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September 16, 2012                                                                             Ephesians 2:13-18;    6:10-20

Not Without Each Other

Shelby Baptist Association Annual Meeting, Cropper Baptist Church, Shelby County, KY                         

 

My good friend, Dr. A. Russell Awkard, pastors the New Zion Baptist Church in West Louisville.  During our friendship of nearly 25 years I have heard him say a number of times, “We will not get there without each other.”  In context, he means that white Christians and black Christians will not reach heaven, unless with the aid and cooperation of the other.  He is correct…absolutely correct.

However, Dr. Awkard’s conviction applies not only to racial expressions, or to Baptists, but to any number of other functions as well: pastors and laypersons; big congregations and little congregations; well-to-do and not-so-well-to-do,….. on and on.

The painful truth, however, parades itself across our heavenly pathway far too often.  Criticisms spawn counter-criticisms; fears give birth to hurts and accusations.  Suddenly the Christian community finds itself stuck to the flypaper of heart-breaking conflict.  We stain our witness with the blood of our brothers and sisters.  The Lord suffers the embarrassment of followers who do not live out what they say.

To a fractured early Church Paul wrote these reassuring reminders:

Ephesians 2: 13 But now in Christ Jesus you Gentiles who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groupsJewish and Gentile Christiansone, and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 He set aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.  His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  17He came and preached peace to you Gentiles and peace to the Jews. 18 For through Christ we both—Jews and Gentileshave access to the Father by one Spirit.

Paul wrote that Gentiles had not felt welcome to come to the God of the Jews.  Thus, they were hurt and angry.  The Jews felt themselves special, refusing to share their God with anyone who was not a Jew. They bragged in their arrogance.  Both groups’ mutual hatred and mistrust had exploded; no openness remained between these racial groups.

But Jesus lived among us for more than thirty years and died on the cross in order to bring peace. Of course, that peace meant that we no longer would be enemies of God, for Jesus had died on the cross to save us from our sin. 

However, having a Gentile Church and a Jewish Church would never be enough, either.  Paul writes in chapter two that part of God’s mystery, God’s plan, God’s salvation included uniting people under the banner of his Son, just as much as it included breaking down the wall of anger and fear and guilt which we all felt toward God. 

Now, nearing the end of his life, Paul watches almost helplessly as the Gentiles of the Church and the Jews of the Church have intensified their original mistrust, struggling against their own spiritual family.  They were rebuilding the wall that Jesus had torn down.  Paul writes, therefore, in chapter 6, that the church’s battle is not against each other, but against spiritual foes:

Ephesians 6:12-13

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [read, Jewish Christ-followers and Gentile Christ-followers], but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Then, as we all know, Paul urges all of the Christ-family to fight the good fight, armored with truthbiblical truth, but truthfulness with others, too.

We must pursue righteousness.  To a biblical Jew, “righteousness” meant rightness with one’s neighbor just as much as it meant rightness with God. 

They were to wear shoes of the gospel.  What gospel?  The Gospel which preached rightness with God AND rightness between people.  Both are why Jesus died, Paul wrote.

One of the names for our ancient enemy is “The Accuser.”  Thus, we desperately need the shield of faith when he accuses us, and especially when he tells his lies of accusation to us about each other. 

17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, Paul said.   Our salvation must protect how we think, about our God, about our roles in Christian service, but just as much as anything, about each other.  Let us think clearly.  The Scriptures must be our point of reference for how we should think about others.

Now the payoff: Pray.  The aging Apostle wrote, 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Pray in the Spirit….as the Spirit guides us to make every kind of prayer and request.  Stay awake!  Our responsibilities, our entertainment, our laziness, our selfishness—all of these concerns lull us to sleep.  No, stay awake!  Why? So that we will keep on praying for ALL of the Lord’s people. 

Who are these “ALL the Lord’s people”? Obviously, our families, our most trusted pastors. Our finest church members.  But this instruction also includes those who belong to Christ whom we don’t trust, those we don’t want to work with, those who have maliciously hurt us.  “Pray,” Paul urged, “PRAY for ALL of the Lord’s people.”

And then, in humility and vulnerability, Paul pleaded, “19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

What Gospel does Paul long to preach? The Jesus gospel.  The good news that Jesus died to tear down walls between us and his Father, but also, just as much, he died to tear down the walls between us and others. 

Many of us seem so easily threatened. Therefore, we fight each other.  So it was with Native Americans who fought white settlers when they first arrived in Jamestown, VA.  But during those bitter, terrible early winters, these Powhatan Indians were touched by the plight and the pain of their enemies. These tribesmen saved the Jamestown colonists from starvation.

The same kind of awareness and compassion touched the Wampanoag confederacy who graciously enabled the survival of the Pilgrims who had landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. 

So we ought to bless those whom we do not trust, who have moved in and taken over our territory.  PRAY for them, Paul urged.

Do you remember Peter’s question to Jesus?  “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother? Seven times?”  We might ask the same question about our enemies in church:  How long do I have to keep putting up with this?  How long must I forgive him?  How long must I be patient with her?

Ignace Jan Paderewski, the famous Polish composer-pianist, had scheduled to perform for a high-society extravaganza in one of America’s great cities.  Awaiting his performance, a mother sat with her fidgety nine-year-old son in the sprawling auditorium.  Weary of waiting, the boy slipped silently away from his mother, strangely drawn to the elegant Steinway piano on the stage.

Unnoticed by the audience, the little boy sat down and began playing "Chopsticks." Instantly startled by the crude sounds, hundreds of voices cried out to get the boy away from that beautiful, delicate instrument, that piano fit only for a master.

Hearing the uproar, Paderewski grabbed his coat and rushed over behind the boy. Reaching around him, the master began to improvise a counter-melody to "Chopsticks." As the two of them played together, Paderewski kept whispering in the boy's ear, "Keep going. Don't quit, son...don't stop...don't stop." 

Paul told us that the gospel, the good news which he longed to proclaim in power, was a gospel of the broken wall…..no longer are we separated from our Father, but just as much, so that we will no longer be separated from each other. 

I know we weary of forgiving and praying for others.  But listen carefully.   “Seventy times seven,” we hear.  Listen carefully:  “Keep going.  Don’t quit, son…don’t stop…don’t stop.” 

Otherwise, we are not going to get there without each other.

May the Lord bless you and keep you in this new church year, and for all of your days!   Amen.


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Great Words and Our culture

August, 2012

I noted that the new fall, 2012, television programming includes another “post-apocalyptic, after-the-disastrous-end” show on a major network.   I recently watched all of the “Jericho” series from several years ago.  Of course, I know that many readers of this article did not watch that show to begin with, or it would have lasted longer than roughly two dozen episodes.  Nonetheless, I am reminded of several thoughts by such “disaster” shows and movies.

First, even if we as Christ-followers do not think in such “dark” terms, the culture around us does.  We need to understand that fact.  They need hope.  We alone, as God’s people, possess “hope that is steadfast and sure.”  If we don’t start at the point of their hopelessness, we are speaking a language entirely foreign to the people of our surrounding culture.  They will not hear us—or our message of hope.

Second, many individuals truly have little hope.  Can we be indifferent to a severely-wounded economy, unemployed people, and banks foreclosing on homes?  Believe me, it’s out there.  I cannot express how sick at heart I felt about the news we received earlier this year. Although our next-door neighbor works sixty hours each week as a Panera Bread manager; although her husband is employed as a full-time registered nurse, the bank is foreclosing on their home.  It’s not like they had invested in a house too expensive for their income level.  Financial greed has won again.  How can Christians be indifferent?

Third, the culture around us swims in a cesspool of anger.  With all of the problems I have already mentioned, let’s couple irresponsible politicians on both sides of the aisle, non-stop wars since the early 1960’s, and unscrupulous business moguls.   Given television’s constant barrage of killings on every channel, every night, no wonder people anesthetize themselves with drugs, and express their rage with guns in our streets!

So where do we Christians stand?  We echo Hollywood: if we build it (or upgrade it, or replace it, or repaint it), they will come.  I doubt it.  Or we continue to argue centuries-old theological concerns that divert our attention from honoring the “Great Words” of Jesus: the Great Commandments to love God and people; the Great Commission to take Him to the world.  Such debates have never honored Him; they cannot; they never will.  Instead of Great Commandment-Great Commission living, we dismiss pastors or ignore unhappy church members.  Such mistakes and sins are not loving or glorifying of Jesus, and frequently they ruin any credibility we might have with people we should be reaching.

How long, dear ones, must we continue to build institutions, buildings, budgets, and egos instead of serving the world for whom Christ died in naked agony? 

Please don’t hear anger in my words. I am writing in hope of waking the sleeping giant whom our Lord commissioned to change the entire globe.  People are hopeless and hurt.  Let’s give them an authentic, believable reason to possess the hope Christ alone gives!

Tony Hough

 

October 19, 2011 - Insurance and Legalities
Commercials are stupid. The fact that amazes me, however, is that we watch them for that very reason: they entertain us, and we pay attention―long enough to hear the advertiser’s pitch. In a recent auto insurance ad, a “telecaster” and a rough-and-tumble professional athlete approach a young driver’s door. When he answers that he drives without insurance, the athlete forces his way into the driver’s home and begins to smash lamps, dishes, furniture and walls. Finally, from the athlete’s headlock, the young driver pleads to call the company to purchase insurance so he does not get pounded again―for having no insurance. The first time or two I laughed at this commercial because it seemed funny.
Churches not covered by insurance run a real risk, too, but there’s not a thing funny about it. Think on these matters:
Vandals and thieves pirate thousands of dollars in electronic equipment (It happens! Just ask Salem or Highland or Plum Creek Baptist Churches!). Unless the thieves are caught and unless they have money for making restitution, the church foots the bill.
A visitor slips on the church’s icy steps and suffers serious injury. Without insurance, the trustees of the church find themselves in the crosshairs of a huge lawsuit. Without insurance, the church pays its own legal fees. Win or lose, without insurance, the church still has to pay its legal fees.
And what if mom and dad drop off their child for an overnight, a lock-in, or children’s Christmas choir? Then the news breaks that one or more children suffered unspeakable sexual abuse. Angry parents, even church members, fueled by attorneys’ greed,  may pursue legal recourse for the church’s stupidity ―sorry, but that is what it is: stupidity―in having no insurance coverage for sexual abuse and similar litigation. 
Equally unwise is the congregation which does not screen its ministry professionals and ministry volunteers. In the words of one insurance company, “A significant number of cases involving employees or volunteers of [our company’s] policyholders would not have occurred if known offenders had been screened out during the employment search.” 
Various resources to help with these problems―before they ever become problems―may be found close at hand. Check with our associational office or state convention for the names of reputable providers of property-casualty or liability insurance. Every major insurance corporation probably sells some kind of coverage, but companies which focus their products on churches and non-profit organizations seems more likely to know exactly the vulnerabilities and needs of congregations, instead of selling “one-size-fits-all” policies designed for merely any kind of organization. 
Second, although various sources are available―community, county, and Commonwealth police among them―organizations whose business is to research public records for known child abusers would seem more likely to go the extra mile to dig out such information. Two organizations come to mind. LifeWay Christian Resources now endorses www.Backgroundchecks.com. For a relatively small fee, they can research the background of every potential volunteer or ministry professional. 
Third, the Kentucky Baptist Convention recently has developed www.kybaptist.org/safechurchto aid congregations in stopping heartaches before they start. Going to this link will provide a number of “other resources, links, manuals and other resources online at the Kentucky Baptist Convention Web site.”
Finally, Robert Perkins, a member of Emmanuel Baptist Church, and a former police and security services manager, presented information for our churches about two years ago. Perhaps Bob would be willing to share information with your church. Bob possesses the information that you and your church might need―even if you do not yet know that you need it.
Call our associational office today to begin or enhance your efforts to defend your church against people who might hurt your kids, people looking to get rich quick through litigation, or bandits who want to make a quick meal of your church’s possessions.  Let us give our ancient enemy no ready access to distract us from a sense of wellness, and from pursuing of our Master’s Commission to take the Good News to every corner of the Globe.

 


April 13, 2011:  "Whose Parachute....?"

 

Charles Lowery wrote in the April/May SBC Life about Charles Plumb, a Vietnam-era pilot shot down and held captive in North Vietnam for six years.   Some time after his liberation, as Plumb and his wife sat in a restaurant, a man approached them and called Plumb by name, even identifying that fateful day he was shot down.   When Plumb asked with amazement how the man knew those details, the former sailor said with excitement, “I packed your parachute.” 

Lowery described how Plumb, who today lectures on lessons he learned during captivity, reflected on how that sailor had held pilots’ lives in his hands.  According to Lowery, “When Plumb lectures he asks his audience, ‘Who is packing your chute?’ ”

Lowery devoted the remainder of his article to how frequently “successful” people pay no attention to those who enable their successes.  All too often, that which concerns arrogant leaders is getting what they want so that they can succeed at what they do.  It’s a classic case of stepping on people who help others climb the ladder.

Let's take this “lesson in Jesus-thinking” another step: whose chute are we packing?  John 13 relates how Jesus acted out his teaching on servanthood using the simplest props: a towel and a basin of water.  What a profoundly rich story this chapter has become to me.  It has taught me several lessons.

1.       Too busy  and stressed:  I miss the point if I reason that I am too busy or too stressed to “pack another person’s parachute.”  Anyone familiar with the Gospel accounts of this night knows that Jesus had every right to excuse himself since he might have been “too busy” or “too stressed out” to act as the servant that he was.

2.       Undeserving:  I miss the point if I reason that this person or that really doesn’t deserve having his “parachute packed.”   The unfolding story of that night clearly portrays Jesus’ knowledge of Judas’ plans for betrayal.  Nonetheless, Jesus washed his feet, too.

3.       That’s the last thing:  We miss the point when the last thing that we want is to serve people.  Take that either of two ways: first, we don’t want responsibility to be servants.  We often would rather identify our desires, demand to be served, and ignore others’ needs. 

to   On the other hand, serving people lay among the very last things that Jesus wanted to do, too, but not the way we do.  That’s why he served the disciples. He saved his most important lessons and reminders for the very last: need for unity (Jn. 17), reassurance and peace (Jn. 14), the Spirit’s presence (Jn. 14,16), the urgency to remain in relationship with him (Jn. 15), and servanthood (Jn. 13).  While serving is the last thing we want to do, Jesus served us in his final hours because he knew the necessity of packing others’ parachutes.

As we prepare for palms and praise; curses and crosses; and revelation of resurrection, I hope we will all remember that Jesus the Lord has the last word: servanthood.  Whose parachutes are you and I packing?

 


March 17, 2011:  "One-Note Bob"

 
Years ago the wife of my mentor laughed playfully at her husband as "One-note Bob."  By contrast, Beverley (not her real name!) sang like a bird.  "Bob" (whom she adored, and whose voice really was not bad, actually) just sang with an average voice.  He harmonized adequately.  He played and sang adequately, but by comparison to Bev, he was merely "One-note Bob."  We agreed that what adorns symphonies with glory is how all the instruments "harmonize" ("sym-phony" = "sound with" one another). We knew that rich music rises from lovely voices harmonizing in gorgeous melody.  In a world demanding harmony, “One-note Bob” never can suffice.
 
The same can be said of our methods for winning unbelievers: I cannot evangelize---not the way that you can; you cannot evangelize as I do.  But when each one of us utters the good news through word, deed, prayer, and song, we can win the world.  We evangelize best by working together---by…. harmonizing. 
 
The glory of the Church bursts forth when people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation comprise it; when we work together; and when we harmonize in Christ.  Isn't this an outworking of how Paul described building up the Church when it is maximized by spiritual gifts?
 
     It was [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13, NIV).
 
My dear friend, A. Russell Awkard, pastors in Louisville's West End.  Long ago I learned one of the crucial planks of his theological platform: "We can't get there without each other."  Dr. Awkard knows the indispensability of variety in the Body of Christ.  
 
Likewise, we must avoid"one-note Bob" approaches to missions. Instead, we must "symphonize" our methods.  For well over a decade, our International Mission Board has insisted that all appointees must plant churches.  I perceive that this methodology is the only acceptable methodology.  But even if I misperceive and overstate this position, I am not mistaken that church planting is the "norm," the primary method for IMB missioning around the world.  I know this because phenomenal, effective missionaries---dear personal friends---have felt unwelcomed by the IMB to continue serving if they have disagreed with this philosophy.  Thus, some have retired.  Some have returned to the US to minister in other ways.  Some have remained in places of overseas ministry, but without IMB's support and acknowledgement that methods other than church planting have effected change in Christ's name.
 
In the past, our missionaries joined gifts, voices, and callings to create a "missions-symphony."  The symphony sparkled.  But with the passing of the years, and with the passing of the leadership baton to a new generation, we no longer sing the "old, old story" with symphonic harmony and clarity.  These days, we merely sing the "Greatest Story" like "One-Note Bob": we sing it, and perhaps it's adequate, but there's nothing especially harmonic, remarkably glorious, or particularly dazzling about it.  I miss the harmony and how that harmony once built the body.  But I suppose it's a new day, and I suppose today's leaders know more about missions than their predecessors.

 

 


March 15, 2011:  Bringing Change to Our Continent through North American Missions...and beyond

 
How frequently I hear someone exclaim how corrupt and immoral our culture has become.  I agree. It is.  However, I often find that these same people who moan about corruption, sit with folded hands, lifting neither a finger nor a prayer to make our culture better. This month of March reminds us of our opportunity to improve the situation.  March is the month for the annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions.  In addition, during this time of year, most of us also collect money for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering (AAEO) for North American Missions.
 
Please open one or both of the following web addresses for more information on the week of prayer and the AAEO.
 
                                http://kywmu.org/Annie                            http://www.namb.net
 
For the moment, however, please be reminded that, as I have said elsewhere, the battles that we fight―whether for the souls of human beings, or for the soul of a nation and a culture―result from how effectively we pull down strongholds through our prayer, our prophetic words, and our performance of the Father’s will.   Each of these “weapons” is spiritual; each is urgent.
 
As we collect money for the AAEO this season; as we pray for North American Missions; and as we encourage our missionaries and missions administrators, let us remember that the love of Christ compels us to pray, but also to speak to one another and to our culture in love, and to put hands and feet to our prayers and prophecy. What is your part to make a difference---to lift fingers and prayers?
 
May the Lord bless our thousands of continental missionaries as they serve in obedience in starting churches, but also as they feed the hungry, and stand against injustice when darkness resists and fights back. Let each of us all do his or her part to change our continent in Jesus’ name---using every weapon at our disposal.

 

 

March 7, 2011:  Praying Against Jericho
 

In the past few days many  of us received a letter from Lee Bean, my dear friend, who serves as Executive Director of the Open Door of Hope homeless men's shelter.  Lee updated our awareness of the ministry’s progress.  
 
They have settled into their new facilities at 211 8th Street.  Although the shelter presently utilizes only the basement area, Open Door is planning for the rehabilitation of the main floor: new heating and air conditioning, followed by energy-efficient windows, and then new flooring.
 
Prior to purchase, the property had suffered fire damage which necessitated these repairs before it can be used fully.   These upgrades are intended to prepare for a drug and alcohol treatment facility on the main floor.  While some men see themselves in need only of a place to stay the night, others have come to terms with addictive behaviors which drove them to their homelessness.  The planned program will not only deal with the “symptoms” of their addiction; it will help them abandon this highly-destructive cycle of abuse and suffering. 
 
While volunteers always help, of course, placing the organization on a firm financial footing probably is more pressing at the present time.  Lee is most correct in writing, “It is a blessing that this ministry has grown in such a short period of time, but along with that growth is the need for a consistent base of donors who will support us.” 
 
Please pray for Lee and his family, the governing board of Open Door of Hope, and the clients whom they serve—and will serve.   Open Door of Hope is not merely a way to treat wounded men.  It is a spiritual ministry which seeks to pull down strongholds that enslave these men.  Money is necessary; helpful volunteers are indispensible.  The greatest need, however, is your prayer.  Because the problems which Open Door treats are at heart spiritual, our weapons must be spiritual.  Let us go forward arm in arm, on our knees--praying, serving, and pulling down Jericho's walls.
 
TH
 

 

March 1, 2011

 
This morning's mail brought me the spring, 2011, copy of On Mission [North American Mission Board] magazine.  Arriving on the heels my sermon last Sunday--- Missions in the Land of Milk and Honey---the magazine caught my attention with its focus on the Week of Prayer for North American missions.  NAMB's Week of Prayer begins next Sunday, March 6, and extends through the following Sunday, March 13.  Patty and I served in home missions in different situations over much of my professional career.  I have become convinced that "home" missions is every bit as difficult as "international" missions.  North America devours our churches, our missionaries, and our laypersons who relocate to "non-Southern Baptist" areas.   Years ago I told stories to that effect in a World Missions Conference (today's On-Mission Celebration).  A layperson met me as I left that evening.  He said to me, "I have prayed for years for foreign missionaries because of how difficult their work is, but it never occurred to me to pray for home missionaries.  Now I will pray for home missionaries, too." 
 
Please pray for our missionaries, our ministries, our new-work area churches, and the North American Mission Board staff.  Pray especially for Dr. Kevin Ezell, the newly-elected President of NAMB, that he will open himself to God's leadership, and to methods with which he may not be familiar.  Thank you for all that you do to give, pray, teach, and go on missions to our continent.   May the Lord bless and prosper your every effort.           
                                                                                      
TH
 
 

February 14, 2011

 
1.       February 14-20 was Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) Focus Week.   Please call your church WMU director, age group workers, and our associational WMU officers to say “thank you” for a job well done.  If you need help with contact information for these friends, please call our office (633-1198) or see the panel of information to the left of this column.
 
2.       WMU Focus Event, Being Creative for Christ, will take place on Saturday, February 26, 9:15 a.m., at Waddy Baptist Church. Many children in our community have too little to eat all the time, but especially on weekends, when school meal programs do not operate.  WMU collects food items to put in backpacks for kids to take home from school on weekends.   Please bring food items to the Focus Event.   Even if you cannot attend, please contribute generously.
 
3.       To the left of this blog, please see several pictures of Nickolai Syrovatko and his congregations around St. Petersburg, Russia. In the 1990’s, our moderator, Dr. Noble Roberts, journeyed to St. Petersburg to teach students as part of the KBC-Russia Partnership.   During his trips he befriended Nickolai, a brilliant young man who, because of his Christ-faith, had abandoned his lucrative, influential roles with Russia’s Communist Party.
  
Several years later, Noble and his wife, Frances, arranged for Nickolai to study at Campbellsville University for several months. Noble and others recently discussed helping Nickolai return here to speak of his ministry, renew friendships, and rebuild a prayer network and perhaps, financial support as well. He will arrive on March 19 and stay here for about two weeks. He will visit Taylor County Association and Campbellsville University for the remainder of his trip.
 
Nickolai will speak to the people of First Baptist and Highland Baptist Churches, but will have other opportunities to address churches, community groups, missions organizations, and individuals. Please let Noble Roberts (633-2070) know of your interest in having Nickolai speak. Noble will help you schedule Nickolai to speak to your group. 
 
Thank you, ladies of WMU, for the many things that you do to underwrite missions and ministries!
 
TH
 

February 9, 2011

 

I am a child of church missions education and promotion, especially through Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU).   I remember the Mission Friends of my childhood, then called "Sunbeams." Our song rang out, “A Sunbeam, a Sunbeam.  Jesus wants me for a Sunbeam….I’ll be a Sunbeam for him!” And I was. I still occasionally sort through “memory-snapshots” of those experiences.
 
  
I remember learning the Great Commission in children’s missions.  I recall that my mother attended “mission circle,” although I did not really understand what that term meant. I wonder in this very moment whether Mama and her sisters-in-faith prayed for me to become a missionary. Hmmmmm.
  
However, my greatest awareness of WMU arose when I actually entered missions, first as a summer missionary, and then, as a “US-2” (now “US/C-2”) missionary.   WMU’s help was significant and lasting. I received prayer notes on my birthdays. Occasionally missions groups sent me other reminders of prayers for me and my ministry. I was privileged to tell my story of missionary service to more than a few groups, and often even received thoughtful gifts in return, too.   
 
Sometimes I received little tokens of affection. One lovely woman felt compassion on me for my (probably) embarrassing Sunday best and purchased a new sport coat for me. She told me through invisible tears that her brother had died much too early, and that she wanted to help me like she would have helped him financially as a missionary.   
 
Over the years I have been touched repeatedly by other tokens of affection: tiny cards covered in smeared pencil-lead scrawl reminding me that precious Baptist Women have helped children become aware of missions and missionaries.   Long after we had children of our own, I have occasionally still received such fragments of devotion and obedience. Throughout the years, WMU groups have provided training for Patty and me, so that we could be equipped to rightly interpret the word and to proclaim the Word.  
 
This month we focus on Woman’s Missionary Union. WMU has done lots of good for me and my ministry over the years. I am grateful!  Ladies, I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate you and the contributions you and ladies like you have made to my life.   You are important to me!  
 
  TH