SBC theme interpreters outline God's involvement in the harvest
ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)--Southern Baptists have pledged to be partners in a harvest of more than 1 billion souls who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. To complete the task, theme interpreters at this year's SBC annual meeting proposed several necessities for reaching the goal.
"Partners in the Harvest," the theme for both the convention and the 75th anniversary of Southern Baptists' Cooperative Program unified missions financing channel, was the framework for theme interpretations on Baptists' participation with God in the harvest through his Word, his call, his church, his power and his people.
The biblical mandate to be partners in the harvest was highlighted by Mark A. Howell, assistant professor of preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., in the messages spoken during the June 13-14 SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.
Sharing three imperatives for the worldwide harvest found in Romans 1:8-17, Howell, who also is pastor of Louisville's Shively Baptist Church, pointed out that the apostle Paul and the Roman Christians were united in mission, were universally motivated and had a unique message.
"There is no ambiguity about the task to which we are called ... to reach the world for Jesus Christ," he said. "We would do well to remember that we are not called to competition, but to cooperation."
Howell cited the universal need of people for the unique message of hope and salvation that Jesus has given Christians to share.
"They may picket our convention in Orlando. They may criticize us in Chicago. They may persecute us in Ethiopia and Sudan. They may burn our churches in South Carolina and Georgia. They may invade our worship services in Fort Worth, Texas. They may choose to ignore us in Washington, D.C., but ... I stand before you to tell you that we have a message that we never have been, nor are today nor ever will be, ashamed of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ," he concluded.
Keith Eitel, professor of Christian missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., said Christians are called to cross the "threshold of faith," to reach the unreached people groups of the world.
"Two thousand years," Eitel said, "and the worldwide mission harvest to which Christ commissioned us is yet to be accomplished. There is a threshold of faith that we must cross. It is his life, not our life."
Eitel told the story of a Southeastern student named J.D., who is presently serving in a restricted-access country, where witnessing for Christ could mean death. In the young man's memoirs, he had recalled staring at the faces of an angry Muslim mob, wondering whether he would willingly die for the cause of Christ.
"God's chastening was all over me," the young man wrote. "He showed me how much I love my life."
After wrestling with the idea, J.D. concluded that the spread of the gospel was "worth 10,000 lives."
As Eitel led the audience in prayer, he played a recording of a Muslim call to prayer, which daily summons followers of Islam across the world to their knees.
"I pray that God would not allow us to plateau in our promise to extend the worldwide harvest," Eitel said.
Johnny M. Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, in suburban Atlanta, said Jesus has opened the door for evangelization, particularly for his churches who consider themselves as weak.
Using Revelation 3 as his text, Hunt said Jesus commended the Philadelphia church for their faithfulness in responding to missions despite their apparent weakness.
"The Philadelphia church may have been weak, but they were willing to obey what God called them to do," Hunt said.
"God has given us the authority to share the gospel and we have the right to invite men and women and boys and girls into the kingdom of God," said Hunt, encouraging all churches to get involved in missions regardless of their size or their current financial involvement.
"There is no greater influence than a church where members are actively involved in missions," he said.
Bruce M. Schmidt, strategic cities strategy consultant for the North American Mission Board, said Christians need to be freed up, fired up and fortified. Schmidt also is prayer minister at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga.
Using multiple testimonies of how God protected and provided while he served with the International Mission Board in Africa, Schmidt said the bottom line was the victory of Jesus who triumphed over darkness.
He said he was privileged, for example, to see more than 100,000 members of the Masai tribe in Kenya come to faith in Jesus in over three and a half years. He also has seen 1,000 Karamajong Africans from northern Uganda -- where it is typical for men to carry AK-47 guns and for human sacrifices to be performed -- meeting and worshiping God under the shade of a tree in what used to be a battlefield.
In a more personal example, Schmidt told how his family was shot at by Jias (pronounced "G.A.'s") of southern Sudan. God miraculously protected each of the family members from death, although his daughter was hit by a bullet.
"God delivered us from the evil one," he said. "The devil gave his best shot and the hand of God intervened.
"The only strategy to reach a lost and dying world for Jesus, the only hope for the salvation for man, the only hope for protecting missionaries like me is intercessory prayer," Schmidt said.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian legal defense organization, said he knows God can use anyone to affect his kingdom, describing himself as a miracle of God's providence.
Born into a Jewish family in New York and later transplanted to Atlanta, Sekulow said the provision of God led him to first discover the truth of Christ and then to defend the cause of Christ in the highest courts in America. He told of being led to a Jews for Jesus rally in which the audience was invited to receive "Yeshua" into their lives. Sekulow responded.
"Little did I know that 12 years later, almost to the very month, I would be standing before the Supreme Court of the United States of America, arguing my first case," he said.
Sekulow said the people of God are empowered with a message of hope -- the only message which can give hope to the America of today. He challenged Southern Baptists to continue to be bold in sharing their faith.
"If we're embarrassed to share our faith, then we don't have a faith to share," he said.
Sekulow told how God had used him to share the gospel with countless Jews and of how his testimony and the Holy Spirit led his mother to the Lord. She had been diagnosed with cancer, but with her newfound faith, astonished the doctors with her hope. It is this hope, Sekulow said, that should compel us to share the message.
"We serve Jesus Christ, the king of kings and Lord of Lords, and the moment we're embarassed about that, shame on us," Sekulow said.