Navigating the latest rocky waters of denominational life

Josh Wilks, minister to children at NorthPark Baptist Church, Trussville, baptizes 7-year-old Grant Stuman during the early service June 6. (Photo by Margaret Smith/NorthPark photography team)

The glow on the little guy’s face as the minister to children surfaced him from the portable baptismal pool triggered a sprinkling of water down several cheeks in the sanctuary.

A handful of us sat at the perfect distance and angle to see the crinkle in his nose emerge above a beaming smile as he was “raised in newness of life.”

We had the unusual opportunity to see these details because the church’s official baptismal pool was covered with decorations for Vacation Bible School.

VBS starts today at many churches across the nation; some even kicked off the week last night with a hot dog supper or other fun event.

As my husband and I sat in the service yesterday at NorthPark Baptist Church in Trussville, Alabama, we found opportunities to worship at every point — experiencing the baptism of a 7-year-old excited about giving his heart to Jesus, singing along with all the other voices, participating in the moments of prayer, giving of our tithe and learning from the pastor’s teachings.

‘Look again’

Preaching from Judges 6:1–16, Pastor Bill Wilks shared how “the Israelites thought they were brought low because of the Midianites, but God said to look again.”

“We see the surface problem, but God sees the root problem. Appearances can be deceiving; and we should never overlook the God factor,” Wilks explained.

“We can be too big for God to use us but never too small,” he said. “God sees all the potential in us and wants to draw it out.

“But we — the people of God — may need to look at our own hearts to see where we are rebelling against Him as individuals and as churches. When people do what is right in their own eyes, they often miss what is right in the eyes of God.”

#ThisIsTheSBC

A fairly routine Lord’s Day at any Southern Baptist church, yesterday’s service might have even been a good example for the recent social media posts connected to the #ThisIsTheSBC hashtag.

And church leaders made only one brief mention of the upcoming SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville — a congregational vote to approve the list of messengers who will be attending on behalf of NorthPark.

We chuckled as our executive pastor Stephen Hall accidentally called those of us on the messenger list “missionaries” to the annual meeting before he realized what he said and got tickled himself as he corrected the reference.

It truly was a slip of the tongue, but my mind clung to what he said. Maybe all of us going as messengers should become missionaries of sort and consider the business sessions, hallway talk and panel discussions a missions field.

Exploring divisive terrain

After all, the leaders of our convention entities, Executive Committee, seminaries and other groups are in the roles they are in to serve the churches of the denomination, not the other way around.

Several of them need our help as guides back to calm waters of unity and cooperation and away from the divisive, difficult terrain they decided to explore.

Intimidation and bullying tactics among denominational leaders are not new, neither are manipulative actions to gain or keep control of whatever area or funding — or maybe secret — he or she is attempting to control. Remember, they are human too. The reason it seems worse now is because we all get to watch it play out in real time through social media.

A steady diet of the ugliness eats at our soul, and there’s a point we sense a need to respond, but instead of choosing sides and casting blame, what if the masses of us who don’t like what we see stand together in prayer and a unified voice?

What if we refuse to take the bait and instead of getting caught up in the drama swirling around us, we commit to purifying our denomination?

Starting point for purification

As the true leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention — the churches — we should start with our individual congregations and that means first focusing on our own hearts. It means surrounding our pastors with prayer and support and helping them focus strictly on God to lead.

Healthy churches can then work together to sift issues at the associational level and then the state convention level. From there, the members of the boards of trustees of the roughly dozen SBC entities, Executive Committee, seminaries and auxiliaries should be strong enough to guide those employed as directors of the groups.

We as members of the churches across this denomination fund all the work taking place, and we trust the process put in place to manage the work, but if our hearts are not pure then that will trickle down to those who are called and thus hired to manage the work being done — such as entity leaders and seminary presidents.

They need us. What that means we should do next week in Nashville, I can’t tell you, but I do know that without prayer, accountability and clear expectations, we all are susceptible to the ugliness and deception of life.

We already have the strength and power needed to navigate these latest rocky waters of denominational life — His name is Jesus.

What if all of us — every one of us, not just those we might want to put on a list, but all of us — get over ourselves and look back to Him?

—Jennifer Davis Rash

What will history write about our version of the 20s?

light up the sky

We are at the front end of a pristine new 20s. Whether we refer to our new decade as the “twenties” or the “twenty-twenties,” we have been handed the opportunity to blaze a new, yet healthier, path by learning from the past.

What will history write about the 2020s one day? What statement will we make? How will we be branded?

We truly can shake off the past, let go of whatever is holding us back and make this our decade. Why not make it our goal to see and live with the clarity of 20/20 vision in the decade of the 2020s?

Read the full My Rashionale piece here.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Want more wisdom? Absorb a chapter of Proverbs a day and never stop — start back over with each new month

Proverbs 17:22–24

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

“The wicked accept bribes in secret to pervert the course of justice.

“A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth.”

Proverbs 18:1–7

“An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends and against all sound judgment starts quarrels.

“Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.

“When wickedness comes, so does contempt, and with shame comes reproach.

“The words of the mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream.

“It is not good to be partial to the wicked and so deprive the innocent of justice.

“The lips of fools bring them strife, and their mouths invite a beating.

“The mouths of fools are their undoing and their lips are a snare to their very lives.”

Proverbs 19:16–21

“Whoever keeps commandments keeps their life, but whoever shows contempt for their ways will die.

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.

“Discipline your children for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death.

“A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them and you will have to do it again.

“Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Proverbs 20:9–12

“Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’?

“Differing weights and differing measures — the Lord detests them both.

“Even small children are known by their actions, so is their conduct really pure and upright?

“Ears that hear and eyes that see — the Lord has made them both.”

(New International Version)

—Jennifer Davis Rash

What would the world be like if adults could have and share even half the joy the children in our lives bring us?

Carbon Hill 3

Church hopping isn’t my typical routine but Sunday, July 28, provided a fun opportunity to participate, at least to some level, in three different church services.

All were different styles and sizes but each were filled with love, joy, smiles, a buzz of excitement and a warm welcome for all who showed up.

It really does make a difference to sense you are noticed and sincerely appreciated.

I spent most of my time that day at First Baptist Church, Carbon Hill, for their special Children’s Ministry Day — and the kids didn’t hesitate to swallow me up with lots of love.

If only all of us could be that bold to show the grace and love of Jesus.

Pastor Scott McCullar said it best during his sermon: “Children have a great value in the kingdom of God. We can learn lessons from them. They hold nothing back.”

“We adults try to squeeze our experiences into the word of God … but children are bold and full of faith. They have joy and take each day as it comes,” he said.

“Children serve the Lord with everything they have and often times we adults hold back a little bit. We should come to the Lord like little children — joyful, faithful and bold.”

McCullar’s words reminded me of the importance of investing in the lives of the children around us. 

They need us to believe in them, remind them of their value and teach them how to navigate life. 

They need us to model for them how to express love and joy for our Savior in adulthood. 

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Some days are tough, even for the most optimistic and energized among us — even for those who hide it well

My friend recently opened up about his three-year battle with deep depression. A few years on the other side of it now he finally feels confident to share — determined he isn’t going back into the pit.

I’m not around him often so it’s not surprising he was able to hide the debilitating experience from me. But I do remember contacting him once or twice during that time and receiving an oddly cold reception, almost as if he were annoyed at my call.

Instead of checking on him or acknowledging that something seemed out of character I determined I must have called at a bad time and let it go.

An interesting note about this particular friend is that he is the one who many years ago introduced me to the concept of always being kind to others no matter how they behave because we don’t know what’s happening in their lives at that moment.

‘Be kind’

There’s a famous quote about this concept: “Be kind for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” 

For as long as I’ve know him my friend has used a version of this quote along with a Scripture reference at the end of his email messages after his name.

I haven’t located the original source of the quote. It seems to have been attributed most often to a variety of Greek philosophers and on occasion to a handful of modern-day bloggers.

No matter who first said it the point is clear and a good reminder to all of us. 

And Colossians 3:12 says it even better: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

So when someone in the service industry is rude to us or our friend doesn’t return our calls and texts we should respond with kindness and love, showing grace, rather than getting upset.

If someone close to us chooses not to share about a health concern or difficult situation he or she is facing, we can find other ways to support and care for him or her. We can still pray without knowing the specifics — and we can always be kind.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Anyone else tempted to drive to the U.S.-Mexico border to find ways to help, assess the situation for yourself?

Border Marker at San Ysidro-JD

Line of demarcation on the U.S.-Mexico border at San Ysidro, California. (Photo by Josh Denmark/www.cbp.gov)

I’m not properly equipped to outline a solution for the humanitarian crisis taking place at the U.S. border but I do know the situation pulls at all of our hearts no matter our stance on how best to deal with the overall issue of illegal immigration.

I’m confident none of us want anyone’s child to be afraid or lacking basic securities, care and love. It’s one thing to be in the dark about sufferings happening around us; it’s another to know about it and choose to sit back and do nothing.

After all with knowledge comes responsibility — but then there’s the problem of determining exactly what it means to be responsible.

Reconciling levels of responsibility

We know we should be the ones responsible to care for ourselves and our families which also means protecting them.

We know we are called to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength” and “love your neighbors as yourself.”

But how do we reconcile these specific responsibilities when it comes to the border crisis?

We may be able to help with immediate actions to alleviate some of the suffering but we can’t stop there.

Our country’s leaders must set aside their political agendas to find a workable solution. They’ve done it before and are more than capable of doing it now, but I do think they need to know we will not punish them for sitting across the table together to figure it out.

We also must remember to pray for all involved and find ways to help.

While U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities currently are not accepting any donations of supplies to help migrant families and children, we can look for other ways to assist current ministry efforts.

For instance, West Brownsville Baptist Church is one church ministering in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. The church recently began serving as an overflow respite center to shelter migrants and has lots of needs related to that role.

Purchase items from the church’s Amazon wishlist for Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville Respite Center here.

Other Baptist organizations accepting relief donations include:

San Diego Southern Baptist Association: Choose “Juvenal Gonzalez-Tijuana” fund (church planting catalyst missionary in Tijuana serving migrants) and give online at https://app.easytithe.com/App/Giving/sdsba.

Baptist Convention of New Mexico: Choose “Disaster Relief” fund and give online at https://bcnm.com/give/.

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention: Choose “Disaster Relief” fund and give online at https://www.shelbygiving.com/App/Giving/sbtc.

Arizona Southern Baptist Convention: Specify an amount, then choose “AZSBC Disaster Relief” to give online at https://azsbc.org/give/.

The Alabama Baptist staff will continue researching appropriate ways to contribute, send supplies and provide teams to help.

If you are interested in assisting the efforts or have information to share, then reach out to us at news@thealabamabaptist.org or by calling 1-800-803-5201, ext. 103.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Difficulty of the darkness hovering around us, pressing in on us has no chance against the Light within us

An endless stream of concerns, debates and ideas circle nonstop in my mind as I attempt to pinpoint the most timely news or life issue to cover. 

Nationally, a fresh and fierce debate over abortion has erupted and Alabama is among states at the center of the strategy.

Statewide, the thoughts of a lottery and other possible gambling expansions have several people and entities wanting a piece of the pie. At the same time opposing forces are working endlessly to remind citizens of the social ills that come with any form of gambling.  

Politically, the rhetoric between the two main parties continues to provide a daily dose of hate and anger — almost as if they think we enjoy the ugliness.

Denominationally, internal conflict is brewing — and unlike the major fight 30 years ago, the current arguments are playing out over social media and blog posts.  

If all of that weren’t enough, then news reports from a variety of faith-based media outlets (including TAB) and the mainstream media have us thinking about topics such as: believers being persecuted for their faith, religious liberty fights nationally and internationally, how to handle illegal immigration in the U.S., how Christians can exist godly and neighborly in a society with same-sex couples and families, strife in the Middle East, random plane and helicopter crashes, flooding, tornadoes, drive-by shootings, college bribery scandals, etc.

I’m confident you can fill in the blank with a dozen other situations happening all around us.

Light pierces the darkness

Some days it seems impossible to push through all the darkness, but for those of us who know Jesus as personal Lord and Savior, we can have confidence that no matter how difficult or discouraging the world around us becomes, we possess the ultimate Light.

And there’s no defeating Him — now or ever. Light will always pierce the darkness. 

If you don’t know Jesus, then let us tell you about Him. There’s plenty of room to join us.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Walking the lonely path of regret

 

 

Regret — it can be a tortuous wave of despair that keeps on rolling over and over through our lives.

Whether it be one momentary lapse of good judgment or a season of unhealthy patterns that form the perfect storm, the actual event that leads to regret changes everything. And it is rarely ever a solo punch.

Most often the lives of everyone connected to the person suffering from regret are changed in some way — and some forever.

It is more than being disappointed about getting caught or offering false remorse for receiving negative pushback. It is a genuine feeling of repentance that grips us at the center of our soul.

Regret is a true feeling of remorse, deep repentance and extreme sadness over what has happened. You will know it when you see it. The humility, the despair, the brokenness seep from the person’s pores.

Surviving the initial blow, humiliation and blowback is the first step. And while that first step is hard the lonely journey that follows might be even harder for the truly repentant.

Space for grace

But brokenness leaves the regret-filled person with a choice just as it offers those around them an opportunity.

For the person walking through regret, it can provide a space for God to show us His grace in a way never experienced before. When we know more of the depth of our sin and brokenness, we can marvel even more at the unfathomable love and forgiveness offered to us through Christ.

Power in the pain

But we have to make that choice. We have to choose to let those painful memories drive us to worship and experience gratitude for our forgiveness. We have to choose to let our pain push us toward Christ and away from deeper sin.

And for people who are surrounding the person carrying regret, it’s a chance to remember God’s grace and remember our own sins too.

None of us is perfect. We all have the ability to dive headlong into sin. We have to call each other to right choices, but when someone is truly repentant, we can choose to walk alongside our broken brother or sister in love.

That’s who we are. We strive for holiness. We repent with sincere hearts. We bind up our wounded. The key is real repentance — and real love.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

The humbling nature of the fruit

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

“I honestly believe if we would do more praying and less criticizing we would have a better nation,” Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines said Feb. 14.

Speaking to a group of writers, editors and communicators, Gaines shared how at 60 he can look back now and see he has grown in this area himself.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten kinder,” he said. “(I want to be) prudent, wise and merciful.

“I used to be a little bit more hard than I am now. … A lot of it is how you see the people you are preaching to. I no longer see them as rebels who need to repent. I see them as people who are hurting and need to be set free.”

Gaines added, “If we are filled with the Spirit, it is the fruit of the Spirit that is going to come out.”

As I listened to Gaines share that day, I recalled how the fruit of the Spirit outlined in Galatians 5:22–23 became a foundational Scripture for me as soon as I chose Jesus fully and completely at 19 years old.

I stray often but the simple, straightforward outline of qualities God desires for our lives to exhibit are always there to keep me grounded and bring me back when I slip — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Essential characteristics

The goal is for all of these characteristics to exist in our hearts.

I’ve heard some note how starting with love allows you to develop each of the traits, one building on the other.

I’ve also heard how they are not individual attributes in and of themselves, that they are all essential characteristics of the fruit and must all be present for there to be fruit.

It’s always humbling to me when I go back to Galatians and recenter on each of the nine and see where some are missing and the ripple effect that caused.

If we were to only consider the first one — love — because it is February, then we might think about the depth of what that means and how we are called to love our enemies as well as our friends.

Real kind of love

Some people are hard to love, it’s true. And even the ones who aren’t hard to love still come with complex natures and baggage that sometimes surface whether intentionally or unintentionally.

No matter the relationship, we aren’t called to a fake, syrupy kind of act but a true, sacrificial, real kind of love.

It’s certainly not possible in our own strength. We must see others through the eyes of Christ.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Seeking a renewed prayerful heart

Prayer

During this past holiday season, my uncle shared a bit about his recent journey through an in-depth study of prayer.

He’s in his 70s and has been a believer for a long time but the experience of the past two years has renewed his joy and restored his heart in a way he said he has never felt.

I couldn’t help but be captivated by the emotion and authentic sense of closeness to our Lord he expressed.

The freshness of the Word as he reads Scripture, the new authors he has discovered and the books on the topic of prayer he has read have all given him a renewed excitement for communicating with God.

Assessing prayer life

As I processed what he shared, I was challenged to evaluate my own prayer life and asked myself questions such as:

•What does prayer look like in my life?

•Do I honestly and sincerely pray for every situation or person in which I say I will pray?

•Am I able to truly put concerns in the Lord’s hands first and then follow how He leads or do I try to help in my own way first and then pray as a last resort?

•Do I slow down to watch how God works in the situations going on around me?

•Am I in tune enough to notice what God is doing and how He uses us if we are available?

•Do I thank Him and praise Him even in the storms?

•What about the concept of praying without ceasing? Is that really possible? What does it look like?

Seriously, have you ever tried to pray without ceasing? It is hard work.

I experimented with the concept one day, praying for every face I saw, every name that popped in my email inbox, every voice I heard on the phone, everyone that came to mind.

And wow was I exhausted at the end of the day.

Granted, I didn’t pray long prayers but even spending the energy to pray for every single person and situation that passes through your day is an interesting exercise.

It definitely keeps you from fretting over unnecessary items, forces you to weed out frivolous thoughts and conversations and makes you aware of the many, many needs around you.

It also made me aware of just how many things I fail to pray for on any given day.

So as I’m making my goals for 2018 and hitting the ground running following the holidays, I’m working to keep focused, sincere prayer among my “must do” items each day — and remembering what Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 3, “only God gives the increase.”

—Jennifer Davis Rash