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Executive Committee members voice heart for nation’s hurting soul

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–For victims and relief workers and for the nation at large, concern and prayer were voiced during the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s opening session.

SBC President James Merritt, in his report to the Executive Committee, said he was not in “a reporting mood” as Executive Committee members gathered for their Sept. 17-18 meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

“I need to preach. The only thing that has impacted me more” than the Sept. 11 tragedy that struck America “is the death of my dad,” said Merritt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church of Snellville.

Executive Committee members were reviewing a resolution addressing the national crisis that erupted when terrorists hijacked four jetliners Sept. 11 and succeeded in crashing two of them into New York City’s World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon. The apparent heroic efforts of passengers on the fourth jetliner crashed it into rural Pennsylvania. Action on the resolution is scheduled during the Executive Committee’s Sept. 18 sessions.

Robert E. Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, reported to the Executive Committee, “You would be proud of Southern Baptists’ response” to the unfolding emergency response in New York and Washington. “The Red Cross told me today, ‘Everywhere we turn Southern Baptists are there,'” Reccord said.

More than 250 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are at work at both disaster sites, having served more than 45,000 meals since setting up operations, while other volunteers also are at work in chaplaincy and other ministries.

“The challenges are much more difficult than what’s being portrayed on TV,” Reccord said. “We’ll be in this for weeks and months.”

Reccord listed four key avenues through which Southern Baptists can be involved, beginning with prayer and, second, in giving blood.

Third is the financial need, Reccord said, noting that it will be numerous times over the North American Mission Board’s regular disaster relief budget.

And fourth, Reccord noted, “Your mission field is where you live. We need to be able to give evidence of the hope that is within us as believers.” He noted that NAMB’s missionary at the United Nations in New York, for example, had received a call from one U.N. worker inquiring, “How do I know that I’m right with God?”

“You may not go to Washington or NYC,” Reccord told those gathered, “but you can go across the street and minister in Jesus’ name.”

To the question many people may be asking, “Where was God?” when the terrorists struck, Reccord noted, “God was at the same place when his Son was crucified. He was there.”

Morris H. Chapman, president of the Executive Committee, depicted a slice of his and other Americans’ emotions from Sept. 12: “Jet airplanes slamming into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have been forever etched into our minds, even our souls. In minutes, symbols of security for all Americans were transformed into stacks of twisted and melting steel. … Our ears are bombarded with the anguished cries of people frantically searching for missing loved ones hoping that by some miracle they are still alive.”

Chapman cited the 23rd Psalm in answer to the question, “Where’s the comfort?” amid the crisis.

In his comments about the psalm, Chapman included an observation about “one of a sheep’s greatest dangers” in his reflections on verse 3: “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

That danger, Chapman said, “is a condition called ‘a cast sheep,'” one that can only be remedied by a shepherd.

“The cast sheep is a sheep who has fallen on its back with its feet straight up in the air and cannot get up on its own power,” Chapman said. “A sheep is top-heavy. When it steps the wrong way in a small depression in the ground, its center of gravity shifts and the sheep falls over on its back. It is powerless to help itself out of this dilemma. If the shepherd fails to restore the sheep, the sheep is vulnerable to attack, loses circulation in its legs and air to its lungs. Without restoration by the shepherd, the sheep will suffocate and die. The shepherd not only restores the weakened sheep to an upright position by gently supporting it and by nursing its wounds, but the shepherd also places the sheep on the right path heading in the right direction.

“Across this country, our souls are downcast,” Chapman continued. “This terrorist attack has turned our world upside down. The victims in the planes and buildings experienced the collapsing of their worlds and, yes, even their lives. Likewise, the rest of America has been knocked off her feet emotionally, financially, professionally and spiritually. We are struggling to get up.

“We need our shepherd to restore us and to place us on the right path, the path leading back to wholeness and health,” Chapman said. “While our government leaders decide [on how to respond to terrorism], we must be more focused on resolvedly sharing the gospel.”

Merritt, in his message to the Executive Committee, said everyone has asked the same question since the tragedy: How can an all-powerful God allow evil to bring destruction?

“We live in a culture that has a mindset where the public has a right to know. We think we have a right to call God on the carpet and answer to these tragedies,” Merritt said.

However, God only works strictly on a need-to-know basis, Merritt said. Believers are to interpret what is not known by what is known, he noted. “And what we do know is this: God does exist, and God is good.” God is “sovereign even over evil,” Merritt noted, “and is able to bring good out of evil, and to use evil for his purpose and his plan for this world.”

Merritt said each believer can sense the reality and goodness of God when “you are confronted by the evil of your heart.”

“Evil tells me I must run to God,” Merritt said. “We only question the evil things [and] not the good things. … Why is there good in the world? We are never amazed at God’s goodness — because we think he owes us. … Badness surprises us, goodness does not.”

Merritt noted that “history tells us that God can take the greatest evil and bring out of it the greatest good. Exhibit ‘A’ is the cross of Jesus Christ. Humanity cannot and will not ever experience any greater depth of evil than that exhibited by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Yet, because of the cross and because of the empty tomb — because out of Satan’s greatest strike against God, God brought out man’s eternal salvation.”

Korean pastor Billy Kim, president of the Baptist World Alliance, noted that the media has said much about unity in the days after the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

“The Scripture admonishes us that it is important for us to come together for fellowship and prayer not only on the local level or state level or national level, but also on a worldwide level,” Kim said.

During the BWA’s nearly 100 years, Kim said, Baptists have been: “Together in faith. Together in worship. Together in prayer. Together in evangelism. Together in feeding the poor. Together in planting churches. Together in meeting the human misery of so many people. Together in being prophetic witnesses for racial justice. Together in defending the rights of persecuted Christians. Together in defending religious freedom.”
Martin King contributed to this article. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ALLEGIANCE AFFIRMED and ROOTED IN PRAYER.

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