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Reach the world by starting in Jerusalem and Judea

 

Georgia Baptist Convention president and pastor of First Baptist Church Thomasville Dan Spencer presided over the annual session of the Convention meeting with the dignity and spiritual perception one would have anticipated. I told him after the last session of the annual meeting, “Dan, the atmosphere of this Convention took on the tenor of your personality of graciousness and spiritual commitment.”

The GBC president had invited his father, Jerry Spencer, to preach for the Sunday night rally at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany but the senior Spencer opted out of the preaching opportunity to care for his wife and Dan’s mother, Sue, who is battling cancer. The burden of his mother’s illness surely weighed heavily on the affable president throughout the convention and many messengers seemed to empathetically and prayerfully share his burden. This fact alone seemed to add an otherworldly dimension to the annual session.

But there was even more to it than that. One of the choices the president made early in the pre-convention planning process was to have bivocational pastors present the theme interpretation at the beginning of each session. That decision served to set the tone for the entire meeting.

Tony Fripp, pastor of Desoto Baptist Church; Jeff Duvall, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Cartersville; Robert Crapps, pastor of Capel Baptist Church in Cairo; and B. L. Horne, pastor of South Thompson Baptist Church in Vidalia, were the bivocational pastors who blessed us with their personal and powerful theme interpretations.

These bivocational pastors addressed the Convention theme “Compelled” with an authenticity and a passion that truly heightened our appreciation for their vital role in Georgia Baptist life and contributed appreciably to the spirituality of our meeting.

These bivocational pastors were men without guile. They had no personal agendas or vain ambitions. They were men without foolish pride or fabricated pretense.

The imprudent idea that the quality of bivocational pastors is lower than the average full-time pastor was surely dispelled as a myth at this convention. Such erroneous thinking is simplistic and neglects the fact that many of these pastors are “bivocational” only by choice or necessity. Additionally, we should not forget that the Apostle Paul was a tent-maker.

Vance Havner said, “Do not depreciate the pastor of the small church. We will not know who the really big preachers are until we get to heaven.”

The Albany convention also highlighted the urgency of reaching our Judea (Georgia) for Christ. The South is rising again, this time as a population magnet for immigrants who come for the same reasons that pull Americans here from other states: warm climate, the hope of finding jobs and cheaper housing.

Georgia is destined to experience exponential growth in the next decade and beyond. In fact, the projections indicate that Georgia will be the home to more than 13 million people in just ten years and that in the next decade more than 9 million people in our state will be lost and without Christ unless we become more diligent to reach our state for the Savior.

In his presidential address, Dan Spencer preached a message on Acts 17, stating that the idolatry the Apostle Paul saw in Athens “stirred his spirit or provoked him.” He then stated, “I wonder if the lostness around us in our state really affects us like that.”

Spencer continued, “When we hear the figure ‘7.1 million’ representing the number of lost people in the state of Georgia right now I wonder if it really affects us. Then we hear that by 2020 the number of lost and unchurched Georgians will rise to 9.2 million. It’s more than our total population right now. That ought to provoke our spirits.

“Back home in my association when we see that 80 percent of the people in Thomas County are unchurched and for all we know, lost and without Christ – thousands of precious souls who do not know the Lord Jesus – it ought to affect us; and when we see in my home association that about 4,000 middle and high school students are lost and without Christ it ought to affect us.

“When we see people in our communities and here in our state chasing after things that cannot save them, bowing down at the idols of materialism, pleasure and escape and a thousand other things that ought to provoke our spirit as it did Paul’s (spirit).”

J. Oswald Smith once said, “The light that shines farthest shines brightest nearest home.” I believe that is true. I hope and pray that Georgia Baptists will be able to impact the whole world for the cause of Christ, but we will never be able to do that if we neglect to evangelize our Judea.

Dr. J. Robert White, the GBC executive eirector, highlighted our state convention’s youth encampment ministries during his state missions’ emphasis. Young men and women whose lives were changed, challenged and called to ministry in these camps provided stirring testimonies advocating the value of GBC’s camping ministry.

My own life was dramatically altered as God spoke to my heart in a state Baptist Royal Ambassador Camp years ago. That is where God called me into the ministry. Through these encampments many of our missionaries and pastors and church vocational ministers are called and nurtured. That alone is one small reason for keeping our Judea viable and strong.

The 189th annual Georgia Baptist Convention meeting concluded on an incredibly high note that Tuesday evening. Everything prior to the final session contributed to the significance of this glorious finale. The Sons of Jubal sang with celestial splendor and the closing song, “The Midnight Cry”, was heartwarming and soul-stirring.

Evangelist Junior Hill brought the closing message from Psalm 37 and thrilled our hearts with the truth of God’s Word as only he can communicate it. His self-deprecating humor, tenderhearted personal illustrations, and poignant and persuasive challenges lifted us Christward and heavenward.

As he walked off the platform I realized that a unique and remarkable man of God had favored us with his presence. Hopefully, we will have Junior Hill around to bless us with his powerful and penetrating messages for years to come, but the men of his stature are disappearing all too quickly.

George W. Truett, R.G. Lee, S.M. Lockridge, E.V. Hill, Manley Beasley, Stephen Olford, Ron Dunn, W.A. Criswell, D. James Kennedy, Adrian Rogers, John Philips and Jerry Falwell graced the 20th century with their uncompromising allegiance to the Word of God and their powerful preaching. While their influence remains strong in this new century, they have entered the haven of rest.

Will the 21st century reveal men of such character and caliber? We can hope so, but Tom Brokaw may be right when he pointed to the generation quickly passing into the sunset as ‘the greatest.”