My hope for our Convention is simple. It runs upon one premise. It rides upon one purpose. It rests upon one person. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
Our commission for sending missionaries to the ends of the earth is to scatter the seed of the Gospel. Our compulsion to scatter the seed is the transforming power of Jesus' death on the Cross.
But we have to ask ourselves, "Are we unprepared to saturate the earth with the Gospel?" Sometimes we seem better prepared to compete than to cooperate, to boast than to be brokenhearted, to stand proudly in the synagogue than to kneel at the altar, to judge than to be judged, to call for repentance than to repent.
Listen to Acts 3:19, Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.
You say, "Repent of what?" I don't know. You know. God knows. Jesus knows. His eyes are like flames of fire.
Because of his sin David cried out to the Lord, Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me ... Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation. (Psalm 51:10, 12a)
What I do know is that we need a clean heart, a right spirit, and a restoration of our joy!
It's not enough to be intellectually equipped. It's not enough to be emotionally equipped. It's not enough to be physically equipped. It is not enough to be theologically equipped. The only sufficiency we have is Jesus. If we are selfish, self-sufficient, or superficial in this relationship, we are unprepared to meet Jesus face to face and thus we're unprepared to change the world.
My hope for our Convention is that God's Spirit will move from heart to heart and church to church until we are changed by His power. The wonderful thing about the Holy Spirit is that He always points us to Jesus, not to Himself.
Sometimes I wonder if we are slowly losing consciousness of the reality that God lives in our hearts. Christ's strategy for missions is found in Acts 1:8, but before He gave us the strategy, He said, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you."
Some among us tend to withdraw from talk of the Holy Spirit, the Lordship of Christ, and the mention of mysticism. I do not believe in the far-out mysticism upon which entire cults and religions are built. I do believe that the moment I trusted Jesus as my Savior, God's Spirit came to live in my heart. And I can trust that whatever He tells me will always be in accord with His Holy Word. Why? Because God cannot lie! He will never contradict His written Word. It's time for us to go to the mountain to pray, and give God's Spirit time to speak to us. But the question is, "Are we willing to listen?"
We need to take time to time to be with Jesus. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
We need to be renewed.
We need to be refreshed.
We need to be reformed. Well, I don't know. I guess that's up for debate!
I want to make an observation and then a request.
Most Southern Baptist Calvinists are in the tradition of Charles Haddon Spurgeon who said, "Divine sovereignty is a great and indisputable fact, but human responsibility is quite as indisputable...Faith is God's gift" (Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, the Battle for Gospel Preaching, Iain H. Murray, p. 86).
While there are Southern Baptists who believe in the doctrine of election, most Southern Baptists are not strident Calvinists or ardent Arminians. They are biblical, and they are Baptists. They believe Jesus shed his precious blood for the sins of all mankind and that the Bible teaches "Whosoever will, may come."
Salvation is the work of a sovereign God who extends His grace to us. My salvation was an instantaneous event the moment I repented of my sins and trusted Jesus by faith as my personal Savior.
If you wish, debate Calvinism. We should not fear theological debate as long as the participants understand they are brothers debating one another in a friendly environment. While Calvinism is a fair debate in the halls of academia, we do not need to bring the debate into our churches at the cost of dividing our congregations.
In actuality, the Bible contains a healthy and dynamic tension between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Let's leave it where God left it in His Holy Word.
As Paul said to the Ephesians, for by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). That's who Southern Baptists are!
Speaking of debate, the insistence by pastors to incorporate elder rule in churches that have practiced congregational rule from their inception will serve only to cripple the ministries of our churches, divide the people, and ultimately destroy the witness of churches that have been lighthouses for the Kingdom in their communities and cities. It's already happening.
I appeal to every Southern Baptist pastor: Major on the majors in our churches. We have no time to lose, no time to be distracted from our calling ... missions and evangelism.
The Southern Baptist Convention originated in 1845. Our founders' vision was for Southern Baptist churches to network in evangelizing the world. The Convention was organized for the purpose of world missions. Unlike hierarchical denominations, our Convention was not organized to be a governing body. It was organized to facilitate the sending of missionaries from the pews of our churches.
The debate of Calvinism in our churches can distract us from fulfilling the Great Commission.
The debate of elder rule in our churches can distract us from leading the lost to Christ.
And the practice of political posturing in our Convention can distract us from dependency upon the power of God.
If we genuinely want the power of God upon this Convention, we must determine to walk away from political posturing and polarization of our people and our churches. We have a bigger task: the cause around which we have coalesced historically, the cause of world missions.
The crusade to return to the faith of our fathers — declaring our belief in the inerrancy of God's Word — was a worthy cause and in God's providence, leaders who believe in the authority of God's Word, are in every major leadership post in the Southern Baptist Convention.
But a continuation of the constant politicization of this Convention and its churches will come at the price of turning conservative brother against conservative brother; of losing church members who love Jesus, love the Bible, love the church, love the Convention, love the Kingdom of God, and love world missions; and at the price of losing the favor of God upon us.
Those of us who led the Conservative Resurgence have two choices. We can lead Southern Baptists in continuing to build the greatest missions enterprise ever known to mankind. And we can embrace a widening circle of Southern Baptist brothers, young and old, with whom we share a strong heartbeat for advancing the Kingdom of God. The Baptist Faith and Message was written as a confession to pull us together not as a creed to pull us apart. It is time to cease narrowing the parameters of our collective convictions and widen the parameters of our vision for world missions.
Or we can insist upon building our own kingdom like the pharaohs of old. If we do, we shall lose the blessings God has showered abundantly upon Southern Baptists for over 160 years. Who among us would want to be held responsible for the loss of God's power upon Southern Baptists?
No power brokered by men has ever been equal to the power of God. If we trade God's power for man's power, this Convention will become a dust bowl of dry bones.
My hope for our Convention is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
Our churches, our associations, our state conventions, and the Southern Baptist Convention must dream the same dream, envision the same vision.
Empowered churches working together become an empowered Convention. An empowered Convention will lift us to the highest level of cooperation ever known by Southern Baptists. When we are empowered by the Spirit, we will have the mind of Christ. Listen to how Paul described having the mind of Christ: Let nothing be done out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (Philippians 2:3).
The world has yet to see what Southern Baptists can do through cooperative missions if we have the mind of Christ.
God has called us to a large vision. And He has given us what I believe is a divinely-inspired means of supporting that vision.
The Cooperative Program is the essence of cooperation. We have supported world missions through the Cooperative Program for over eighty years. It is our lifeline of support to our missionaries.
If we did not have a Cooperative Program, we would invent one. Of course, we'd probably call it the Synergy Fund instead of the Cooperative Program.
There is no better means of supporting world missions on earth than the Cooperative Program. It is the "Mutual Fund of Missions."
But the burning question of the hour is not about the Cooperative Program, but whether we believe God still calls us to work together for the sake of world missions.
If He is not speaking to our hearts about missions, our ears will grow increasingly deaf to appeals for the Cooperative Program.
Why? Because the Cooperative Program is not an end unto itself. The Cooperative Program is a means to an end. And the end is missions — missions all over the world. Missions is about church planting, pastor training, and personal witnessing.
That's why we do not give to the Cooperative Program. We give through the Cooperative Program.
Our churches have the freedom to give voluntarily, joyfully, and generously. Our churches have the freedom to give proportionally in accord with the abundant blessings upon the church. Cooperative Program giving is as individual to the church as the biblical principle of tithing is to the Christian.
The report of the Ad Hoc CP Committee is a cry for help to expand our witness to all the peoples of the world. It is not a cry for more money to keep a bloated bureaucracy afloat; it is a cry for support of state, national, and international missions, theological education, and religious liberty. The appeal of the report is not for dollars, but for biblical stewardship and a deep-seated conviction that the Convention has a higher purpose, far exceeding a funding program.
My hope for our Convention is built on Jesus' blood and righteousness.
In February 2006, the doctors told my wife, Jodi, that her ninety-six-year-old daddy, John Elmer Francis, had colon cancer and had only a few months to live. When Jodi and her sister, Barbara, with whom he lived across town from us, told him the news, he took it with the comment, "Well, I've had a good life."
Until the day he died his mind was as clear as a bell. All of our grandchildren loved their Great Gramps. Every Thursday for the last three years, Jodi would go by, take him to lunch, and they would drive all over middle Tennessee for the remainder of the afternoon. I called it, "Driving Mr. Elmer!" Man, did they have a good time!
Early on Saturday morning, April 22, 2006, he began to have his first real pain. Jodi began administering pain medication. He slept most of the day. In the afternoon, he awakened. His breathing was shallow, and Jodi and her sister, Barbara, took turns holding his hand.
About 5:10 p.m. he stirred and said, "I've gotta get ready to go, but I can't get the top button on my shirt buttoned." Jodi could see that the top button on his pajamas was unbuttoned, so she took care of it.
She asked him if he wanted a drink of water and he said, "Yes." After the drink, he said, "That's the best water I've ever tasted." Then he drank another glass of water and said, "Now I think I'll take my pills, have another drink of water, and sleep awhile before I go."
But a few minutes later he said, "I gotta go," and he began to try to get up. Jodi said, "Daddy, you can't get out of bed, but we'll help you sit up. He said, "OK." Then he said, "I'm going!" As he lay back down in the bed, he said, "I'm gone."
Jodi said, "Daddy, I love you." Barbara said, "Daddy, I love you." And he said, "I love you both." And with a sigh, he was gone.
Gone into the arms of Jesus! Gone to see Bonnie, his beloved bride who died sixteen years ago! He'd always been a little lost without her.
And gone to see his Momma! A number of times over the years, I heard him say, "I wanna see my Momma." You see, his momma died when he was five years old. And with only a faded memory left, that little five-year-old boy went home ninety-one years later to see his Momma!
Elmer's gone home! For him and for us, it was a celebration.
I looked around his little bedroom after he died. I noticed he left behind his cane. I noticed he left behind the caps he enjoyed wearing. I noticed he left behind the pictures of the old home place at Big Rock, Tennessee. I noticed he left behind his shoes. But what did he care?
He didn't need them to walk on the streets of gold. Elmer had gone, and he took nothing with him but the glory of the Lord.
You see, his hope was built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
So is my hope for our Convention.