Thursday, December 21, 2006


As an actor, writer, and theater teacher, I'm big on threads. Not the kind you use to darn your socks with (just ask my wife), and not the "threads" we used to wear in the 1970s, but the threads the connect point A to point B in a narrative. Good stories, whether they're comedies, or tragedies, or somewhere in the middle, always have good threads; for a number of days I've been praying and ruminating about the threads that have manifested themselves in the recent unpleasantness--which was in many ways a comedy, until events began to turn tragic.

There have been, for a number of months now, three threads in play: trust, integrity, and accountability. I have spent a number of months cataloguing and warning against the difficulties many (if not most) of those opposing Bellevue's staff and lay leadership have in those areas. By the same token, I have also been researching and investigating how members of Bellevue's staff and lay leadership have also had difficulty in those areas, much to my disappointment.

With regard to trust, there's isn't very much to go around these days. The "anti-Bellevue" cadre (and no complaining--your group's continued predilection for attacking those with whom you disagree warrants the continued use of that appellative) has been on the offensive for so long that apologies are ignored, and tempered speech is eschewed. But look at Bellevue's responses. We've seen a gaggle of Communication Committee meetings that produce precious little communication and much more in the way of hard feelings, meetings hosted by staff and lay leadership as prone to dismiss or demean questions, in too many cases, as they were to address them head-on. We've seen pronouncements from the pulpit by various individuals that do not stand up to close examination. And now we've seen, unfortunately, felonious activity that does not (from the available evidence) appear to have been addressed swiftly and decisively.

Let me pause a moment to remind everyone involved in this of something: A crime has been committed, and innocent people have been injured in ways I simply cannot comprehend. If you use this crime as a jumping-off point to make specious accusations against anyone in leadership at Bellevue, you run the risk of being known as an opportunist, someone who is inured to the pain of others, yet glad to use it as another weapon in your arsenal. Some of you have already gone down that road--back up while you still can. Now is the time to be sober and measured in any and every response; if you don’t keep those with whom you’ve shared a viewpoint over the past few months in line, you’re tacitly endorsing their bad behavior.

Integrity is something else that is lacking these days, but something that can (just as trust can) be reclaimed. The penny-ante nonsense that was at the heart of the so-called "saving Bellevue" business should've been left by the wayside months ago, but it hasn't been; if you're one of the ones still percolating the small stuff, please stop. But there is much to be desired in the behavior of Bellevue leadership, as well. I trust they will agree with me that there have been too many actions for which apologies have been issued over the past few months. Personally, I wouldn't have issued some of the apologies, but that's neither here nor there; the fact is that it is incumbent upon Bellevue leadership to make decisions and engage in behavior for which apologies are unnecessary. I have often summarized the decision-making process of Bellevue Baptist Church in years past with the following axiom: The wheels of Bellevue grind slow, but exceeding fine. This should be the standard to which the Bellevue Baptist Church of today aspires, and achieves.

Accountability is a much easier matter to address. Never mind the anti-Bellevue bomb-tossing and sniper fire, conducted largely by people who either do it from the shadows or by people who make absolutely sure they get all the brownie points they can from their fellow "antis." (By the way, do TV interview appearances count for extra points?) Since this business has escalated from personal tastes being offended and certain individuals being disgruntled, the response from Bellevue leadership must be both more open, and more direct.

How do we all keep those three threads from fraying even further? The first step is actually a simple one: We must convene an official business meeting (not a one-way "informational" meeting) as soon as physically possible. It must not be held after Sunday night church, but at a more accessible time, perhaps a Sunday afternoon; cancel the evening service if necessary, but every single Bellevue member who has a significant question must be given the opportunity to speak, whether "anti," "pro," or otherwise. Direct, honest, open, Christ-honoring communication is the key to healing--because the lack of it is at the heart of the problems we're facing as a church body.

Pastor Gaines and Bellevue leadership, I know you keep tabs on this little corner of the Internet, and I'm frankly blessed by that beyond the shadow of any doubt or peradventure. Just as I have never questioned the character of those who would attack you, please understand that I do not question yours. However, I must stress that the objections to certain of your actions are not without foundation. A friend of mine, Mike Spradlin, has gone so far as to call for Pastor Gaines' resignation. Do I agree with him? No--but keep in mind that I also don't agree with much of what he wears to the athletic fields. Seriously, though, I believe from the evidence I've seen that calls for the resignation of any member of Bellevue leadership (either staff or lay leaders) are premature; however, I also believe that public apologies are due Dr. Spradlin for at least two incidents he's gone through with Bellevue leadership in recent months, incidents whose details I do not have permission to cite in detail.

Do I love my church? Absolutely.

Do I love my pastor? Absolutely.

Do I love those who disagree with him? Absolutely.

Which is why I must encourage my pastor and my church to convene in a business meeting. We have business which requires our attention, because it is distracting us from our singular responsibility of sharing Christ with a lost and dying world.

Merry Christmas.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Watch this space

For those of you looking for fresh commentary, the combination of illness in the family, Christmas activities, and recent events at church have made it prudent for me to rework my planned remarks. Thanks for your interest, and check back often.


Monday, December 04, 2006

The best defense

I am personally offended...

Never minds that "anti-" speak (in or out of the Bellevue difficulties) is riddled with this phrase and its variants, and that the phrase is often considered to be an excuse for any number of responses, from passive-aggressive to hyperbolic. Last night I was able to hear this phrase (and its variants) actually coming out of some folks' mouths at the Music Communication Committee meeting. It was an eye-opener, to say the least.

The song "You Humble Me"? Personally offensive to some.

Percussion, and upbeat, "modern" arrangements in general? Personally offensive to some.

Praise teams? Personally offensive to some.

The casting process for church productions? Personally offensive to some.

It was very much a blessing that I had to leave when I did, because the meeting was degenerating from a question-and-answer-and-comment session to a talk-over-one-another, don't-give-the-people-running-the-meeting-a-chance-to-respond session. (And no, I didn't say anything; I did put my hand up once, but then took it back down.) It's my hope that the meeting got back under control, but you never know.

You've heard the expression "The best defense is a good offense," have you not? I hope the "personally offended" among us will consider a permutation on that old axiom, something along the lines of "The best defense is not to give too much credit to being personally offended." No, it doens't flow quite as trippingly from the tongue, but it gets the point across. When something is a matter of taste, one's own personal tastes cannot be elevated to too high a position--and when something is a matter of objective truth versus subjective opinion, opinion loses out ten times out of ten.

Or, at least it ought to.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

One more $25,000 Question

Were there more efficacious ways to help--ways that wouldn't have given an opportunity for some to treat Bellevue like a piñata?



Sunday, November 26, 2006

Congratulations, Mr./Ms. Anonymous!

You've just posted the one millionth slur from someone with an anti-Bellevue mindset! Unfortunately, since you were anonymous, I can't award you your huge prize package--although I have a way of commemorating the event. For the record, here's the soon-to-be-famous brickbat:

Anonymous said...
mike since you support the 25k gift to a church thats supports that abortion .that makes you a supporter of abortion,thats a label you can live with

8:03 PM, November 25, 2006

And it serves so perfectly as an example of why such a mindset is undesirable!

Does it attack a person rather than discuss a position? Yes.

Does it attempt to confront, rather than debate? Yes.

Does it demonstrate hate? Yes.

Does it say things from the luxury of anonymity that the poster would, for a variety of reasons, never say in person? Yes.

It did all these things so well, it made me reconsider the fact that I've allowed total anonymity in comments since the inception of TBR. (Cool acronym, hmm?) Well, you totally-anonymous folks will have to step up to pseudonyms, because the hit-and-run anonymous post is a thing of the past. Enough of you have abused the privilege so that it has to go away.

And speaking of the one millionth slur, let me post something our friend Mrs. Wilmoth sent me regarding it, thusly and like so:

Faulty logic. That's like saying if I voted for Bush, I'm in favor of our soldiers dying in Iraq. The issues of the donation to First Methodist and being in favor of abortion are not mutually exclusive. There are those of us who see it from a totally different perspective than others. Why must there be judgment, "labels," and "dead babies in the offering plate" when that was NO ONE'S intent in sending the donation?

Don't tell me what I believe. I settled the issue of abortion in my heart and mind a long time ago, and I have not changed my opinion one whit. However, I do NOT see the donation to First Methodist as a mistake. And that does NOT make me a supporter of abortion.

At the risk of being accused of "demonizing," I will repeat what has been said by others in so many other venues (and perhaps more delicately): There are plenty of churches in this city where one can worship. If I couldn't live with the decisions made by the leaders and shepherds over me, I would not continue to worship under their leadership. I would find a church that matched my expectations and "shake the dust" off as I left one that did not. And I hope and pray I would not attempt (either explicitly or implicitly) to destroy any church or its members in the process.

All in my opinion, of course.

Now it's my turn.

The one millionth post was both gutless and clueless--what that says about the author, I'll leave to you people to decide. The anonymous author either doesn't know me or doesn't care that I'm probably more pro-life in word and deed than he/she is on his/her best day--which isn't a bragging point, but a statement of fact. I understand that you and yours label people in lieu of discussing ideas and points of view, but please understand that such personal attacks benefit no one, and only do further damage to you and yours.

And speaking of "labels," let me caution you and yours about something: The only label worth having is the label of Christian. Any other label--including the label of "pro-life"--that takes precedence over the one of Christian is an idol, purely and simply. There are people in this world who are 100% "pro-life," working tirelessly against the evil of abortion-on-demand, who are as lost as proverbial geese. If people worry that showing kindness to an individual or a group might damage their pro-life credentials, those people should re-examine their priorities.

When groups such as the coalition attacking the pastor, staff, and lay leadership continue to try to tar and feather individuals, rather than debate positions, they guarantee the persistence of the perception they're more about rousing the rabble than reforming the church.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Traveling like wildfire

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend of mine. He's been hearing little wafts of information regarding the happenings at Bellevue, and wanted to know if it was as nasty as he'd been hearing.
I asked "What have you been hearing?" His reply was accurate--that there are a group of people in the church membership that won't merely be happy if Pastor Gaines (and a number of other staff members) leave Bellevue, that these people are now in the mode to destroy careers and, yes, ruin lives.

Unfortunately, it seems many people have left "disagree without being disagreeable" in the rear view mirror a long time ago, and that's a shame. Oddly enough, the bad news had traveled to my friend complete with context, which was actually a pleasant surprise. But the fact that the bad news is traveling at all should stand as a convicting indictment against the people who attack the Bellevue staff and lay leadership. Words and actions, particularly in this age, reverberate past their intended audiences; we should all, therefore, choose them carefully.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The $25,000 Questions


Because that's what it boils down to.

Backstory: Recently, Bellevue Baptist Church donated $25,000 to First United Methodist Church, a church in downtown Memphis whose building and infrastructure was savaged in a fire. Pastor Gaines suggested the idea of a donation to the Bellevue Finance Committee, and the result was a contribution to First United.

Some individuals who harbor an anti-Bellevue sentiment (and, quite frankly, some who do not) have questioned the wisdom of such a donation. After a good deal of prayer, personal reflection, and consultation with friends, the only thing I can condemn about the donation is that it just might not have been enough.

For those up in arms about giving money to a church with a female pastor, to a church that refuses to call people to repent of certain Biblically-defined sins (particularly those of a sexual nature), here are some questions you must ask anyone to whom you offer help in the future:

1) Do you believe in everything I believe in?

2) And not just the "non-negotiables," such as how to be saved--do you share all my doctrines?

3) If I find out later that you don't completely agree with me on everything, would you mind terribly if I pull the rug out from under you?

Keep in mind, these questions have to extend to everything from financial assistance to changing a tire to giving directions.

When we see people in legitimate need--particularly brothers and sisters in Christ--our job is to help, not to run a background check. When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, it's worth noting in His story that the Samaritan didn't share all the wounded man's beliefs; he just did what was right.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Please pray

I have spent today with my family, watching football, at the paint store, and in prayer.

Over the past several days--well, more than that, actually--I have been burdened to the point of distraction for those who have chosen a "side" against the majority of the staff, deacon body, and congregation of Bellevue Baptist Church. I use the word "majority" because there is, according to what I have read, heard and seen over these past months, a minority who refuse to be satisfied until great damage is done to the church as a whole.

Now, that is not to say that these people wake up in the morning and say to themselves "Let's see what great damage I can do to Bellevue as a whole today!" Quite to the contrary, the vast majority of this minority is no doubt sincere--but also myopic. Their stated concern for Bellevue has led them to a Machiavellian focus on the end result, never mind the means used to achieve that end. They hide behind pseudonyms, generally, except for those in the forefront of the group who have chosen to wear their real names on the backs of the team jerseys for their "side." As a rule, they attack in writing in ways etiquette would forbid in conversation. When they are accommodated, it isn't enough; when their questions receive answers, either the answers are insufficient or else new questions magically appear.

To respond with skepticism regarding their validity of their actions or their ideas, as many have found out, is to be put in the crosshairs, figuratively speaking. And this, to me, is the most disappointing part of the whole sordid affair, even more disappointing than discovering I use far, far too many commas when I write. But seriously... when that "side" pushes, attacks, and defames pastors, deacons, and other church members in general without concern or apology, my heart breaks for everyone concerned--but mostly for the group carrying out such anti-Bellevue behavior.

Yes, "anti-Bellevue." Since the day the dissent moved from a private campaign of whispers within the church body to a public campaign of websites, news articles and forums, it has been attempted to be incredibly injurious to Bellevue as a whole. As most every person's grandmother has said, it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable, but those in the vanguard of the movement against Bellevue show precious little evidence of remembering the saying. Pastor Gaines is Hitler, so they say; the deacons who support him are Fascists, and the majority of the congregation is a group of ignorant sycophants. How, exactly, do these caricatures come across as constructive in nature? How do they bring benefit at this point in Bellevue's existence? Obviously, they do not.

Bellevue Baptist Church has been used of God for over a century in ministering the Gospel to those who need to hear it. I would suggest it is possible to be dissatisfied with the way the church has been, or is, operating without engaging in behavior that damages the church as a whole. Such behavior as we see is anti-Bellevue, though I seriously doubt the heart of anyone engaging in such behavior is.

We should, we must be prayerful in our approach to this time of testing. Whatever your opinion of any given matter in your church, do not use your opinion as justification for assaulting those with whom you disagree--rather, use it as a opportunity to draw closer to God.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

And curiouser

The "Lie Headline" might have been removed from, but the information it advertised was not. My thanks to a sharp-eyed friend who noticed a cursor change whenever the cursor got close to the two spinning rings on the "saving Bellevue" home page. And when one clicks the rings (orbiting the word "Truth," ironically), the same article exists in its entirety. While the headline was removed, the accusations--including the allegation that, where Pastor Gaines is concerned, "TRUTH IS A MOVING TARGET"--still reside on the site.

Again, such sites must be shuttered by those that operate them; they were a bad idea that has only gotten worse.


EDITED TO ADD: I'm pleased to note that the "hidden link" no longer works. Why it was there in the first place will, no doubt, remain a mystery that only Internet archeologists of the far-distant future will be able to solve.

However, I'm not so pleased to note a "saving Bellevue" invitation for members of Pastor Gaines' former church in Gardendale, Alabama to e-mail the site. Why, there's even a special inbox set up just for them. Wonder why?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Curiouser and curiouser

"Saving Bellevue"

"Never sacrifice truth for unity"

"The Lie Headline has been removed. After talking to Jim Barnwell there appears there is a logical explanation and a communication problem that caused this. One of the parties involved will be back from Chicago tomorrow to set the record straight. This is very damaging to Steve and it is only right that this web site give you the truth where it falls even if this information was wrong on our part. This will be addressed in the next few days."

"Jim Haywood"

Reads like an apology at first glance, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it falls into the "mistakes were made" category of political-speak in lieu of an actual "I made a mistake" apology.

And what were the ramifications of the "Lie Headline"? How many people saw that who won't see a retraction, modification, or apology? For a number of weeks, truth has been getting sacrificed for an agenda of hate and confrontation by the anti-Bellevue coalition. However, I don't want my pragmatism to devolve into pessimism; if Mr. Haywood and those with a similar mindset can take this first step, there may yet be hope.

Consequently, I prayerfully hope for further apologies, particularly with regard to painting the worship services coming up Sunday morning as a confrontational "Showdown," and for depicting deacons supportive of Pastor Gaines as masked Fascists.

To the principals: Please stop using websites and forums to foment dissent. You only injure yourselves and those who get caught up with you in the anti-Bellevue wave of belligerency and negativity. We have a Commission that the so-called "saving Bellevue" business does nothing to fulfill.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Beyond the pale

The mentality of the so-called "saving Bellevue" mindset was put on full display this morning--if only briefly. A friend e-mailed me about a disturbing image he found on their website, an image meant as commentary for a resolution which members of the Bellevue deacon body will be able to sign showing support for Pastor Gaines.

The attached, nonsensical, straw-man article about "preacher rule" would've been bad enough by itself; it's still there, if you choose to peruse it. But the page detailing the resolution also contained a vile image on it, an image that puts to rest any notions that "saving Bellevue" is interested in "saving" much of anything. Yes, they yanked it down, but not quickly enough; the mere fact that they used it in the first place is, undeniably, beyond the pale.

You determine for yourself whether or not you want to be part of a group that views others in such a hate-filled way. The image in question:

I pray that it is, indeed, possible to dialogue with such people. I also pray that they will, first, openly repent of such a mindset. We will see what the coming days have in store, and how God will work in the situation.


EDITED TO ADD: The November 19th worship service in which the deacon body is scheduled to show support for Pastor Gaines has now been labeled by the anti-Bellevue faction euphemistically known as "saving Bellevue" as the day for a "Showdown." I have no words to describe the sadness I feel, waking up to such bile from those who say they want to "save" Bellevue Baptist Church.

EDITED TO ADD SOME MORE: Just for clarity's sake, let me say that I viewed the image directly on (and captured it directly from) that site, not from the e-mail I received. And with regard to the "Oh, they took it down, now you take it down" crowd, that's not the point. The point is that, whether it was up for five minutes or five months, that is how they view people who disagree with them.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Quote for the day

As I slogged through the anti-Bellevue texts today, I was reminded of this quote, from one of my favorite philosophers. I shared it on one of those sites, but I wanted to share it with you, as well. I quote it thusly, and like so:

"I think, when one has been angry for a very long time, one gets used to it. Then it becomes comfortable, like old leather. And finally, it is so familiar one can't remember feeling any other way. But in the long run, we are the ones who are damaged by that kind of behavior. We are. Not them."

A laurel and a hearty handshake if you know the name of the philosopher--and no fair Googling.


Why he retired

Some prescient comments from Pastor Rogers as to why he chose to retire. Your comments, as always, are welcome.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Sniper fatigue

The recent (ongoing?) unpleasantness precipitated by some members of Bellevue Baptist Church seems to be subsiding; at least, the shrillness of the personal animosity has been toned down.

In any organizational disagreement, and sometimes when an organization is running smoothly, there are those who engage in what can be called rock-tossing, bomb-throwing, or sniping. These are the people who, for whatever reason, anonymously attack those with whom they disagree on an issue under the pretense of speaking to the issue. People who snipe generally run on raw emotions. Thankfully, over time, those emotions can wind down, and most people who play the role of "sniper" do not take the time to groom understudies. As Pastor Rogers used to observe, if an individual doesn't sign a complaint, that complaint cannot be taken seriously.

No doubt this subsiding is the direct answer to prayer--the prayers of both the people who are aligned with the unfortunate, anachronistically-named "saving Bellevue" group, as well as by the church body as a whole. When the disagreements contract back within the church walls, it will be far more difficult for the snipers to lock in on a target, and virtually impossible for them to express themselves anonymously. And when people take ownership of their remarks, those remarks are almost always tempered. At that point, we may begin to see resolution.

Occasionally, those of us who don't believe Bellevue to be in dire straits are accused of "marching in lockstep," "drinking the Kool-Aid," or other such nonsense meant to imply unquestioning compliance. Personally, such is not the case; as a matter of fact, I don't know that I've met anyone at church who would fall into that category. I do know that when most people have questions or concerns about something at church, they ask them as directly as possible, rather than sprinting to the nearest website or reporter.

If your concern regarding Bellevue has been addressed, but you're not fond of the answer you've received, you do have the choice of going elsewhere, but I would advise against it. I've been at Bellevue since the Midtown days (though not consecutively), so I have personally had more than one occasion where (gasp!) I disagreed with something going on, either with an individual, a class, or church-wide. Is that motivation to leave? Not in the slightest, or at least it shouldn't be. As Christians, if our church affiliation isn't motivated by where we need to be, rather than where we need to leave, perhaps we should revisit just why it is we are where we are.

One of my favorite playwrights put it this way: "Don't think of it as leaving here... think of it as going there." If you need to go there, go there--but if you aren't led to go, you must stay. God has a marvelous way of working things out.


EDITED TO ADD: Or, perhaps it was all the calm before an unnecessary storm.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

No stop left un-pulled

Harold Ford Jr. came to Memphis today, but that wasn't the big news. The big news was that Bill Clinton came to town to campaign for him.

At a church.

This is news why, exactly?

Oh, and we must remember the words that should follow young Mr. Ford the rest of his political life (though he attributes them to Lincoln Davis): "Republicans fear the Lord. Democrats fear and love the Lord."

Must be why Democrats have abortion-on-demand as a central plank in their party's platform, right? Mr. Ford Jr., when you get that plank removed, and turn the party of Jim Webb and Barney Frank and Ted Kennedy and John Kerry into something resembling what it was thirty years ago, you might then be able to make the second half of Mr. Davis' statement into something other than a punch line.

Ever since Mr. Ford Jr. tried and failed to pull a "gotcha!" by showing up at a Bob Corker press conference and whining that the two of them just didn't get to spend enough time together ("I can never find you!"), there has been evidence of desperation in Mr. Ford Jr.'s campaign. As of today, I think he has, officially, pulled out all the stops.

Votes of this magnitude are not always between the candidate you love and the candidate you loathe--sometimes it's just a question of who the better candidate is of the two. If Bob Corker were a pro-abortion Republican, or someone who made irresponsibly divisive and questionable statements about faith, or someone who (let's face it) has historically given the appearance of being a political puppet, I might end up voting for Mr. Ford Jr., not Mr. Corker.

Before I close, there are two articles I'd like you to read, from the candidates' own websites (there's your warning): One from Mr. Ford Jr., and one from Mr. Corker.

I'm interested in hearing what you take away from both those articles.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

A request

There's a new link on the righthand portion of the screen. It's the first one in the list, entitled "Loving Bellevue."

Please follow it.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Amendment 1

If you're one of those who's been tempted by the "I'll show 'em what I think of this election by sitting out!" mentality, think again. Particularly if you live in Tennessee. Mercurial columnist for the Memphis Commercial Appeal Wendi C. Thomas tapped out an article for today's edition regarding Amendment 1--you can read it in its entirety here.

One scintillating reader comment to her article reads thusly, and like so: "Where does 'all' stop, Wendi? Obviously not with homosexuality, in your eyes. Does 'all' mean polygamy, too? Polyandry? Pedophilia? Bestiality? Necrophilia? Since you don't like the line where it is, where do you propose we draw it?"

On November 7th, a vote for Amendment 1 will insulate current Tennessee law against the possibility of judges legislating from the bench with regard to the issue of so-called homosexual "marriage," such misuse having cropped up earlier this week in New Jersey.

Predictably, Shelby County Democrats have passed a resolution regarding Amendment 1. They characterize the amendment as one of "hate" and "discrimination," which is, of course, emotionally-charged nonsense; give the Shelby Dems credit, though, for attributing the source of their rhetoric as the DNC, and Howard Dean himself.

For no other reason than to vote for Amendment 1, please make it a priority to vote on November 7th.


EDITED TO ADD: Early voting in Tennessee runs through November 2. For a list of early voting location in your county, click here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

People of fact

A reply to my "21st Century malady" article was particularly interesting, so I thought it would be appropriate to reply to it in a more open fashion, rather than in a comment thread. Here is the reply, quoted thusly and like so:

"Those of us who are Christians are, by definition, people of fact."

You are wrong Mike. In fact, it's the exact opposite. "Those of use who are Christians are, by definition, people of FAITH.". The Darwist and the Humanist would say that he is the person of "fact".

Sounds right, doesn't it? The Bible is loaded to the brim with references to faith. Faith is a fundamental part of Christianity. So why in the world would I say that those of us who are Christians are people of "fact"?

Because every person is a "person of faith," even if that person chooses not to admit it.

To reference the above-quoted observation, the Darwinist is a person of faith. He or she invests his or her faith in the notion that, given enough time, amoeba can become accountants. The Darwinist has no facts to work with, no transitional forms that would give evidence of between-species evolution, nothing but the dogged belief that organic life, in defiance of a basic law of physics, gets more complex over time.

The Humanist has even less to work with. He or she invests his or her faith in the notion that human beings are basically wonderful. Did you know there's a Humanist Manifesto? Absolutely, and organized Humanism does Darwinism one better; the tail end of their Manifesto reads thusly: "We assert that humanism will: (a) affirm life rather than deny it; (b) seek to elicit the possibilities of life, not flee from them; and (c) endeavor to establish the conditions of a satisfactory life for all, not merely for the few. By this positive morale and intention humanism will be guided, and from this perspective and alignment the techniques and efforts of humanism will flow."

Does anyone know of any facts that would have motivated anyone to think that human beings, in and of themselves, are ever going to turn this planet into a Utopia?

Didn't think so. Me either.

Darwinists put their faith in random chance. Humanists put their faith in human goodness. Those of us who are Christians, to the contrary, put our faith in facts--in a set of undeniable truths. We are not merely "people of faith," because everyone possesses a faith which must be invested, either in something or someone. Or, in our case, Someone. We have put our faith in the fact that "God became flesh, and dwelt among us," and thus made a way for us to have an everlasting, saving relationship with Him.

Faith and facts are not polar opposites. As Adrian Rogers used to say, "Faith in faith is positive thinking." Faith in Christ leads to salvation.

And that is a fact.


Monday, October 23, 2006

A common 21st Century malady

As we delve further each day into the new century (which, as of this writing, is still, for some sad reason, personal-jet-pack free), we see more and more evidence of a trend that, in and of itself, isn't fond of evidence. It is the trend of emotionalism, where otherwise well-meaning people give their emotions--and anything attached to them, such as opinions, perceptions, and the like--equal footing with objective, verifiable, no-doubt-about-it facts.

This malady afflicts, to varying degrees, both major political parties in the United States; it is pervasive in the Democrat Party (with the prime example being their core pro-abortion position), and is making inroads in the Republican Party (with the prime example being those in their party who don't address illegal immigration as both a law-enforcement and a national-security problem). It is ever-present in the larger society, where litigation is the weapon of first choice from those who make careers out of being aggrieved. And it is even rearing its ugly, maniacal head in Christian churches, where the old campfire song "They'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love" is being reworked as "They'll know it's a church fuss when they see our laundry."

Those of us who are Christians are, by definition, people of fact. If it is not a fact that God is Who He says He is, if it is not a fact that Jesus stepped out of a grave one Sunday morning, if it is not a fact that the Bible is accurate and authoritative, if it is not a fact that the only way to spend one's eternity in Heaven is through a salvific relationship with Jesus Christ, then we Christians are wasting our collective time. If the Bible is not factual, then it is not credible, and we are no better off than followers of any human-constructed religion; to coin a phrase, "we are of all men most miserable." Thankfully, those are all objective facts: Our choice to accept them as such gives them no more credibility than rejection of those facts gives them less.

The recent brouhaha at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis (sounds like a pay-per-view event, doesn't it? "The Brouhaha At Bellevue!!"), where a small group of members has bypassed the Biblical mandate to keep church disagreements within the church, is an example of emotionalism being the sole fuel for a viewpoint. Just as in the legal concept of the "fruit of the poisonous tree," the entire group is contaminated by the emotional choice (still ongoing) to broadcast their personal disapproval of just about every aspect of what goes on under the leadership of Bellevue's pastor, Dr. Steve Gaines. Using a website orbited by several satellite blogs, the group publicly disagrees with everything from salaries to song services, with lurid headlines billboarding stories of each new imagined transgression.

The headlines are a key to the lack of restraint which is a key element of emotional appeals--desperate times calling for desperate measures, and such. Since officially violating Biblical dispute-resolution principles by going online in August 2006, this anti-Bellevue group (their viewpoint being "anti-Bellevue" because of a refusal of responsibility for the consequences of their behavior) has used personal disparagement as a calling card. Bellevue members who do not share their view, and Bellevue's senior staff have been defamed in various media as "cowards," "the Mafia," Stepford robots, and supposdly employing a "Hitler style of management," among other libelous appellations. This anti-Bellevue activity has even gone to the extent of publishing the e-mail addresses (and, until they had to good sense to remove the information from their main site, the home addresses and telephone numbers) of the deacon body--which, at Bellevue, is composed of more than 180 deacons.

When emotionalism drives people to engage in behaviors that are counterproductive to the larger cause of Christ, it should be a reminder to us all not to fall prey to the same temptations in our own lives. The blogging site I use has as a positioning statement the phrase "Push-Button Publishing." Just because something is suddenly easy to do, such as publishing your opinion when something at church doesn't please you, does not mean it is automatically right to do. The advent of this century has not brought with it jet-packs (though we must not give up hope), but it has brought with it a new ease in indulging one's own subjective emotions. We must guard against pushing buttons in an emotional reflex; after all, the Christian church is a place where Jesus is glorified and saints are equipped, not a place where every whim and opinion must be sated.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Bears

No, I'm not writing about the Chicago Bears, who (as of this moment) are 6-0, with a two-and-a-half game lead over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC "Norris" Division. I'm writing about something a friend of mine reminded me of recently with respect to the disappointing bombast directed at senior Bellevue leadership.

As we were conversing, I expressed concern and compassion for those in the so-called "saving Bellevue" group; with a furrowed brow, he nodded and said to me "Mike, I love them--I just pray the bears don't run out of the woods on 'em." That remark stuck with me, and has been an additional reminder to me that any conversation should be about ideas and viewpoints, and should studiously avoid self-inflated opinions and personal potshots.

If I may synopsize for you the true story my friend referenced, thusly and like so:

A long time ago, there was a man of God who was anointed to be a leader. He had been the apprentice of a well-known, Godly, much-loved figure--one could even call him a prophet. This prophet was someone who received adulation not just in his immediate vicinity, but throughout their nation. After this well-known, Godly, much-loved figure had completed his ministry (and immediately before he went on to be with the Lord), he passed his mantle on to his apprentice, this man of God who was chosen to be the successor to the prophet's ministry.

The man of God had barely picked up his mentor's mantle when some of his mentor's followers began pining for the mentor. Ignoring the apprentice's appeals, they badgered him until they were allowed to search the countryside, a search which came up empty. After that, most of the congregants began to settle in with their new leader, taking their concerns to this man of God--even concerns they hadn't taken to his predecessor.

Not everyone, though, was so warm and receptive. As he was out one day, on his way to meet with other believers and share what heady things God had been doing in his life, he was accosted by a mob, dozens of young people. Their taunts had nothing to do with how this man of God was doing his job--these were people who made a habit of mocking others, and they repeated their jeers so this man of God couldn't help but hear them. Your mentor is dead, right? Why don't you join him, you bald-headed idiot? Yeah, you heard us! Why don't you die and go up to heaven, too, bald-head?

This was crossing a line. They were mature enough to know better, but that didn't matter. These young people weren't disagreeing with how the new leader was doing his job, but rather ganging up on this man, attacking the new leader personally, publicly, and repeatedly. Their attacks were at once insubstantial and vindictive.

The man of God turned around, and stared at them for what must have been a long moment. It was God's prompting that caused him to utter the curse--what a horrible thing it must be to be legitimately cursed in the Lord's name!--and then, it happened.

Meeting up with one wild bear would be bad enough. Two of them would be a multiplied danger, particularly when God has given them their marching orders. The entire mob, all 42 of them, died in the divinely-ordered bear attack. They weren't just killed, they were shredded, torn by two she-bears. And why? Not for debating policy or doctrine, but for verbally attacking people. Verbally, mind you.

And the man of God? He went about his business.


If you will...

...please take the time to visit the "Faux rescues" post on this site, located in the September 3 archive. After receiving a friendly e-mail from someone who disagreed with a portion of that post, I have updated it as a result of his observations.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

For everyone's edification

Here's another comment that warrants response in a post, rather than in a comment thread:

I am the anonymous writer who requested that the label anti-Bellevue not be continued.

Pleasure to meet you.

Please don’t take the time to educate me on the English language as I am fairly proficient in this area. You may be a great voice person but I do have a functioning knowledge of our language.

I'm quite flattered, actually. And I'd love to return the compliment, but I know so little about you. However, I don't recall questioning your knowledge of English...

Just for your edification ‘anti’ is a term meaning ‘against or opposed to something’ therefore your use of anti-Bellevue would mean that someone is against or opposed to Bellevue.

You, however, feel free to question mine?

For the record, though, I completely agree with your observation. "Anti" does, indeed, mean "against or opposed to something." Which is why the term is employed (and not just by my own self, mind you) with reference to those associated with the so-called "Saving Bellevue" group.

And that is not the case.

But of course it is. It became the case the day set up shop, and was only accentuated when some affiliated with it began to give interviews to the local media.

Additionally Dr. Rogers’s comments were in the context of a pastor’s style of preaching and leadership. I don’t think anyone who sat under Dr. Rogers believes that he would have approved with the methods being used to stifle and intimidate fellow members.

As I've written more than once, it's the anti-Bellevue cadre that stifles dissenting opinion on their website and blogs (refusing as a rule to print such opinions), pins pejoratives such as "coward" or "Mafia" on those who disagree, and attacks individuals instead of discussing ideas.

Someone, please, show us all a single, documented, factual example of a senior staff member at Bellevue Baptist Church putting the screws to a Bellevue member.

And to save someone the effort: Secondhand information, or information that's your anonymous word against someone else's, doesn't meet the criteria.

My last point to you Mike is that you seem to demean people who don’t post their names.

As I've said before, I'm not sanguine about antagonistic remarks made by people from the shadows of anonymity. This is one of the primary problems with the "Saving Bellevue" group: With the exception of a few, they conduct their unfortunate activity without signing their names.

Some of us may not be in a situation whereby we can post our names due to our position within the church.

If you value your "position within the church" so much that you are unwilling to sign your names to what you write--particularly when it's in opposition to something you believe to be wrong, I really don't know what to tell you.

Except to suggest you might want to re-evaluate your positions, both on this "saving Bellevue" business and within the church.

I recall Dr. Roger’s (sic) asking if a man was in search of the truth or just searching to fortify his stated position. Mike, I ask you directly “Are you seeking the truth or just looking to support the stand which you have taken?”.

And I'll answer directly: Seeking the truth.

I expect to meet this week with a friend and brother in Christ who disagrees with my viewpoint on this issue. If he presents me with facts that change my viewpoint, I will not hesitate to say so. However, I didn't come to my present position via emotion, opinion, half-truth, rumor, or esteem for another individual, but by facts.

And one incontrovertible fact is that the conduct and content at has been divisive, personality-driven, and a vigorous violation of the Biblical template.

Way back when, there was the concept in U.S. politics of the "loyal opposition." Were you an elected federal official who disagreed with the President? By all means, disagree with him--even work to unseat him in the next election. But never, never denigrate him to the United States' enemies, or otherwise work to undermine the country's status in the eyes of the world.

Is this the first time a congregant's disagreed with a pastor? Of course not. Unfortunately, it's becoming increasingly common to run "attack ads" against one's pastor, campaigning against him publicly.

And that only serves to undermine the church's status in the eyes of the world.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Here, let me hold up this mirror...

If you anti-Bellevue folks genuinely like the way you look in it, well, I don't know what else to say--except to encourage you to look a little harder. This anonymous comment is a prime example of what you (and all of us) should seek to avoid:

You guys just don't get it. Do you not see that you are amateurs compared to Josh Manning

Again, it's about personalities, not issues. The Sheehan Syndrome is alive and well, as noted previously.

and he has gained more respect after Weatherwax letters than he ever had.

Respect from whom, exactly? From those who write anonymously, throwing rocks and then hiding their hands? How, exactly, does throwing long-distance verbal Molotovs engender respect--much less "more respect"--from anyone?

Do you have a problem with the truth?

Good Tom Cruise impression. I'll refrain from playing the Jack Nicholson role here, if you don't mind...

Looks like to me PW lied in his first letter and admitted it in the next.

Your opinion is irrelevant, as is mine. The fact of the matter is that Bro. Phil Weatherwax's second letter didn't apologize for anything. In it, he did state that he loves young Mr. Manning, and is concerned about the level of contentiousness.

You and are now following the pattern that our Paster (sic) started. You better watch out

Nebulous, veiled threats are part of that contentiousness.

or people will start holding the tithes for God until SG and Jamie are fully exposed.

As are more pointed threats.

Its all about the money now and Steve caused it. Yeah he knows the Bible but so do you and so do I.

Thank you for the compliment, but honestly, I have no idea what you know and what you don't know. Behind your anonymity, you could be an eighty-year-old Buddhist.

Or a forty-year-old atheist.

Or a twenty-something grad student.

Please, people--if you feel there are issues to discuss, discuss the issues. Leave personalities out of it. When you attack others, you do no favors to the name of Christ.

I'm going to leave this mirror propped up for awhile. Let's all make good use of it.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Something has recently dawned on me.

And by "recently," I mean about ten seconds ago.

Does anyone passing through this little corner of the Internet think, for a moment, that President George W. Bush needs to sit down for a serious one-on-one with Cindy Sheehan? Mrs. Sheehan, who lost her son Casey in Iraq, actually received personal condolences from the President; after their meeting, she had nothing but nice things to say about Mr. Bush. Fast-forward a bit, and she's camping out in a ditch near the President's Texas home, "protesting" the war effort and opining about virtually anything and everything else. Fast-forward a bit more, and she's purchasing property in Crawford under false pretenses so she can more easily hector President Bush, still using her son's coffin as a soapbox.

Mrs. Sheehan's tactic (and the tactic of those surrounding her) is to make her own self the issue.

Unfortunately, that same tactic is being employed by Mark Sharpe And Friends.

Let me quote Mr. Sharpe, thusly and like so:

I feel compelled

The question asked was in reference to Mark Sharpe's request

(There's that talking-about-oneself-in-the-third-person business again. Mike Bratton just hates that...)

I'm not sure how much he knows about the situation because I've not talked to Jim Barnwell and Jim Barnwell has not talked with me.

Unless someone who knows has told him, he has no idea of the efforts I and many other deacons and members have done to discuss these issues in a private manner instead of openly before the church in this public setting.

(A church, just for the record, is a private setting--not a public one like, oh, say, the Internet.)

That doesn't sound like reconciliation to me.

My heart is grieved

I plead with the administration

I plead with the laymen who are in leadership

This is the most disturbing part of the whole anti-Bellevue business: The issues raised are playing a weak second fiddle to the individuals doing the issue-raising. See for yourself, the next time you visit, how their own page titles look to you (emphasis mine):

Deacon David Bishop Letter to Pastor

What steps has Steve Gaines taken to reconcile with Mark Sharpe?

Mark Sharpe asks Steve Gaines to resign.

Honestly, there are no legitimate "sides" to this business. The idea is that those of us who are Christians are, or should be, on the Lord's side; if we have disputes, then someone (or everyone) involved is out of alignment with God's will for that situation.

When the people took to the Internet, the newspapers, and the television, actually "saving Bellevue" got lost in the shuffle of interviews and pronouncements. It was taking a figurative stick, and drawing a figurative line in the figurative sand; publicly calling those at Bellevue who disagree with your viewpoint "cowards" and "the Mafia," among other things, are polarizing, line-in-the-sand statements.

Only with a real sadness can such a viewpoint be identified not as a desire to save Bellevue, but as anti-Bellevue. Pardon me for getting personal, but I'm sick of seeing it. The "Saving 'Saving Bellevue'" blog has, for whatever reason, shut down; it would be nice to see follow suit. I'd much rather report and/or opine about any of the thousand other stories zipping through the air these days--but as long as that site keeps churning along, this one will offer alternatives.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006


I'm still around, folks--just taking a few days of vacation in a part of the United States where the Internet isn't pervasively available.

I must say that I'm heartened and blessed by the responses to my lack of activity. And while I'm thinking about it: For the person, whoever you were, who suggested that I was so, so in the wrong for blogging, let me refer you to the very first posts I put here. I'd love to be writing about other things (and I plan to), but the current Bellevue situation has prompted me to respond with an alternative point of view.

Thank you for your interest. Give me a bit of travel time to get back in front of my HP keyboard, and we'll see where it goes.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

This deserves the light of day

So often, comments to posts can get lost in the shuffle. This one (which came in moments ago) was just too special to leave in the stack:

Anonymous said...


You are a bully, and damaged at Bellevue. You need to check what your saying with God. If you have a relationship with him, listen.

9:39 AM, October 05, 2006

I have a few requests for you, whoever you are:

1) Please quote specific things I've said, written, or done that qualify me, in your mind, as a "bully." I know that since the anti-Bellevue crowd started this nonsense, I've prayed for--and publicly hoped for--an amenable resolution to it. I have invited those involved with to post here, since their associated sites do not allow for discussion, or even permit the posting of comments that are critical of their efforts.

2) Please define the term "damaged at Bellevue." In whose opinion? In what areas? To what extent? If you have some double-super-secret insider information, please share it.

3) Please highlight the things I've said, written, or done that give you the notion that I don't "check" what I'm saying with God. For your edification, there hasn't been any post or comment I've written regarding this entire situation that hasn't been prayed over; more than once, the Lord has prompted me to use the "Backspace" key and either rephrase or delete sections of posts and comments. And, sometimes, whole posts and comments.

4) Please give me the Biblical support for feeling comfortable in questioning my salvation. To my knowledge, no one who is critical of the anti-Bellevue group has made the nauseating leap you just made.

Whoever you are--if you've ever heard Adrian Rogers speak about nasty, venomous letters he had received, you've heard him make the astute observation that whenever people lack the fortitude to at least sign their names to their criticisms, those criticisms mean nothing.

If you cannot respond to those requests (either in a comment or to my e-mail) without clearly and plainly identifying yourself, there's no need to bother. And if you do choose to identify yourself, keep in mind you'll be claiming ownership of your above-quoted unfortunate remarks.

Your call.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

An open letter to Mark Sharpe


Since there is no other way you've made available to get in touch with you, this is going to have to do. I'm aware that you and yours stop by from time to time, but rarely, if ever, leave responses. Perhaps that will change.

The so-called "Saving Bellevue" site has a new entry: "Mark Sharpe asks Steve Gaines to resign." Such a National Enquirer-esque advertisement brings to mind the danger of believing one's own press clippings. You've been quoted in the paper, and mentioned on a few websites, so now it's news that you are asking Pastor Gaines to resign?

Not hardly. Your pastor and three others cared enough about you to come to your house and try to talk with you. That's something to be blessed by, not complain about. Yet you wear it as a "red badge of courage," talking about how you've been intimidated and harassed.

But let me examine a few choice quotes from your "epistle." Speaking of fences, I quote you thusly, and like so:

Steve Gaines, you mentioned Sunday evening that you and the others “were so desperate to try to protect Bellevue – we were so desperate”. What were you desperate about protecting?

The answer, which should be obvious even to your own group, is to protect Bellevue--"saving" it, if you will--from the type of gossip and antagonism you and yours dispense.

You misled the church by inferring that the website had stated that the Bellevue 4 jumped over the gate. Nobody has ever stated that you or others jumped over the gate.

(I must say, referring to the "Bellevue 4" is absolutely hilarious... in a pitiful way...)

Mark, let me be blunt here: You are representing part of the truth as all of the truth. How did Pastor Gaines begin his remarks regarding the vaulting of fences? Why, you can read it in the transcript used to have posted, and which this site still does. I quote it thusly, and like so:

We've already talked about the fence, and I want to join Brother Chuck and we're representing the others that were involved- the four of us- we absolutely.. that was a mistake obviously, we shouldn't have done it.

In case you've had trouble finding that quote, it directly precedes your referenced quote regarding Pastor Gaines desiring to protect Bellevue from the bile your group dispenses.

By the way, Mark, have you called the sheriff's department yet? Trespassing is something they're interested in. No? You haven't reported this heinous trangression of county law by that gang of scofflaws, the "Bellevue 4"?


After reading your missive--which, apart from the rumor-mongering, reads as self-aggrandizement and resumé-touting--there really isn't much else to comment on. Except, of course, to note that the analogy you and yours inspired with your opinion-laden accusations, "more 'I's' than a sack of potatoes," is the new catchphrase for the 21st century.

Please, post a comment or three here, Mark. Your opinion is just as important as anyone else's.

Not more, though.


EDITED TO ADD: A commenter made an excellent point, Mark. Your proclamation calling for Pastor Gaines to slink away into the night mists is from you.

It wasn't even from the prestigious law firm of Sharpe, Saba, McClerkin, Benson, Bobbitt, Haywood, and Manning. Just from you.

Why is that?

EDITED TO ADD SOME MORE: Once again, Mark, you've made it into the Commercial Appeal. Do you have James Dowd on speed-dial?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

You might have noticed...

...and even if you haven't, I have chosen to remove my post containing Pastor Rogers' sermon quotes which were germane to the current situation. It is my prayer that they have served their purpose, and encouraged reflection in the hearts of everyone concerned.


Saturday, September 30, 2006

For the "Saving Bellevue" leadership

It appears you're done.

Your collective behavior has crossed a line, now using Scripture (specifically Ezekiel 34) to openly judge and threaten the members of the Bellevue staff with whom you disagree.

Rather than working for mutuality, healing, and moving forward as a church family, you have consistently engaged in tactics which can most generously be described as unfortunate.

Enough, honestly, is enough.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

i2, Brute?

For lack of anything else to fuss about, now the anti-Bellevue huddle has set its sights on the eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevils of (drum roll, please) marketing!

Apparently, there's an ad for Bellevue's i2 Thursday night young-adult get-together that has the audacity to have within its frame a head-shot of a smiling young woman. Heresy, right? I mean, obviously, her first name must be "Jezebel" to allow herself to be photographed... smiling... and then to let her image be used as part of an advertising campaign!

Oh, but look at that.

It's disappeared from the site almost as quickly as it appeared.

But it was there, in all its glory. Let's pray it doesn't reappear.


And sure enough--what do you know?

It got misplaced. At "Saving Bellevue," anyway.

Were I to hazard a guess as to why it's not there anymore, I could come up with a few:

1) Sunspots.
2) Government conspiracy.
3) Sunspots caused by a government conspiracy.
4) The realization that, when the comments are read in context and in their entirety, the whole "Saving Bellevue" business is shown to have more holes in it than a good slice of quality Swiss cheese.

You can pick from my list, or submit your own suggestions.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Just in case it gets misplaced

A transcript provided at the "Saving Bellevue" website of the September 24, 2006 meeting regarding allegations levied against Senior Pastor Steve Gaines and other staff members of Bellevue Baptist Church. I cannot vouch for its accuracy, since I was unable to personally attend the meeting (which took place after the Sunday evening service) and because the transcript's author is unidentified, but from what I have heard regarding the proceedings, it appears to be accurate.

I will comment in a subsequent post.

Meeting from Sunday Evening, September 24, 2006.

*In several places I have put an asterisk because I could not make out one or two words. It was no more than one or two words (literally) that were left out. They did not take out the meaning on anything. I hope this helps.


I’ll tell you what this is and what it’s not. It’s not a business meeting. It’s a time for information to be given to you from leaders of our church. And I’ve asked Chuck Taylor, chairmen of deacons, and I’ve asked also Harry Smith who’s worked for several years on our finance committee, and I’ve asked Chip Freeman who’s in our financial office. He is one of our best staff members here and he’s over our administration- business administration. I asked him to come and share and then I’m going to come and share. Chuck I want you to come, Chuck Taylor- I hope you understand what a jewel you have.

Chuck Taylor:

Thank you, pastor. You know the first thing I want to do is thank you for all of your expressions of love. To say we’ve been overwhelmed is actually an understatement. It’s amazing the letters- the phone calls- the emails- the hugs the words of encouragement and support. This is an incredibly loving church- a Christ-centered church. I just want to thank you for how you have supported our pastor and this church by your prayers- and by your encouragement. You know for a few months now we have been hearing a lot of shocking things. I don’t know how long you’ve been hearing it- I’ve actually been hearing it for about 4 months. The intensity has been growing on a larger scale. There’s a lot of things being said that are shocking-that are troubling. And people have been asking me why don’t we hear from the pastor. Why don’t we bring it before the congregation? Why don’t we hear a response from the leadership of the church? Is that an indication that there is truth and validity to the accusations? Well I want to tell you that our pastor and your leadership here at Bellevue have been responding but they’ve been doing it in a very private manner. Issues and concerns and differences between brothers is a very private thing. The only thing that should be on public display according to John 13:35 is the love we have for one another. This is the way the leadership has approached all of this. Now before our last deacons meeting we had asked all the deacons if they would submit to me any questions they had or any questions they were being asked that they didn’t know the answer to. And we got a lot of questions that were sent to us. And then we took those questions and gave them to the men that had firsthand knowledge- men of the church that had firsthand knowledge of what the truth is the allegations and accusations. And on Sept. 10, these men came before the deacons and shared with them all of the answers to the questions- brought truth to all the rumors and all the information going around. So tonight, we want to share with you the answers to those questions. Now, when we’re finished, if you have some questions, I want to encourage you to find a deacon, they have been well informed, they’ve been equipped. We have 186 deacons, all scattered throughout the congregation and all throughout the body of Christ. I want to encourage you if you have any questions find a deacon- ask them- if they don’t have the answers- they will get for you the answers. We also have committees. You know, forever we have heard that we are pastor led, deacon served, committee operated and congregationally approved. Committee operated means that every area of our church there are laymen who have insight and oversight in that area. There are chairmen of these committees. Find the chairmen if there is an area of concern that you have- I want to encourage you to find the chairman of the committee that has oversight and insight in that area. And if you don’t know who the chairman is, you can go to the library, the events registration booth, and you can find the lay ministry booklet. It comes out every year. The current editions are there- it will say, “Lay Ministry 2006-2007”. It will have all the chairmen, all the committees, the chairmen and all the members. It’ll even have all their telephone numbers. So I want to encourage you to get answers to the questions that you have, because these men that are on all these committees and stuff- they will help you find the answers to the questions and concerns that you might have.

Now, what I wanted to do is just to address three different areas of concern. And the first is is the incident where we climbed over a fence to go visit a brother. You know the main thing I want to say about that is that I apologize to my church for anything that caused embarrassment or disappointment. I publicly apologize to the family that we went to visit that night. We meant no harm. We were not coming in force to intimidate. We had met in Brother Steve’s office on Monday afternoon. This took place on Monday before the Friday evening where there was going to be an off campus meeting involved. It was Monday- we met in the afternoon in Brother Steve’s office some of us. We met to pray. To talk. To try and make some decisions. How to reach out. We had heard all the accusations and things that were going to be brought forth in a public manner. Didn’t matter who showed up, as far as we knew the News media might be there. What do we do? SO we made a decision that we would go to this brother and try to sit down and talk with him. It was out of love and concern for our church. And now the next day, and really let me just add it was an extreme measure, but for us, it was an extreme situation. And again, it was out of love for this church, and for this individual. The next day, a deacon brother contacted the gentleman we went to see and tried to arrange a meeting with him and whoever he wanted to bring with our pastor and church leadership. The meeting didn’t take place. Then on Friday, three deacon officers were able to sit down with this gentleman and just share with him and talk with him. That’s really all that happened. The main thing I want to say about that incident- we did trespass. I do want to apologize for embarrassing the church in that manner.

Now, the second thing I wanted to address is that it’s been said that Brother Steve negotiated his salary. Well, I’m one of only three men that was in that meeting. Brother Bob Sorrell, Harry Smith, and I- we met with Brother Steve and Donna. I want to tell you we met with Brother Steve- the pastor search committee did 3 extended meetings. I’ve estimated probably 16 hours worth of conversations. We talked about everything under the sun. We asked him every question that we could even conceive of. Then we allowed him to ask questions. I want to tell you that not one time in those meetings with Brother Steve with the search committee or as myself privately talking with Brother Steve on the telephone- not one time did compensation come up. We called Brother Steve for a fourth meeting. We said, “We’d like you to come to Memphis- we’ve got one more question we’d like to ask you”. He was gracious- he and Donna they flew to town. We met over at the hotel room, and we as a committee said, “Brother Steve, we as a committee, think God has led us to you- we think you’re God’s man. We’d like you to come be our pastor if our church votes to call you. ” Without missing a beat, Bro Steve said yes. Later, the pastor search committee adjourned- and three of us, Bob Sorrell, Harry Smith and, myself sat down with Brother Steve and Donna, and then we talked about the compensation. We laid out the package there before them. He was coming regardless of what he was being paid. Income was not the issue. It never has been- it never will be. There were some adjustments made. Just want to tell you this. In the compensation package, we did not discuss moving expenses and all those types of things to transition from Gardendale to Memphis. We did come up with some other things to cover- customary allowances for any church- any organization when you bring a senior person you do pay moving expenses- we did make some allowances and adjustments for that. I just want to stress that income was never a part of the discussions.

And then the third thing I want to talk about is video of Brother Steve telling Gardendale good-bye. I want to encourage you to watch that video in its entirety. It’s in our library. There’s nothing hidden. It’s a 50minute video. And in that video, you will be moved when you see how much Brother Steve and Donna and their family loved Gardendale and how much Gardendale loved them. It was tearing his heart out to come to Bellevue. God was in it. The only reason Brother Steve came to Bellevue was because God told him to come to Bellevue. And that video, somebody has taken a 3 minute clip from a 50 minute video to stay that Brother Steve did not like Bellevue. That video had nothing to do with Brother Steve’s opinion of Bellevue. He had nothing by respect for this congregation. But it’s all about the love that he had for the congregation that he had pastored for over 14 years. And he had come home that night after he left here and poured his heart out and the video is in our library. I encourage you to see it. That 3-minute video is completely taken out of context. Now one other thing just to add in Brother Steve’s coming- people are talking about the changes. Why are we doing this, why are we doing that. Why so many changes and all this stuff. When we talked to Brother Steve he did tell us of the things he would change. New leadership brings new ideas. But I want to tell you every pastor that we talked to- every one of them- told us about the change they would make. That’s a standard question we asked all of them. Not a one of them said we wouldn’t touch anything; we’d leave it the same. We will make change. We called him to lead us- to cast a vision, and we’re gonna follow our pastor. {applause} Praise the Lord. We’ve got a few more things to cover, so bear with us here. I wanted to share with you too something that every pastor whether we were talking to him as ours or just talking to him just about to get counsel and those type things. There was not a pastor that didn’t say it was gonna be difficult whoever got called to follow Adrian Rogers. They said this church will face great challenges. We just didn’t know what they would look like then. Well, Brother Harry Smith would you come on and work you way up here. Let me just close by saying this you know, ask yourself this question. If there was any cause for concern about finances why hasn’t one member of the finance committee, the budget planning committee, why hasn’t one member joined in the opposition? Not one. Not in the 2005 not in the 2006 has joined in that. They love God. They love this church. They are long time members of Bellevue. They want what is best- what is right. Not one of them has joined. If there should be concerns about bylaws, why hasn’t one member of the board of directors expressed concern about bylaws? You know for years many attorneys have served on the bylaw—uh—the board of directors. They know that stuff. Not one of them has expressed concern about that. And implying that if Brother Steve his trying to lead Bellevue to become a seeker friendly church, um, why does he still preach about sin, judgment, and damnation. You heard the message tonight. That’s not seeker friendly. {applause} He gives an invitation after every message. Seeker friendly churches don’t do that. I want to tell you after 14 years at Gardendale- you know one of the key indicators of the seeker friendly movement is to take the word Baptist or some denomination out of it- after 14 years at Gardendale, it is still called Gardendale’s First Baptist Church. And Brother Steve is a leader in the SBC. He has made sure that now whenever someone comes and joins Bellevue, we give them a Baptist Faith and Message Statement for them to read to know what Bellevue Baptist Church is all about. We’re not seeker friendly in the way that that is being used. God bless you. Thank you very much. Harry Smith is now going to come. Harry has been very very involved in compensation of our church. He knows the process. He’s been involved in it for years. For current staff and our pastor. * Thank you . {applause}

Harry Smith:

Well there are a lot of things I’m thankful for, and one of them is that Chuck Taylor is my deacon chairman. Fellow church members, Brother Steve asked me if I will talk to you tonight about the financial process that our budget and compensation for our staff go through each year. And as Chuck has already mentioned, there are a few of our members who you’ve seen either by email or website that are not happy by the way our church operates. And as you’ve also heard, our church for many years has been a pastor led, committee operated, and congregationally approve church. This model has worked well for us. Under it, our church has grown, and we’ve seen advances in our church. It’s been a model for the SBC. For many churches it’s been an example to follow. But there’s some people that don’t like the model. They feel like it is not effective and they feel like there should be more information disclosed to the church. They feel like compensation for some of the staff members should be furnished, along with other financial information. They even believe that some of the expenses of the church are not appropriate. Well I believe in and support the model that our church operates under. And I believe that at any other large church like Bellevue it would be hard to operate any other way. I’ve also heard the comment that a few of the people run the church. My name has been associated with that group. I have never volunteered or asked to be on any leadership role or position at Bellevue. And I really believe that to be true of all the leadership at Bellevue. The pastors have always chosen who will be in leadership positions, and they have brought those names to you as a congregation to approve. The committee on committees, which you’re familiar with, meets all during the year. They select over 600 members-volunteers to be on the different committees, the various committees we have at our church. Once these committee members are selected, in a business session they are approved by you- by the congregation. It’s at this same meeting that our budget is approved each year. Now each of - most of the committee members serve for 3 years, and then they have to be off the committee before they can be asked to be on the committee again. In addition to these committee members, we have many Bible study leaders, and we have other volunteers who serve in all different aspects of our church- different service aspects. And many of them serve for more than 3 years at a time. That’s great, because they do a good job. And now let me talk to you for a minute about our budget process. Our budget process starts off with the Budget Planning Committee. Then it goes from there to the Finance Committee. And from there to the deacons. And from there to our congregation for approval as I mentioned while ago along with the committee on committees report. The budget planning committee is selected each year by the pastor. And it’s made up of those who are past and present members of the finance committee. Some of these men that have served on this committee have been John Crawford, David Coombs, David Purdue, Brian Miller, Jeff Arnold, Jeff Pearson, Mark McDaniel, Wayne VandeerSteeg, and myself. And the first thing that we do when we meet- the budget planning committee meets with the pastor, the associate pastor, and the executive staff- is they sit down and they talk about what kind of increases (are seen with the marketplace) as far as staff increases. And before we leave that meeting, we come up with a percentage number that we give the executive staff to work on for staff increases for the coming year. Now, in the last 3 years, we’ve asked the staff-the executive staff team to use those increases both for merit increases and for cost of living increases. Now, also there was a grade system that was devised several years ago by an outside consultant. This grade system was used in setting compensation- or keeping up with compensation for our staff. The consultant that helped us with it, he used other churches and the business community to use in setting up the grade system. And then, there’s a compensation committee which is a sub-committee- and I may be telling you more than you want to hear, but I want to tell you how it works- then there’s a sub-committee of the budget planning committee that is called the compensation committee. They meet with executive staff to look at possible future staff decisions that might come up in the coming year. And also look at increases for our staff. Once they finish their work, they bring this information back to the Budget Planning Committee- the full committee- where they review and they approve, and of course this becomes a part of our budget. At this point in the meeting, the executive staff leaves the meeting, and the associate pastor gives the budget planning committee their recommendation for increases for executive staff. When they’re finished the associate pastor leaves, and the pastor gives us his recommendation for the associate pastor’s increase. Then the pastor leaves. Then we set his compensation for the coming year. That’s the process, and that’s how it’s worked, and it’s worked well over the years. Now, during the year personnel changes that happen as new people are added- that’s always been handled in the past by the office of the pastor. Now, in this past year, that same thing has happened. Those increases and additions are handled the same way. Now, Bro Steve where he came from in Gardendale, they had a committee that helped him with this. And he’s asked the budget planning committee if they would help assist the office of the pastor in the future with any new staff additions and also with their compensation. In setting their compensation, the grade system that I talked about earlier is also used. Now with the staff members that have been hired this year, I kinda just took it on myself, and I went back and I looked at the people who were added and I looked at their compensation, and in my opinion, they all looked very adequate and acceptable. I think they were all fine. You know, I just learned this afternoon about another issue that’s on the website. You know, I don’t read the website. I have to confess, I don’t even know how to pull it up. {applause} My wife could show me, but I really don’t want to read it. I just didn’t want to see it. But I did hear today that our associate pastor had received a one-year salary- a bonus- and that the decision was made by 3 people. Well, I just want to tell you it’s not true. And I want to tell you the facts are that about two years ago before Brother Steve came, and while Dr. Rogers was still our pastor- and with Dr. Roger’s approval- a pension benefit was given to our associate pastor. Not one that he’s received yet, but one he will receive in the future. But this is the same benefit that was offered and received by our former pastor, our former associate pastor, and our former minister of music. Now, the full budget planning committee and the full finance committee approved this benefit-this pension benefit. So it was not 3 people, it was probably more like 15-20 people. So this is—I don’t know where the credibility stops you know, but I’m just telling you, that’s not true. And that’s what happened. Now, I had down, Chuck, too to talk about the pastor and salary, but Chuck did such a good job, I’m not even going to say anything else about it except to add one more thing. After the sub-committee approved the compensation package, it was taken to John Crockett, who was our chairman of the finance committee last year, for his approval. And now on a personal note, last year you gave… I’m sorry, now on a personal note I want to tell you I love Bellevue. It’s God’s church, it’s your church, and it’s my church. And I loved Dr. Rogers, and I miss him. I love Brother Steve, and I am so thankful that he’s my pastor. {applause}Last year, you gave me one of the greatest blessings that I could ever have- that anybody could ever have. That was to allow me to be your deacon chairman. And that was a blessing and a privilege and a responsibility. And I asked our deacons last year if they would help me with 3 goals for our church. One goal was to be a praying church. One was to be a friendly church. And one was to be a unified church. I asked them if they would take the leadership role in helping our church in those 3 areas. As we traveled last year we could see the friendly churches and we could see the difference. And we all knew that without a praying church we would not find God’s man for our church. And of course we knew that we needed to be a unified church. Tonight as your brother in Christ, I’m asking you to join with me and be an example for our church as we help our church to be a praying church, a friendly church, and a unified church. God blesses our church in so many ways. And you know I just can’t imagine that if we weren’t where we were supposed to be that I can’t imagine that God would be blessing us like He has this past year. I’m asking you tonight, to help us put this aside and lean forward so we can serve Christ together. Thank you so much.

Chip Freeman

I'm Chip Freeman. I'm the church administrator, and I've been responsible for the finances for the church for the past 5 years. My profession, I'm a CPA, so I deal with the facts. So, tonight I would just like to present to you the facts. Now let me start by saying, you can have total confidence in the way the money is received and the money is disbursed here at BBC. There are numerous checks and balances, as well as internal controls in the financial arena of the church. And I just wanna give you a few. There is accountability daily, there's accountability monthly, then there's accountability yearly. Let me give you some examples. On a daily basis, any time that the offering is received, it is safeguarded. It is protected. There is more than one person in the room counting that offering- it is safeguarded- that offering. Also, daily when someone on staff is to request a check for disbursement, that request has to go through multiple layers of approval. It has to go through supervisory approval. It has to go on and on and on until it's been established that, yes, it is a necessary business expense of the church, and yes, it's needed, and we have budget funds to pay it. So, the request has to be approved, and then before the check is even printed and mailed, another layer of accountability-- it has to be signed by 2 different members of the finance office. And they're doing the same thing. They're looking to make sure that it's been approved. They're making sure it's a necessary business expense to the church. They're making sure that everything is clear and everything is done right. So that's daily going on here at BBC. Now as you know we live in a world of electronic commerce, and we do occasionally need to use a credit card to make a purchase. And I want you to hear me. We have very few credit cards in the name of BBC. But they're subject to the same level of scrutiny. The purchase has to approved. The purchase has to be well documented before the credit card bill is ever paid. And those credit cards are only used for necessary business expenses of the church. No credit card has been used for personal expenses- especially not our pastor's credit card. They have not been. So, I want you to know that. Daily controls... Monthly we have strong accountability for the finances at BBC. Every month a group of 12 godly men who serve on the finance committee- they look at everything that's happened over the past month financially. They look at every dollar that's come in. They look at the way it's been spent. They look against the budget items that have been spent. And they ask all kind of questions as they look through and oversee the financial transactions of the church. These are godly men; they love Bellevue. They want Bellevue to be done right- in the utmost of excellence. And they do that every single month. You can have confidence- confidence in knowing that. And they know that their name is on the line- not only is the church they love on the line- their name because they're members of the finance committee. And they're not the same members every year. Each year some people rotate off- some new fresh people rotate on. So, there's a 3-year commitment, just like all the other committees here are Bellevue. So you've heard of some daily accountability-monthly we have accountability- yearly this church has financial accountability. Each year the church has an external audit by a firm called "Brundidge and Payne" (unsure on spelling) They're an independent accounting firm. And they spend an entire month scrutinizing the churches financial activity for the prior year. They look at everything that was spent. They look at money that came in- how was it handled? They look at controls- now, they're an independent accounting firm. And each and every year- you can have confidence knowing this- each and every year, we have received the highest rating the audit gives to a company- the highest one. Matter of fact, {applause} Praise the Lord! And some years, they'll follow up with comments which is separate from the report- they'll say hey look at these things, maybe you wanna do something a little better- we can help you make a suggestion here. They do that sometimes on occasion- we appreciate their comments. You know this year they had no management comments. They said things are being done there in such a professional and proper manner. We have no suggestions- no comments to make. So, that was just this year. {applause} And they present their report by the way to an audit sub-committee. A group of laymen independent from the staff, so that if they needed to talk to that committee about something they're concerned about they have the freedom without the staff being there-without the staff being in the room. So, just another layer of accountability, guys. We also have a budget planning committee Brother Harry just talked about. Guys, they're also made up of some gifted laymen that love this church. And they oversee the church's setting, the planning, and the spending of the entire church budget. Guys, there's accountability- there's a lot of accountability financially over this church. I want you to know that I started my career 14 years ago in public accounting. And I've worked in many public and private companies. All of which hold themselves to generally accepting accounting principles and also, many of them to governmental standards. And I can assure that after being here for 9 years, BBC holds herself to an even higher standard of financial controls and accountability than these large, multinational companies- a higher standard. And you know {applause} Let me give you two reasons that come off the top of my head. First, we have a tax exemption that we are protecting here at the church. And you don't want to do anything that would jeopardize the tax exemption of the church. But second, and most importantly, we're doing our work with money that has been given to the Lord, and we are continually working on this staff as unto the Lord. It's all unto the Lord {applause}. I'm telling you the facts. And friends, it's a shame for someone to bring suspect to the way that the finances are handled at our church. There is so much false information and innuendo out there that it's only shedding doubt. That's all it's doing. But you need to hear from me- you need to hear me the financial integrity and accountability and the internal controls have always been strong at this church. So, now you know the facts. You can have the total confidence in knowing the way that the money is handled at BBC- it's handled with integrity, it's handled with accountability. Your tithes and your offerings are being used to minister the gospel to a world that needs Jesus. Thank you for the privilege of serving. {applause}

Steve Gaines

I want to thank Chuck, and I want to thank Harry, and I want to thank Chip. Chip, by the way, was considering going to another company- he came back totally on his own. We prayed with him through that situation. But I tell you I'm so glad Chip came back- I love this man of God- he's a sweet brother in Christ. Well I've got- I've already preached once haven't I? I want to share a few things with you. I'd a lot rather preach a sermon than do what I'm doing, but I feel that as a shepherd, I need to do this. I want to do it- in a prayerful and hopefully genuinely humbly way. Where do you start? I don't really know, but one of the things that concerned me that I read in the paper was the Bellevue was staffing a sister church in town. And I appreciated so much the answer that Bob Sorrell had- the retired former associate pastor. He said, in no way is that the case. Brother Bob retired from Bellevue several years ago. He has asked Jim Whitmire- also retired from Bellevue, Peggy Perkins a delightful lady, also retired from Bellevue, then another staff member who was from Bellevue- David Smith to help a sister church that has gone through a great deal of struggle and heartache. Friend, we're not staffing them. We're simply some people that have served here under a great man of God- Bob Sorrell- are trying to help a sister church in need. And I think that that's the focus of that (*?) I don’t want it to be said that we're staffing some other church. We're simply helping other people, and if we can't do that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we're in trouble. Amen? {applause} Bellevue is not running Germantown Baptist Church.

Let me talk to you about something that was pretty amazing to me. That was that I had a dream and that that caused me to do something. We have a member of our church- I've met him. The Lord has saved him- he's an awesome person. And he gets excited, and I can appreciate that. He says amen quite a bit. And that's fine. But it was getting to the point where it was a little hard for me to concentrate on my preaching while that was going on. The Bible says you ought to handle things like that in public. By the way, it says you handle anything like that- in private rather- you ought to handle it in private- and any confrontation like that. And so, I woke up on a Monday morning - it happened the day before- I woke up, didn't have any dream. I told Mark Dougherty- I said I really want us to talk to this church member and just ask him in private in a very simple way if he would not say that as much. Just kinda back off a little bit. Well somewhere between that and- somewhere- I was told, somebody said you had a dream or a vision about this in the night and that's why you told this man that that's the case. I never had a dream about that. I never told anyone I had a dream. No staff member I've talked to- three of the staff members involved- None of them said that I said that I had a dream. I want to read to you and I'm not trying to devote my little devotional book. If you want to know what I believe, by the way, I believe I put it in print. 365 pieces of my heart.

Feb. 2 God's Steadfast Word is talking about the prophet who has a dream may relay his dream, but may him who has my word speak my word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire declares the Lord? Like a hammer that shatters the rock.

Now that's the scripture, here's my commentary.

The Bible is God's reliable word. It should be the ultimate authority for every Christian. It consists exclusively of 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament. People have tried to add to the Bible with false revelations, claiming special visions and dreams from God. God warns against such bogus spiritual guides by giving us 3 vivid descriptions of his steadfast word. First of all, God's word is like grain. The messages of false prophets are straw compared to the grain of scripture. Today some claim to have special words from God- perhaps an apparition in the field, or a message from a so-called prophet. These must be examined in the light of the Bible, and must never- that's italicized- be considered as being on the level of scripture. Secondly, God's word is fire. Jeremiah said that God's word was fire in his bones that it had to be spoken. As we shared today, scripture still burns to the stubble of false ideas. It blazes in the people lives with the power of salvation. Thirdly, God's word is a hammer- it's a spiritual hammer that shatters the false ideas of men. His word will have the final say- it's the ultimate hammer of truth that can destroy the lives of the evil one and his false prophet. Last Paragraph. We do not need to lust for a vision, prophecy or dream. We need to hunger for the written word of God. In the Bible, we will find the grain we need to feed our hungry souls, the fire we need to keep us ablaze for Jesus, and the hammer we need to shatter the false ideas of our pagan, confused society- including sinners. Who needs a dream when we have a Bible? {applause}

I guess on the website that that is mentioned. I don't want to try to guess, but it can only be I think one of two things. That I had a dream and tried to cover it up- or that I'm some wide-eyed mystic that that's how I get my vision for Bellevue-through dreams. I just want you to know that there's absolutely no substance to either of these suggestions.

We've already talked about the fence, and I want to join Brother Chuck and we're representing the others that were involved- the four of us- we absolutely.. that was a mistake obviously, we shouldn't have done it. We were so desperate to try to protect Bellevue- we were so desperate- we actually were in prayer meeting. We thought of that verse that Jesus said If you're at the alter, and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the alter and go away- first be reconciled with your brother. It took us quite a while to find where he lived. We did, we climbed over that fence, and it was not by the way- if you go to the website, they have this big tall gate and with all do respect, look at us and do you think that we... {laughter} It was the little bitty white fence about that tall next to it that we went over. And I want to say, I join Chuck, I say to the family, I hope you know we never- there was no intimidation at all- we just wanted to be reconciled. And we're sorry, and I want to tell you as a church, we're sorry. It was poor judgment on our part, and I want to tell you this, it did not come out of a bad heart. It was a mistake and it was. It was a mistake of the head and not the heart. We do not have bad hearts, we were trying to reconcile. {applause}

Now, the Gardendale resignation video. This is going to be the most emotional one. They've taken a 3-minute statement out of a 50- minute resignation. I left here, I think it was July 10th-was that the date?- and we went home, we drove home. We're home now, but we drove what was home then. We got to Gardendale at 5 till 6. The service started at 6. And when we walked in the sanctuary, the place was packed. My girls couldn't even walk in. They turned around and fell back into my arms and Donna's arms and cried knowing what we were about to do. And when I walked in there, they were worshipping God, and they knew what was coming. And when I- finally it was my turn, Mark Harris handed it over to me- he's our minister of education. And I walked up there and somebody just blurted out- We love you Brother Steve. And they all stood up like you've done. And I cried and they cried. In the middle of that tape, the 3 minutes they got in there, I was tired; I was bone tired. And I was hurting- my spirit was raw. Now, you've gotta understand what I'm about to say. I didn't want to leave Gardendale Alabama- not because I didn't want to come to Bellevue-- I didn't want to go anywhere. I didn't want to come to Bellevue, because I didn't want to leave Gardendale. I didn't want to leave what God was doing. For 14 years I had prayed over that place- for 14 years, I had led people to Jesus- for 14 years I had done funerals, weddings- for 14 years I had poured my life into that place. Now, when I was sick and couldn't even tie my shoes, they kept me as their pastor. And when I couldn't even comb my hair, my wife had to comb my hair for me, they kept me as their pastor. And I did everything I could- even telling them I'm gonna stay with you- I'm not gonna go any place. And I meant it with all of my heart. And every time I would turn around- I withdrew my name- not that the committee offered me this job and I said no to it- I withdrew my name from the process. I called twice- Chuck says 3 times-several times. I did everything I could to stay in Gardendale. And in this video- and you've gotta understand- I went there when I was 33 years old- and I was 47 when I left. These people we loved each other, and you know what we're gonna love each other the same way, and we're getting there. It just takes time {applause} I thought I loved Donna after the first year- you remember your 1st year anniversary? Oh I love you. I'm gonna tell you something, brother, after 26 years, I'd die for her. {applause} What I said to them was- I didn't memorize it- I'm like Harry, I don't like to go to the website. I didn't really look at what they had on there. It said something about "Didn't I tick you guys off?" Now, you gotta remember, we're in Alabama, ok? Not in cultured Tennessee- we're in Alabama. {laughter}I asked them- I did- I did everything I could to tell them you know what I thought was right with Gardendale- and what I.. and I said what I thought was wrong with Bellevue. I wasn't saying that I thought that Bellevue was bad or anything like that. They lifted that totally out of context. You know what, you can take 3 minutes out of just about any sermon or just about anything you want and miss the whole point of the whole sermon. Listen to me, if I didn't have any respect for this church, I would've never come here to try to be your pastor. I loved Dr. Rogers. There is nobody- listen I never had a better friend on this earth than Dr. Adrian Rogers, and if anybody's implying that I've ever demeaned this church or his ministry or anything else- that is simply not true. I want to encourage you- like Chuck said- if you want to watch it, don't watch the little 3 minute thing on the website. You go watch the whole 50 minute thing, and you see my heart and see that I'm simply trying to pour out my heart to my people to try to affirm them. They were crying. I was crying. It was a tough night. But I want to tell you, I have never and never will do anything to demean this church or to put this church down. I love this church. I'm gonna give the rest of my life in service to the Lord through this church. And anything I said in that video had nothing to do with me trying to degrade this church in any way. So I want you to know that. {applause}

Why don't you preach on Wednesday nights? {laughter}Why did we use Dr. AG with all these preachers we have here? Dr AG is one of my dearest friends. First of all, why don't I preach on Wed. nights? I'll tell you why. I have children. I have school-aged children. I can't be out every night of the week. {applause}I have volleyball games, I have things to go to and I am there every time I can be. And I don't miss much, because they've got one person that can be their daddy. {applause} I chose on Wed. night to save that where I wasn't preaching. And I go to committee meetings, every three weeks I have a - right now I'm trying to meet all the deacons. Every 3 weeks, I meet with 5 deacon couples. We have a dinner and we get to know one another. That's been wonderful. I have committee meetings on those nights, and also during the entire fall I went to meetings like with Phil's group- the youth. I've been in all those age groups. I've been in all kinds- and we're doing- listen to me, we are doing every- Donna and I-we- we are doing everything we know to try to get to know you folks. Wed. night is a night that I need- I go visiting on Tuesday night- then I go... I'm meeting on those Wednesday nights. If I didn't do what I do on Wed. nights, I'd be gone 4 or 5 nights out of the week. I cannot raise a godly family and be gone every night of the week. {applause}

There's different guys all the time- no consistency, so I brought Dr. AG here. I wanted Joe Jernigan. You might remember about that time though, he had a lot of health problems. Well, who's preaching now? Same guy I wanted then. I had to get Dr. AG- but now that Joe is- listen, Joe Jernigan could be out here pastoring a church just as big as Bellevue {applause}

Now, Rick Warren, Bill Hybel- seeker sensitive movement. And if you go to the website, it seems like that's what whoever's in charge of the website- they're really afraid of all this. I've never even read a book by Rick Warren. You say, you haven't read… I haven't even read-- the book that this church went through, Purpose Driven Life. How many of you have read that book? Come on, get ‘em up. I've never even read it. This staff back in 1996 went through the Purpose Driven Church. Dr. Rogers, Jerry Falwell, James Merritt, Elder Townes, OS Hawkins, most of them past presidents of the SBC- Jerry Falwell- all these guys wrote an endorsement for Rick Warren's book- including Dr. Adrian Rogers- wrote an endorsement. I've got in right there- you can read it- on the inside- back in 1996. And then when his other book came out, this church went through that. Just in the most recent theological journal, they call it the journal of missions and evangelism I believe for Mid America Theological Seminary- an article by Rick Warren on missions is in there. It was just this last spring. I'm not here to defend Rick Warren or not. If you're saying- do you believe in church growth? I believe in people being saved. I believe in people getting their hearts right with God. But if you're talking about watering down the gospel, you think that's me? You haven't heard me preach. {applause}We're not seeker sensitive because we have some folks up here holding microphones. We’re not seeker sensitive because of that. Guys, listen to me. I am a Baptist. Somebody said, what would you be, if you weren’t Baptist? I guess I’d be ashamed. I don’t know- I’m just a Baptist. {laughter} Now, that was tongue and cheek, by the way. I was kidding. {applause} I’ve never read the book. Donna is saying get back to your notes, Steve. Okay. I’ve never read the book. And I’m not in that movement.

Music at Bellevue. On the first day I came here, we got together all the folks- Dr. Whitmire, John, everybody. And I said I want a 50/50 split. 50% hymns. You don’t know anybody that loves the hymns more than I do. And I’m not trying to brag, but I could quote half of them by memory- or more. And we will always, listen to me, always- you say where are we going? We went there the first day. We will always sing the great hymns of the faith at Bellevue Baptist Church. {applause} (*a few words muffled from the applause) The other- the non-traditional songs. The Bible says, Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We’re gonna sing songs that your children listen to. Songs that are coming up and that most of them are singing to God, and they’re all based on scripture. And I promise you, it will be based on Biblical theology. And if we sing one that happens to squeak by, and it wasn’t that good, you know what- you won’t hear it again. You won’t hear it again. We’re gonna sing songs that magnify Jesus, that are based on the Bible, that..- what we’re trying to do is minister to everybody. Listen to me, I’ve told you many times- I’m like a broken record on this- I don’t want to have one traditional service and one non-traditional service. I want to have one worship service for all the services so that everybody can go. {applause}

Personal use of the church credit card. I’ve got one. You wanna look at it? Here it is right here. {laughter} There it is. I have- I’m 48, I’ve had a church credit card since I was 30 years old. I have never ever never not one time used a church credit card for personal use. Not one time. Not one time. {applause} And in fact, I’ve turned in since I’ve been here and at Gardendale, I’ve turned in every receipt, wrote down every detail on it- it’s all. And I asked Chip. I said Chip, would you just go back, I said I know I didn’t do it, but just so that I can say this, go back. He looked at every statement. I don’t know how long it took him to do it. He looked at every receipt. There’s nothing there. There’s nothing there for any of our guys that have church credit cards. There’s not many of them out there anyway. So, folks, don’t go there. That’s- there’s nothing to that. I’m just looking at my notes, trying to finish up.

And then, one thing that really kinda concerned me. I heard about this, and I saw it. They- somebody tried to say that you know when I… You might know that the Lord called me- confirmed my calling right out here by one of these little lakes. On May 21st, I was reading in Judges chapter 6. And I was reading through that in my One Year Bible. I didn’t go out and pick that. It was just there. And I read that in there and it said, “The angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, and said the Lord is with you, O valiant warrior. He said, O Lord, if you are with us, why are all these bad things happening to us? And the Lord,” verse 14, “Looked at him and said, Go in this your strength, and deliver Israel from the hand of Mideon. Have I not sent you?” Now, what God used to speak to my heart was, “Go in this your strength”. You know why? I have (his condition- I cannot make it out and hate to butcher it by attempting to spell it something like Myosteneus Gravis) I was asking, Lord am I even strong enough to do this? Am I? Are you gonna give me the strength? “Go in this your strength. Have I not sent you?” I read this passage and I saw Bellevue. And again, I was reading the Word of God. Didn’t have a dream or anything. Then I looked out there and just saw the Lord. Just like how do you know when you’re saved? How do you know when God calls you to preach? How do you know when God calls you to a church? You just know it in your knower. And I knew deep in my heart that that’s what- God wanted me to spend the rest of my life here. Now, listen. In the middle of this phrase it says, “Go in this your strength,” and listen, “deliver Israel from the hand of Mideon.” And somewhere on this blog it says something like this, “Exactly what does Dr. Gaines think he needs to deliver Bellevue from?” I don’t think I need to deliver us from anything. Listen to me, the more I get- by the way Chuck was talking about this- I’m drowning in love mail. Praise the Lord. Amen. I’m drowning. {applause} I’m not here to make this a Gardendale. I’m not here to change this church or anything else. I’m simply here- I’ve got one agenda: I wanna go after God. I want this church simply to do what it’s always done. That is to love the Lord, to love lost people, to win lost people, and to glorify God. That’s all- that is my agenda. There it is right there. {applause} Just stay up. We’ll go to the house. Or Mexican food, or wherever it is you’re going. I want to say this about Mid American Baptist Theological Seminary. I have heard this so many times. We’ve heard you don’t support Mid America. Listen, I have understood, literally the heart of Dr. Rogers. You’ve got to understand, he was my “Pa”. Now I know about the relationship between Bellevue and Mid America. I understand the story. And I don’t know anybody that I respect more that Dr. Gray Allison. I love Mike Spradlin. Listen, I’ve got friends over there. Jerry Bloom (unsure on name*) teaches over there preaching. And I came from First Baptist Dyersburg. Stan May (unsure on name*) he teaches missions over there. I’ve known Stan since I got saved. Two months after I went- I got saved- I met Stan. We’ve been friends for almost 30 years. So, I know a lot of these guys over there. We’ve got different guys in our church from Mid America. I preached over there this last week. And this last year when it came budget time, I’m the one- I’m not trying to take credit, I’m just trying to tell you- I’m the one that recommended to the finance committee. I can’t- I don’t sign any checks at Bellevue. I can’t, listen- I don’t have control over the money here. I simply made a suggestion that we up what we already give to Mid America by $1000 a month. The finance committee approved it. The church approved it. We upped that on my watch. And, as far as Mid America goes, Mike Spradlin has preached here. Gray Allison has preached here. I’ve got other professors I’m gonna have preach here. I preached there last week. As far as I’m concerned, all that depends on me- whatever that is- Bellevue will always, always support Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary. {applause}

I just want you to pray that God will not let us get distracted from the main thing. I want you to pray that God will put a hedge of protection around everybody- even those who have some differences. I want you to pray that all of us will walk in wisdom. That we’ll walk in forgiveness, that we’ll walk in Christ. That we’ll be like Jesus, we’ll be Christ-like, not condescending. I want you to pray that accusations will stop. I want you to pray that finger pointing will stop. And I want you to understand that this church is not in some major crisis. This church is simply going through something that I firmly believe is gonna make us stronger, because we’re more focused on prayer when we go through these times. We’re more focused on what really matters. And what really matters is not all these little accusations, fault-findings, and all that stuff. What really matters is there are people going to hell right out there, and it’s our job to love each other, and to win people to Jesus. {applause} I wanna say again, I’ve never had- I’ve never had a better deacon than Chuck Taylor. Never worked with a better guy. {applause} I’m gonna ask him to say a word of prayer, but don’t leave. We’re gonna- every Sunday night we sing a song. (*) As soon as Chuck gets through praying, we’re gonna sing “There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit” in what {Congregation: in this place}You go ahead and join your hands. Join your hearts. Now, guys, as far as I’m concerned- let’s move on. Let’s move on. Let’s pray and then we’ll sing.

Chuck Taylor

Gracious Father God, we thank you for meeting with us tonight. Lord, we thank you for the sweet unity that carries us in the place. And that is because of your presence here with us. Lord, thank you for everyone that came tonight. And Lord for the message here tonight, and who we are in Jesus. Lord it is for your glory. May we leave this place, Lord, humble. Lord, seeking to do your will. Remembering Lord that there is a gospel out there (*) as soon as you walk out these doors. May we be, Lord, your witnesses, your shining light. And Lord, as we’ve already said. May they know we are your disciples by how we have love one for another. Amen.

Let’s sing together.