Future, Forward, Faith Planning Teams

Over one hundred members of Ball Camp Baptist Church gathered last Sunday afternoon in our Fellowship Hall for our Future, Forward, Faith Summit. We spent the better part of three hours together listening to one another and waiting on God to speak to us. We heard from young and old alike. We shared in small groups, and with the whole group, what we were sensing as God’s direction for our church.  It was an afternoon of prayer.  Not that we spent the whole afternoon with our heads bowed and our eyes closed; but we were together in the presence of God, sharing with God and one another the burden of our hearts, and listening for God to speak in and through us.

For over one hundred of you to give three hours of your time after already having spent the morning at church is no small thing. In fact, it is a very large thing. It is more than just three hours spent together.  Over one hundred people giving three hours of their time, to God and His church, is over 300 hours that could have been spent in other ways. Yet, you chose to give those hours to God and to use them in service of the people of God, and the people in our community and the world, that may yet be impacted by what we heard God saying to us in our time together.

At the conclusion of our time together, we found ourselves with four clear priorities. The priorities that emerged were:

Spiritual Formation/Bible Study

Local Missions



What do we do with these now?  We plan accordingly. Each one of these priorities will now have a team of church members working on a plan that will involve us as a congregation, engaging in each of these priorities over the next three years or so. These teams are still being formed. The priorities are posted on the wall in the Fellowship Hall. Underneath each of them is a sign-up sheet. We still need people to join these teams to work on planning these priorities.  We also need people who will sign up to pray for these teams as they work on their plans.

If you did not attend the summit last week, there is still opportunity for you to join one of these planning teams. Do you have a particular burden for one of these priorities?  Do you feel a need for us to deepen our relationship with God? You ought to consider joining the Spiritual Formation/Bible Study Design Team.  Do you have a desire to be more involved in local missions?  Think about joining the Local Missions Design Team.  Is your heart set on reaching out to our community?  Join the Outreach Design Team. Do you long to see a more unified body of Christ at Ball Camp Baptist Church?  The Unity Design Team is the place for you to put feet to your prayers.  Please, visit the Fellowship Hall today before you leave and consider how God would have you serve the church in this important work.

Thank you to all who have worked so hard to this point — Strategic Visioning Leadership Team, Interviewers, Interviewees, Summit participants.  God is going to honor your investment of time and energy as we go Forward together by Faith into the Future that God has for us.

Remembering Mary Martin

In Hebrews 12:1-3 we read:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

That great cloud of witnesses is richer and fuller tonight because Ms. Mary Martin has taken her place among them. Tonight, her love for Christ and His church has joined that cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. Tonight, her passion for telling the story of God’s work in the world through Ball Camp Baptist Church has joined that cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. Tonight, her love for children and her dedication to teaching them the story of our faith has joined that cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. Tonight, her adventurous heart and her determined spirit have joined that cloud of witnesses that surrounds us.

Monday morning of this week, Mary’s life on this earth came to an end. She was blessed with a long and full life, and we were blessed by the way she lived it.  For most of the last decade, Mary moved with grace and dignity through the halls of Arbor Terrace Assisted Living Facility.  She carried herself with a style and confidence that made you think that she was in charge of the whole place; and that is exactly what she wanted you to think.  Rarely, during those days did it occur to me to think of Mary as a person approaching 100 years of age. She was full of life.  Mary’s condition changed in the last couple of weeks. Those changes in Mary’s condition made me thankful that she had been able to be as active as she was during the last decade of her life.

We can be thankful that Mary lived such a long and full life that contributed so much to so many people. We can also be thankful her life was active and full for so long. Yet, even with good reason to be grateful in the face of Mary’s passing, we also grieve. Death always takes those we love sooner than we are ready to let them go.

Mary is at rest now. Her labor here on this earth is finished. She has left a legacy of commitment and service to God and God’s people. If we have ears to hear, her life and her example will continue to speak to us.  We would do well to listen carefully as the testimony of Mary’s witness echoes through our fellowship.

If we listen carefully, Mary’s life will remind us of the importance of our children and our responsibility to teach them.  For 50 years, Mary taught children in Sunday School in this church. Long before a book was written telling us that it takes a whole village to raise a child, Mary was investing her life into the children of the Ball Camp Baptist Church and community. Were children important to Mary? Fifty years. How important were children to Mary? Fifty years. Did it matter to Mary that generations of children learned the lessons of faith and of God’s great love for each of them? Fifty years. With her life, she proclaimed clearly the value of our children and the vital necessity of teaching them, loving them, and leading them to a personal understanding of the love and grace of God.

If we listen carefully, Mary’s life will remind us of the significance of our history.  Mary loved our church in many ways.  She had a particular passion for the history of our church. In 1970, her History of Ball Camp Baptist Church was awarded third place in a nationwide competition sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention. (If you would like a copy of Mary’s book, there are two copies in very good condition available at Amazon.com.)

Mary did not just write history, she lived it. She lived it as a Baptist woman with a deep faith in the grace and mercy of God. Her faith was personal, and her soul was competent. She knew that she was a part of a royal priesthood, and she did not hesitate to use the gifts and talents that God had given to her to proclaim the mighty acts of the One who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

When Mary left her home and moved to Arbor Terrace, she took with her scrapbooks of clippings and photos of the life and ministry of our church. She would not let go of that which was so dear to her.  If we listen carefully to Mary’s life, we will hear her saying that our past is important and that our heritage matters.  As Baptists, that means we each have both the freedom and responsibility to read our Bibles with the aid of the Holy Spirit, and to listen for what God would say to us, trusting in the word of God rather than man-made creeds and confessions. It means that church for us is a gathering of people for whom Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. It means that together we discern God’s direction for our common life without interference from ecclesiastical or governmental interference.

The history and heritage of her faith mattered to Mary. How much? Well, she wrote a book about it.

If we listen carefully, Mary’s life will remind us that our own lives are gifts from God to be celebrated and to be shared.   I never met Mary’s husband. When she would tell me stories of their life together, she referred to him as Martin.  One of her favorite stories involved a night of dancing in a hotel ballroom in downtown Knoxville. After that night, Martin was smitten. Their destiny was to be together. In those days, as Mary would tell the story, the Baptists did not take kindly to those of their membership who frequented dance halls and such. “Such scandalous behavior,” Mary would say as she told me the story with a twinkle in her eye.

Together, they were faithful servants of the Lord at Ball Camp Baptist Church. When our present sanctuary was being built, the church met for worship in the Martin’s store. They gave themselves to God and their community in every way they could.

Whatever we have said tonight, as we remember Mary, will fade with time.  Yet, if we listen carefully, her life will continue to speak to us of what it means to live a rich life that brings glory and honor to God.

Finally, from Mary’s History of Ball Camp Baptist Church, the invitation that she accepted and offered each day of her life and that is offered to each one of us tonight:

To all who are weary and need rest, to all who are lonely and want friendship, to all who morn and need comfort, to all who pray and to all who do not, to all who sin and need a Savior, and to all whosoever will, this Church opens wide its doors and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ says, “Welcome!”

Mary has been welcomed home. She is at rest with the Lord. Amen.

Future, Forward, Faith

At Ball Camp Baptist Church, we are in the midst of an exciting endeavor. We are walking with God and looking toward our future. We are calling this process Future, Forward, Faith.

We are focused on Future because we believe that God will continue to work in and through the people of Ball Camp. Therefore, we look to the future with discerning and expectant eyes to see the places and ways God will invite us to join the work.

We are focused on Forward because that is the only direction we can go. There is much to celebrate in our past, as well as mistakes from which we can learn. However, we can neither recreate past victories nor undo past mistakes. We can remember them and learn from them as we go forward into the future that God has for us.

We are focused on Faith because that is what makes us a people.  Our common experience of the grace of Jesus Christ is the foundation of our life together. It is the reason we worship, witness, develop and minister together. We share Christ’s love because it has been freely given to us. For all the uncertainties that the future may hold, our faith is not uncertain. It holds us and holds us together. Without it, we would lack the courage to look to the future and the strength to move forward toward it. Future, Forward, Faith is us, together, listening and learning as we walk together with God.

We are being led in our Future, Forward, Faith journey by our Strategic Visioning Leadership Team. The team members are Alpha Patrick, Michelle Gamble, Hannah Chambers, Janie Wallace, Karen Diaz, Brenda Bradley, Vernon Gordon, Robbie Kelly, Gary Rochelle, Mike Wilson, Ernie Jennings and Bob Bridges. They have recruited interviewers from among the membership of our church. Those interviewers have been trained to conduct interviews with our active members and regular attendees.  These conversations are vital to the success of our Future, Forward, Faith process.  They will give each of us a chance to share, in a relaxed setting, the ways that we have seen God at work in our church, and the ways that we hope to see God at work in the future. If an interviewer has not contacted you yet, one will be doing so soon. Please receive the call as an opportunity to serve the Lord and your community of faith at Ball Camp.

Also, please be in prayer for team members, interviewers, and those being interviewed. During this phase of the process, over 300 interviews will be conducted. That is 300 conversations about how God is at work in the lives of the people of Ball Camp Baptist Church.  If we did nothing else, I believe that we would benefit greatly. There is power in telling our stories. But we will do more than that. On August 1st, we will gather after our morning worship service to see and hear what we have said about the ways God has been at work, and the ways we hope to see God at work, as we look to the Future and go Forward in Faith.

“. . .Particular Knowledge”

Thomas Helwys penned these words nearly 400 years ago:

That the members of every Church or Congregation ought to know one another, so that they may perform all the duties of love one towards another, both to soul and body.  And especially the Elders ought to know the whole flock, whereof the HOLY GHOST hath made them overseers. And therefore a Church ought not to consist of such a multitude as cannot have particular knowledge one of another.

They are from a lengthier confession of faith written by Helwys for a small group of Baptists who remained in Amsterdam, for fear of persecution if they returned to England. The Baptist faith was still young and fragile at this time. Helwys’ words were the first attempt to put the Baptist faith in the form of a confession.  One Baptist history estimates that the number of members of Helwys’ church to be 10 or so, which makes his emphasis on a church being of such a size that members can “have particular knowledge of one another” particularly interesting. If there were only a dozen people in the church, how could you not know them all?

Whatever else Helwys thought about the church, its mission, and its purpose, he understood that knowing one another was a central part of being church.  The connections made in the context of one’s participation in a local church are not merely the result of human need for social interaction; they are an expression of New Testament Christianity.

Last Sunday as we celebrated our 213th anniversary, I was reminded of Helwys’ words in both positive and negative ways. Negative because it is difficult to have a “particular knowledge” of one another on Sunday mornings when we worship in three different services; positive because in each of those services we gather to worship a living Savior that we have come to understand through the unique and rich experience of being members of Ball Camp Baptist Church.

As I watched us worship, eat, worship again, baptize new believers and dedicate new hymnals last week, I saw so many wonderful people who walk daily with the Lord and serve Him with enormous dedication.  We are so blessed to have each other.  There is much that we can learn from one another, and much we have to share with our community and the world.

Jesus taught his disciples saying, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” Look around you at the faces of those gathered to worship this morning. We have been given much and entrusted with much. Nowhere is that more evident than in the lives of those that we join together with for worship each Sunday.

Let us continue to celebrate the joy and grace that we find in each other, as we deepen our “particular knowledge” of one another, by being thankful for long-time friends and by introducing ourselves to soon-to-be friends in the body of Christ at Ball Camp Baptist Church.

Not Funeral Food, But Still Good.

Some years ago Kate Campbell graced our sanctuary with her thoughtful lyrics and soulful voice. One of the songs she sang that evening was entitled “Funeral Food.”

Aunt Fidelia brought the rolls
With her green bean casserole
The widow Smith down the street
Dropped by a bowl of butter beans
Plastic cups and silverware
Lime green Tupperware everywhere
Pass the chicken, pass the pie
We sure eat good when someone dies

Funeral food
It’s so good for the soul
Funeral food
Fills you up down to your toes
Funeral food

It is a song that describes the pastoral mystery of food in the face of death, and the sacred necessity that is breaking bread with friends and family in the midst of grief.  In such times, sadness and loss are hanging thick in the air. Words do not come easily, and sometimes there just isn’t anything to be said; but people always need to eat. So the casserole and the fried chicken become icons of God’s love. The food speaks, expressing the love and concern of God’s people, and the never-ending assurance of God’s presence.

Thankfully, I have not been to a funeral this week, but I did go to a surgery last week. My wife, Patti, had surgery on both of her feet last Wednesday. One of you has brought food to the house every day since then.  There has been fried chicken, steak and gravy, meat loaf, salad, macaroni and cheese, green beans, baked beans and rib-eyes for grilling on Mother’s Day. Your kindness has been humbling, your thoughtfulness expansive, and your generosity overwhelming.

These meals have been most helpful during this time. They have made our days more manageable, they have nourished our bodies, and they have delightfully satisfied our hunger. Yet, I have tasted something more in your demonstrations of compassion.  I have tasted bread and juice as if we were in the sanctuary together at the Lord’s table.  Your gifts of food have been a real and tangible experience of God’s grace for me.  You have been the presence of Christ to me and my family even as you have brought Christ’s presence to us.

We live in challenging times, and you know that I am not just saying that in some general sort of way. There are personal trials and challenges in my life, and in yours, still to be faced.  Even so, I am more hopeful today as a result of your vivid reminder of the reality of the resurrection. You are the body of Christ sent into the world to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am convinced again of that truth. Your testimony of concern and care have deepened my faith, strengthened my spirit, and touched my soul. Thank you for your faithfulness to the life and words of the One who said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Being the presence of Christ.

What a gift it is to have friends come and visit. We had a friend visit with us this past Sunday. His presence with us was a visible reminder that other people who live in other parts of the world experience life differently. Not only are their day-to-day lives different from ours, but also the challenges they face and the trials that they endure. Our friend’s retelling of the murder of his colleague poignantly underscored in a somber way those differences.

Our friend and his family spend most of their days in a place far different from our East Tennessee. Yet, we do share a common faith, a common experience of grace and redemption. Out of that experience of grace and redemption, we share a common calling. It is a calling to be the presence of Christ as we live out our lives. We are called by the profound act of love demonstrated to us and for us in the life, teachings and death of Jesus Christ. We are to extend grace as it has been extended to us, to give hope as it has been given to us, and to show mercy as it has been shown to us.

We share a common calling with those around the world who have heard the voice of the one who said to us “. . . come unto me and I will give you rest.” We are called by the same words: “Go ye into all the world,” “When you have done unto the least of these,” “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We are called with the same words to the same calling, though we are called to different tasks in different places.

Our friend will return next month to the place that God has called him and his family to serve. He goes with courage and great faith to do what God calls each of us to do, wherever we find ourselves, to be the presence of Christ. Even though we are surely called to be Christ to those around us wherever we are, we should not dismiss too easily the idea that God might very well have a task for us that would require no less courage, nor less faith, than that of our friend and his family as they return to the place they call home. May our prayers rise continually for their safety and well-being.

Last month, you brought to the altar over 500 pairs of shoes and offered them to the Lord. Those shoes were delivered to the Western Heights Baptist Center. They will be given to men and women, boys and girls who need them. They will be given as a tangible reminder that in the midst of their need, they are not alone in this world, but that Christ is with them. Giving shoes to protect the feet of the needy is being the presence of Christ.

This month is our Tennessee Partners in Missions offering as well as the month that we collect blankets for Lost Sheep Ministry for the homeless. The gift you give to the mission offering will be used by six ministries across the state as they seek to be the presence of Christ. The blankets will be given to homeless people in our city to warm them this winter. Again, participating in either or both of these offerings is a way that you are the presence of Christ in a world that longs for his grace and peace.

With courage and faith, let us be the presence of Christ together so that all may know the joy and hope that we have found in him.

Thank You Church!

I am in awe of the gift you have given to me. Every day that I serve as your pastor, I am mindful of what a special group of Christians that you are. There is a unique richness about our fellowship that is unlike anything that I have ever experienced. But now you have gone beyond being an amazing church, of which I have been privileged to pastor for nearly nine years. Now you have given me an extraordinary gift. That gift is the Academy for Spiritual Formation. I attended along with 57 other people my first week, August 3rd. We will meet seven more times over the next two years at Camp Sumatanga. Sumatanga is a retreat center in Northern Alabama.

What happens at the Academy for Spiritual Formation? It is a program designed to help Christians, laypeople, and clergy deepen their relationship with the Lord. The day starts with a prayer service at 7:30. We worship and pray for about 30 minutes before we go to breakfast at 8:00. At 9:00, we go to our morning lecture. The morning lecture for this session is focused on praying the scriptures. There are many ways and variations on how to do this, but in its basic pattern, sacred reading begins with a gentle reading of a passage of scripture. The reading is followed by a time of reflecting on and thinking about the passage. Usually a particular word, words, or a phrase will emerge from the passage. As the mind is drawn to a particular word or phrase this becomes the prayer or what is spoken to God. After the prayer, there is a time of simply being with God and enjoying the presence of God.

After the lecture period, we enter a time of silence and solitude for prayer and reflection on what we have heard in the lecture. At 11:00, we come back together as a large group to ask questions of the lecturer and to hear testimonies from the time of prayer. Lunch is served at noon each day.

The second lecture or faculty presentation begins at 2:30. Our afternoon lecture is focused on the history of Christian spirituality. Granted, the tasks of presenting the history of Christian prayer in five one-hour sessions is an impossible task; nonetheless, the sessions are engaging and informative. Our presenter for the afternoon session is Dr. Lloyd Allen who teaches church history at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology. McAfee is one of our CBF-connected divinity schools. The afternoon presentation is followed by the same time of silence and solitude for prayer and reflection as the morning presentation, and we gather afterward as a large group to ask questions and share insights. Both the morning and afternoon lecture topics will change with each session.

Our time of asking questions and sharing is followed at 5:00 by our second worship service of the day. This service is special because we hear our only sermon of the day and celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. After communion, we go to supper at 6:00. Supper is sometimes followed by a special presentation of a topic that is of interest to one of the faculty members. Whether there is a special presentation or not, we are in our covenant groups at 7:30 each night. Each attendee is placed in a group with seven or eight other people. In these groups, we discuss the experiences of the day and share our sense of how God is at work in our lives. These groups will stay together for the duration of the Academy.

After our covenant group time, we gather for our final time of worship and prayer at 9:00 p.m. At the conclusion of this service, we observe silence until the next day’s morning prayer service.

Hopefully, this gives you some idea about what I am experiencing when I am away at the Academy for Spiritual Formation. Again, thank you for such a wonderful gift.