In 1873, a young Dwight L. Moody stood in the vestry of a Baptist church in Dublin, Ireland, talking with Henry Varley, an influential British revivalist preacher. During the course of that conversation, Varley uttered words that rocketed through Moody’s soul and altered the course of Moody’s future ministry.
“Moody,” he said, “The world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.”
Moody said he left that meeting with the words written on his soul. He saw them written on the planks of the ship that returned him to America and on the cobblestone streets of Chicago. On a return trip to England, Moody told Varley, “Under the power of those words I have come back to England, and I felt that I must not let more time pass until I let you know how God had used your words to my inmost soul.”
Tennessee Baptists will gather next week at West Jackson Baptist Church for the 144th Annual Tennessee Baptist Convention which we call, “The Summit, A Gathering of Tennessee Baptists.” My prayer is that we will leave that meeting with those same words written on our souls, determined to be fully consecrated to God and focused on reaching all peoples everywhere for Christ.
Our theme this year is “WinTN.” I confess a passionate desire for this to be more than a theme. Would it be to God that Tennessee Baptists would have such a committed love for Jesus Christ that it would stir us to great works of service and ceaseless sharing of the great gospel of our Lord.
The people of Tennessee need consecrated, committed Christians. Tennesseans are a broken people. The people of our state face endless physical problems related to poverty, drugs, illiteracy, orphaned children and on it goes.
However, spiritual lostness is the specter that rises above it all and casts a long shadow the length of our state, from Mountain City to Memphis. Any way you slice it, Tennessee is a mission field. I see WinTN as more than a convention theme; it is a clarion call for Tennessee Baptists to rally to our Savior then go out, proclaiming His gospel message to every home within our state.
We can do it. We’ve done it in the past. Look through our history and you’ll see that Tennessee Baptists have pushed into the spiritual darkness to bring the light of eternal life. Those early Tennessee Baptists ventured where entire communities adamantly resisted hearing their message of hope. Still they pressed on.
As the years passed, they built learning institutions to raise up ministers of the gospel. They built hospitals to care for the sick and dying. They built a children’s home to care for orphans. Churches across our state were planted and grew. Millions have come to Christ. Along the way Tennessee Baptists also established disaster relief to serve others in their most desperate time of need. Countless thousands will stand around the throne of Christ because someone shared the gospel with them while standing in the rubble that was once a home.
I look at our past and rejoice at the legacy we’ve been handed, but I believe the best chapters of that story are yet to be written. I believe that if every Tennessee Baptist caught a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit we’d be such a spiritual force that the likes of what God could do through a consecrated people will have never been seen. The gospel would permeate every conversation. Our financial generosity would so fill our offering plates that fires of mission work fueled by the Cooperative Program and the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions would burn white hot. I believe that we would reach Tennessee and the nations for Christ and see a lasting change that comes only from hearts reconciled to God.
Tennessee Baptists, I hope you’ll join us next week beginning Sunday night at 6 p.m. with a Celebration Service that will surely be a time of worship. Come expecting God to do a work in us. Ask Him to do a work in you. Moody is famously known for adding to Varley’s statement this declarative phrase: “By God’s help, I aim to be that man.” May that be our declaration as well.
It is a joy to be on this journey with you.