VBS Matters

ABCers are working long hours right now in preparation for Agency D3 Vacation Bible School (VBS), July 7-11 this year. But with so much work, and so many resources devoted to this one-week program for kids, is it all really worth it? Allow me to offer 5 reasons VBS is one of our most valuable ministry efforts each year…

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1. The Great Commission. On average, 70,000-80,000 children and adults enter a personal relationship with Jesus Christ each year because of Vacation Bible Schools. We have seen so many in our own church receive Christ during VBS week, and many more who have come to salvation by a residual effect of this week-long ministry. Many ABCers in our pews week by week were saved during a VBS at some church, somewhere. Taking the Gospel to lost people in a way that connects with them is our first priority as a church. And VBS is a very effective tool toward that end.

2. Church unity and volunteer ministry. No other week during the year will see such a large number, and wide spectrum of ABCers volunteering together toward a common goal. Old and young come together during VBS every year to be the hands and feet of Jesus. This week promotes unity and common ministry like no other week during the year.

3. Discipleship. Children who are already saved, and those who are very young are saturated with biblical truth every day for a week, and go home singing Scripture-songs they will remember for decades to come. Talk about “Hiding God’s Word in their hearts” (Ps. 119:11) …

4. Outreach. Kingdom connections are made, not only with kids, but with parents, and other workers. Every year at VBS, workers make meaningful connections with the unchurched in our own community because they are actually coming in our doors – not just the kids, but their parents and grandparents too! How often does that happen?

5. Leaders are born. One of the major impending crises in established churches today is the constant need for Godly, biblical leaders to rise up from within. Come to ABC’s VBS this year and you’ll see scores of “everyday people” developing/practicing teaching, ministry, shepherding, administration, and many other forms of leadership skills. It would be interesting to know what percentage of Sunday School and Bible Study teachers today were active participants in VBS’s when they were a child, and when they were first developing leadership abilities. I am willing to bet the number would be astronomical.

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I hope this year you’ll look for the ministry behind the work, asking God to open your eyes to the countless benefits and blessings that VBS will bring to Antioch Baptist Church. I have to get up and get moving now. I’ve got work to do! I’m preparing to “Discover, Decide, and Defend” the truth of God’s Word this year in VBS! Hope I’ll see you here!

Grace and Peace,
Tony

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SBC 2014

A few thoughts from the SBC 2014 Annual Meeting:

1. I’m so thankful for Fred Luter’s leadership over the past two years. Rev. Luter has served the SBC with passion and conviction. He lead us from his heart, and he served us selflessly. His tenure will be recorded in our history for so much more than racial reconciliation (although I am very thankful for this, too). He is a strong leader whose love for God is contagious and infectious. I’m thankful for him. Ronnie Floyd will be a wonderful president in the year(s?) to come. But our convention will never forget the humble Christlike steadfastness of this man who has stolen all of our hearts, Dr. Fred Luter.

2. Haters gonna hate. Blogs, Twitter, and Facebook philosophers have ruffled the good spirit of unity this week with their versions of discontented input. Many of them were not even present, and their speculative opinions were based on a glance at the program, and possibly 1/3 viewing of the convention’s happenings online. What I saw was a multicultural, multigenerational community of faith crying out to God for repentance, restoration, and revival… And learning from each other what brotherly love and Christian mission are all about. For some reason, the antiestablishment musings of postmodern America infiltrate the denomination, sometimes from the unlikeliest of places. I agree with CEO Frank Paige – show me a more effective program/partnership to reach the nations for Christ. Splitting hairs over styles of music, people on the platform, and other menial issues does not encourage unity, and certainly does not serve the purpose of edification. But what can I say?… Haters gonna hate. :) The world will know we are Jesus’ disciples by our love for one another. I often pray that we represent Christ in a worthy manner as we publicly interact with (or interact about) one another in our denomination.

3. The torch burns brightly as it passes from one generation to the next. With every passing year, the faces on the stage get younger (or maybe I’m just getting older). But Vanessa and I were struck with the large number of young pastors and church staff members who were present and active this week both on the stage and in the hallways. And the good news is… although the faces are getting younger, biblical inerrancy and doctrinal purity are clearly preserved and championed. While other denominations fight over homosexuality, abortion, leadership scandals, and the nature of salvation, old and young in the SBC unify around strong biblical conviction. Each generation will have to fight their own battles. And I thank God for leaders who have paved the way to a solid foundation, scripturally. I pray our devotion to biblical inerrancy and doctrinal purity remains as steadfast through the coming years as I saw of it this week.

4. God is still using the SBC mightily for His kingdom purposes. Reports from NAMB, IMB, seminaries, and the ERLC demonstrate the global impact the SBC is still making for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Though it is a struggle, and though our leaders call us back to this purpose every year, many of our pastors and churches are keeping the main thing, the main thing. Declining baptism numbers? Yes. And may God stir our hearts to reach more and more. But praise be to Him alone, that the life-saving, eternity-changing truth of the gospel is still the main thing for the SBC.

I am a Christian by God’s grace, and Southern Baptist by conviction. And after this week in Baltimore, MD, I am more aware of God’s great grace and more firm in my Spirit-lead convictions. Thank you to the many SBC workers, volunteers, committee members, and convention leaders who work tirelessly for the glory of our great God.

Grace and Peace,
Tony

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Nope. Can’t Do It. Impossible.

Acts 3:11-4:20 is such an inspiring passage of Scripture. Acts 4:20 sums up, for me, what I hope is the resounding testimony from my lips until the day I die.

 “We are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

“Unable.” Incapable. Powerless and helpless against the life-giving gospel message flowing from my mouth. Stone me. Shoot me. Hang me. Crucify me. I am “unable” to stop speaking about what I’ve seen and heard. Christian, how magnificent is the work you have seen God do in your life?! Is it not overwhelming?! Does it not capture your soul and overflow from the depths of your heart?!

Evangelism starts here. It begins as the overflow of a redeemed soul… unable to stop speaking about the grace that wrought life from a stone-cold corpse of a man. Incapable of muting the praises of Almighty God that flow from the lips of a sinner saved by grace. Powerless against the outward flow of an inward change that reached down into the pits of Hell and scandalously snatched my unworthy soul from its condemning grip.

Stop speaking about Jesus? Stop sharing what He’s done for me? Stop proclaiming the good news of salvation for all who would call on His name and come to Him in repentance and faith?

Nope. Can’t do it. Impossible.

 

Grace and Peace,

Tony

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Open Letter to All Christians

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We are on the same team. Members of the same family, bought by the same blood, servants of the same Master, filled by the same Spirit, members of the same body, charged with the same commission, and messengers of the same gospel. Let us unite with all humility around the truth that man’s sin is the problem and Jesus Christ is the answer. And let us surrender ourselves whole-heartedly to the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples. May our unity, by its very nature, proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. And by it, may our world see the gracious hand of a loving God extended with salvation in His grips – passionately pursuing the lost that they would receive this salvation as a gift… repenting from their sin, and turning to Jesus for life that is real. 

Same team.

“May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe that You have sent Me.” – John 17:21.

Grace and Peace,

Tony

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Haiti Diary Saturday Night

Our last day in Haiti was a long, productive day… But it comes bittersweet. We are all excited to see our families tomorrow night back in the states, but realize that we are leaving behind a new family here in Haiti as well.

Today we all travelled up the mountain to the city of Lone. 25 Haitians and Americans piled on top of suitcases full of school supplies, and boxes full of groceries in a somewhat flat-bed 4-wheel drive truck for over an hour drive each way. About 225 children showed up today in the “middle of nowhere” to hear about Jesus Christ, eat what was probably the best two meals they have had in a very long time, learn new games, sing great songs, and make some wonderful crafts. The children were very well behaved, and were a blessing to work with. While talking with some of the locals today we discovered something interesting about their family situations. In this rural area, there are very few (if any) fathers involved in the children’s lives. By the time a young woman knows she is pregnant, she has usually been sexually active with 5-10 different partners, and there is no way to tell who the father is. It is not at all uncommon here for young teenage girls to have 3 or 4 children. The children in this area are most obviously desperate for the love and affection that you and I take for granted every day of our lives.

While most of the team was working in Lone, several of us hiked about an hour away across the mountain to an area only accessible on foot. In this small rural city of St. Phare, there is an orphanage with abut 15-25 children, whose living conditions are less than sub-par. Most of the children themselves were at our camp in Lone, but we met the pastor’s daughter who showed us around the facilities. We were happy to leave with her 34 crocheted and knitted dolls for the children as well as a love gift of $100 USD to use for the children. Special thanks to our brothers and sisters of New Chapel Hill Baptist Church in West Monroe, LA for making this possible. I know the orphan children were overjoyed when they saw that we had made the hike to their home and left gifts for them to enjoy. While we were hiking we went a little further and met with a pastor in another town across the mountain. He is also the schoolmaster (as most pastors in rural areas are) in his town. His classes have an 80/1 student-teacher ratio. And 60/100 of his students passed the state exam last week! He is a wonderful man of God with a heart for his people. After we got back to the camp location, Pastor Kenny and my Dad were privileged to travel to a home close by and share the gospel with a woman there. She understood the message, and Pastor Kenny says he believes se made the decision to follow Christ today. The Pastor of Lone said that he had been working on her for 3 years! What a joy to be used of God in such a special way!

When we leave here tomorrow, we will carry in our hearts the relationships we have built with so many. Ruth Lindor and her team, Guillaume, Alexson, Veniel and his staff at the Wall’s Guest House, and of course, our brothers and sisters from Pastor Kenny’s church… and so many more!!! I am so proud of Pastor Kenny and count it a true honor to consider him not only a brother in Christ, but a friend like no other. Our plane leaves from Port au Prince at 9:55 am tomorrow, and we hope to be back in Lovelady by 8 or 8:30 pm (Central Time). I cannot imagine a better group of people to have worked with this week. They have left it all behind to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness… And to share with Haiti the love that God has placed in their hearts for The Lord Jesus Christ. So… Very… Blessed.

Grace and peace,
Tony

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Haiti Diary Friday Night

With heavy hearts, we ended our time at Petion ville today. Over 215 children showed up, 23 pastors, and about 20-30 church leaders. Leaving behind those children and new friends was so incredibly difficult. All of our hearts break at the thought. At the end of the day we handed out school supplies, sang all together, and presented each of the church leaders, pastors, and volunteers with certificates. Words cannot come close to expressing the mixed feelings of joy and sadness… Accomplishment of what we came to do, but still so much left to be done. The children loved to play with our hair, hug on us, and kiss us on the cheek. They were so much fun, and very respectful. Our volunteers, organized by Ruth Lindor (a friend and ministry partner down here… also their college professor in education) were absolutely top-notch. They taught with skill and passion, served without reservation, and counted it an honor to partner with us in ministry. One of our translators was telling me this morning that he lives in the mountains outside of Petion ville. Each morning he walked 30 minutes down the hill, took a motorcycle taxi another 30 minutes into the city, and caught a bus ride for an hour… Just to help us, without pay. He said it was an honor to come and give his talents and his energy for the kingdom of God… “Just like you guys are doing, Pastor.”

We gave all the pastors resources on the Doctrine of Salvation, and a commentary on Romans and Galatians… Thanks to our brothers and sisters at First Baptist Church of Crockett, TX for that great privilege. The pastors were overwhelmingly grateful. We were also able to leave 3 sets of DVD training (in Creole – 9 hrs of instruction each) over these same materials with 3 great pastors in key cities: Kenscoff, Petion ville, and Leogan. These pastors will hold training seminars of their own over the next 3 months using these materials. The pastors were very attentive and seemed to really begin to grasp the concept of preparing for expositional sermons… And they absolutely ate up the suggestions for delivery and flow. Practical training on being faithful to God’s word while preaching is something they are all very hungry for. I gave one my shirt, all of them my contact info, and would have given them my shoes and pants if I didn’t need them tomorrow. Their hearts are so big, and their love for The Lord… contagious. One pastor told me today that he had helped with similar things several times in different areas across Haiti but never has he seen a staff (our people) with such great character (his own words). He went on and on about how the people of this team modeled humility, love, and teamwork like no other group he had ever seen.

I spoke with another pastor today who traveled 6 hours – on foot… WALKED – to preach at a church last Sunday. (And FYI – they do not get paid for preaching or pastoring at all here in Haiti). But this great man of God counted it such an honor to deliver God’s word. I pray for more of his passion and commitment in my own ministry context.

The national tv station (only one in Haiti) came and interviewed us today in Petion ville. So Monday morning, they will be broadcasting what this team has done for Christ the past week. Honored that our Lord will receive glory nationwide for His great work throughout this team.

The question all of us got more than any other today was, “When are you all coming back?” Soon, I hope. But we are not done yet. Tomorrow will be a very long day up the mountain in Lone. Petion ville is more urban (if you can call it that) and Lone is far away in a very rural area. We have to cram 4 days of our original VBS plan into 6 hours there tomorrow. Our team has been working hard at this for days. We originally planned to take it easy Saturday and go see some various orphanages, and churches in the area… but God changed our plans and this team is dedicated to working with every ounce of energy for the kingdom of God. They really get it. What an honor to serve with them. We are praying for God to show up in a mighty way tomorrow. Please pray with us!

Grace and Peace,
Tony

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Haiti Diary Thursday Night

Today was a wonderful day in our mission. Unsure what to expect in attendance today – because we had to cancel yesterday for the storm – God really showed up. Again, we had over 120 children in Petion ville… and 12 church leaders, and 10 pastors came, even though they were unsure if we would be there. Everyone in attendance today was there for the right reason. They were hungry for the Word of God. And because of that, God took center stage.

The children learned about the responsibilities of being a child of the King. God expects that we honor Him with our lives and serve others to His glory. They loved the crafts and games again. It is so humbling to watch them color. Debbie, Lisa, Amie, and Christina always say how meticulous they are about taking their time and making their pictures beautiful. I think they would sit there all day and just color if we let them. Can’t wait to see their faces when each of them gets a pack of crayons in their own backpack tomorrow. :)

One cannot ignore the living conditions these children go home to every day. They arrive at the camp in trucks overflowing… Children hanging off the sides and singing loudly, songs of praise to God. And when they leave – either on foot or in those same vehicles – the houses waiting for them are make-shift shelters we would be ashamed to have as dog houses. Every day when we leave we pass “tent cities” where hundreds of people live, digging through the trash and sleeping on broken concrete or dirt… But the children smile and wave. And men and women go about life as if they know nothing else at all. “Poverty” does not even scratch the surface of what these children call home. But they and their families are so very beautiful to our God. And when you catch a glimpse of them through the eyes of that living, loving Creator, your heart bleeds for them.

Pastor Mitchell taught the church leaders about youth ministry today. They spent a lot of time on the issue of sexual responsibility and how to lead their youth into honoring God with their bodies. They also had a great discussion about youth serving in the church and learning to support the church and its pastor. In spite of the cultural differences, today’s youth ministry training was very successful. Dad taught the pastors how to discern, study, and preach the Gospels. They loved his method of preparation and delivery, and learned much from his instruction. These pastors are so grateful for our time and investment in them. What an honor it is to serve along side my own father in teaching them how to develop and sharpen their giftedness and calling from the Lord. They will all hold a very special place in our hearts as long as we live.

The greatest news of the day is that 3 children (ages 9-12) placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ today for the very first time! They have become children of the King! 1 John 1:12. The angels in heaven rejoice tonight for these three beautiful children coming to faith in Christ Jesus. We will be connecting them with local churches in their areas tomorrow for follow up and discipleship.

Something that sticks out to me tonight as I reflect is the commitment from volunteers. Some WALK 1-2 hours one way EVERY DAY to come help. Their love for The Lord is contagious and their service to Christ is a model for us to follow. What an honor to work with these young men and women for the glory of our Lord.

Tomorrow is a big day. We will finish our VBS at Petion ville and hand out backpacks of school supplies to all the children who attended. We will wrap up the weeks’s activities in Petion ville with a celebration and evangelistic service. There will be a certificate ceremony for the pastors and church leaders, a live band, and I will be preaching Matthew 6:33. I am praying that more souls will be saved and that Christians (including ourselves) will commit to being Kingdom Seekers, for the glory of God! Will you pray with me?!

We are so grateful for the prayers of many which are being lifted up to God on our behalf. You are a part of this ministry, and your prayerful support is felt daily as we minister here. Thank you for being partners in the ministry of this team. May God receive all the glory!

Grace and Peace,
Tony

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