Sunday, October 28, 2007

Transformation Ministries Continues Wonderful Meetings on Friday

It is always good to gather with sisters and brothers who love the Lord. Creative presentations by Tom Morris and Aaron Porter, testimonies, commercials (Bill's Cornerstone Church Network), amazing music (Annie Moses Band), and Dr. Gibbs great material and extraordinary sensitivity to his congregation in the evening all contributed to a VERY good day at the Transformation Ministries Friday sessions. Even the business meeting was interesting with Dr. Salico's informational presentation. The extensive overhaul of the By-Laws with major revisions (something worthy of a good fight or two in most Baptist bodies) resulted in no controversy and an all but unanimous vote (1 dissenter on a secret ballot). The number of younger pastors and lay people made for a special day for an old guy like me.

As one pastor, a visitor from the other side of the country, wrote as he sat in the airport waiting for the red-eye home,

“Vision: this fellowship of churches has a vision for bringing Christ to the next generation. Energy: there was no sense of same old same old, but real Spirit energizes enthusiasm for mission. Unity: these people, ethnically diverse, had a real sense of love, respect, and genuine caring for the needs of all. None of the chip on shoulder attitude that have been so common in ABC circles.”

Two for two. Not a bad start for Transformation Ministries!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Transformation Ministries Begins on High Spiritual Note

Transformation Ministries began its annual meeting with a strong spiritual note of celebration and challenge. During the afternoon pre-convention session, Rev. Tom Mercer of mega-church High Desert Church, raised the roof with a spirited presentation of the “Best Evangelism Plan You’ve Never Heard Of.” Then, in the plenary session voices from a mosaic of ethnicities (African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Caucasian) prepared for the sermon by Executive Minister Dr. Dale V. Salico.

Salico recounted statistics showing that today’s 16-29-year olds are more skeptical of and resistant to Christianity than were people in the same age group just a decade ago. Only 16% of non-Christians in this demographic have a positive impression of Christianity. And, only 3% hold a favorable view of evangelicals.

What were the common perceptions regarding Christianity? We are, they observed, judgmental, old fashioned, too involved in politics, anti-homosexual, and we no longer look like Jesus. 61% of today’s young adults—attended church during their teen years but, are now spiritually disengaged.

Salico hit on all of the right emotional and spiritual notes as he exposited Judges 2 as a paradigm for Christians today. In the text he found three generations in the history of Israel: The generation of Joshua (Israel’s “builder generation”), the generation of those who were first to grow up in the Promised-Land (“baby boomers”), and the children of Israel’s “baby-boomers,” the lost generation.

Israel’s “builders” (vss. 7-9) were courageous, inconsistent, sincere in their repentance, and willing to remember the great acts of God in their midst. The second generation of baby boomers (vss. 10-18) was complacent, prone to situation ethics, religiously relativistic, and powerless. The third generation was lost because they lacked the parental example of God’s deeds and faithful obedience by God’s people that their parents had seen.

Applying the message to his audience, Dr. Salico exhorted that “any generation of faith is just two generations away from a generation that is completely lost, with no memory of God and His ways.” In a series of practical applications, Salico reminded them that the spiritual battle will always appear daunting and overwhelming. Unless God chooses to “show up” there can be no hope. We are called to cultivate an environment in which faith can be understood and felt by the young, both in words and example. Added to this, and well beyond our own puny abilities lie the powerful call of a loving God and the submission of a willing heart.

The evening concluded with a powerful altar call directed at the pastors and spiritual leaders in the audience. Most of the ministers present could be found in the front of the convention center.
A participant from the other side of the U.S. commented that after a lifetime of Baptist ministry he had never before witnessed anything like this in American Baptist circles. Appearing genuinely moved by the spiritual tone of the meeting, he volunteered that there is something very special about Transformation Ministries.
[Full disclosure: While I write as an independent voice with opinions all my own and not to be confused with Dr. Salico, as of this annual meeting, the TM executive committee includes me as its treasurer.]

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Good Things Coming to Senior Care in Alhambra!

My blogging has been sporadic of late. Part of this relates to my growing distance from activities in the ABCUSA of which Transformation Ministries is no longer a part. But, the larger issue relates to an extraordinary ramp up of energies for the newest project at Atherton Baptist Homes in Alhambra, CA.

The "Courtyard" was approved unanimously by the Alhambra Planning Commission yesterday evening. Now we move into the marketing phase where our staff will attempt to secure 70% presales on the project. All the while we await the final approval from the State of California to proceed.

For 93 years Atherton has served the needs of seniors in Southern California. With four levels of care, ranging from fully residential living to high need skilled nursing services, Atherton was one of the first retirement communities in our area and still one of the best.

We began with a commitment to serve ministers, missionaries, and their surviving spouses. Today we continue that mission with nearly a quarter of our residents coming to us after vocational Christian service. But, since the 60's we have also opened our doors to the lay community.

The amount of work necessary to prepare for such an undertaking as the Courtyard can be herculean. Architectural and engineering work takes months, bond financing can be tricky, and applications to the state of California involve detailed actuarial studies, financial feasibility analyses, sensitivity studies, marketing surveys, focus groups, and more.

So, my blog may suffer, but some of my "friends" may count that as an unintended blessing. If you are 60 years of age or older or know someone who is, give me a call at Atherton (626-289-4178 x468)!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Are You Tired Trying to Drink Water from a Cactus? Puritans Had the True Super-Soaker for Spirituality

Are you weary from trying to squeeze enough water out of the prickly cactus of modern Christian writers to satisfy your spiritual thirst? Lately, and much to my surprise, I have been drinking my fill from the seemingly endless cisterns of Puritan spirituality. After you get beyond the modern prejudices most of us harbor toward these supposedly dull and dour divines, you will discover an amazingly rich conduit for rivers of living water.

Just doing a simple search of the word "excellent" and its cognates in a few dozen Puritan books turned up 8,623 instances of the word, chiefly in reference to the manifold excellencies of God.

In his work, Christ Altogether Lovely, Puritan divine John Flavel (1630-1691) applies the truth that he is lovely in his person, in his offices, and in his relations to the believer. Using Song of Songs 5:16 as his text, Flavel concludes:

1. Is Jesus Christ altogether lovely? Then I beseech you set your souls upon this lovely Jesus. I am sure such an object as has been here represented, would compel love from the coldest breast and hardest heart. Away with those empty nothings, away with this vain deceitful world, which deserves not the thousandth part of the love you give it. Let all stand aside and give way to Christ. O if only you knew his worth and excellency, what he is in himself, what he has done for you, and deserved from you, you would need no arguments of mine to persuade you to love him!

2. Esteem nothing lovely except as it is enjoyed in Christ, or used for the sake of Christ . Love nothing for itself, love nothing separate from Jesus Christ. In two things we all sin in love of created things. We sin in the excess of our affections, loving them above the proper value of mere created things. We also sin in the inordinacy of our affections, that is to say we give our love for created things a priority it should never have.

3. Let us all be humbled for the corruption of our hearts that are so eager in their affections for vanities and trifles and so hard to be persuaded to the love of Christ, who is altogether lovely. O how many pour out streams of love and delight upon the vain and empty created thing; while no arguments can draw forth one drop of love from their stubborn and unbelieving hearts to Jesus Christ! I have read of one Joannes Mollius, who was observed to go often alone, and weep bitterly; and being pressed by a friend to know the cause of his troubles, said "O! it grieves me that I cannot bring this heart of mine to love Jesus Christ more fervently."

4. Represent Christ to the world as he is, by your behaviour towards him . Is he altogether lovely? Let all the world see and know that he is so, by your delights in him and communion with him; zeal for him, and readiness to part with any other lovely thing upon his account. Proclaim his excellencies to the world, as the spouse did in these verses. Persuade them how much your beloved is better than any other beloved. Show his glorious excellencies as you speak of him; hold him forth to others, as he is in himself: altogether lovely. See that you "walk worthy of him unto all well pleasing," Col. 1:10. "Show forth the praises of Christ," 1 Pet. 2:19 . Let not that "worthy name be blasphemed through you," James 2:7 . He is glorious in himself, and he is sure to put glory upon you; take heed that you do not put shame and dishonours upon him; he has committed his honour to you, do not betray that trust.

Never be ashamed to be counted as a Christian : he is altogether lovely; he can never be a shame to you; it will be your great sin to be ashamed of him. Some men glory in their shame; do not let yourself be ashamed of your glory. If you will be ashamed of Christ now, he will be ashamed of you when he shall appear in his own glory, and the glory of all his holy angels. Be ashamed of nothing but sin; and among other sins, be ashamed especially for this sin, that you have no more love for him who is altogether lovely.

6. Be willing to leave every thing that is lovely upon earth , in order that you may be with the altogether lovely Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. Lift up your voices with the bride, Rev. 20:20 "Come Lord Jesus, come quickly." It is true, you must pass through the pangs of death into his intimacy and enjoyment; but surely it is worth suffering much more than that to be with this lovely Jesus. "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and the patient waiting for Jesus Christ," 2 Thes. 3:5.

7. Let the loveliness of Christ draw all men to him . Is loveliness in the creature so attractive? And can the transcendent loveliness of Christ draw none? O the blindness of man! If you see no beauty in Christ that causes you to desire him, it is because the god of this world has blinded your minds.

8. Strive to be Christ-like, if ever you would be lovely in the eyes of God and man . Certainly, my brethren, it is only the Spirit of Christ within you, and the beauty of Christ upon you, which can make you lovely persons. The more you resemble him in holiness, the more will you show of true excellence and loveliness; and the more frequent and spiritual your communication and communion with Christ is, the more of the beauty and loveliness of Christ will be stamped upon your spirits, changing you into the same image, from glory to glory. Amen.

J.I. Packer said it well when he asked the question: "Why do we need the Puritans?"

What could these zealots give us that we need, it is asked. The answer, in one word, is maturity. Maturity is a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity. The Puritans exemplified maturity; we don’t. We are spiritual dwarfs. A much-travelled leader, a native American (be it said), has declared that he finds North American Protestantism, man-centered, manipulative, success-oriented, self-indulgent and sentimental, as it blatantly is, to be 3,000 miles wide and half an inch deep. The Puritans, by contrast, as a body were giants. They were great souls serving a great God. In them clear-headed passion and warm-hearted compassion combined. Visionary and practical, idealistic and realistic too, goal-oriented and methodical, they were great believers, great hopers, great doers, and great sufferers. But their sufferings, both sides of the ocean (in old England from the authorities and in New England from the elements), seasoned and ripened them till they gained a stature that was nothing short of heroic. Ease and luxury, such as our affluence brings us today, do not make for maturity; hardship and struggle however do, and the Puritans’ battles against the spiritual and climatic wildernesses in which God set them produced a virility of character, undaunted and unsinkable, rising above discouragement and fears, for which the true precedents and models are men like Moses, and Nehemiah, and Peter after Pentecost, and the apostle Paul.
Packer, J. I. (1994). A quest for godliness : The Puritan vision of the Christian life. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

In a world of trite, overly commercialized, market-tested trivial pursuits passing for Christian books, Puritans like Flavel are a God-send to the parched and thirsty soul! Drink deeply and often!