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Seniors celebrate joys, journeys at 3-day convention in Fort Worth

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–More than 5,000 Southern Baptist senior adults attended a national convention in Fort Worth, Texas, April 15-17, where they celebrated their life journeys and the joys they’ve found through faith, prayer, laughter and relationships.

“Joy in the Journey” was the theme of the fourth national Senior Adult Convention sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. The first national senior adult convention was also held in Fort Worth in 1987, followed by similar conventions in Atlanta in 1992 and Nashville, Tenn., in 1997.

Keynote addresses included women’s leader and motivational speaker Esther Burroughs, “Prayer of Jabez” author Bruce Wilkinson, Christian humorist Dennis Swanberg and “Mind of Christ” author T.W. Hunt. Seniors were entertained each day with several gospel groups and a 750-member senior adult choir. During the final session, “Joy for the Journey,” a musical drama for seniors to perform in their churches was premiered. Published by Genevox Music Group of LifeWay, the musical was written by Esther and Bob Burroughs.

In the opening session, Esther Burroughs reminded participants of biblical senior adults like Noah, Abraham, Sarah and Moses who faithfully served Christ and “passed the baton” to the next generation.

“You have the wisdom, resources, time and life experiences to share your faith with the next generation,” she said. “They are coming up behind you and they need to know what you know about God.”

One of the greatest needs in churches, she said, is among single adult mothers “who are trying to do it all by themselves. What about adopting a single mom in your church and passing the baton of faith.”

Burroughs said Christian seniors are “commanded by God to pass the baton of faith to another generation.”

She suggested starting traditions with grandchildren that might include studying the Bible, praying or learning more about the work of the denomination, specifically foreign missionaries. She said she prays with her grandchildren about specific missionaries and studies the countries in which they live.

“We can pass the baton of prayer too. We can declare his marvelous works to another generation, and we couldn’t do it a better way than through prayer.”

Burroughs said her parents taught her and her siblings how to pray, and she is passing the gift on to her grandchildren.

“What a heritage. The baton has been passed to me, and I pass it on to the next generation through prayer.”

Seniors also can pass on the baton of wisdom and instruction, Burroughs said, noting, “There are young women and young men that need your wisdom. I challenge you to get into a Bible study with them.”

Younger generations could also use a little hope, she said. “You have it or you wouldn’t be here. And our world needs it desperately.”

In a separate session, Bruce Wilkinson, author of the Prayer of Jabez, discussed the message in his follow-up book, “Secrets of the Vine,” which is based on John 15 and Jesus’ instructions to his disciples to bear fruit.

Wilkinson said he grew up thinking bearing fruit meant leading people to Christ.

“And it does mean that, but it means so much more. Bearing fruit can be interchangeable with good works. It’s anything you do that God says, ‘Good.'”

Jesus told the disciples they were created for good works, Wilkinson said, adding not many Christians today do good deeds for others.

“Around the nation, very few Christians focus much on good works. Instead they focus on believing in Christ and studying the Word.

“Your fruit or good works should make a non-Christian say, ‘Thank God for that person who is glorifying God.'”

Wilkinson said Christians are commanded to do good works, either visibly or in private.

“Do some good works in front of people (like taking food to an ailing neighbor), and do some in private (like praying for the neighbor),” he said.

“When I went to Bible college, they told me God was not interested in quantity, but quality. If that’s so, why does God tell us to bear much fruit?” he asked. “Remember, then, if you bake someone something, that’s a good work. And if you go to the closet and pray, that’s a good work. Good works are supposed to happen all day long.”

Even helping a person carry packages back to the hotel or opening the door for someone is a good work, he said.

Wilkinson said four levels of bearing fruit are found in John 15. They run the range from bearing no fruit to bearing much fruit.

“I’ve taught the lessons from this book all over the world and no matter where I am, when I ask the audience to raise their hands to my questions, the percentages are the same. Sixty percent of the people in their churches bear no fruit, 25 percent bear fruit, 10 percent bear more fruit, and 5 percent bear much fruit.”

He said some Christians go through periods in their lives where they are bearing no fruit, but he believes God attempts to move them to higher production levels.

“Depending upon where you are, God is doing something to you right now, right this minute.”

In Jesus’ parable, grapevine branches that didn’t produce were taken away, he said. But the Greek word for “take away” is “airo,” and that word means “lift up.”

In talking to a man who worked in a vineyard, Wilkinson said he learned branches that aren’t producing grapes are never cut off. Usually, they have just fallen down, he said, so they are lifted up, washed off and retied so they can produce fruit.

“Of course, God doesn’t cut us off and throw us away because every one of us in this room haven’t born fruit at some time. God bends down and picks us up, washes us off and reties us so we can produce fruit.”

For Christians who are bearing fruit, but not much fruit as is commanded, Wilkinson said God prunes them to help them bear more fruit.

“What does God do to me when I’m doing some things right? He smiles and says, ‘Good, but you need outside help from me. I’m going to prune you so you may bear more fruit.'”

A branch left to its own just spreads. And while that’s not bad, it’s not bearing enough fruit, he said.

“Pruning redirects your energy to fruit. Your focus gets narrower and narrower and you think, ‘How can I serve God today? I’m retired. I have some time.’ You can focus more and more on what makes a difference in heaven.”

For Christians who are bearing more fruit, but not yet to the level of bearing much fruit, Wilkinson said God just abides in them and waits until they grow stronger and more mature.

“The spot where the branch [fruit-bearing Christians] connects to vine [God] is the point where you touch the Lord. The size of the connection grows as it matures. As you live in Christ, he enlarges himself in you.”

A fifth national senior adult convention is being planned by LifeWay for 2005 at a location to be decided.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ON THE JOURNEY, GETTING AQUAINTED, and CONVENTION CONVERSATION.

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  • Terri Lackey