By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
BATON ROUGE – Tony Nolan knows first-hand how the power of Christ can overcome a dysfunctional early life.
Born to a homeless, mentally ill prostitute who was placed in a mental institution in Jacksonville, Fla., and then immediately placed in foster care where he suffered abuse, Nolan was eventually adopted by a poor and dysfunctional family for $200.
Often, his adopted father would tell him in a drunken rage that he wished he had never bought him. His adopted father’s words eventually resulted in a life of drug addiction and thoughts of suicide for Nolan during his teenage years.
“I didn’t care about living,” said Nolan, founder of TNT Ministries in Canton, Ga. “I didn’t care about life. Those were dark days in my life.”
However, on Feb. 24, 1989, a layperson at Westside Baptist in Jacksonville invited Nolan to attend a Bible study where he accepted Christ and was released from his pain. He soon began serving in his church and was called into the ministry.
“God specializes in operating in the realm of impossibilities,” he said. “He’s looking for a way to show Himself to be God.”
Nolan shared his message based on Hebrews 1:1-3 at the 2014 Louisiana Baptist Convention Evangelism Conference. Originally a two-day event, the conference was shortened to the Monday sessions after a winter storm was predicted for the area.
Never before in its history had the conference been canceled or shortened. General sessions, breakout sessions and lunches scheduled for Tuesday were canceled, as freezing rain and snow hit the Baton Rouge area that day, making travel nearly impossible.
Keith Manuel, LBC evangelism team associate, said that even though the conference was shortened, God used the two sessions on Monday in a significant way.
“God gave people idea after idea of how to reach people,” Manuel said. “Church members who attended came away so excited about sharing their faith and the opportunities out there to do ministry.”
In his message, Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Director Dr. David Hankins talked about intentional evangelism in the age of rebellion. Hankins said many of those living in the generation described in 2 Timothy 4:3-5 will not endure the sound doctrine of the gospel, discipline their desires or listen to the one preaching God’s Word.
“The apostle says to Timothy his understudy the time will come,” Hankins said. “I believe that time has come.”
To evangelize during this time, Hankins said believers should embrace the scriptures, endure the suffering, evangelize sinners and excel in service.
Hankins encouraged churches to develop a plan of action to examine their internal and external demographics and to use their strengths and giftedness to reach those around them with the gospel.
“What’s your plan?” Hankins asked. “I tell you, if our 1,600 [Louisiana Baptist] congregations all get a dynamic plan that’s specific to their congregation and execute that and God put his blessing on it, the work’s going to be done to the glory of God. But we’ve got to intend to do it.”
Fred Lowery, pastor emeritus at First Baptist Bossier City, explained why he believes churches do not reach people. They turn inward and avoid change.
“Every church begins evangelistically,” said Lowery, who recently retired from First Bossier. “They are intentional right at first. Then something happens. We settle down and we settle in.”
Lowery said churches must continually turn back outward or one day they will not matter. He said this is a continuous process.
“We exist to reach those not yet reached,” Lowery said. “We don’t have church for the people who are there. They’ve already found it. They’ve already gotten saved.
“It’s not about keeping those people happy,” he continued. “It’s about touching the unhappy outside who have not yet shown up yet.”
Lowery said when churches begin turning inward, they become comfortable. And the moment churches become comfortable, the less they want to change.
“If you grow you have to change,” Lowery said. “And if you’re not changing, you’re not growing.”
Lowery said that Christians must be willing to reach those unlike them.
“And we have to hang out with the wrong people for the right reasons,” he said. “Has anybody ever accused you of that, of hanging out with the wrong people? Jesus was accused of over and over and over.
“God is intentional with his love,” he continued. “What matters to God most is people. What matters most to God should matter most to us and what matters most to God is people. So what should matter most to us is people.”
Preceding Lowery was a testimony from Cassie Hammett, director of the Hub: Urban Ministries and Purchased: Not for Sale in Shreveport. She shared how her ministry has impacted and saved many women in the sex trafficking industry in her community.
The ministry to these women, called Purchased: Not For Sale, is part of an overall ministry to the homeless known as The Hub. In addition to ministering to the women in the sex trafficking industry, The Hub also meets such needs as tutoring for children, food pantry, meals, worship services, weekly Bible studies, counseling and outreach to apartments.
According to www.purchasedshreveport.com – the website of Purchased: Not For Sale – 89 percent of women in the sex industry indicate a desire to escape from the lifestyle, yet have no other means for survival. Furthermore, about 300,000 children in the US each year are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation.
Purchased: Not For Sale is named after 1 Corinthians 6:20. The verse communicates perfectly something in which the women she and others minister to can identify, Hammett said.
“Broken people are disparate to look at us and see Him for who He really is, not religion or laws or a to-do-list,” she said. “They are looking to us to see His face, and we are anointed to do that. The calling on our life is to do just that, every single day.”
Hammett believes God will use those women formerly in the sex trafficking industry to spark revival in the Shreveport area.
“What we’re seeing is day after day after day women walking away from the grips of an industry that set out to destroy them, turning their face to the Lord and never looking back,” Hammett said. “In our city he is on the move in the sex industry, changing lives.”
During the final message of the Evangelism Conference, Fred Luter spoke about what happens when a believer makes a prayer request and God says no at the moment. Luter said the answer can be found in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, when the apostle Paul was given a thorn in his flesh and wanted it removed.
To that end, Luter said a restraint, request, response and reason must be examined from the passage.
Luter said like Paul, all believers have a thorn in their flesh restraining them from being all they can be. In the passage, Luter said Paul, who wrote over half the New Testament letters and was persecuted for the gospel, pleaded with God three times to remove the thorn.
“When I read this scripture I really began to think that God was not being fair,” said Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist in New Orleans and president of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Why would not God answer this request? If God would have answered any request, surely it would have been for the apostle Paul.
“Many of us have questioned God,” he continued. “He wants us to pray and tells us to pray. And yet when we pray He says no.”
Luter said that God may say no sometimes but only for that moment.
“When God says no to His children, it’s always no with a comma behind it, meaning there is something else to follow,” he said. “God’s delay is not God’s denial.”
He said the reason why God may say no is so believers can learn to depend on Him.
“If you can do everything on your own, you wouldn’t need God,” Luter said. “If everything happened the way you wanted it to happen, you wouldn’t need God.
“When we are weak, when we want to give up, that’s when God steps in, that’s when God comforts us,” he said. “His grace is sufficient. No matter the thorn, no matter the setback, no matter the pain, you keep on praying, keep on evangelizing. God’s time is not our time, for God’s grace is sufficient for us.”
The theme of the conference was I Will and originally was to be broken into five parts of I Will be – intentional, intercede, invest, invite and impact the World to any and all I see. Each person was asked to write down a person’s name and make a commitment. But because of the elimination of three general sessions on Tuesday, only the first two parts were held.
A booklet that contains 10 pages and five commitments was given out at the conference.
The material along with five dramas can be used for a pastor to preach a five-week series on the material to his congregation.
In addition to hearing inspiring messages and high-energy music from recording artist Charles Billingsley and the Baton Rouge Baptist Community Choir, those attending the conference also had a chance to participate in a servant evangelism project. After last year’s project was so successful, the LBC evangelism and church growth staff came up with another project that would help the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge.
Hundreds of prison care packages were dropped off inside Istrouma Baptist.
Among the items collected were power stick deodorant, soft-handle toothbrushes and BIC pens. They will be delivered by hand along with a prayer and gospel presentation.
Twenty-four people attended the first-ever Louisiana Baptist Convention Hispanic Evangelism Conference. The speakers included Anthony Ahaev, church starting group leader for the California Baptist Convention; Joshua Del Risco, Hispanic and multiethnic evangelism coordinator of the North American Mission Board; NAMB. (NAMB), Daniel Hernandez, Hispanic minister at Broadmoor Baptist in Shreveport; David Rodriguez, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Horeb in Gretna; and Humberto Medina, pastor of Iglesia Cristo Redentor in Mandeville. “La Viña” of Kenner led worship.
Next year’s Hispanic conference will be held on Friday and Saturday, since most of the Hispanic pastors are bi-vocational and most of them cannot afford to take off during the week from work, according to Carlos Schmidt, Hispanic catalytic church planter strategist with the LBC.