First Baptist Church of Rahway, 177 Elm Ave., Rahway, New Jersey 07065 is a multi-cultural congregation that has a Blended English Service on Sunday Mornings, a Latino Service at 12:00, and a Service in Telugu at 3:30PM. For more information, call (732) 388-8626. Or click here to send an email. If you wish to help the Mission and Ministry of First Baptist financially click the Donate Button.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Spiritual Entrepreneurs

It took three years of hard work to get our Telugu Service going. The concept is very simple and easy to organize; have a worship service on Sunday afternoons in the Telugu language. Piece of cake. And yet, it took three years of fumbling and bumbling to arrive at this easy and successful ministry solution. The leadership of the Telugu service and I tried all sorts of ministry ideas before we came up with the one that worked. It would be very fair of you to ask, why did it take so long? The answer to that question is very simple; starting something from nothing is very, very difficult. There is a good reason small business’ and new churches fail at a high rate – entrepreneurial success is never guaranteed.

“Success is 99 percent failure” is a quote from Soichiro Honda, founder of the very successful auto company. I have repeated this quote over and over again as I have pursued my ministry. It comforts me to know that I am not the only one to fail more than I succeed. My ministry has been to small churches, and that means that I don’t have a lot of people resources, or money resources to create new ministries. But I am a natural spiritual entrepreneur, I am always working on new ministries. I have been involved in six new church plants over the years and three have failed, two have succeeded, and one, First Baptist’s Latino ministry, has just started and is looked very good at this moment. I have also attempted to create numerous other ministries’ and programs, most of which ended up as disappointments. I’ve tried just about everything that popped into my head. If I read about a successful program in Texas, I would fling it at my church and see if it would stick to the wall. I figured a successful program or ministry will work anywhere and everywhere – HA! I figured that the writers were successful; therefore they must know what they are talking about – HA! I figured that the key to successful ministry is the right plan – HA, HA, HA! Instead, I have learned that Soichiro Honda is a very wise man.

There is no guarantee in the Bible that we will be successful in our endeavors. Let that idea soak in a minute - because we are surrounded by people who preach and teach the opposite. They are wrong. The prosperity gospel ministers ignore Jesus telling his followers that we will be beaten and thrown in jail for preaching the gospel (Matt. 10:17). They pay no attention to Jesus saying that Paul will suffer as he goes off to minister to the Gentiles (Acts 9:16). And how many pastors and/or self-help gurus have mentioned the martyr Stephen who after a tremendous sermon is stoned to death (Acts 7:57-58). Stephen’s death does not fit nicely into our American success story mythology. When Jesus returns, God guarantees success. Until then, there are no guarantees.

So I have taken two lessons from my experiences as a pastor entrepreneur. The first is to get used to disappointment, because it’s going to happen whether you like it or not. If the guy who created Honda had set backs, you better believe that you will too. The second is more important than the first. Persistence is the only way to achieve your goals in life and in the ministry. Keeping in mind the no guarantee of success rule, refusing to give up is the only way to strive to reach our visions. Jesus says that if we persist in our prayers, God will answer them (Luke 18:1-8). This is very true. Despite the many disappointments that I have faced, my few successes have come from my refusal to give up. God always answers our prayers, but rarely in the way we expect.

I continue to cook up new ministry ideas, though I am much more selective today than I used to be. I guess with experience comes wisdom. Either that or I just got tired of looking like a fool all of the time. However, I have been blessed by the ministries that have been successful. And that is where I have found the answers to my prayers.

God bless you,
Pastor Bill

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Christian School Opens in North Korea

For decades, Christian college professors have quietly spread the Good News while teaching at secular universities in nations closed to traditional missions. But now, two unusual universities in closed areas of Asia—northeast China and North Korea—are breaking new ground. Christians openly founded state-licensed schools, which have predominantly Christian faculty and administration.

To

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Religious Restrictions Rise in USA


To the surprise of few who follow religion closely but to the chagrin of many even casual observers, researchers at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life documented a disturbing rise in restrictions on religion in the United States between mid-2009 and mid-2010. The U.S. was one of only 16 countries to record a rise in both government restrictions and social hostility toward religion. This was the first time in the course of Pew's research the U.S. saw a rise in both measures.

Read More…

Read the Pew Report…

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Community Called Agritopia

An experimental community in Arizona that is trying to bring back the communal village experience.

Christianity Today Story...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Calling From God

She described her experience owning the campground as; “seven years of hell”. She said that God told her to come to Tennessee and buy the campground. It was a calling. So what happened? Did she get the message wrong? Was there a mix-up in the divine communication system? Or, is it that we just don’t really understand this mysterious concept; a calling from God.
When we spoke to the owner of the campground, Betsy and I were on vacation in the Great Smokey Mountains. I didn’t see any smoke, but I saw a lot of rain. Maybe they should call them, the Great Misty Mountains. It certainly was damp. We camped at a private campground near the very touristy town of Gatlinburg. Our campground was deep in the woods with a stream running right next to our camper. At first it was wonderful, listening to the tinkling of the water over the rocks. But the nonstop rain caused the stream to sound more like a jet engine. Which of course, is exactly what we hear every night in New Jersey. It was just like home.
We met her when we checked into the campground. Right away she just opened up to us. Maybe it was because we told her we were in the ministry? Maybe it was because Betsy and I are both good listeners and we encourage people to talk about themselves? Or, maybe it was because we were in the right place at the right time? Anyway, she told us about how good her life was in California, and how lousy it’s been since her family bought the campground. And she was convinced that God wanted her to minister in Tennessee. But nothing had worked out so far. She was openly frustrated because of her rock solid belief that God wanted her and her family to relocate to The Great Smokey’s. That forces the question; does God want her to fail?
I’ve had similar conversations with many people over the years. And I have asked the same questions. Is it me? Am I the reason for my failing ministry? Did I misunderstand the message? Is God punishing me? Is my suffering part of some greater purpose that God has in mind?
I think those of us who experience a calling from God see our missions as being a part of a greater purpose. I also think that people in general see our lives as being engaged in some titanic struggle to achieve an astounding purpose. Joseph Campbell wrote about the Journey of the Hero, an examination of hero myths from around the world. He found that everyone told stories that follow a similar story line. They all involve an epic journey, with challenges faced and help received along the way. Campbell concluded that we are all connected somehow to a universal unconscious that causes us to see our lives in a similar way regardless of culture. For a while I bought into his thinking, but not anymore. The Journey of the Hero just describes everyone’s life in broad terms. We start out on a journey, we face struggles, we receive help and we win some and we lose some. The interesting thing about this is, we see ourselves as the hero, the center of the story. The Journey of the Hero revolves around me, and the world stops and watches while I pass through.
What if the tie that binds our stories is not so heroic? What if our dreams of greatness are just a way of boosting our self-esteem? What if the world doesn’t stop and watch as we pass through? An affirmative answer to any of these questions may mean that our calling from God is not real. Now that is a scary thought.
There is a story in the Book of Acts that comes to mind (Acts 8:9-25). Simon the Sorcerer is a typical miracle worker of the day. He hears the Good News preached by the Apostle Phillip and he believes. However, he sees people receiving the Holy Spirit from Peter and John and he offers them money to be able to do the same thing. Peter is none too pleased and chastises him. So what’s the problem? Simon wants to be important in the eyes of the people around him. What is wrong with that? After all, this describes the motivation of every person who has ever tried out for American Idol. And I’m guessing that is a pretty substantial number. Ministerial candidates all start out with the same excitement when we enter the ministry. We all have visions of doing great things for God. There seems to be a fine line between being a humble servant and being an insufferable egotist.
God called me into the ministry while I was in the balcony of my church, during a sermon the subject of which I still can’t remember. I just knew that God was speaking to me and told me it was time for me to enter the ministry. I was already thinking about it, but God’s voice pushed me over the brink. I entered Seminary just after Betsy and I had bought a house and had our first child. We had two more children while I was attending Seminary. I juggled home/family/work/school/church. I was on a mission. I had a calling from God. Nothing was going to stop me from accomplishing what God had in mind for me.
So, how did I know the call was from the Lord? I have no idea how to describe it. Words are just so inadequate. However, I do have some criteria that I have developed over the years the help me when I seem to believe that God is speaking to me and is leading me to do something. After all what I think is a message from God could be my ego having a good time at my expense. So think of this as Bill’s 30 second philosophy of deciphering divine communication.
1. If it’s what I desperately want, it is not from God. I desperately want to be rich; God has told me to forget about it. I didn’t want to enter the ministry because I knew that I would be poor the rest of my life. God told me to enter the ministry. Too often people think that it’s God’s will for them to be wealthy and comfortable. How convenient. This is not how it works in the Bible. Moses, Gideon, Paul and many, many others received a call to serve The Lord, and didn’t want to answer it. God had plans for them that didn’t match the plans they had for themselves. The same goes for me. I think I know what God’s plans are for me. I’m probably wrong.
2. The vision doesn’t have to be big. I started out in Seminary dreaming of saving the world for Jesus. Instead, I’ve found that I have had an impact on the world, but it is very, very small. Now I’m ok with this. I’ve found contentment in God’s plans for me, rather than my enormous earth shattering, and totally unrealistic, visions.
3. Ninety Nine percent of the time, God lets us make our own choices. Returning to the lady I met in the campground. Maybe God called her be a minister, but maybe God didn’t tell her how to do it. Maybe, God allowed her to decide the particulars of the mission she would engage in. Perhaps, it wasn’t God who told her to pack up her family and move across the country to this campground. Perhaps, she was the one who made that choice. God gave us unique personalities for a reason. We make our own decisions, and we impact the universe in our own unique ways. God calls us to serve. We decide how.
I know a wonderful woman who is now in the last days of her life here on earth. She truly lived a life worth living. She was kind and respectful of everyone she met. She helped without asking for anything in return. And she kept at it long past the time when most people would have sat and rested on their laurels in their comfortable home. When she leaves us, she will be mourned by a great many people. Because she loved us, and we love her in return. Now, that is what I call a Calling from God.
God bless you,
Pastor Bill

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pray for Christians Caught Up in Muslim Violence

The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) will sue the government over this week’s riots in Mombasa, which left four churches destroyed.
NCCK General Secretary Peter Karanja told journalists on Wednesday that the council would also seek the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) intervention on the matter, claiming that the violence was politically instigated.
Read More…
Another Story…

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mission or Business?

I am associated with a nursing home that used to be a mission. It was created and funded to provide care for elderly people who couldn’t afford the high price of care in another facility. This was a 100 year old mission that was struggling financially, but had a clear vision and sense of purpose.
Today, that mission is gone. The trustees sold the property, took the trust fund and built a brand spanking new building in a great location. Unlike the old facility, the new one provides everything the elderly and their families could ever want from such a place. One catch, you have to have lots of money to get into this new version of the old mission. When the changeover came, only one resident made the move to the new facility. All of the other residents were farmed out to other places.
So I ask you, is this a mission? My church doesn’t think so. We’ve stopped supporting it.
Mission and fee for service are not the same things. I get the feeling that many people are confused by the distinction. Fee for service is just that. You pay and you get. Mission is giving without expecting to receive anything. The story above is a good example. A senior mission would accept Medicare/Medicaid payments and then raise the rest through donations. That was the previous incarnation of this nursing home mission. Now, it’s strictly fee for service. Which would be fine if they hadn’t taken and used the trust fund to create the new fee for service facility. The trust fund consisted of money donated to the mission. And just in case you were wondering, it was all perfectly legal. Oh well.
Mission is giving and expecting nothing in return. Mission is not; selling books, organizing fee for service conferences, selling miracle potions, etc… We all have to come up with the money to pay our bills. But all ministries must have a mission component. Otherwise, it’s not ministry.
God bless you,
Pastor Bill

Monday, September 17, 2012

How Does God View Migrants?


"There are right now 214 million international migrants in our world," Chetti said. "Forty-nine percent or 106 million of them are Christian; 27 percent or 60 million are Muslim; and the remaining 24 percent are Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and others."

What does God have to say about how we are to view the migrant?
Plenty! Just look at the characters of the Bible:
  • Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise and subsequently had to fend for themselves.
  • Cain, having failed to recognize and love his brother, his neighbor, became a displaced person.
  • Noah and his family were forced to leave their place of origin because of natural disaster.
  • Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Lot were forced to leave their homes and search neighboring countries for survival.
All migrants! Jesus himself was a refugee, who fled to Egypt as a child. Later in his ministry, Jesus never ceased to cross the borders in order to reach those at the boundaries.
All of these migrants were valued and used in mighty ways by God.
To continue reading…

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mission to Illegal Immigrants


The link below concerns the challenges facing churches who are trying to minister to illegal immigrants in Phoenix, Az. The Bible speaks of justice and mercy. How do we balance both when faced with people who are breaking the law, but are also suffering and in need? See how Christians are facing this problem in this excellent article from Christianity Today.

Read the article…

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pastor Youcef Has Been Released!

The prayers of Christians all around the world have been answered. Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been released from prison in Iran. He has been held since 2009 for refusing to renounce his Christian faith.

To

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Pastors Make Enemies


I bet you never thought you would see a title like that? Yes, my friends, we ministers are in the enemy making business; like lawyers, bounty hunters and repo men. Everyone thinks that we are in the “everyone likes the pastor” business. I am here to tell you those who think that are mistaken. Every once in a while ministers have to take a stand on an issue that will cause someone in the church to dislike him/her. Sometimes the issue deals with ethical and/or moral quandaries. These are relatively easy, because most ministers can recognize right from wrong. Other times the issue deals with personality conflicts. In these cases we ministers try to find a middle ground between the combatants. However, we are often forced to choose sides. People in the church come to us to make a decision, and we make it. Then, someone gets mad. I have a friend who made what appeared to be a simple and seemingly noncontroversial decision, which in turn led a prominent family to hate her guts. This family arranged for her ouster several months later. The sad truth is my friends; we ministers make enemies.

Clare killed a guy in a bar fight. He spent a few years in the pen for manslaughter. When he got out, he married a woman who was a prison minister, and a member of my church in Pennsylvania. Thus, Clare joined us and was definitely one of those parishioners who is a mixed blessing. Clare could be a wonderful man at times. He was helpful, hardworking and a faithful believer. However, he also had a terrible temper and a chip on his shoulder the size of the Poconos. When he lost his temper, which happened way too often, he was a very scary man. It was like dealing with two people in one body. He would flip back and forth as if someone was throwing a switch in his head. When the switch was thrown and the scary man showed up you wanted to run for your life. After all, he did kill someone.

So, the day came when I had to face the scary man and tell him something he didn’t want to hear. Clare started to get verbally abusive with his wife. They had a lot of problems, and so he walked out of her life and into another woman’s. Soon he started to show up at church with the other woman. In fact, they choose to sit two rows behind the woman he was still married to, in my church! Outrage would be considered a mild word when one considers the general reaction to this situation. Outrage, or whatever you wish to call it, was communicated to me from Clare’s long suffering spouse. Outrage, mixed with a little fear, is how I felt as well. And so, as Pastor of the church, I had to do something about this.

Fleeing to another city, state or country did pass through my mind. But I have a family and I am a reasonably responsible person, and so, I arranged to speak with Clare. Of course it made sense to bring someone with me as a witness to the conversation, and as a possible body guard. So I asked Ken, a 6 foot 3, 200lb+ black belted Deacon who taught at a Karate school. Yeah, that’s right. You mess with me, you mess with my Karate kicking Deacon. As long as I’m with a man who can pin you to the ground with his pinky, I ain’t scared of nothin’.

Anyway, the meeting was uneventful. I told Clare that he couldn’t come to church with his lady friend. I said that it was disrespectful of his wife and a sin. He didn’t say a word. He left and never came back to the church again. In fact, I never saw him again. I guess I didn’t make a lifelong friend that day, did I?

If some people get mad at me, I’m in good company. Prophets have been getting into trouble for thousands of years. Elijah had to run away because King Ahab wanted him dead. Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern and left to die. Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, with the general idea being Daniel ending up in the lion’s digestive tract. Being a prophet is a rough life. Being the messiah isn’t a cake walk either. A mob threatened to throw Jesus off of a cliff. His enemies cried out that he should be stoned to death. And one of his closest advisors betrayed him. Jesus definitely did not have a stress free career.

Jesus warned all of his followers that there would be trouble. He said: “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues” Matthew 10:17. And how about this passage: “Brother will betray brother to death and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” Matthew 10:21-22. Jesus warned all of us minsters that we would run into trouble as we went about doing God’s work. So that raises a very good question – why?

To me the answer lies in the Old Testament book of Judges: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” Judges 21:25. Even today, in our well-ordered society, we still do as we see fit. And that translates into selfish, self-focused behavior. The problem comes when we as representatives of God’s Kingdom here on earth, attempt to stop abuse from happening in our midst. Jesus stopped a mob from stoning a woman caught in an adulterous relationship (John 8:1-11). There are times when we need to step into the fray and do the same. I have found that most people get angry when they don’t get their way. Even when we ministers are clearly on the side of right, we still face anger and rejection on the part of those we stand up to. And so I reiterate my opening thesis; we ministers make enemies. There is just no way to avoid it.

All in all I feel pretty good about the whole making enemies thing. As long as I’m trying to do right in God’s eyes, I don’t care so much how I look in someone else’s eyes. Of course if that person spent time in the slammer, then I better have a secret service detail.

God bless you,
Pastor Bill

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sun-myung Moon is Gone, but Not Before Trying to Steal my Soul



The world said goodbye to the self proclaimed Korean messiah, Sun-myung Moon. He passed away last week at the ripe old age of 92. He leaves behind a large international organization and a strange legacy. You can read more about him by following the link below.

I had a brief run in with Moon’s Unification Church. A friend from Seminary told me that I could take a free trip to the Holy Land, care of the Unification Church, if I would just attend some meetings with them. I declined politely and said I wasn’t interested in the Rev. Moon stealing my soul.

Well, now the man is off to stand before the mercy/judgment seat of God. If he is the messiah, then he will have no problems. If not…

Yahoo News…

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Clergy Who Have No Faith



To me this is a very sad story. People who lose their faith in God after entering the ministry. To others, a minister who doesn’t believe in God is a con man. There is sadness in that statement as well.

Below are two links to the strange world of The Clergy Project. It is a website for ministers who have lost their faith. The first is from The New York Times, talking about one of the leaders of the group. The other is a rebuttal from the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. After reading these I’m sure you will have lots of questions that are difficult to answer.

The New York Times…

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Clint Eastwood and Celebrity Culture


This is not a political post, just a quick and funny story.

When I was pastor in Scranton PA, I partnered with a group of pastors from Wilkes Barre to organize a big revival in the Wilkes Barre hockey rink. We called it Light in the Valley and we planned on creating a huge Billy Graham type event. In order to guarantee a large crowd we invited a Christian celebrity – retired football star Reggie Williams. We asked him to deliver the main message and then make an alter call. Or course, no one vetted the man’s public speaking credentials. After all, he was a celebrity.

It was a disaster. That night, Reggie Williams was not capable of stringing two sentences together and have them make sense. It was rambling, incoherent and just plain bad (sadly Reggie Williams passed away several years after this event). We had several thousand people in attendance, but by the time Mr. Williams finished, we only had 100 people left. Everyone else walked out before the alter call. I repeat; it was a disaster.

Why did we think that a retired football player could get up and deliver a great sermon at a big event? Because he was a celebrity. And we Americans seem to grant supernatural abilities to celebrities. The same thing happened at the Republican Convention on Thursday night. Everyone who spoke this week had their speeches carefully written and checked by the Romney campaign. With one exception; Clint Eastwood. What made them think that an actor/director can get up in front of a national TV audience and deliver a carefully thought out speech without writing it down? He’s Clint Eastwood, he can do anything.

Well, they learned the same hard lesson I learned many years ago in Wilkes Barre. Celebrities are not superheroes. They’re just ordinary people like you and me. However, when they crash and burn, it turns into big headlines.

God bless you,
Pastor Bill