Conference leaders focus on faithfulness of God in sessions

March 1, 2011

PLAINVIEW – With a nod to its humble beginnings and rich heritage, speakers at the 90th Annual Panhandle-Plains Pastors’ and Laymen’s Conference at Wayland Baptist University said the continuous thread has been the faithfulness of God.

In one session, Rev. Gene Hawkins of Lubbock, a retired director of missions, mentioned a list of men who had shared from the WBU pulpit for the conference’s long history, likening them to the “Hall of Faith” from Hebrews 11.

“You don’t accomplish 90 years without there being a great demonstration of faith,” Hawkins said, noting such names as W.A. Criswell, Franklin Swanner, Winifred Moore, Stanley White and Doug Carver.

Though the conference is facing changes in the future in order to involve more people from across the region, Hawkins said it was important to keep the spirit of the original founders and maintain a lifestyle of faith.

“If it’s a relay race, then we have the responsibility to take the baton and carry it for the rest of our lives to the world around us, a world lost in sin,” Hawkins said. “We can be faithful in fulfilling the purpose of God today.”

Howard Batson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Amarillo, shared a message from 1 Kings 17, relating how God was faithful to the prophet Elijah in both  mountaintop and valley experiences, occurring back to back.

“God is faithful on Mount Carmel and on Mount Horab,” Batson noted, setting the story up with background that Elijah’s message to King Ahaz was to expect a drought in the land due to their idol worship and turning from God.

On Mount Carmel, Elijah set up two altars, challenging the Baal worshippers to create a larger fire. While the people danced, chanted and circled the altar, nothing happened. Elijah then takes water and douses the altar of God three times, even creating a moat of water around the sacrifice, “so when the fires comes they will know it is God’s fire,” Batson said. The fire consumed the entire altar.

“We see the faithfulness of God in our victories, but is God still faithful in those quieter, still times?” Batson asked. “Sometimes our darkest days come after our brightest days.”

To illustrate that point, Batson shared how Elijah ran for his life and hid, wondering where God was during that dark time. But he did provide, by giving him the grace of Yahweh, rest, food and a chance to talk out his frustrations.

Similarly, Batson said ministers of God and even laypersons can get discouraged after mountaintop experiences and experience low times in church work. Often people overestimate the problems and simply have to wait on God to speak and encourage them. And sometimes, Batson said, the hard work still has to be done while walking through the valley, just as Elijah was asked to go anoint the kings through he really didn’t want to go.

“Sometimes we prophets of God focus too much on ourselves,” Batson said. “Sometimes we come off a Mount Carmel experience into a Mount Horeb time. But at a time you do not know, God will be faithful to you there as well. The God of Mount Carmel is the God of Mount Horeb.”

The session also featured music from the Happy Union Baptist Church choir and a dramatic presentation by Dr. David Howle, associate professor of religion, portraying university founder Dr. James H. Wayland, a pioneer physician. Dr. Wayland presented some of the historical highlights of the conference and its beginnings from his point of view as the college was still in its early years. He noted that former WBU president Dr. E.B. Atwood was the one who asked First Baptist Church of Plainview to provide meals for conference participants twice each day in order to secure Wayland as a permanent location for the Bible conference which had been moving around the area each year.

Even during economic hardships of the 1920s and 1930s, Wayland’s leadership remained committed to keeping the conference going for the people of the high plains and to maintain the strong tie to the Baptist churches and associations that had been in place for years and which had been a cornerstone of the university’s founding.

Howle closed his presentation by pulling an old compass from his pocket, noting how the device had kept him on course for years while covering the countryside to visit patients. Likewise, he noted, the Pastors’ and Laymen’s Conference had provided direction and leadership from God through ordinary individuals for 90 years.

“God has been leading all along, and He’ll lead us into the future,” he said.