April 2012

Uncool? Deal with it

April 30 2012 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) – I had to sympathize with rock singer Bono when he discovered he was uncool.

Uncool? The frontman for supergroup U2, one of the biggest bands in the world? The activist who travels the globe and meets with kings and presidents? The guy so hip he probably wears his trademark designer shades in the shower?

Yep. Uncool. He learned the hard truth a few years ago from his teenage daughters. First off, to teenage daughters a dad is uncool by definition, especially if he’s pushing 50 (Bono was 48 at the time). But they were particularly mortified when he droned on and on about global issues while some other celebs were visiting their home. He overheard one daughter telling the other, “He’s probably boring their [pants] off talking about Africa.” Actually, he admitted, “I probably was.”

The horror. I can relate.

In truth, I’ve been uncool so long that I no longer know (or care) what is cool. I haven’t even heard the bands that were topping the charts 10 years ago, much less the ones with the most iTunes downloads now. On the plus side, there’s liberation in being terminally uncool. You don’t have to watch trends anxiously and waste a lot of time and money trying to keep up with fads. That’s for teens. There’s something sad about a middle-aged man or woman trying to look and act like their kids – or grandkids.

Too often, however, churches try to do that.

Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has a “You may be too fashionable if ...” list for Christians.

You may be too fashionable, he warns, if:

– You look around at church and notice that everybody is the same age and looks and dresses pretty much like you do.

– You can’t stand singing a worship song that was “in” five years ago – much less singing a hymn from another century.

– You believe social justice is more important than evangelism, or that evangelism is more important than social justice.

– Your goal in spending time with non-Christians is to demonstrate that you’re really no different than they are. To prove this, you curse like a sailor, drink like a fish and smoke like a chimney.

– You’ve concluded that everything new is better than anything old, or that everything old is better than anything new.

– The church you’ve chosen is defined more by its reaction to “boring” churches than by its response to a needy world.

– You’ve decided that everything done by the church you grew up in was way wrong and you’re now, thankfully, part of a missional “community” that does everything right.

– The one verse you wish wasn’t in the Bible is John 14:6, where Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” That’s way too narrow!

Way back when I was cool (like, 35 years ago), I played drums in a Christian rock band. We took old-time hymns and turned them into 15-minute jams. “Jesus freaks” with long hair and tie-dyed T-shirts were coming into traditional churches in those days, and it caused a commotion. I remember when we played at our church and cranked up the amps. Our pastor’s wife, who had really big hair and played solos on a grand piano like Liberace, stood up and walked out on us. We needed a spirit of unity. We – some of us, at least – found it in the words of one of our favorite songs, “Little Country Church” by Chuck Girard:

“They’re talkin’ ’bout revival and the need for love

That little church has come alive

Workin’ with each other for the common good

Puttin’ all the past aside

Long hair, short hair, some coats and ties

People finally comin’ around

Lookin’ past the hair and straight into the eyes

People finally comin’ around. ...”

God’s house can accommodate many styles. He doesn't have security at the door deciding which sinners are trendy enough to enter.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking relevance and connections to the world beyond the church. Effective missionaries are passionate and respectful students of the cultures they’re trying to reach with the gospel. They seek to learn which aspects of culture are bridges they can use to share Truth, which aspects oppose Truth and which are neutral. As the Apostle Paul, the greatest missionary of all time, said, “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22b, NASB).

But Paul never hesitated to deliver Truth straight-up, unvarnished and in your face when the situation called for it, regardless of the consequences.

“Christians make a difference in this world by being different from this world; they don’t make a difference by being the same,” Tchividjian writes. “To be truly relevant, you have to say things that are unfashionably eternal, not trendy. It’s the timeless things that are most relevant to most people. ... When the relevance of God’s Word reigns supreme among God’s set-apart people, we influence the wider culture by expressing His revealed truth with both our lives and our lips.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com/. Listen to an audio version at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/148/14842/14842-82233.mp3.)
4/30/2012 1:34:53 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Churches, not infrastructure, best way to reach new areas

April 27 2012 by Kevin Ezell, Baptist Press

As president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in a time of transition and change, I am often asked about the direction and vision of this mission agency. To be honest, on some things, we are learning our way into the future. As we work with state convention partners, associations, local churches and church planters, we are seeking to figure out the best way of reaching North America with the gospel.
When Southern Baptists overwhelmingly adopted the Great Commission Resurgence, they expressed a desire for NAMB to be more focused on church planting and to think in more missiological ways. That has meant some shifts and changes. For example, we are putting greater focus and energy on involving established churches in the planting of new churches in major urban regions outside of traditional Southern Baptist strongholds.
That leads to questions about how systems will be structured and how they will function. To the surprise of some, we continue to do a whole series of things for which we have been traditionally known. For example, we actually fund our evangelism area at a higher level now than in 2010. We are also assisting our conventions with prioritizing evangelism resources from NAMB to help existing churches and church plants in developing evangelism strategies that will impact their fields of ministry. We are involved in chaplaincy, disaster relief and volunteer missions. But yes, we have an increased focus on church planting.
Why? Because that’s what Southern Baptists told us to do — and that is what our trustees and I believe will be the best way of penetrating lostness in North America.
Being a missions agency also requires us to think in missiological ways. And part of that also helps us ask questions about how we work with our partners outside of what have been traditional Southern Baptist regions. We are committed to, and are already now, putting substantially more money into evangelistic church planting in what Southern Baptists call “new work” regions.
In addition, we are placing more money in general into those regions (not just to fund church planting). But missiological thinking also requires us to shift the way we fund our work in what are often called the “new work” states.
Historically, when Southern Baptists began work in North America outside the South, we sought to replicate state convention structures just like we have in the South. Thus, the same staffing model would be present in both places.
However, we have learned from history, and we know in missiology, that is typically not the best approach. For example, almost 100 years ago, John Nevius wrote his missionary principles that have become foundational for missiologists.
One of Nevius’ five principles is that missions should only develop the programs and institutions that the local church desires and can support itself. Missionaries discovered that when outside finances support administrative structures in missionary areas, the end results tend to be negative. However, when outside mission agencies supported church planting, that created more churches. Then, those churches together could decide how best to structure their region for more effective ministry.
We recognize that this is a difficult shift, but we also recognize that it is a missiologically sound shift. The North American Mission Board will fund less infrastructure of new work state conventions, but fund substantially more the church planting efforts in those states. We think the end result will be stronger state conventions, as those state conventions determine how best to structure and organize.
In other words, we want to plant more and more trees outside of the South and let Southern Baptists in those regions decide when and how to use some of the wood to build their denominational house in that region.
In many places, this shift has been well received, but we also recognize that in some places it leads to great challenge. But at the end of the day, we think that centuries of mission history and the current stagnation of church planting in some new work areas tells us there is a better way. We think this is that way.
I commit this-we will work diligently to help Southern Baptists plant more and better churches that will build stronger state convention partnerships in the long run. To be honest, what we have been doing has not led to the rapid advance and increase we had hoped for, which is part of why Southern Baptists so overwhelmingly directed us to change.  But, we are committed to work with our state convention partners to help plant healthy evangelistic churches in their areas and to penetrate lostness together.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kevin Ezell is president of the North American Mission Board.)
4/27/2012 1:30:44 PM by Kevin Ezell, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Remembering Chuck Colson, the church member

April 26 2012 by Hayes Wicker, Baptist Press

NAPLES, Fla. – While multitudes mourn the death of Charles Colson, probably the best-known and most influential American Christian other than Billy Graham, I experience a profound sadness as his pastor of 20 years. I first met Chuck while in view of a call. I presented an audacious covenant to the First Baptist Church of Naples which was attached to the secret ballot, challenging the church: “You cannot separate a man from his message and his methods; a vote to call me is a vote to confirm this covenant.” While not a member yet, Chuck came to me and affirmed this action and asked permission to put my covenant in his next book, “The Body.”

When Chuck joined our church, I urged him to teach a class for non-members, titled “Why Believe?” It became the basis of his book “How Now Shall We Live?” and gave credibility to our new ministry. His autistic grandson, Max, was visiting one day, saw baptism and wanted to profess Christ himself. I authorized Chuck to baptize him in his pool. Chuck was an unashamed Baptist in doctrine and mission, and a faithful steward.

Chuck had an incredible ability to affirm others. I treasure his compliments about my preaching and leadership, often shared in public settings. He never missed an opportunity to speak a positive word about his church. Though he might fly in early Sunday morning from ministering to prisoners or meeting with presidents, he was in his usual seat with Patty in worship. I received untold blessings from how his “iron sharpened” my balsam wood. I learned to move from intimidation of his towering intellect to accountability, knowing that I had an incredible responsibility to teach this godly man the Word and help him to be a better servant. He showed his prayer support while on his fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico by pulling out a worn prayer card, which he carried in his pocket; there was my name and those of my family.

When he received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, I was with him in Chicago. His response then was the same as when he received the Presidential Citizens Medal: “Hayes, imagine the grace of God to an ex-con like me.” I learned much about how to be a Christian gentleman, how to be gracious with every person, whether a prisoner or an executive, and to give attention to details. His love for the needy not only inspired Prison Fellowship, but also convicted me of my own self-centeredness. In 1992, I made one of my lamest statements ever when I asked him why someone with his intelligence, education, and political connections would give his life for criminals. His quiet rebuke reminded me that Jesus came “to set the captives free” and died between two murderers.

Christ transformed the drivenness of his “hatchet man” days in the White House to single-minded devotion to the Kingdom. In his 70s he urged me to keep on serving for as long as possible: “Why should anyone retire when there is so much to do?” Chuck saw fulfilling “the Cultural Commission” by being salt and shining light. He deplored compartmentalization and saw Jesus as Lord of all of life. On more than one occasion, he told me of his last visit with Francis Schaeffer just before Schaeffer’s death when he said, “Chuck, the only issue – truth – true truth!” My ministry was forever impacted by learning from Chuck that we must courageously allow our salt to sting and our light to expose, whether in living or in preaching truth, which is not obsolete but absolute.

My most vivid memory of how the Spirit worked through Chuck occurred in the original “smoke-filled room” in the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago. A hardened female skeptic was conducting a filmed PBS interview. She asked how he knew that Jesus was real. Chuck related how while he was in prison, Al Quie, distinguished congressman and later Minnesota governor, pleaded with the president that he might take Chuck’s place in prison because of Colson family issues. Chuck related, “That was a turning point in my life; for the first time I really understood what it meant for a man to lay down his life for his friends.” Tears flowed down the hardened face of the interviewer. “Cut!” She went to the restroom, fixed her makeup and returned. The cameras rolled as she asked another question, and Chuck declared what it meant to be “born again.” Again tears streamed down her face. I have never sensed the power of God to be so real in a room! She told Chuck later that she wanted to come back to God. I looked at the cameraman who had moistened eyes, and I was emboldened to witness to him.

When I learned that Chuck’s medical condition had worsened from a brain hemorrhage last week, I flew to D.C. and was privileged to be with him and the family as Chuck “finished the course.” What a blessing to sing his favorite song, “Amazing Grace,” at his bedside. He called it “the prisoners’ national anthem.” However, I felt like Elisha at the rapture of his mentor, Elijah: “My father, the chariots and horsemen of Israel” (2 Kings 2:12). Like Elisha, I prayed that “the Spirit” of Chuck’s God would “rest upon” me in a fresh way. When Chuck met his Savior in Heaven and his hero, William Wilberforce, I believe that the old Marine heard, “Well done, Semper Fi.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Hayes Wicker is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Naples.)

Related story
Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, dies
4/26/2012 1:47:56 PM by Hayes Wicker, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Conjecture and speculation vs. fact

April 24 2012 by Mark Creech, Guest Column

Recently, I came across an advertisement against the North Carolina Marriage Protection Amendment that caught my attention. It raised a host of bogus arguments against the amendment, contending that benefits might be taken away, emergency medical and financial decisions might be negatively affected, domestic violence laws might be hurt, it might hurt the economy, etc.
None of these objections, however, have any basis in fact whatsoever. It’s all conjecture and speculation, which is meant to raise enough doubt to cause people to vote against the amendment.
In fact, the ad disingenuously concludes that if the marriage amendment fails everything will remain the same.
Really? If the amendment fails, is it that simple?
Here are some considerations that are neither conjecture nor speculation, but are based squarely in fact.
Because North Carolina is the only state in the southeast that has not protected marriage in its constitution, the Tar Heel state is vulnerable to a court challenge that could overturn as unconstitutional its current statutes that define marriage as being between one man and one woman.
This threat to traditional marriage in North Carolina is real!
In September of last year, same-sex couples lined up at the Buncombe County Clerk of Court’s office demanding that they be given marriage licenses, setting up a potential legal challenge to the state’s marriage laws. A Guilford County Court challenge filed in December of last year, which remains on appeal, argues the state’s marriage laws, among other things, are unconstitutional because they don’t allow same-sex couples to marry. Moreover, there is always the possibility a same-sex couple that has been married in a state where same-sex marriage is legal – and has now taken up residence in this state – could sue to have their marriage recognized here. Should the courts rule in favor of any of these scenarios, marriage would not only be altered to accommodate same-gender coupling, but it would redefine the institution for all the state’s citizens.
Contrary to the understanding of many, same-sex marriage is not something that would simply exist alongside of traditional marriage; as if it were just a different expression of the same institution. No, instead there would be a completely new legal paradigm, redefining the institution for everyone in the state. The legal understanding of marriage would no longer be one man and one woman, but the union of two adults, regardless of their gender.
This redefined version of marriage as a genderless institution would be the only legally recognized definition. Such a radical change in the definition of marriage will unquestionably produce a myriad of societal conflicts that the government using its broad enforcement powers will have to resolve. In other words, citizens, businesses or religious organizations unwilling to comply with this new legal orthodoxy on marriage would find themselves outside of the law and vulnerable to the powers of the government to bring them into compliance.
If one should think this assertion is hyperbole or fear mongering, then it should be noted this is already happening in places where same-sex marriage has become legal.
Religious groups unwilling to make their facilities available for same-sex couples have lost their state tax exemption status. Catholic Charities of Boston had to end their adoption work, deciding to abandon their longstanding religious social mission, because they were unwilling to comply with Massachusetts’ law that allows gays to adopt children. Children in Massachusetts have been taught about gay marriage as early as second grade, and when parents objected, the courts ruled they had no right to prior notice nor were they allowed to opt their children out of class.
Christian innkeepers in Vermont and New Hampshire have been sued over their refusal to make their facilities available for same-sex ceremonies.
In other countries like Canada, where same-sex marriage is legal, the Alberta New Education Act requires parents of homeschoolers to refrain from teaching their children homosexuality is a sin as a part of their educational curriculum. A man in that same country who owned a printing press was fined over $4,000 for refusing to print stationary for a gay activist organization. Pastors and priests in Canada often wonder if they can preach from Leviticus or Romans chapter one without reprisal from the government.
If same-sex marriage is ever legalized in this state, those who believe in traditional marriage will ultimately be declared the legal equivalents of bigots for acting on their deeply held religious beliefs. And not only would the law penalize and restrict traditional marriage supporters, but the power of the government would work in concert to promote this view throughout the culture.
Is this speculation? Is this conjecture?
Absolutely not.
This is already happening in places where same-sex marriage is now legal. The N.C. Marriage Protection Amendment is the best hope of preventing this from happening in the state. What happens concerning this question in this state will likely set the course for the entire nation. What happens in the nation will affect the entire world.
While the opposition surmises, without any basis, as to the negative results of what might happen if the Marriage Amendment passes, the pro-amendment side warns of what unquestionably is already happening where the definition of marriage as one man and one woman has fallen. Traditional marriage in North Carolina must be vigorously protected. This is why it’s critically important to Vote for the Marriage Protection Amendment on May 8.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Creech is executive director of the Christian Action League.)
4/24/2012 2:51:10 PM by Mark Creech, Guest Column | with 0 comments

10 things your kids should know about money

April 20 2012 by Chuck Bentley, Baptist Press

GAINESVILLE, Ga. – One of the greatest gifts you could ever give your children is the ability to handle money wisely. It’s a skill set that will serve them well all throughout life, and sadly, not one they’re likely to learn in school.

At Crown Financial Ministries, we’re often asked by parents not only how to teach kids about money, but what they should teach them. Surprisingly, it’s not much different than what we recommend for adults. Just to make it easy, however, we’ve come up with a list of 10 practical things that kids need to know about finances before they enter adulthood. Otherwise, they may end up learning them the hard way. It’s not an exhaustive list, but if your kids learn just these things, they’ll probably know more than 99 percent of the population.

1. Bank accounts aren’t rocket science. Set up a bank account for your kids and teach them how to record transactions and keep the account balanced. This is a skill like anything else, and it’s important they practice keeping track of their money.

2. Credit cards are sneaky. They may seem like “free money” but they’re not. Kids need to know that every month a bill comes in the mail listing everything you’ve purchased with your credit card. If you don’t pay it in full, interest charges start adding up. There’s also a credit limit on your card. If you go over the limit, you’ll get hit with penalties in addition to interest. Teach by example and pay off your credit card every month.

3. The secret is to live beneath your means. The natural tendency is to spend everything you earn and then some. Kids should know that the biggest secret to financial peace of mind is simply living on less than what you earn. This gives you financial margin so that you can save for emergencies and invest for the future. Teach your kids never to spend all they have, but to always keep something in reserve and to spend less than they make.

4. It actually is better to give than to receive. It’s natural for kids, especially very young children, to think that they are the center of the universe and that everything revolves around them. Teaching them to give to God’s Kingdom and to help those less fortunate is an important life lesson.

5. Paying back student loans is a bear. Once upon a time, you could borrow your way through school, get a great job, and then easily pay off your student loans. Those days are long gone. The cost of higher education has skyrocketed, far outpacing inflation. Today, many students borrow the equivalent of a year or two of salary to get through school. But what if there is no salary? Jobs are scarce for new college grads these days. Bottom line, borrow as little as possible and choose a major that gives marketable skills that lead to employment after graduation.

6. Bad stuff happens. Young people often have difficulty believing that anything bad will happen to them. They haven’t experienced many of life’s pitfalls yet, so they don’t see the need to prepare for them. The sooner they learn to set aside money for emergencies, the better. Teaching your kids at an early age that they need to save three to six months living expenses will help them avoid financial calamity once they become adults.

7. Your budget is your friend. Everyone hates the “B” word – budget. It’s not a fun word. It sounds restrictive. But kids need to learn early that a budget is their friend. A budget is simply a spending plan – the result of decisions they’ve made on how they will spend their money. Everyone dreads going on a budget. Nobody regrets doing it. Teach your kids how to set up a budget and stick to it.

8. Your house can eat you alive. Even though the housing bubble has burst, it’s still easy these days to buy “too much house.” Housing, which includes utilities, should not exceed 35 percent to 40 percent of your total budget. This is also true if you rent. If your housing category exceeds 40 percent of your budget, you’re going to have a difficult time meeting your other obligations. You should never buy to the limit of what you can afford, but something well below that level.

9. There are “good loans” and “bad loans.” The lesson here is really about appreciating versus depreciating assets. A good loan allows you to acquire an asset that appreciates in value, while a bad loan buys something that goes down in value as time goes by. A loan to buy a house, go to school or start a business is “good” because what you’re buying will (usually – not always) go up in value. A loan for a car, powerboat or RV is “bad” because the item begins to decline in value from the moment you buy it. If you have to sell the asset, it may not be worth enough to pay off the loan. For that reason, no debt is really “good,” but some are definitely worse than others.

10. A pre-paid vacation is a fun vacation. If you know you’ll be taking a vacation next summer, start saving for it now. The same goes for Christmas. Set a little money aside from each paycheck so you don’t go into the hole paying for your holiday. It’s no fun getting stuck with vacation bills after you’re back home.

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (nfcc.org) conducts a survey of financial literacy each year. In the latest survey, more than half of the participants – 56 percent – admitted that they don’t use a budget. Forty percent said they don’t save for unexpected expenses and one out of three admitted to not paying all of their bills on time. No wonder consumer debt is such a problem in America!

But you can spare your children a lot of the misery that comes from financial “illiteracy.” If you teach them the 10 simple lessons we've listed above, they’ll make wise financial decisions for the rest of their lives.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries. His latest book, “The S.A.L.T. Plan, How to Prepare for an Economic Crisis of Biblical Proportions,” is available now. To sign up for Chuck’s free weekly e-newsletter, “Handwriting on the Wall,” visit Crown.org/handwriting or call 1-800-722-1976.)
4/20/2012 1:27:16 PM by Chuck Bentley, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Serving in an unhealthy situation

April 19 2012 by Ed Stetzer, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A couple I know was approached about working at a prominent Christian organization. They expressed appreciation for how much good the organization does, but declined the offer because they knew people who worked there used two phrases regularly: “we’re miserable” and “around here, you just keep your head down and do your job.”

I have encountered a number of people recently who work in similarly unhealthy churches and Christian ministries. Dysfunctional Christian organizations often do good things on the outside while destroying those on the inside.

Let me share some signs you might recognize if your church or organization is dysfunctional.

1. The church or organizational culture only values those leading and the function of the organization, not those serving. When ministry leaders see people as tools rather than partners, people are used to serve the purpose, rather than being part of the purpose.

2. The leader is the only one allowed to think. Followers are only supposed to implement, not anything more. All ideas have to be approved by the leader, and since the leader thinks only he/she has good ideas, no ideas come from the people. If the organization grows, but the leader’s bandwidth does not, decisions are delayed because other leaders cannot make them. At one place they refer to the leader’s office as “the black hole where ideas go to die.”

3. The organization or church thinks everyone else is wrong and only they are right. Thus, there is no value in others. There is a narrow group of the acceptable and the “others” are not just wrong, they are stupid. Arrogance is almost always a mark of an unhealthy Christian organization.

4. People rationalize that the good they are experiencing is worth the abuse they are receiving. Often, it is not until they have stepped away from an unhealthy situation when they realize this was not true, and is one of the great lies Christians are led to believe – that the end justifies the means. Dysfunctional organizations are towers of cards, looking and maybe doing good now, but they will fall.

5. People often know of the glaring character problems of the leader, but no one can speak truth to power. Many of these dynamic leaders are known for their anger, and the organization fears rather than addresses the anger. In the end, the leader is believed to be unquestionable due to academic, spiritual, ecclesiastical or some other power base.

6. Many times, the leader receives a pass for the negative fruit of his/her leadership because of some overwhelming characteristic: preaching ability, intelligence, ability to influence others, or more. Yet, the fruit remains below the surface, creating a culture toxic to all who swim downstream.

If you are in an unhealthy Christian organization I would encourage you to consider that God may want you to leave it. My own standard is this: Will staying here hurt my walk with God or harm my family? Being at a place that “makes a difference” sounds good, but if you end up with a confused spiritual life or broken family, it is just not worth the price.

If you believe you need to leave, start praying and looking for another ministry opportunity. This recognition of a different future will likely ease the daily pain and struggle, and help you face each day.

However, if you believe God wants you to stay:

1. Don’t be afraid. Fear makes you cower rather than live in courage. Recognize you are in an unhealthy organization, but don’t become an unhealthy servant.

2. Make a difference. When I served in unhealthy places, I simply asked, “What can I do here, now?” And when you are not scurrying about in fear, you can get much done for the Kingdom.

3. Speak truth. Don’t be afraid to tell the truth about the culture, and when appropriate, the leadership. There will probably be some pushback, or even retaliation, but as you tell the truth with grace and humility, you may be heard – or it may reveal that you need to go.

4. Recognize the Lord may have other reasons for keeping you in your position. Perhaps you have another ministry in your city or church. If that is the case, contribute where you can in your job, recognize how it provides for your family, but focus your energies on that calling. I know some who continue to work in unhealthy organizations, but stay out of a devotion to their local church ministry or other calling. They endure the unhealthy organization to pursue their calling with joy.

These are not easy answers. It may be some who are struggling in their places of service and don’t know where to turn. I encourage you to pray and seek the Lord’s wisdom in your calling. It may be that you will be called to do some difficult yet courageous things.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ed Stetzer is president of LifeWay Research. This column first appeared on his blog at EdStetzer.com.)
4/19/2012 2:19:09 PM by Ed Stetzer, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

What can you do to support marriage amendment?

April 9 2012 by Ray Barnhill, Guest Column

The purpose of this article is not to talk about if or why we should support the marriage amendment as North Carolina Baptists and citizens. It is not to try to convince you that marriage is a good thing. It is. God says so!  We should be way past that.
I believe, no matter what the polls may or may not say, the vast majority of the people of our state and in our churches are supportive of the traditional view of marriage being between one man and one woman.
However, it is clear that there are those with a contrary view to the traditional view of marriage. They are willing to do whatever it takes to make their definition of marriage the law of the land. 
This is the crux of the matter.
Do we in North Carolina want to wake up one day and find that our legislature or some irresponsible state judge has changed our laws to try to make marriage the union between any two consenting adults? (or maybe something even more offensive?) If not, the question becomes “What should we be doing to support the North Carolina Marriage Protection Amendment?”
One, we need to plan to vote for the marriage amendment.
This will take the definition of marriage out of the hands of politicians and judges and put it in the hands of the people.
A constitutional amendment can only be changed by the people. No state judge can credibly say that the traditional definition of marriage is unconstitutional if it is in the constitution. You can be sure that if this amendment fails to pass, the same-sex marriage activists will be emboldened to work to change our laws to allow same-sex marriages in North Carolina.
Second, we need to talk to our neighbors, relatives and friends about the need to vote for this amendment.
In our state and country we are supposed to have a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.
If we fail to vote, we cede the decision about our laws to those who do vote. It has taken almost a decade to get this amendment on the ballot. We don’t want to wake up on May 9 and wish we had done more to get people to vote to protect marriage. We can use our computer to make flyers asking people to vote for the amendment and distribute them in our neighborhoods or other places.
Bring up the subject with those you know and share your concerns about marriage. Use your telephone to call people and ask them to vote. Volunteer to drive someone to the polls.
Third, write a letter to the editor of your local paper expressing your support for the amendment. Ask the paper to take a position in favor of the amendment. Write a letter to your local politicians or call them and ask them to support the amendment publically.
Remember, they want your vote so they have an incentive to try to make you happy, especially if they receive a lot of calls and letters.
Fourth, put a yard sign in your yard and encourage your friends to do the same. If you need to, make your own sign or have it made at a printer. Contribute to the Christian Action League or VoteForMarriageNC.com to help pay for the cost of media to tell our side of the story. If you have the money, get some yard signs made and give them to your friends. Take up money and buy yard signs. Do something to get the message out.
Fifth, volunteer to stand at a polling place and give out flyers that show people how to vote if they wish to support marriage.
Many people are confused and think a vote against the amendment is a vote against same-sex marriage. It is not!
A vote for the amendment is a vote to protect traditional marriage as being between one man and one woman. I believe personally that we who believe in traditional marriage can make a huge difference at the polls by giving out a flyer with a sample of the ballot with a huge check on the “for” box.
There are rules about how close you can be to the entrance of a polling place. Don’t worry; there will be others giving out flyers for their candidates.
Just stand near them. Be nice and act like a Christian should act. Bring extra coffee and donuts. Give them to the people standing at the polls giving out flyers who don’t agree with you. Smile!
Sixth, pray! Remember, God is still in control. The question comes back to us, “What should we be doing to support the North Carolina Marriage Protection Amendment?” The short answer is “Whatever it takes!”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ray Barnhill is pastor of Forest Hills Baptist Church in Wilson. He also is a member of Christian Life and Public Affairs, a committee serving the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)
4/9/2012 4:19:40 PM by Ray Barnhill, Guest Column | with 0 comments

Christianity in Crisis? A response to Newsweek & Andrew Sullivan

April 4 2012 by Trevin Wax, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Newsweek’s latest cover story, written by popular author Andrew Sullivan, encourages Americans to “forget the church” and just “follow Jesus.” According to Sullivan:

“We inhabit a polity now saturated with religion. On one side, the Republican base is made up of evangelical Protestants who believe that religion must consume and influence every aspect of public life. On the other side, the last Democratic primary had candidates profess their faith in public forums, and more recently President Obama appeared at the National Prayer Breakfast, invoking Jesus to defend his plan for universal health care. The crisis of Christianity is perhaps best captured in the new meaning of the word ‘secular.’ It once meant belief in separating the spheres of faith and politics; it now means, for many, simply atheism. The ability to be faithful in a religious space and reasonable in a political one has atrophied before our eyes.”

Sullivan sees the problem of a politicized faith, one that focuses relentlessly on gaining power, changing laws, and regulating the morality of others. He sees contemporary Christianity as a faith obsessed with getting doctrines about Jesus right to the exclusion of what He actually taught us to do and be. This leads him to ask some piercing questions:

“What does it matter how strictly you proclaim your belief in various doctrines if you do not live as these doctrines demand? What is politics if not a dangerous temptation toward controlling others rather than reforming oneself?”

From the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality to evangelical Christian support of torture, Sullivan makes his way through a long list of perceived threats to the centrality of Christ among believing people.

So what’s the solution? Sullivan points us toward Francis of Assisi and Thomas Jefferson. Francis – for the simplicity of his vision for following Jesus. Jefferson – for the way he stripped away all the miracles of incarnation and resurrection and got to the greatest miracle of all: Jesus’ message of love.

A response
Where to start with an article like this?

On the one hand, Sullivan is absolutely right to point out the politicized nature of Christianity in the West. He has witnessed the counterfeit gospel of activism that gives us “culture warriors” from the Right and the world’s “errand runners” from the Left. He has seen what happens when churches unite around a cause rather than the cross, and the results are indeed repugnant. If we deny the shortcomings of the church or minimize the scandals, the abuse of power, or the existence of injustice behind our stained-glass windows, we are departing from the righteous vision of Jesus’ kingdom and joining the first-century Pharisees.

Likewise, we should admit that we have too often been known more for our denunciations of those outside our walls than for our passion to uproot our own self-righteous hypocrisy, something Jesus was always confronting in His day. Sullivan sees many of the problems within contemporary Christianity with a perception that should give us pause and bring us back to our knees.

Jesus without Jesus
Unfortunately, his solution is woefully inadequate. He wants to return to the simple message of Jesus as if that message can be divorced from the Man who delivered it. Despite his protests against a politicized faith, Sullivan is saying we should follow a Man whose primary message concerned a kingdom. You can’t get more political than that.

It’s interesting to see how those who advocate a return to the words of Christ often display a frightening ignorance of what Jesus actually said. The primary message of Jesus was not love – at least, not love in our sense of the world. The message of Jesus was Love with a capital “L” – meaning, His message was about Himself. It was about His kingdom, His identity as king, and the cross that became His throne.

So when Sullivan says that Jesus would have been “baffled” by current debates over homosexuality or abortion, I would counter that Jesus spoke to both of these issues and more, albeit indirectly:

– The sexual ethic He put forth is so radical that even a lustful thought after another human being is considered sinful.

– The picture of God’s intention of marriage – male and female from the dawn of creation – is reinforced so strongly that divorce ought to become unthinkable.

– Abortion? How can we listen to Jesus talk about God’s care for a fallen sparrow or watch Him bless the little children and believe He would have nothing to say to those who would still the heartbeats of those who are “more precious” to the Father than the birds of the air?

What’s more, Sullivan’s assertion that we should return to what Jesus asked us to do and be (“rather than the unknowable intricacies of what we believe he was”) flies in the face of Jesus’ own words to His disciples. Jesus is the One who raises the eternal stakes of understanding His messianic identity. Over and over again in the Gospels, we see the disciples asking, “Who is this man?” The wind and seas obey. The dead are raised. The lame walk. The deaf speak. Jesus is acting and talking like He’s in control. He’s either crazy or He’s king of creation.

Sullivan wants to take Christ’s teaching without Christ Himself. His vision tries to deliver Christ’s message of love without the atoning cross that gives love its meaning. It wants Christ’s justice without the victorious resurrection that launches the new world God has promised, the new world that totally changes the landscape for how we view everything: ethics, morals, politics, art, law.

Jesus’ teachings are not just about embarking on a new journey, embracing a new way of life, or experiencing a new spirituality. They are about His ushering in a new world order – a kingdom that encompasses everything.

Snip away at the miracles, like Thomas Jefferson, and you may be left with only the red letters. But even those red letters testify to the world-changing news of the kingdom’s arrival. This isn’t a Jesus whose message you can understand apart from His cross and resurrection.

The answer to Andrew Sullivan is to point back to everything the Gospels tell us. Let’s not isolate the sayings of Jesus we like and fit Him into our vision for how the world should work. Instead, let’s fall at the feet of King Jesus, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to fit our lives into His vision, a vision of the world to come that has crashed into the world that is.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum line developed by LifeWay Christian Resources for all ages. This column first appeared at TrevinWax.com, a Gospel Coalition blog.)
4/4/2012 3:17:00 PM by Trevin Wax, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Should churches be tax-exempt? (Yes, and here’s why)

April 3 2012 by Erik Stanley, Baptist Press

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Why is your church tax exempt? Why should it continue to be tax exempt? If I were to sit down and ask you these questions, would you have a clear and coherent answer? I suspect this is something we seldom think about. After all, tax exemption for churches has always been given and we assume, because of its historical longevity, it always will be given.
The fact that many Americans cannot explain why churches are tax exempt indicates a forgotten history and is emblematic of a society that has systematically devalued the church as a beneficial societal institution.
Whenever I litigate a case about church tax exemption or speak about the Alliance Defense Fund’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday, the inevitable media comments go something like this: “Churches should pay taxes just like everyone else! They have tons of money, so why can’t they pay their fair share? Why should churches get a free ride? Make them pay!” Comments like these are more prevalent today than any other time I can remember.
Cases involving local governments attempting to tax churches are also becoming more prevalent. For example, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) recently litigated and won a case against the city of Mission, Kan., for attempting to impose a “driveway tax” on churches. Or consider the case of Liberty Assembly of God in New Hampshire which was slapped with a property tax bill simply because the local taxing authorities said some rooms were not being used for a religious purpose.
So why should churches be tax exempt? There are very sound and valid reasons for church tax exemption. First, there is the “social benefit” theory of tax exemption. This recognizes the fact that churches provide great benefits to society by their good works. Churches minister to the poor and needy in the community, provide numerous social services for the downtrodden among us, and reach out to the “least of these” in thousands of different ways. The social benefit theory justifies tax exemption for churches as a kind of bargain – churches provide needed services, so they are entitled to tax exemption.
One corollary of the “social benefit” theory that is often overlooked is what I have termed the “intangible benefit” theory of tax exemption. This highlights the intangible and often unseen benefits provided by churches to the community. Things like reduced crime rates resulting from transformed lives, suicides prevented when people surrender to Christ, and people with destructive behavioral patterns that harm the community changing into hard-working and virtuous citizens who contribute to the well-being of the community. It is difficult to put a price tag on these types of intangible benefits provided by churches, but there is no question that they exist.
An interesting study conducted a few years ago attempted to put a value on the economic worth of one church. The study estimated that the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia provided over 6 million dollars of economic value to the community, a figure that is nearly 10 times the church’s annual budget.
It is easy to see the benefits provided by churches. In fact, churches provide more social services and intangible benefits to the community than they would ever pay in taxes. It makes no sense to tax churches because the tax dollars taken from the church reduce the amount of benefits it can provide to the community. In a very real sense, taxing churches harms society.
But there is also a constitutional reason why churches are tax exempt. Our history is one of an unbroken practice of exempting churches from taxation. Churches were exempt from the very first time the tax code was passed at the federal level, and have remained exempt in every iteration of the tax code ever since. Every state in America also exempts churches from property taxes. When the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case regarding the property tax exemption of churches, called Walz v. Tax Commission, it stated that providing a tax exemption for churches was a less intrusive option under the Constitution than requiring churches to pay taxes.
That makes sense when you stop and think about it. As the Supreme Court said in a very early case, “The power to tax involves the power to control.” Taxation is, in essence, a very strong assertion of control by a sovereign over its subjects. Exempting churches is a way to ensure that the state cannot control churches.
Overall, there are very good reasons why churches are tax exempt. We need to remember these reasons and proclaim them to others in society who reflexively shout that the church should pay its fair share. We should take up the cause of passionate defenders of church tax exemption like Kentucky state Rep. Whittaker of the 19th century. During the debates on the Kentucky Constitution in 1890, he loudly proclaimed, “Let an untaxed gospel be preached, in an untaxed church-house, from an untaxed pulpit; let the emblem of a crucified, but risen Christ be administered from an untaxed altar, and, as the spire points heavenward, let it stand forever untaxed.” Amen.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erik Stanley is senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund.)
4/3/2012 4:24:16 PM by Erik Stanley, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Easter in public schools – the bunny or Jesus?

April 2 2012 by David Cortman, Baptist Press

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Easter brings different thoughts and holds different meanings to different people. Some think first of that chocolate Easter bunny that you may get (if you’ve been good, maybe it will even be solid chocolate and not just that thin outer shell with nothing inside but air). Or those marshmallow peeps (my kids love those). Or the Cadbury eggs. But to many, Easter is first and foremost about the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Arguably the most important day in Christendom.

But when it comes to our public schools, we can only talk about the Easter bunny, correct? I mean, wouldn’t it violate the so-called separation of church and state to talk about Jesus in school? Isn’t the ACLU just lying in wait for that to happen so they can pounce? To answer these questions succinctly, no, no, yes.

The courts have long held that it is permissible to objectively discuss the different holidays that are celebrated and what their meaning is to those who celebrate them. Schools may permit their teachers to teach about what Easter represents to Christians, and even – hold on to your hat – read from the Bible when doing so. Our friends at Gateways to Better Education have even drafted example lesson plans (http://www.gtbe.org/holidayrestoration/index.php/1.html). In spite of what the ACLU and its allies would have you believe, this is constitutionally permissible.

And this holds true for any holiday: Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, etc. In fact, ADF has written a memo (http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/Content/pdf/2012_Easter_Memo.pdf) that explains the law in this most important area.

And I should add that it is not only legally permitted, it is educationally sound. How can we expect our children to understand our culture, our history, without teaching them the religious aspects? There is no doubt that our country has a great religious heritage. Regardless of how groups on the left try to rewrite history and ignore this, it remains in our literature, our pop culture, our monuments and our buildings. Unless we are to whitewash all of this (which would certainly please some), we must teach our children where we came from, along with the underpinnings of all our freedoms. It has been said that if we don’t know where we came from, we certainly won’t know where we are heading. Just look around, this seems true for our country now more than ever.

So enjoy your (solid) chocolate Easter bunny, right after you get home from church celebrating the resurrection of He who holds it all in the palm of his hand.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Cortman is senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. This column first appeared at ADF’s blog.)
4/2/2012 3:46:07 PM by David Cortman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments