By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
TOWSON, Md.—Invited guest speakers for Connect 2010, the annual meeting of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, held Nov. 14-16 at the Sheraton Towson, focused on the importance of celebrating what God has done and will do.
In the first session of Connect 2010, David Uth, senior pastor of First Baptist, Orlando, shared three reasons why celebration is important for Christians.
First: Celebration gets our eyes off of us and onto God, who has been so bountiful and gracious to us.
“You don’t worship because life is good. You worship because God is good. We have a God worth celebrating!” Uth said.
He pointed to Psalm 137:4-6, which describes the Jews’ distress at being in exile in Babylon.
“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” wrote the Psalmist. “If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill (‘to raise my hands in worship,’ paraphrased Uth). May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth (‘so that
I may not be able to worship,’ Uth expounded) if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem (‘the epicenter of their faith where they met God,’ explained Uth) my highest joy.”
Second: We need it for a witness.
“Do you realize that the world is watching us worship? … They’re not watching the preacher or the worship leader; they’re watching other worshippers,” he said, also telling the pastors, “If you’re not worshipping, then they’re not either.”
Third: Because it is one of the greatest ways of spiritual warfare.
“I can’t explain it, but something just happens when you worship,” he said, recounting an exorcism he witnessed in Zambia, Africa. He related how the church “choir” paced in a circle, singing and worshipping around three obviously demon-possessed women.
The more the women sang, the more the women on the floor relaxed—and were delivered, Uth related. “Why is it when we go into the hard times, that we quit singing?”
The next morning, Uth shared from Acts 27, which details the Apostle Paul’s compelling need to go to Rome. Paralleling the story to the individuals in the room, he explained, “Rome represents the place we’ve never been with Lord.”
“Is there a ministry that you have been holding out on doing? Do it,” he urged, explaining that the richest place on earth wasn’t the diamond minds in Africa. It is the cemeteries all across our country.
“Beneath that sod lives dreams never fulfilled, … books never written, … songs never sung,” he grieved.
He noted that Rome also represented a risk. Pointing to International Mission Board missionaries who live on the edge and who see the greatest works of God, he noted, “Playing it safe will never get you to Rome. The ship’s safest place is the harbor.”
He also noted that Rome represented a people. And with people comes resistance and resources.
“God’s resources are always greater than the resistance,” he said, noting that in Acts 27, going to Rome meant facing the difficult winds.
“You can sail into the wind; you just can’t take a straight line,” he said, discouraging pastors from making changes too fast. “It may be a little more difficult and time consuming, but you’ll get there.”
Uth related his experience when his father, a pastor, stood up against Klu Klux Klan members in his church who battled against the African Americans whom the pastor allowed into his church. Ultimately, Uth’s family’s life was threatened, and he lost his job as pastor.
“He may have lost his church, but he won the heart of his 17-year-old son,” Uth said.
Uth acknowledged that ministers will never make it to Rome if they don’t get out of the wind from time-to-time. Urging against burnout, he said, “You won’t survive if you don’t find shelter against the wind.”
Should Christians have spiritual heroes? That was the question posed by Donald Whitney, associate professor of biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., where he also serves as senior associate dean.
Whitney, speaking during the Monday morning session of Connect 2010, felt that having spiritual heroes was important because of
what Hebrews 13:7 says: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (NASB).
“Remember” is a command, Whitney said, noting that one must remember the one who led them to Christ, who spoke the Word of God to them. Why? “So we can learn from them,” he said.
“The best heroes are those who speak from a life saturated with the Word of God,” said Whitney, who learned much from reading about British pastor Charles Spurgeon. He encourages his students to go to conferences and to read biographies to learn what their spiritual heroes did and what they said.
“Many of their struggles are the same, though their circumstances are different,” he said, noting that Christians should “consider” or “scan carefully, to look it over and over, to think about it a lot” the results of their spiritual heroes’ conduct, and then to imitate their faith.
“Having the right hero will protect you from error,” he said, adding later. “The man or woman who has no heroes will probably never be one.”
In his final sermon as BCM/D president, Byron Day, pastor of Emmanuel Church, Laurel, Md., reminded messengers and guests that “the battle is not ours, but God’s” based on 2 Chronicles 20:1-13.
Noting that America is no longer a Christian nation, he urged everyone to go and tell the story, even in the face of rejection.
“Success in terms of numbers and money is not guaranteed, but we still gotta go,” he said, noting that even King Jehoshaphat, one of only eight good kings in the Old Testament’s Southern Kingdom, faced ongoing battles.
Even Jehoshaphat’s family, his Amonite and Moabite cousins, tried to quench the vision, much like the armies who come against Christians today (namely, the world, the flesh and the devil, said Day). Christians need to keep moving forward.
Noting that the strategy of the devil is to divide Christians, Day outlined how Jehoshaphat handled the battle.
First, Jehoshaphat turned his attention to seek the Lord, instead of “looking at what we can do.”
Like Jehoshaphat, “we need to discover what God needs us to do rather than do what we think we should do,” Day said.
Second, he prayed.
“I don’t know how it works, but I just know that I prayed and God answered,” Day shared. Pointing to Jehoshaphat’s specific prayer, reminiscent of King Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the temple, Day challenged, “What in your life is too big?”
He added, “I believe God will keep the BCM/D maybe another 175 years, if He doesn’t come back before then.”
Finally, Jehoshaphat listened to God’s answer.
Noting that the king led worship and in so doing, subdued his enemies, Day urged, “Start praising God before you get the victory.”
Andy Ehlers, pastor and founder of High Tide Church in Dagsboro, Del., brought the annual sermon. An avid cycler, Ehlers shared lessons he learned from biking 100 miles during a cycling event sponsored by Salisbury University.
“The way you do long distance, you don’t think about the end,” he said, noting instead one thinks about the next light, the next block, the next stage in the journey. “You lean into the wind so it doesn’t knock you over.”
He compared his cycling experience to the disciples’ experience in Mark 6, when Jesus instructed the men to get into the boat. Noting that there were days in his early ministry that he just wanted to give up, Ehlers shared that it was helpful to remember that Jesus placed him there in the first place.
Like the disciples, Jesus also led Ehlers in and through the storm. “In ministry, it gets personal sometimes,” Ehlers said, noting that even in obedience, one faces difficulties. “How many times have you gotten up to preach, and it hurts?”
“We’re not doing this for us,” he reminded. “Members that once loved you will betray you… We have to show the love of Jesus and win them back into the fold.”
Ehlers also shared the importance of having partners during the difficult times. He explained the technique of drafting in cycling, in which partners take turns taking lead and allowing the other to benefit from the airflow while following close behind.
“Ministers, if you will stay with Jesus, He will help you.”
Al B. Sutton, Jr.
In the final sermon of this meeting, Al B. Sutton, Jr., pastor of Living Stones Temple Church in Birmingham, Ala., shared from Mark 3:13-20 how Jesus called the twelve disciples, entrusting the future of the church into the hands of converted company, learners, crucial communication and capable cast.
In the first phase of the call to discipleship, Sutton stressed the importance of giving leadership to only those who “have made Jesus their Christ.” This is entry-level staff, he said.
In the second phase of the call to discipleship (“catching them and keeping them”), Sutton pointed to the fisherman’s great catch that followed Jesus’ instruction to put the net on the other side. When the disciples “launched out in the deep,” they caught two boatloads of fish. “We should always be preparing,” he said.
In the third phase, Sutton noted that Jesus designated these persons as apostles (“those who could stand on Jesus’ behalf”). Noting many who originally followed Jesus eventually turned away from Him, Sutton said, “Jesus wasn’t crowd happy…He’s entrusting responsibility with people who will stick it out through the ups and downs.”
He added, “Keep the real crowd. Preach the real Gospel.”
In the last phase, Sutton noted that Christians call do all things through Christ, including casting out of demons. But “we don’t hardly cast out demons, we compartmentalize them,” he said.
He urged instead that Christians use, as E.K. Bailey puts it, “our availability to God’s ability” to help others heal and be set free.