably know by now, on April 27 he extended the stay-at-home order until May 15 with an update tentatively targeted for May 11.

Suggestions, information and links are currently on our website. You can access them by clicking on the Resources slider and the Re-entry slider.

We have intentionally not passed along every article and post we’ve run across. Much of the information is redundant and we’re hoping to avoid information overload.

While we’re waiting for specifics from the governor’s office, let me offer several words of general guidance as you peruse the mountain of other suggestions.

  1. Re-gathering the church, just like all aspects of our society right now, is likely going to happen in several phases. The governor indicated that congregations may initially be limited to 25% of their seating capacity. Masks and social distancing guidelines will likely be part of the initial phase. Again, these are not the official guidelines, just hints he dropped during his press conference on April 27. Therefore, prepare your congregation now for multiple changes over the next several months. Though not Scripture, the adage, “Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be broken” is going to be necessary for a while.
  2. We are a long way from normal. Just because we anticipate some possible dates and processes that will enable us to come together, re-gathering your church may not be the best option right now. You need to reassess your volunteers. You’ll need to determine your ability to be effective given the guidelines. Some churches may determine that a few more weeks of remote meetings is more effective than immediately gathering given the anticipated guidelines. There is “no one size fits all” approach in determining your response to re-gathering the church.
  3. Understand that not everyone will follow the decision to re-gather. Some will decide to re-gather under strict social distancing guidelines, but others will not. On the flip side, my experience as a pastor reminds me that church members can be an independent bunch. They often make their own guidelines. When this happens, how are you going to respond? Others are going to stay home because of individual health concerns, at least for a while. How are you going to minister to those who make such a decision?
  4. The decision to re-gather is not so much a decision of rules and regulations, but of wisdom and responsibility. Our testimony in the community is far more important than our decision once the stay-at-home order is lifted. If we are asking the question, “Can I do ________________ and still be in compliance?” we are asking the wrong question. The right question is “Is our response the right message to send to our community about our love for God and our love for them?”
  5. There is no manual for leading through a pandemic. No, you did not miss this class in Seminary. Because there is no manual, we are likely to make some mistakes. You are likely to do something different than what you see the church across town is doing. You are likely to be criticized regardless of your decision. Such is the nature of leadership.

Pastor, we are here for you. We are available to pray with you . We’re here to talk through your particular situation, so please contact us if you desire to do so.

We are praying that God gives you the wisdom to understand these times and gives you the courage and grace to minister effectively now and always.

Keep looking up!