Month: November 2002

Save Your Superlatives, You’ll Surely Need Them

In the name of peace, can we banish the word “extreme” from our vocabulary? It implies that something has gone all the way to the stops. Few things have. When?that word?is used to describe kids on skates or bicycles, television programs, pizza, fleece wear, auto dealerships, and even more mundane things, it’s time to stop the madness.

I’ve always been impressed by the other end of the spectrum, the legendary British gift for understatement. When you read C.S. Lewis (and you should), and he calls something “rubbish,” it’s jarring. We should admire the way that he holds something back so that this mild epithet packs more power than profanity or the more acceptable series of the word “very” in front of “bad.” A communicator earns that power with ten thousand words of well-written temperance.

It’s not just the language, though. Emotionally, we are expected to feel that any bad day is “the worst,” any moderately determined person is a “hero,” anything we like is “awesome,” and any disappointment is “grievous.” What’s left when we exhaust our emotions and vocabulary so early in the game? If a talented athlete is a hero because he can run fast, what do we say when some lesser mortal dies while rescuing a stranger? If a terse word from a neighbor grieves us, what will we do when a loved one dies? How do we communicate that? More importantly, what emotional response is left for the worst and best things in life? Maybe despair or indifference.

Our lack of measure is often evident in our worship. Note how many of our songs, testimonies, even sermons focus on how we feel rather than on what we know. Many of these assume that we are as pressed and persecuted as the Roman Christians hiding in the catacombs. When I hear a worship leader say, “Many of us are hurting today,” I don’t wonder if it’s true but I do wonder if it should be true. We are too easily and too often hurt by things that don’t matter much.

This same lack of perspective is seen in the way people get along with each other. Should a harsh word (or one we think is harsh) occasion a church fight or split? Surely it shouldn’t but it does. Should a rude sales clerk, customer, or driver ruin our day, or even a few minutes of it? Surely it shouldn’t but it does. So long as feelings rule our minds as well as our hearts, we will be passionate about the everyday things and a bit confused by the extraordinary.

In our family we sometimes remind each other that things can always be worse than they are. It’s a light-hearted way to apply a broader perspective to whatever makes us whine. In a week when school, work, church, family, and friends converge to make an overly busy schedule, we remind ourselves that life would be more unpleasant without any one of these things in our lives. It’s still a tough week but we face it with a little more gratitude when we compare our situation with an easily imaginable, undesirable one.

Actually, we can almost always imagine a situation worse than ours. The difference between reality and this imagining is a blessing. Even the case of Job, possibly the most afflicted man alive, left him with one resource. Job’s relationship with God was his only strength and hope. The fact that God did not desert him when all other things and people did was the blessing that put all the other losses in perspective. He knew something far important than what he felt.

On the other side, we can always imagine a thing or experience to be more perfect than it is. Some say this ability is our longing for Heaven and ultimate perfection. It’s a nice thought and true I think. We also know our imaginations are not adequate for the glories of Heaven. This is an exciting thought in itself. Even desiring perfection moves us to creativity and reformation. Every reminder of sin and corruption suggests a reality without the taint of the Fall. A hint of love and beauty, on the other hand makes us hope for life unlimited by sin’s ugliness. Even a failed effort to attain it throws us at the feet of the Creator who will one day re-create everything.

That’s why I say that we should reserve our strongest language and emotions for ultimate things. The small bit of heavenly perspective we gain should tell us that we have not seen the best, the worst, or the most until we have seen the end. Things can get worse in this life but only for a time. For the redeemed things will certainly get better.

As gently as I can, to you and to me, I say reserve your extremes until you need them. Life, for most of us, gets harder with each year. Thankfully, maturity also brings new resources to bear on multiplied challenges. Your most difficult times are probably yet to come, though. Closely following those days will be the time to drag out the highest praise-unmeasured expressions of height, depth, wonder, and best. The youngest believer among us can see it from here if he’ll look at the hope that we know to be true. Let feelings follow that hope. On their own, our feelings can’t discern good from best. I’m pretty sure they’ll know it when they see it, though.

Convention Sets the Course for 2003

Proverbs 30:7-9 records a prayer to God. The request is simple; remove falsehood and lies from me and provide the exact amount to supply my material need. The wise writer was saying, “If I have too much, I may deny the Lord. If I do not have enough, I may steal and then profane the name of the Lord.” Jesus modeled this concept when He said, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

God has blessed the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. In four short years the number of churches has grown from 120 to 1200. Financially, the growth has been equally phenomenal. From a budget of $900,000 in 1999 to projected Cooperative Program receipts of $13 million this year, the churches have expressed their confidence in the vision and ministry of the SBTC.

While the SBTC sends on to the SBC more than it retains in Texas, the in-state funds are spent according to the approved budget. Missions and evangelism remain the priority of the funding allocation. In the 2003 proposed budget the largest line item remains new church plants. Missions and evangelism grows to 37 percent. Even with the emphasis, new church starts depend on the state missions offering as well.

Varied ministry services for churches require a significant financial outlay. Vacation bible school training, a Church Growth and Leadership Conference, bible drills, women’s retreats, associational partnerships and a myriad of other items too numerous to list are ministries of the SBTC. One of the most rewarding major expenditures is contributing to the church staff retirement through the Annuity Board of the SBC.

Next year two new areas of ministry will be started. Missions Services will assist in disaster response, church builders, chaplaincy and many other volunteer efforts. Human Care and Family Ministry is the second challenge as the SBTC seeks to assist churches in this vital work.

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has purposely set a course to avoid being institution dominated. The Business and Financial Plan calls for a cap of 15% for institutional expenditures. The SBTC does recognize the importance of institutions. The Criswell College is supported through the in-state Cooperative Program. There may be others in the future, but they will fit within the core values of the SBTC.

I could go on about the mission and ministry of the SBTC. I hope you get the picture. We are doing state convention differently from others. Although the SBTC is the only state convention that gives away more than it retains, it does not mean that Texas is without pressing needs. We are seeking to do more with less.

Currently, the SBTC has a small amount of funds set aside for the construction of a permanent facility. The messengers made this decision at the 2001 annual meeting. It will enable us to maximize the dollars for our Lord’s work, while reducing overhead. The SBTC constitution has a “no debt” clause. We are committed to building the structure without taking out a loan. The SBTC has no endowment fund, no massive reserves and no plan to plunge into debt. We will do God’s work with the provisions He gives us.

Last year another state convention cut funding to the SBC, placing in danger some of our cooperative efforts. The SBTC gave over $1 million dollars to SBC ministries out of in-state surplus to make up the difference. You have our pledge that when the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has “extra” money, it will be used according to the wishes of the churches constituting our fellowship. Our prayer is that God will continue to supply the needs through the Cooperative Program. I don’t think we will ever have so much that we can’t spend it all; Kingdom needs here and around the world will always be adequate to utilize all that God entrusts to us.