It’s been so long since I posted here, I was wondering if this blog was still operational.  I guess it is, so here goes.

I’m a Southern Baptist pastor in Iowa.  We’re not exactly in the Bible belt, and that means that in our part of the country, Southern Baptists (and Evangelicals of all stripes) are few and far between.  For instance, the latest demographic information I’ve seen on our part of the state reveals that for Iowa’s eastern 31 counties, there is a population of about 1.3 million and 37 SBC churches and missions.  That works out to approximately one church for every 35,000 residents.  Needless to say, we have much work to do here.

Our Baptist Convention of Iowa is a very small organization, when compared to the prominent Southern Baptist strongholds in the South, which means that we have been heavily dependent on outsiders for financial and practical support since Southern Baptists first came to Iowa, some 50 years ago.

For the past couple of years, the North American Mission Board, who is the major source of our funding, has been re-organizing in an attempt to be more effective at reaching North America with the gospel of Christ.  The bottom line of all this re-allocation of funds is that Iowa, along with all the other pioneer areas, is losing significant dollars that we have come to depend upon for many years.  We have a new reality in which to live and minister.

We all are confused, because NAMB keeps changing the rules, and I suppose we just have to get used to it because NAMB is a bureaucracy as much as any government agency.  It’s our own creation, and we have to live with the facts.  As I see it, our situation is not far removed from the larger political climate of this nation.  We (Americans in general) have become a people accustomed to entitlement.  The so-called “Occupy Movement” is a vivid illustration of this fact.  But like the Greeks, we need to recognize that the reservoir of resources is limited.  The government simply cannot continue to place money in every empty hand that is extended, and the same applies to the North American Mission Board.  What’s more, unlike the government, NAMB can neither print money nor raise taxes.  They have to face the reality that limited resources means that only the highest priorities can be funded.

Iowa Southern Baptists have become accustomed to living on the dole.  I don’t like it.  Nobody likes it.  But it’s true, and we MUST take a long, hard look at our organization so that we make the most of the resources we DO have and quit whining about what was and what could have been.  Our associations are going to have to find new ways to do our work without a NAMB-funded Associational Missionary.  Our state staff is already spread too thin, like butter on too much bread (a nod to my LOTR-loving friends), and the situation isn’t likely to improve any time soon.  As someone has wisely said, “It’s time to put on our big girl pants!”  During the Great Depression, people adapted to the reality or they starved to death.  We’re going to have to do the same.

As I see it, here’s what’s at stake –  How long will we grieve that which is lost at the expense of doing the work our Lord has given us?  Does the work of the gospel have to come to a stop just because the money is drying up?  Is it possible we ought to look at this situation as an opportunity to trust God to supply our needs?  Do we believe Philippians 4:19, which says, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  I can attest from personal experience that much of the time, it is in those times of direst need that God does His most miraculous work!

I’ve heard that some congregations have been withholding Cooperative Program funds as a means of protest.  I beg you, brethren, please re-consider this approach because it affects us all when such things happen.

Tim Challies’ podcast from Feb 21 discusses the matter of entitlement in our society, and it goes far beyond the situation I’m discussing here.  Nevertheless, I encourage you to view the post and listen to the podcast because I think it is very pertinent for us all.  You can view the post and listen to the podcast here.

Pay attention to these words of David Murray,

“As a Christian, I believe in one entitlement.

I’m entitled to Hell. That’s the only entitlement I have. That’s all I deserve, because of my sin. Anything else is grace, an unmerited bonus from the God of all grace. I don’t deserve a breath of life, a crumb of food, a drop of water, a stitch of clothing, a cent in my wallet, or an hour of education. I’m not entitled to one friend, one vacation, one verse of Scripture, or even one sermon. I’m certainly not entitled to salvation and heaven. I’m entitled to damnation and Hell.

That sense of entitlement makes me seek mercy, receive mercy, enjoy mercy, and be merciful to others. To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, “What have I that I did not receive as a free gift of divine grace? How therefore can I ever boast as if I had actually been entitled to it or earned it?”

So, there are basically only two ways to live: with a proud and angry sense of entitlement or with a humble and thankful sense of responsibility.

To summarize, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).”

In light of this bold truth, I ask, To what are we entitled?