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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Anniston’s Billy Harris to retire after 50 years in ministry

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
December 8, 2005

As Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Dec. 25, one church in Alabama will say goodbye to the pastor that has served them for almost 20 years.

Billy Harris, pastor of Parker Memorial Baptist Church, Anniston, in Calhoun Baptist Association, will retire after preaching the Christmas Day message. It is a decision he said was difficult, considering the historic church is on the threshold of a multimillion-dollar restoration project and preaching has been the center of his life since 1956.

“There is just no good time to say goodbye,” Harris said.

The church is hosting a reception in his honor Dec. 11, 3:30–5 p.m.
An Oxford native, Harris is the youngest of six children born to A.L. and Cora Cobb Harris. Although his parents were believers, they were not active in church. But Harris attended Lakeview Baptist Church, Oxford, in Calhoun Association with friends and made a profession of faith about age 13.

As a sophomore at Oxford High School, Harris rededicated his life after a friend invited him to a revival meeting at Glen Addie Baptist Church, Anniston. A year later, he committed his life to the ministry and started preaching right away.

Although Harris can’t recall his first sermon, he said the “preacher boys” of Glen Addie Baptist found places to preach. “Three or four of us would get together and clean out a vacant building in south Anniston,” Harris said. “We got some chairs and had a revival by inviting people to come.”

Harris said he didn’t really know what he was doing in his early days of preaching but he loved it. After high school graduation in 1957, Harris pursued pastoral studies at Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla. He served as pastor of churches in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida during his college and seminary years.

“During those years, there really was not a lot of attention given to communicating the gospel. The attention was on substance,” Harris said. “When I came along, you could basically go through college and seminary with no emphasis on communication.”

Harris said the more he listened to preachers, the more he realized someone needed to help them. “Gradually my interest moved toward working with young ministerial students.”

From 1968–1978, Harris was professor of religion and philosophy at Samford, where he taught preaching, speech and religious education. The guidance Harris provided to future pastors is still felt today, said former student Sid Nichols.

Nichols, director of missions for Calhoun Association, believes Harris’ instruction made an impact on his own preaching style. “He brought basic fundamentals into my preparation and presentation of my messages,” he said. “He was very respected as a speech expert, which is a valuable asset when teaching preaching.”

Harris’ affiliation with Samford has remained strong through the years. In 1992, he was selected as one of Samford’s “ministers of the year,” and professors often shared messages from the pulpit at Parker Memorial Baptist, where Harris began serving in 1986.

From the classroom to the church to the community, he confirmed that being a pastor is not affirmed in numbers according to membership, even though Parker Memorial’s is more than 2,100. It is in individual people, Harris said.

“Ministry is about people, not about programs,” he said. “We are here partnering with people to meet the needs of our community.”

Wayne Hostetter, minister of education and seniors adults at Parker Memorial, said Harris is always conscious of being a pastor to every church member. “He is a very positive individual and exhibits a great degree of wisdom in dealing with all types of situations,” he said.

Don Gober, minister of music at Parker Memorial, has worked beside Harris since 1991. Gober said he learned the wisdom of patience and caution during trying and difficult situations from Harris.

Gober, whose wife died after a long battle with breast cancer, said, “Billy Harris is the most caring and loving pastor in a time of personal crisis that I have ever known. Families constantly tell me what a comfort he has been and how his loving spirit pulled them through the worst circumstances.”

Throughout Harris’ ministry, he served on the board of directors for The Alabama Baptist, board of regents for the University of Mobile, as president of the board of governors for Judson College in Marion, and chaired the committee on boards and commissions for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.

But his goal has been to please Christ, not men. Harris hopes Christ will one day say to him, “You’ve been faithful,” as a reflection of his service to church and family, which includes wife, Phoebe, and three children.

“That’s all I hope He says,” Harris said.

Copyright 2005© The Alabama Baptist. All Rights Reserved. ContactThe Alabama Baptist

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Passover observance

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
March 31, 2005

It’s the season when many shop for new spring suits, dye eggs and anticipate Easter Sunday lunch.

But in the midst of the seasonal buzz, many Alabama churches seek to provide meaningful ways for their members to slow down and embrace a deeper understanding of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And though the Lord’s Supper is the traditional observance, many are celebrating the time leading up to Christ’s death by taking the meal He took on Maundy Thursday — the traditionally Jewish Passover seder.

Last year more than 250 people attended a Passover seder hosted by North Glencoe Baptist Church and led by John Phelps of HaOr Ministries, a Kentucky-based ministry that teaches churches about the Hebrew foundations of the Christian faith.

The response was so tremendous, according to Pastor David Denson, that North Glencoe scheduled Phelps again this year for their seder March 24.

To observe the seder, the church served a meal of baked chicken, a green vegetable and kugel, followed by the Passover meal of parsley, kharoset and matzoh — all foods symbolizing some facet of the Passover.

The Passover, which occurred thousands of years ago when the Pharaoh of Egypt refused the commands of Moses to free the Hebrew slaves from captivity, demonstrates how God spared His people through the shedding of the innocent blood of a lamb — just as He did in the crucifixion.

The story — as told in Exodus 12 — follows Pharaoh’s stubbornness in the face of plagues until death for Egypt was the final judgment.

The Lord instructed Moses and Aaron that every Hebrew family should choose a perfect lamb for sacrifice and smear its blood on the top and sides of the door frame of the house.

That night, as each Hebrew family ate the roasted lamb with bitter herbs and unleavened bread, the Lord passed through the land and killed the firstborn male in every Egyptian home, sparing the Hebrews covered by the lamb’s blood.

For centuries, the Jewish people have observed the Passover seder meal to remember their freedom.

God instructed the Israelites in Exodus 12:14, “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come after you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord — a lasting ordinance.”

Denson said hearing and participating in the teaching of the seder adds to the greatness of the Easter celebration.

“The seder is another opportunity to bring the Bible to life to review for refreshing and rededication in your Christian walk,” he said.

Since it was the Passover seder — now commonly known as the Last Supper — that Jesus celebrated with the disciples the night before His crucifixion, Denson believes Christians can gain much from understanding the special meal.

“The teaching of the Passover seder covers the ages from the first Passover celebrated by the Israelites in the Book of Exodus, to the Passover in the upper room celebrated by Jesus Christ and His disciples, to its observance by the Jews today,” Denson said.

Jay Isbell, elder of the Beth El Shaddai Messianic Synagogue in Birmingham, a Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, said when Christians take part in the meal and tell the Passover story, they find that the symbolism of the whole service points to the coming Messiah.

Beth El Shaddai, like HaOr Ministries, gives Southern Baptist congregations guidance on how to conduct the Passover seder as well as how to celebrate it their congregations.

“As we celebrate communion, or the Lord’s Supper, we can see a shadow of these things, but if we carry out the whole service, we can see how it underscores God’s eternal plan for His people in a very powerful way,” Isbell said.

The seder is comprised of three parts: the haggadah (the telling), the meal and the afikomen (unleavened bread), Isbell explained. As the story of slavery to freedom and of darkness to light is retold, the pastor also leads the congregation in sharing a meal of bitter herbs, a roasted egg, a sweet apple mixture, parsley and a bone.

According to Isbell, the serving of the afikomen, or matzoh, is the portion of the meal when the lamb is remembered.

“Its blood was placed on the doorposts as salvation from that final plague, and the body of the lamb was eaten completely to give them strength during the coming times,” Isbell said.

“When Y’shua (Jesus) said ‘This is My body’ and ‘This is My blood,’ the disciples saw something very different from what many believers see today in a simple communion service,” Isbell explained. “He came to be our Salvation and our Strength.”

Zola Levitt, a Jewish Christian and founder of Zola Levitt Ministries in Dallas, Texas, said, “We should celebrate the feasts (like Passover) because Jesus celebrated them.”

Levitt teaches that through understanding the biblical feasts, one can see the core of Christianity, as Jesus was the perfect lamb sacrificed for us in order to save us from death.

In his booklet “The Miracle of Passover,” Levitt writes, “Understanding Jesus as a sacrificial lamb, in effect, is to understand the very heart of Christianity.”

Copyright 2005© The Alabama Baptist. All Rights Reserved. Contact The Alabama Baptist

Hokes Bluff church hosts Zola Levitt

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
March 31, 2005

"Israel, Israel, Israel."

Those are the three things of importance to the Christian church today, Zola Levitt recently told the crowd gathered at Immanuel Baptist Church, Hokes Bluff.

Heads nodded in agreement as those listening anticipated hearing Levitt’s views on Israel, end-time prophecy and current world events.

They were not disappointed.

Levitt, who has 50 books in print, held the attention of the congregation for over two hours as he talked about evangelism, a future Palestinian state, hatred of the Jews, the return of Jesus and Armageddon. He also answered questions from the audience on the building of the 3rd temple, the location of the Ark of the Covenant and his opinions on world leaders.

Some of those present were already supporters of Zola Levitt Ministries, based in Dallas, Texas, and subscribe to his newsletter or watch his weekly 30-minute television program, Zola Levitt Presents, which airs on television stations across the nation. Some also had traveled with Levitt on one of his 50 trips to Israel.

A member of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and pastor of a messianic congregation, Levitt is a believer in the biblical concept outlined in Romans 1:16, “First to the Jew and also to the gentile.”

Although educating people about Israel, the Jews and end-time prophecy is a core issue in Levitt’s ministry, more important is evangelism, Levitt said.

“This is the perfect time to share the gospel with unbelievers. The Lord said, ‘In the days of Noah,’ and it is already raining,” he said.

Anthony Copeland, pastor of Immanuel, said Christians should be aware of end-time events. “There’s a need for us to be aware of what’s going on in the Middle East,” he said. “And it is good for our church members to be exposed to a Jewish believer.”

Though Levitt had spent his childhood learning the laws in the synagogue, his life dramatically changed in 1971 when he accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah. For almost 35 years, Levitt has urged Christians to witness to Jewish friends and embrace the Jewish people. “If you have a problem with the Jews, know that when you get to heaven you will meet the King of the Jews,” he said.

Levitt warned Christians about the anti-Semitism in the world but credited the strife to spiritual battles. “The hatred of Israel is amazing. Since it goes all the way back to Pharaoh, it is spiritual.”

He said the Jewish people have always been special to God and the devil seeks to get rid of them. “He can’t win this battle, but he uses all the punches he can,” Levitt said.

"I usually cringe when reporters attend my talks, since they so distort what I say. But, the above article is totally accurate." -Zola Levitt about my article in the Levitt Letter.

Related Link: (Levitt Letter...Go to the bottom of page 9)
www.levitt.com/newsletters/2005-07.pdf

Copyright 2005© The Alabama Baptist. All Rights Reserved. Contact The Alabama Baptist

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Prayerful partnership

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
February 17, 2005

The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions (AAEO) continues to be a testimony of the prayerful partnership between missionaries and local church members, according to AAEO representatives.

Since 1934, Southern Baptists have given funds to support missionary salaries, health benefits, church planting supplies and evangelism materials. Last year’s annual giving was a record high, at nearly $54 million, which supported 5,200 missionaries serving in the United States and Canada.

Candace McIntosh, executive director of Alabama Woman’s Missionary Union, said, “Giving through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is one way Alabama Baptists can support Great Commission work, not only in the state of Alabama, but throughout the United States.” Alabama’s AAEO goal is $5 million.

And combining that support with prayer is critical, according to Wanda Lee, executive director of national Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU).

“The AAEO and Lottie Moon Christmas Offerings are tangible ways Baptists can express their desire to support missions,” she said. “These gifts, along with faithful prayer support, enable missionaries to do the work God has called them to do.”

Jimmy Jackson, pastor of Whitesburg Baptist Church, Huntsville, agreed.
Whitesburg led the 2004 Annie Armstrong offering in Alabama with more than $119,000 and Jackson gives credit to prayer combined with encouragement. “We encourage members to give all year long to both the Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon offerings. We have a special six-week focus on each one during which time we pray and keep our goal in front of the people.”

Les Hughes, senior pastor of Westwood Baptist Church, Alabaster, has also found that encouragement and prayer are key ingredients to a successful offering for missions. In 2004, Westwood gave $43,968 primarily through efforts of the missions team and sermons.

Hughes said his church wants to be prayer warriors, cheerleaders and partners in ministering to others and in sharing the gospel. “It’s important for us to give this offering because these missionaries trust us to support them with our prayers and with our resources,” he said.

With an estimated seven out of 10 people living without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Robert E. “Bob” Reccord, believes we must never lose sight of the mission before us.

Not only does he hope the 2005 Annie Armstrong Offering goal of $55 million is reached but that the lost will give their hearts and lives to Jesus.

“The signs are all around us every day that our homeland is sinking deeper and deeper into a lostness and spiritual darkness that only God can turn around,” he said. “From the school classroom to the Wall Street boardroom (and) from Washington, D.C. to Hollywood, we are losing the spiritual foundation we once had as a nation and along with it, the ability to distinguish between right and wrong.”

As millions of Christians in Southern Baptist churches donate to the annual offering, 100 percent of the money utilized to support missionaries and evangelism and careful planning is taken to start new churches.

Reccord explained that NAMB takes a close look at the demographics of the communities, what kind of church is needed most and what groups are missed by other churches in the area. The planning pays off when a new church planter is commissioned.

“It’s an approach that says, ‘We’re not going to design church our way and then expect you to conform to it, Instead, we’re going to be rock-solid in our doctrine and singularly focused on Christ, but we’re going to remove the barriers that sometimes keep people from walking into a church,’” he said.

Until her death in 1938, removing barriers is what Annie Armstrong was known for as she devoted her life to helping the poor, needy and underserved.

“I think she would be amazed to see what her vision for North American missions has grown into,” Reccord said. He believes she would be heartened by the fact God is still using the same method — the obedient and generous gifts and offerings of His people — to support the work that was so close to her heart.

“I think she would also feel more of an urgency to reach this continent for Christ and she would feel an even stronger need for us to continue and grow the mission.”

Copyright 2005© The Alabama Baptist. All Rights Reserved. Contact The Alabama Baptist