FIRST-PERSON: Keep your eye on the ball
BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP) -- It's been said the hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a baseball. It's a tough point to argue.
Take a guy like Nolan Ryan, one of the greatest fastball pitchers ever to play the game. Ryan unbelievably had a 27-year career and was still throwing the ball 95 mph-plus when he finally retired, ever the "Ryan Express" to the end.
Now, imagine standing in a batter's box waiting to hit his fastball. Don't wait too long; you only have four-tenths of a second to make contact -- that's less than half a second. It takes a significant amount of focus and "keeping your eye on the ball" if you have the remotest chance of getting a hit. Allow distraction and you'll strike out.
Southern Baptists are a lot like the batter standing in the batter's box waiting on the fastball. We look out at the world and we see a challenge staring back at us. This game is for keeps, though. The souls of our relatives, friends and neighbors are literally at stake. They can't afford for us to lose concentration and take our eye off the ball.
The great thing is we aren't standing there alone. Over nine decades ago a network of churches that made up the Southern Baptist Convention met in Memphis and decided they'd give at least 10 percent from their undesignated receipts and began what we know as the Cooperative Program.
With that commitment to work together and the decisive action that followed, our denominational forefathers launched the greatest global missions enterprise known to man. This missions mutual fund grew, and now ensures that global evangelism, ministerial preparation and benevolent ministries like orphan care will be financially supported.
Our predecessors came together then despite some fairly deep theological differences because a shared Gospel passion fueled a Great Commission calling that burned hotter than the secondary differences they shared. And just look at us now. We have effectively done Kingdom work around the world that has led millions to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, helped the destitute and healed the hurting.
There will always be distractions that tempt us to lose our focus, but we must recognize those distractions for what they are and determine that we are going to come to the table and work together for the sake of the Gospel. If a group of Southern Baptists could overcome their differences then, surely we can determine to overcome our differences now.
The key is collectively focusing on what is important and what is at stake.
For example, we have made inroads here in Tennessee over the past three years seeing a slight increase in baptisms, but if every church in our state were able to "win 17 in '17" as current Tennessee convention president Steve Freeman has challenged us to do, we would see a significant advance of the Gospel and we would reach our goal of seeing 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship.
If, meanwhile, every Tennessee church increased its Cooperative Program giving, there would be countless additional millions of dollars available for state, national and international missions -- money like we've never seen invested in reaching people for Christ.
No power on earth can dim the power of the Gospel when advanced by committed followers of Jesus Christ. I believe the human and financial resources necessary to shake this world from beneath the dark veil of spiritual lostness currently reside within our churches. However, for us to have that kind of impact we must work together.
And for us to do that, we must maintain our focus and keep our eye on the ball.