By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
SEVIERVILLE – Nearly 2,000 Tennessee Baptists from across the state gathered at the Sevierville Convention Center Nov. 13 for a “Tennessee Reunion.”
An estimated 1,600 people attended the worship service led by fellow Tennessean Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, and president of the Southern Baptist Convention during the opening night of Summit scheduled for Nov. 13-17. Another 400 people attended a concurrent worship service for Hispanic Baptists in an adjoining hall.
Former University of Tennessee football legend Todd Kelly Sr. joined Gaines at the worship service that featured music from the Tennessee Men’s Chorale and praise team from First Baptist Church, Sevierville.
Kelly shared how he grew up in a home where his father worked all the time and was rarely at home. During that time he turned to alcohol and marijuana.
At the end of the day, however, God says there are no excuses, Kelly said.
Many people use poor parenting and a variety of other excuses for bad decisions they have made, he observed. That’s not true, he said. “It’s all a choice. No excuses,” he said.
Kelly credited the turnaround in his life to a Christian wife. “We have a forgiving God,” he noted. He challenged Tennessee Baptists to not allow excuses to rule their life. “Don’t miss out on what God has for you. No more excuses.”
In his message, Gaines shared a quote by President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address in January of 1961. He said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country?”
With the recent election of a new president, Gaines said it is time once again for Americans to ask, “What can I do for my country?”
Gaines cited 10 things that Americans can do.
(1) Pray for your country. Gaines observed there are some people in our country who say we should not pray for it. “There is nothing wrong, and everything right, for Christians who live in the United States of America to pray for God to bless our country,” he said. He challenged Tennessee Baptists to pray for their president and others in leadership whether they agree with their views or not.
(2) Prioritize your family. No country will be stronger than the families who live in that country, he observed.
(3) Work for a living. Gaines noted that God did not create men and women to be lazy. “Unless you are physically or mentally challenged you are supposed to work,” he said. Gaines said the church nor government owes people who are able but choose not to work due to laziness.
(4) Be involved in the local church. “The United States needs more Bible-believing, Jesus-exalting churches,” Gaines said. He added that Christians are the “conscience and heart” of the country.
(5) Love your fellow man. “Christians are commanded to love everyone, not just other Christians,” he observed. Gaines also noted that Christians “are to love even those who are engaged in open sin. We just don’t love the sin.” In addition, Christians are commanded to love people of all skin colors and ethnicities. “All lives matter to God. Jesus died for all people,” he stressed.
(6) Minister to “the least of these.” Find a need and meet it and find a hurt and heal it, Gaines challenged Tennessee Baptists. “We must care for those who are in need.”
(7) Take care of your finances. How Christians use the money entrusted to them by God says a lot, Gaines observed. “Your checkbook tells where your heart really is. … God gives you that money to be a steward. You don’t own anything,” he reminded those in the service. Gaines challenged Tennessee Baptists to tithe, avoid debt, and save for future needs. “Until you learn how to deal with money, God can’t bless you or your church,” he observed.
(8) Share the gospel of Jesus Christ with lost people. “One of the best things you can do is to win lost souls for Jesus Christ,” he said.
(9) Make disciples. “Once you’ve won someone to Jesus you don’t throw them in a corner. You take care of them, love them, and disciple them,” Gaines noted.
(10) Know you are saved, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and live a holy life. Gaines noted there are people who made a decision for Christ 30 years ago yet today never go to church or pray. “Where there is no fruit, there is no root,” he observed. He challenged Tennessee Baptists to make sure they know they are saved and then be filled with the Holy Spirit and live holy lives.
America is in trouble, Gaines said in closing. The answer, he said, “is right here in this room,” referring to Christians and local churches. “We have to wake up and focus on God. We have to be salt and light,” he challenged.
“We have to love our country enough to stand up for our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Gaines closed the service by leading those in attendance in the pledge of allegiance to the American flag and the “Star Spangled Banner.”