What I've been thinking and what I've been reading for you to compare notes.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Where 1/4 of Baptisms Come From

Okay, confession: I'm not a Southern Baptist.

Yes, I do live and minister in the south, and yes, I'm a Baptist, but I'm not a member of America's largest Protestant denomination.

However I do have an affinity with many of their pastors and people and their concern for reaching others with the Good News about Jesus. Here in Huntsville, Alabama there are about 50,000 Southern Baptists and many of their churches are doing a great job telling people about Christ.

So when I read this week that over 1/4, or to be specific, 26% of the baptisms recorded among Southern Baptist Churches last year, stemmed from Vacation Bible School, I was both pleased and surprised.

Pleased because I believe the younger someone comes to faith in Jesus the better. That makes sense for a lot of obvious reasons.

Pleased because I remember the first person I ever led to make a faith commitment to Jesus was in VBS. I was 15 and taking my first stab at teaching. Yes I know it sounds unusual for a 15-year-old to be teaching VBS. Then, as now, VBS teachers are hard to come by, so my church was desperate enough to let me be in charge of a class when I volunteered. Only 69 percent of Southern Baptist churches continued the tradition of VBS last year, compared to 81 percent in 1997. The primary reason? Not enough teachers.

The boy I led to Jesus in my first teaching experience was 12 years old. I taught the "Junior Boys" all week in the basement of Mt. Calvary Free Will Baptist Church in Perryman, Maryland; even had to come up with my own curriculum since the church was trying to save money. I still get a gigantic spiritual high from that experience. You never forget the people you lead to Jesus - especially the first one!

I had no formal training, no curriculum (no teacher's book, no student books, no visual aids, nada), no adult in the room overseeing my teaching, yet God still blessed my feeble efforts. Not only did one 12-year-old boy come to faith in Christ (which is the age at which I received Jesus as well) but I had my first experience teaching eternal, life-changing truth! There aren't words to tell you how my heart was stirred! That week was a pivotal point in my life.

Communicating Scripture would become a lifelong pursuit. I began to realize my purpose in life that week in VBS and a little over two years later I would stand before my church and tell them I was sure that God had called me to preach and teach His Word. [That may sound mystical to some, and, yes, it is rather mystical.] I didn't know then that I would see hundreds more come to faith in Christ over the next 35 years.

When I also say that I am "surprised" at the percentage of baptisms that stem from VBS I mean pleasantly surprised. With all of the efforts Baptists make to get people to come to Christ: the evangelistic crusades, outreach events, advertising, emphasis on personal evangelism, etc., I would have put VBS farther down the list of evangelistic successes.

I'm glad I was enlightened. There is something encouraging about knowing that reaching out to children with the Good News about Jesus still works!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Three Decades of Matrimony

Voluntarily joined for life 30 years ago, May 14, 1977, Deb and I said "I do" to one another shortly before we both turned 21.

Sure we were young and naive in some ways but the decision was the right one.

In one of the most important answered prayers of my life God gave me someone to love and cherish that I couldn't have ever imagined would be so right for me.

We share not only a love for Jesus, but a love of family. Without her tremendous mothering our three children would not have become such well-adjusted and happy adults as they certainly are, and they may not have picked such compatible mates as they have.

We share a love of music. She is my favorite singer and musician. Her voice has always captivated me - whether she is singing a love song around the house or a solo in church. We harmonize perfectly together in vocal music as well as life. You can tell she feels the music when she sings or plays the piano. She has a natural gift of expression. And after thirty years she still gives me goosebumps when she sings as well as when she smiles!

We share similar backgrounds. Both of our dads were alcoholics - her dad was able to beat the beast with God's help, but my dad was conquered by it. Through the years we have worked past the problems that adult children of alcholics face. Although it hasn't always been easy we never gave up. We've not been perfect people in our marriage because we didn't always handle the pain of our past properly - or the stresses of a ministry marriage. But our hearts are more tender toward others because of what we've been through.

We've shared a lot of good times. When I am intense she helps me lighten up with her laughter or her gentle tenderness. When I am stressed she reminds me of all we have for which to be thankful.

She is smart, people-smart especially, and tender and loving with small children. Even now in her job as a pre-school teacher I am amazed at her insight into a child's heart and her ability to show love to little people. I think it is extremely Christ-like to love children.

What a homemaker and cook! Some in our culture may scoff at a woman taking great care in her home and recipes - but I am tremendously thankful that Deb is always interested in making our home a place of comfort and attractive decor.

As a ministry partner Deb is unbeatable. She has always been willing to go anywhere and do anything God called us to do. She doesn't judge people or hold grudges. She loves God's truth and is always interested in its practical application to life. Whatever personal sacrifices we've had to make to be in ministry she has always been willing to accept.

Three more decades with this woman will be all right with me!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mothers Cast a Long Shadow

My mom died of cancer over half my life ago. (I'm 50 now, was 25 when she died.)Since this Sunday is Mother's Day I was just thinking about her.

Here's some things she taught me.

*If you learn to love to read you will never be bored. Mom always had books around herself and her children. She loved to read. When I think of her I often think of her with a book in her hand. It may have been the Bible or Christian book, or even a romance novel (I used to raz her about them) but she didn't waste much time as a couch potato.

*Love people and use things instead of loving things and using people. Mom wasn't materialistic. She was unselfish with what little she had in life. I guess it wasn't until after she died that I realized I caught the pleasure of enjoying life's simple things from her.

*Don't miss out on the joy of music! Mom used to play record albums at night when she put my two older brothers and me to bed when we were very young. She might play an album of Floyd Cramer playing the piano, or The Kingston Trio (dad used to have my brothers and me sing one of their songs), or even Elvis. She loved Elvis - his music AND his movies. I think she had us watch all of his flicks. After she became a follower of Christ she loved to go to Christian concerts - and I tagged along. She was transported to another dimension when she listened to gospel music.

*Don't ever be too busy to care about how people feel. As a guy I've got to admit that's been something I've had to work on through the years. Like the time I was a senior in high school and was leading the church youth choir. One night I came home after choir practice and complained to mom about a girl in the choir who was crying because she felt like she had no friends. She was messing up our rehearsal and I did nothing to try and address her problem. (Give me a break though - I was only 17.) Mom didn't believe in women preachers but when I got home and told her about my aggravation with the girl she laid a lengthy sermon on me about being more understanding when people (especially members of the feminine gender) were hurting. I still remember how that really mattered to my mother. So now it really matters to me.

*Be a man. Naturally I caught a lot of important stuff on this subject from my dad, but after he died when I was 15, mom had three sons to finish raising on her own - which was not an easy task! One night I had a charley horse in my thigh from playing tackle football in a vacant lot with my brothers, some cousins and some friends. I was up pacing the floor and complaining about how badly I was hurting. I must have been keeping everyone else awake because my mom got up out of bed and told me to "shut up and be a man!" No one heard another peep out of me after that! I always appreciated my mom saying that. She was working for very little wages to provide for three sons and I never once heard her complain. Least I could do was "suck it up."

If you are a mom never lose sight of the fact that you are one of the most important influences in your child's life!

According to a recently released survey by The Center for Media Research, 91% of tweens and 71% of teens say mom is the number one thing in their lives that makes them happy!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A I Wasted Time

The part of American Idol I like least are the fillers taking up time and selling more advertising. Guests artists that perform poorly or rehashing useless information to make the show last it's alloted time.

I'm always surfing the web or reading a book during the Wednesday night show. It's a waste of time to watch all of the commericials. I cringe every time Ryan says, "after the break."

Speaking of reading a book, I finished David Baldacci's "Camel Club" last night. I liked it but I'm unsure of whether or not Baldacci was trying to make a political statement about the war on terror. I don't like reading a book if the author is trying to subtly slip in his political viewpoint - but I'm just not sure this is what he was intending. I know nothing of his politics. This is definitely a convoluted subject and Baldacci is a master storyteller - bobbing and weaving the plot like a pro boxer.

This is my third Baldacci book. I've also cased "Saving Faith" and "The Hour Game." I think "Saving Faith" is my favorite thus far because of the fantastic and ironic plot twist at the end, although I have a lot of volumes left to catch up on when it comes to his work. I kind of find a storyteller and latch onto his stuff until I read all of what interests me. I've done this with guys like Grisham and the Left Behind series and Greg Isles, etc.

I'm thinking of picking up James Patterson next after I finish off a few more Baldacci novels. If I don't like the first work I read by an author its not too likely I will continue. Can anyone suggest Patterson's best?

Of course I pick up my books at estate sales and thrift stores because I can't justify the cost of new books at the rate I read. When I walk into new bookstores its just to drool. Good thing Huntsville is a big book town! Lots of reading is always available for cheap. If all else fails my new study is right across the street from a branch of the public library. God is good to me. This is one of several reasons I'm glad God planted me in The Rocket City - books-a-plenty!

LOST - from strange to absolutely weird tonight.

And incidentally, why are the characters on this show continually being led to new houses and slave ships, etc. that they never discovered before in all of their treks around the island?

John Locke, my favorite character (I have no idea what that says about me) went with Ben to meet "Jacob."

Then Ben relives the day he committed patricide and "the purge." Then he shoots Locke.

I'm finished with LOST!

At least until next week.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

4 x 4 on American Idol

The appearance of "Judge Judy" in the audience being acknowledged by Ryan Seacrest in tonight's show was pretty lame. If they were so pressed for time that they broke in on the judges comments (well, Simon's comments) several times - how did they have time to talk to the her? Weren't there any more interesting people to talk to in the audience?

I guess they needed four judges for the final four contestants.

I thought the final four would blow us away tonight but Deb and I didn't come out of our chairs as we have in prior years. Hopefully that kind of enthusiasm for vocal talent will arrive in the next three weeks.

The judges were pretty much right in their assessments - no one was bright like a star yet. Melinda is still our favorite and I thought her second song was about the best tonight. She is definitely a professional - but Jordin Sparks is coming on strong. What poise and projection for a high school kid.

The fact that Jordin's dad is a former NFL star is easy to spot every time she stands next to Ryan.

I agree with Simon. Blake and Lakisha are vulnerable after tonight.