“In our brokenness, God sees and cares about us,” Richard Brunson said about Christians and their God. “Our God is a God who reconciles.”
BR photo by Steve Cooke
John Ortberg said an open door is “symbolic of boundless opportunities, of unlimited chances to do something worthwhile.”
“Reconciled” was the theme – based on 2 Corinthians 5:18: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (NIV) – for this year’s Baptists on Mission conference March 17-18 at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.
Brunson serves as the executive director of North Carolina Baptists on Mission (NCBM), also known as North Carolina Baptist Men.
Throughout the Friday and Saturday sessions, Brunson shared about NCBM’s 17 different ministries with the more than 1,600 participants, a capacity crowd for the church. An offering raised $16,223 for NCBM.
He also referred to the many Bible stories that reflect that theme – the prodigal son, woman at the well and Zaccheus.
One of the biggest ministries of NCBM is disaster relief, which “is a great way to bless others and be a part of reconciliation to people whose lives have been torn apart because of disasters.”
For North Carolinians, Hurricane Matthew and the subsequent floods devastated more than 40,000 homes.
“You know when you’ve lost most everything you own, it’s easy also to lose hope, but Christians who have hope are the ones who can best provide hope for hurting people, preparing the way for Jesus to bring reconciliation,” he said.
N.C. Baptists were among the first to respond with hot meals, clean water, chaplains, showers, laundry and child care when the hurricane hit the state Oct. 8, 2016. They worked closely with Red Cross and other local agencies and churches to get items and volunteers where they were most needed.
Eleven sites administered help in those first days, and NCBM has pledged to provide help over the next few years as more people return to their homes.
The Annie Moses Band provided music for the conference, while speakers included Anne Graham Lotz, John Ortberg and Gary Chapman.
Testimonies of reconciliation were offered by Terry Rae, Jennifer Rothschild and Taylor Field.
Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Billy Graham, offered five keys from Daniel 9 to pray effectively: Daniel prayed under compulsion; he prayed because he was centered in prayer; he prayed confident in prayer; he prayed contrite in prayer; and he prayed clearly.
BR photo by Steve Cooke
Richard Brunson, left, executive director of Baptists on Mission, presents the Layman of the Year award to Tim and Vicki Etheridge, members of Riverview Baptist Church in Washington, N.C. See BRnow.org/Photo-Gallery.
Lotz said Daniel was compelled to pray by problems he saw in his world.
“I just look at the world, and it’s melting down, and our nation is melting down,” she said. “We’re living in very serious, dangerous times. I believe it is time for God’s people to pray.”
Lotz said people don’t have to look far to find problems in the world.
“When you pray, ask God to give you a promise that matches the problem that you’re confronting,” she encouraged. “He loves to be held … to His Word.”
It has been more than a year since Lotz’s husband died. She stressed the faithfulness of God.
“God is faithful,” she said. “He can’t be less than Himself.”
She talked of God’s patience with His people “because He doesn’t want any to come under His judgment. In wrath, God remembers mercy.”
Holding up her Bible, she told the crowd that the way to know God is through His Word.
“Daniel prayed for the sin of his nation as though it was his own,” she said. “He took the sin of his nation on himself … our shame, our sin, our rebellion … He wasn’t pointing his finger at anybody else.
“I think maybe it’s time for the church, you and me, to stop blaming other people,” she said.
“It’s time for God’s people … to humble ourselves, to pray, to seek God’s face, to turn from our wicked ways.”
John Ortberg, senior pastor Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, Calif., talked of an open door, referring to Revelation 3:7-8 and Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Open doors might signify different meanings, Ortberg said.
It could mean safety or hiddenness.
“No one knows what goes on behind closed doors,” he said.
It could mean rejection or rest.
An open door is “symbolic of boundless opportunities,” Ortberg said, “of unlimited chances to do something worthwhile, of grand openings into new and unknown adventures of significant living, of heretofore unimagined chances to do good, to make our lives count for eternity.”
Ortberg stressed that God loves to open doors.
“Open doors will come to me, not because of my cleverness or my giftedness or my gene pool or my boldness or my strength,” he said. “Open doors are a gift of grace that God just loves to give for no reason at all.”
In Acts, when the church is getting started, Ortberg said God used unschooled, ordinary men.
“Open doors start where you are,” he said. “Open doors are about opportunities, not guarantees. God is more concerned with the person I become than the circumstances I inhabit. God’s goal … is that we become persons of excellence, of excellent judgment, of great discernment, of strong character.
“The reality is who you become while going through the door often matters much more than what door you go through.”
Don’t wait for peace before going through that door, Ortberg said. “Peace lies on the other side of obedience,” he said. “Our God is in the redemption business. Our God is in the reconciliation business. Our God specializes in bringing good where people thought there was no good.”
Referring to the story of Jonah, Ortberg said it’s the most famous case of resisting an open door.
“God is so persistent,” he said, emphasizing believer’s tendency to resist their destiny. “God’s yes is bigger than my no. What door does God want to open for you?”
God’s love language
Gary Chapman, author of Five Love Languages and senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, said he had been challenged by the speakers at the conference.
It was 25 years ago when Five Love Languages was first released, and Chapman said he’s been asked over the years if God has a primary love language, referring to one of the five love languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time and physical touch.
“God speaks all five fluently,” he said.
In His Words of affirmation, God calls His followers co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17).
For acts of service, Acts 10:38 said Jesus “went about doing good” (translation).
What better gift could God have given us than that of His own Son (John 3:16). As for quality time, Jesus spent three years of his life traveling with the 12 He had appointed (Mark 3:14).
Chapman also referred to John 14:23, telling believers that for those who love God and obey Him, God will make His home with them.
There are several instances where God touches His people. Jesus touched the children and made time for them. He healed the blind and lepers. In the Old Testament, Jacob was touched by God.
“At the point of being reconciled to God, at the point of our conversion experience, God individualizes His expressions of love,” Chapman said. “We can’t expect everybody to respond to the same message because God uses us to speak His love to them through those languages.”
Terry Rae, former general secretary of South Africa’s Baptist Union and former director of Africa for Christ, discussed how reconciliation has to be both vertically with God and horizontally with one another.
He shared three stories of reconciliation: a national story, a denominational story and a personal story. His national and denominational story involved race relations around the time of apartheid in South Africa (the late 1980s and early 1990s). Rae said especially in the cities, multicultural churches are more common now. Reconciliation has taken place in these places of worship.
But he admits there is something missing if you’re not a Christian.
“It’s almost impossible to reconcile with each other unless you have been reconciled through Jesus Christ with God,” Rae said.
When Rae was serving as a senior pastor of a church in Johannesburg, he had been at the church a couple of months when he preached on carrying one another’s burdens. He asked the members to take their bulletin, write their name and phone number at the top and put it in the offering plate.
The bulletins were put on tables near the exits of the church.
Rae encouraged members to pick one and pray for that person daily, and on Friday, to call that person and set up a meeting for Saturday.
At home that Sunday afternoon, he received a call about one woman’s bulletin. There was a pair of ladies who avoided one another. Rae heard from one on Sunday, because she has received her enemy’s name. The other woman visited his office on Tuesday about getting her enemy’s name.
Their husbands had a conflict, and even though the husbands were dead, the ladies had carried on with their feud, entering and exiting the church in different places as well as sitting far away from the other each Sunday. He urged each of them to follow through with their pledge to pray for the other.
“The following Sunday, they walked into the church holding hands,” Rae said.
Taylor Field, pastor of East 7th Street Baptist Church and director of Graffiti Community Ministries in New York, said it is important not just to give food to people but to eat with them.
“It’s more important for someone to have their story heard …,” he said. “We want someone who will look us in the eyes and enjoy us, value us.”
But “the ministry of reconciliation costs, doesn’t it?” Field asked.
Working with the least of these can be challenging, Field said. It can be smelly and force you out of your comfort zone.
“There may be someone here that is in a tough situation as a servant,” he said. “You may be discouraged that things aren’t going right. This may be your finest moment. God bless you.
Thank you for your heart for others.”
Next year’s conference is scheduled April 6-7 at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte. Laura Story will provide the music. Brunson said one of the speakers that had been confirmed is Bryan Loritts, lead pastor of Abundant Life Church in Silicon Valley, Calif.