April 2014

A Holy God in heaven is ‘for real’

April 30 2014 by Todd Brady, Baptist Press

While Hollywood has delivered another heavenly movie for American consumption, the Scriptures proclaimed long ago that heaven is in fact for real, God is there, and He is holy.

Opening Easter weekend with $21.5 million in ticket sales, the popularity associated with “Heaven Is for Real” is encouraging. At the same time, the movie should have Christians scratching their heads.

Based on the No. 1 New York Times Bestseller of the same title, the movie recounts the struggle that small-town pastor and father Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) faces as he struggles to embrace his 4-year-old son’s claim that he went to heaven in a near-death experience during an emergency appendectomy surgery.

Burpo’s wrestling with such an extraordinary claim is often manifested in his sometimes-tense relationship with his wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly), his shaky friendship with those who serve with him at the local volunteer fire department, and in his unconvincing leadership of the church he pastors. The movie predictably plods along the storyline of the Burpos slowly finding out more and more about what their son Colton (Conner Corum) tells of hearing singing angels, sitting on Jesus’ lap, seeing Jesus’ rainbow-colored horse, hugging his sister (who had died in utero) and talking to “Pop,” Todd’s maternal great-grandfather who had died years ago.

After grappling with the veracity of his son’s claim by having a heart-to heart talk with a close friend and conducting a Google search of “near-death experience,” as well as by visiting a university psychologist, Burpo seems to make a blind jump of faith in acknowledging his son’s extraordinary experience. After weeks of timidity, Burpo boldly stands before his congregation and says with conviction that he indeed believes. The movie concludes as parishioners smile and walk to the front to hug their pastor who has courageously embraced the child-like faith modeled by his son. If hearts are not warm enough by now, Sonja Burpo hands her husband a blue baby outfit and announces they are now expecting another child.

In a day when violence, perverted sexuality and general crudeness are splattered across the silver screen, a heartwarming, spiritually-oriented film like Heaven Is for Real containing nice, moral, churchgoing Nebraskans is somewhat of a relief.

Of humanity’s search for God, Augustine said long ago that our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee. As millions read the book and flock to theaters to see such a celestial film, reflecting an obvious restlessness in our society, Heaven Is for Real seems to encourage a less-than-informed approach to the subject of Christian faith. As the Burpos and their close-knit community struggle to embrace Colton’s claims and the realities of their faith, multiple warmhearted conversations ensue and lots of staring off silently into vast distances takes place, but there is no searching the Scripture. Sadly, as a result of this visit to heaven and the fervor that it enflames, there is no talk of an awesome God.

No, “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh,” and yes, we “have divine power to destroy strongholds,” and because we are human beings, there is much we’ll never understand. On the same token, we “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). We do not take off our thinking caps in order to be people of faith. Regardless of how others may encourage us, we do not “let go, and let God.” Rather, as Anselm said in the 11th century, our faith is continuously in the process of seeking understanding.

The producers of the movie may believe that heaven is for real, but the heaven depicted in the movie seems to be more about how modern Americans may view God than the actual place where God dwells.

In the midst of a churchgoing society where sentimental spirituality is frequently on display, let us be reminded that those in Scripture who experienced the God of heaven were often marked by overwhelming terror, uncontrollable trembling, paralyzing fear, incredible awe, jaw-dropping astonishment and silencing amazement.

When Moses requested to see the glory of God, God hid him in a rock and allowed Moses to see only His back (Exodus 33:18-23).

When Ezekiel saw the glory of the LORD, he fell on his face (Ezekiel 1:28).

Daniel was overwhelmed by his vision of God. He was “anxious” and his visions “troubled” him (Daniel 7:15). Moreover, he summed up his experience by saying, “Here is the end of the matter. As for me Daniel, my thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my color changed, but I kept the matter in my heart” (Daniel 7:28).

Isaiah cowered in God’s presence and cried “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). God would later tell him, “But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isaiah 8:13).

The disciples who witnessed Jesus walking on water “were terrified” and “cried out in fear” (Matthew 14:26). When they all got in the boat together, the disciples “worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’“ (Matthew 14:33).

When God thundered from the bright cloud over the Mount of Transfiguration and told Peter, James and John, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him,” the disciples “fell on their faces and were terrified” (Matthew 17:5-6).

John records that when he saw Christ, he “fell at his feet as though dead” (1:17).

Christians are people with a thinking faith. Simultaneously, we are a people who exercise faithful thinking. Our thinking faith and faithful thinking is focused on God and rooted in His Word. As a result, we realize that heaven is where the One, True, Almighty, Majestic and Holy God lives.

Regardless of whatever extraordinary experiences there may be, heaven is ultimately about the God who is there.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Todd Brady is vice president for university ministries at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)
4/30/2014 12:01:46 PM by Todd Brady, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

What drives your view of immigration?

April 29 2014 by Brian Davis, BSC

Barrett Duke, vice president of public policy and research for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention addressed a group of religion, business and government leaders during the Americans for Reform meeting on April 24. In the meeting, which was held at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, Duke addressed the link between ethics and public policy related to the matter of immigration.

“Most Southern Baptists are supportive of immigration reform; this has not always been the case,” Duke said. He explained the reason for Southern Baptists’ shift in support: “This has become a personal issue for us. More ethnic people are in our churches. Those churches that grow fastest are reaching ethnic communities. We not only lead immigrants to Christ but to follow Christ and connect with our churches.”
Duke acknowledged that many Southern Baptists have not invested time in prayerfully thinking about and studying the Scriptures regarding immigration. But he said that is changing as well: “They (immigrants) are no longer ‘those people’ but people just like us. We’re thinking differently about the ethnic communities and what people must endure to come here, live here, and raise families here. Southern Baptists are calling for immigration reform.”
The Bible drives Southern Baptists’ change of position as well: “Scripture has certainly impacted my thinking. Sadly, I was like many others in the past, thinking, ‘People who’ve come here illegally should all be deported.’ I was an offended citizen. But God has challenged my thinking,” Duke said.
“My citizenship in this land is not the most important concern, but my witness for Christ.” As a result, Duke is calling for immigration reform. “We must call on our government to do what is appropriate before the Lord,” he said.
Compassion is also a significant matter in terms of Southern Baptist’s shift in support of immigration law. Duke reminded the audience that immigrants are humans beings created in God’s image; Jesus Christ died for all immigrants, and they deserve to be treated with dignity.
“These are hard-working and loving people seeking to provide for their families just as I’m trying to provide for mine. If my family was starving, and all I needed to do was enter another land, especially if no one would try to keep me out, then I would probably do the same,” he said.
Duke also addressed the complexity of current immigration law. He said, “Our government has allowed more than 11 million immigrants to live here. We must not place the blame solely on the immigrant when our government’s failures to enforce our laws are to blame.”
Duke noted the lack of Christian ethics expressed through the enforcement of current immigration law: “We say we’re Christian and yet deport people back to abject property where their skills have no expression? God will not honor that. It’s below the dignity of people who call themselves civilized to fail to reform immigration.”
If you would like more information about the efforts of Southern Baptists to join other like-minded evangelicals calling for immigration reform, please visit www.evangelicalimmigrationtable.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Davis is associate executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)
4/29/2014 12:33:23 PM by Brian Davis, BSC | with 0 comments

Aborted babies as medical waste

April 28 2014 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

It came to light recently that a waste-to-energy plant in Oregon was burning the remains of aborted babies along with other medical waste to produce electricity, according to a variety of overseas news sources. The waste material was being shipped to the plant from the Canadian province of British Columbia.

The Marion County Board of Commissioners halted the medical waste program when it learned of the aborted remains, the British newspaper The Daily Mail reported. Marion County is located just south of Portland and is the home of Oregon’s capital city of Salem.

A variety of sources reported in March that more than 15,000 aborted and miscarried babies had been incinerated as medical waste by some hospitals in Britain. Some of the remains were used in waste-to-energy plants similar to the one in Oregon. When the Department of Health learned of the situation, it issued a ban on the practice, the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported.

“This practice is totally unacceptable,” Britain’s health minister, Dan Poulter, said, according to The Daily Telegraph.

The revelations from Oregon and the United Kingdom prompt the question of what routinely happens to remains of aborted and miscarried babies. Many are cremated. Some are tossed out with the trash as medical waste. Others are sealed in containers and sent to pathology labs. Some facilities actually bury the unborn children in mass graves. And some of the tiny bodies are taken by their mothers and given funeral services.

Those who take the children are women who have experienced miscarriages as well as those who aborted their child due to some major problem discovered prenatally. In both cases, the women viewed their unborn children as persons of value.

If an unborn baby is viewed as nothing more than a fetus, void of personhood, and routinely cremated and/or tossed out as medical waste, why would the practice of burning the remains to produce electricity be viewed as unacceptable and disgusting? It would seem practical and utilitarian to use the discarded remains to produce power. After all, the argument would run, aren’t we just burning medical waste?

Why not do the same with dead bodies? Cremation is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Why not just stack dead people like cordwood and use them at waste-to-energy plants?

We don’t use deceased people as fuel to produce energy for the same reason we shouldn’t use aborted and miscarried babies – because they are persons and their passing should be treated with as much dignity as possible.

In spite of what the advocates of evolution maintain, humans are more than just highly evolved animals. Mankind is a special creation, formed in the image of God and is precious and valuable at every stage of development. As such, each person should be treated with the utmost dignity.

It seems that civilizations the world over innately understand the intrinsic worth of human life. Birth is celebrated in all cultures; so is death. Death rituals or funerals are observed around the world. Though the forms are different, they all share a celebration of life and a mourning of death and are all, in their own way, dignified.

The only way to justify discarding the remains of an unborn child as medical waste, or callously incinerating its remains, is to view it as less than a person, less than human.

Nazi Germany did this to justify the Holocaust of European Jews, classifying the Jews as less than human, even subhuman. So, forcing them into ghettos seemed to them of no consequence. Cramming them like cattle onto railroad cars for transport to the so-called labor camps – in reality death camps – seemed to them reasonable.

Using strong healthy Jews as beasts of burden was acceptable to the Nazis, because, they thought, the Jews were not fully human. Working them until they were used up and then killing them was, for the Nazis, considered acceptable; it was how one discarded an animal that was no longer useful.

When the extermination of the Jews first began, the Nazis buried the dead bodies in mass graves. However, the practice proved too cumbersome and time-consuming; thus it gave way to the efficiency of incinerating them in specially constructed crematoriums. What you and I view as atrocities against the Jews were deemed acceptable by the Nazi regime.

If, as abortion proponents contend, the unborn child is nothing more than a fetus and void of personhood, why do they care what is done to it? Abort it, dissect it, study it, burn it for fuel, they say. Oddly, some modern-day advocates of abortion believe an unborn baby should be afforded some dignity when its remains are being disposed of.

They should extend their view to abortion in general: An unborn child should be afforded dignity and protected from any and all harm.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
4/28/2014 9:36:25 AM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Through CP, ‘reach, touch, transform’

April 24 2014 by Bill Pritchett, Baptist Press

I was saved as a young adult in a small, Southern Baptist church in Beaufort, S.C. Early in my church experience, I heard about and saw our church willingly and gladly invest 10 percent of our undesignated gifts through the Cooperative Program in spite of having many financial needs herself. It was exciting to hear and read how our financial and prayer support helped place our missionaries in North America and around the world. In theory, I learned the value of partnering together as churches to take the gospel to the uttermost part of the world.

In my early 30s, God called me into the ministry. In spite of our associational missionary’s urging that I should get some education, I told him all I needed was a church. God called me to my first church in Bluffton, S.C. The church had all but died, so I couldn’t do much more harm with no more training and experience than I possessed. Even though we were small in number, the church’s commitment to missions through our Cooperative Program was very strong. Missionaries on furlough would speak to our church and I still remember the excitement created by seeing and hearing from missionaries we supported through our Cooperative Program giving.

Then God called me to pursue my education. Through the process of undergraduate and graduate studies, my theoretical understanding of the Cooperative Program became more personal and more of a conviction. I discovered that the Cooperative Program helped financially support my theological education. I benefited personally from the generosity of thousands of other churches throughout the Southern Baptist Convention.

As the years unfolded, the genius of the Cooperative Program became more apparent. The value of the Cooperative Program to the mission of Southern Baptists to take the gospel to the end of the age is unparalleled, except for the work of the Holy Spirit and prayer. The strength of partnering and cooperating together as Southern Baptists to give, pray and go on mission is evident nowhere more than in our Cooperative Program.

During these challenging financial times, yet golden days of opportunity, Southern Baptists can turn “the world upside down” (Acts 17:6, HCSB) for Christ by strengthening our resolve to give 10 percent and beyond through our Cooperative Program.

Giving through the Cooperative Program helps reach, touch and transform lives. I believe in the Cooperative Program because I’m one such life.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bill Pritchett is pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Andalusia, Ala.)
4/24/2014 1:46:53 PM by Bill Pritchett, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Why ‘Heaven is For Real’ scares me

April 22 2014 by Nate Akin, Guest Column

The movie based on the best-selling “Evangelical Christian” book of the last decade, Heaven is For Real, debuted recently.
Some of the truths in the sentence I just wrote frighten me and cause me to wonder if we have a biblically discerning, “Berean” culture in today’s Evangelical Church (cf. Acts 17:11).
If you have not read the book, the basic premise of this supposedly true story is that a little boy is pronounced dead during an emergency surgery, goes to heaven, is revived and recounts what heaven looks like in the ensuing months.
There are all kinds of verses that come to mind that raise concern for our discernment about this story.
David Platt highlights two of them while quoting John McArthur from last year’s Secret Church simulcast.
However, my biggest concern is the number of Christians who say this book bolsters their faith.
These responses concern me greatly because they betray our lack of confidence in the sufficiency of the scriptures.
Why do we look to a story about a boy’s “experience” with more excitement and awe than we do the Word of the Living God?
But this type of demand for additional assurance rather than biblical truthfulness is nothing new.
We have seen this before – in fact, about 2,000 years before.
Jesus tells us a story about such a man in Luke 16:19-31 in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
The parable is about the rich man dying and going to Hell while Lazarus dies and goes to Abraham’s side. The climax of the story records the rich man’s plea to Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead.
Here is what is recorded for us in verses 28-31:
“And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’
“And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent. He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
Christian, you do not need a dream of a five-year-old boy or someone spending 90 Minutes in Heaven to prove to you that Heaven is for real or to bolster your faith.
You have the prophets and apostles.
For 2,000 years they have been shouting to us through the Word that One came back from the dead and offers us both a resurrection like His and eternal life.
Yes, Heaven is for real, and it’s a certainty for the believer.
We shouldn’t garner our hope in the testimony of a five-year-old boy, but in the power of our Lord and Christ who vacated a tomb in the Middle East and is right now at the right hand of the Father in Heaven.
After all, we know Heaven is for real because in Christ we have already been raised from the dead and are right now seated in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). All this we know because the Bible told us so.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nathan Akin is one of the planting pastors of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh and serves there as the pastor for disciple-making. In addition, he serves at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in establishing church partnerships with the seminary. This column was first released online at baptisttwentyone.com.)
4/22/2014 12:52:53 PM by Nate Akin, Guest Column | with 2 comments

‘Lord, prepare me to be ...’

April 18 2014 by Jimmy Draper

“Dear God, please ruin me!”

Doesn’t sound like a prayer any of us would say, does it? However, there is clear indication in Scripture that some Christians may actually be inviting God to do just that by their actions and attitudes.

Before we continue, we need to understand something. Those who say the Bible isn’t relevant to contemporary culture need to realize that the immorality of our world today is identical to what was present in first century Corinth. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is firmly founded on God’s truth and was written to a church in a pagan culture permeated with sensuality, violence, corruption, divisions and doctrinal heresy. 

The Corinthians were an immature body of believers, filled with divisive debates, compromise, immorality, favoritism, anger, bitterness, slander, spiritual arrogance and lawsuits. They apparently did not understand the significance of their chaotic fellowship in the eyes of the Lord. Paul reminds them in chapter three that he cannot address them as mature because they are still “fleshly.” Their behavior reflected their culture rather than spiritual maturity that would have morally distinguished them.

“Don’t you know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” Paul asked them in Corinthians 3:16. “If anyone ruins God’s sanctuary, God will ruin him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are.”

There are two Greek words for “sanctuary” in the New Testament. One defines the entire temple complex. The other, found in this text, refers to the innermost dwelling place, the Holy of Holies. Think of it; believers are the Holy of Holies for the Holy Spirit. What an awesome thought!

But here is the ignored part of these verses: “Sanctuary” is singular, but “you” is plural. Every believer is a temple of God, and that is the way we usually interpret this verse. However the church itself – the body of believers – is a temple of God. The church is holy just as individuals are holy, and God jealously guards that which is holy.

Collectively, we are God’s sanctuary. The individual who fails to act rightly toward the body of believers is guilty of rebellion against God. The verb “ruin” is repeated in Corinthians 3:17. The punishment here is not an arbitrary decision. The believer who promotes divisions, turmoil, chaos and disruption within the fellowship of the church “ruins” or desecrates the Holy of Holies of God and thus invites personal destruction from God. 

This ancient message is contemporary and tragically relevant. Our churches are surrounded by pagan culture and filled with many problems, not all of them theological. We must take personal responsibility for our actions in the fellowship of God’s sanctuary which is the church. Only then can we make a global impact on our world. If our churches are to be change agents reaching the lost instead of members-only country clubs, we must stop ruining the fellowship of the church.

Southern Baptists have taken a stand upon the truth of God’s Word. However, we find everywhere in the churches of our convention dissensions, divisions, slander, anger, bitterness and continual fighting over control and authority within the church. We are inviting ruin. 

We have a choice of two prayers: “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary,” or, “Dear God, please ruin me!” Which are you praying?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – James T. Draper Jr. is interim president of Criswell College in Dallas, president emeritus of LifeWay Christian Resources and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
4/18/2014 9:08:22 AM by Jimmy Draper | with 0 comments

The death of darkness

April 17 2014 by Erich Bridges

I saw my friend James at a church supper after being out of touch for several years. It was like we’d never been apart.

We talked, laughed, hugged, sang and prayed together. I met his wife for the first time and celebrated with them over the way God had healed wounds in their marriage and family. It was a great evening; we didn’t want it to end. We said goodnight, promising each other we’d meet again soon.

A few weeks later, James was dead. Chronic illness caught up with him. He hung on for days in the hospital, but his body was worn out.

This life seems so strong and sure for a season – and then it’s over. We try to escape death, delay it, appease it, fight it and deny it. “Do not go gentle into that good night,” the poet Dylan Thomas advised. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Rage all you want; death will come for you one day. But darkness, its close companion, is a choice.

“There was the true Light, which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. … But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,” the Apostle John declared of Jesus Christ (John 1:9-12, NASB). “And the Word become flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14a, NASB).

Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus Himself said, “This is the judgment, that the Light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19, NASB).

Men love the darkness, but God sent His Son, the Light of the world, to rescue us from eternal darkness. By His resurrection, Christ put darkness to death. Two millennia later, however, not everyone knows the truth. That’s why missionaries and other servants of God go to places of darkness, no matter the potential cost. They bring the Light of the gospel not only through their words and actions, but by their presence.

“There have been several attacks recently,” wrote a worker who lives in one such place. “Often the gunfire and explosions would cease, and I would think it must be over, but it would start again. I was sharply reminded that we are here to pray,” and not only pray, but to be, to love, to speak and to lift up the flaming torch of Christ amid great darkness.

On a recent plane trip, International Mission Board (IMB) president Tom Elliff struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger who asked him, “What do you do [for a living]?”

“I chase darkness,” Elliff replied.

Bewildered, the passenger inquired, “Are you in lighting?”

“In a way,” Elliff told the man.

Reflecting on the encounter, the IMB leader said, “We are indeed ‘chasers after darkness,’ looking for the black holes of sin in our world and thrusting into that darkness the Light of the glorious gospel of Christ.”

My friend James experienced darkness in his life, but when Christ filled his soul with light and salvation, he became one of the most joyful witnesses I’ve ever known. This Easter, I know James is celebrating the resurrection in the presence of the Risen One.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent.)
4/17/2014 9:21:42 AM by Erich Bridges | with 0 comments

Evangelism: an intervention

April 16 2014 by Mark Coppenger, Baptist Press

You know the scene: A troubled family member arrives at home only to find various loved ones seated in the living room. They ask him or her to sit down and hear what they have to say. One by one, they read prepared statements of love and admonition. The subject, eyes brimming with tears or flashing with indignation, endures as much as possible before caving in, pushing back or storming out.

The poor soul has bottles hidden around the house and in the flowerbed, and she can find another pint as soon as her prime stashes are blown.

Or there’s the trash addict who can’t throw anything away, even dead animals. (I was called in on a cleanup with some church members in my seminary days; we found a dead, dried out cat under matted stained clothes under stacks of newspapers in one of the closets.)

An intervention is very uncomfortable but worth it, whether the addiction is drugs or drink, clutter or cussedness. They’re ruining themselves, as those around them are grieving if not outright harmed. And they don’t much appreciate your suggestion that something is out of whack.

I know that people can come to Christ in a lot of tender ways. An immigrant wife is touched by her Christian neighbor’s shopping and language tips. A lost welder is disarmed by the warmth of a church softball team he’s been asked to join. A “singing Christmas tree” rendition of Joy to the World brings tears to the eyes of a cranky, unchurched parent who shows up to watch his high school senior perform.

But the Lord has also used Jonathan EdwardsSinners in the Hands of an Angry God and the chaste slap of a godly college girl knocking some sense into a unbelieving suitor, whose advances were unseemly, a jolt which caused him to reassess his secular worldview. Or how about Mordecai Ham’s scathing anti-alcohol parades, which salvifically grieved some drunks standing outside bars on the roadside?

God may well use a sequence of happy and scary events and items to lead an individual to Himself. (I think I once heard the late evangelism professor Roy Fish say the average was seven Gospel touches before conversion.)

So Bob may have been providentially prepped for salvation by, in order, a Vacation Bible School lesson he heard at age 8; a highway sign reading, “Prepare to Meet God”; a Jack Chick tract named Holy Joe; the stellar performance of a homeschooled spelling bee champ who thanked Jesus for helping her; five minutes of a Joel Osteen sermon; and a friend who repeated something he heard in an Alistair Begg broadcast.

Truth is, we risk looking silly when we declare, well beyond our competency and theological warrant, that all evangelistic approaches other than our own are tacky, pompous, dated, specious, trendy, dopey, sleepy, grumpy, sneezy and bashful.

That being said, there is an irreducible kernel of awkwardness and agony in conversion – repentance. I compare it to throwing up. I hate it. I fight it. (On a bucking airplane I close my eyes, turn the air full blast on my face, breathe deeply and sit very still.) I suppress it with every fiber of my being. But when it comes, oh, the relief – the blessed cooling of a sweaty brow, the relaxation of suppressed muscles.

Yes, it’s that gross, as is repentance, as we hurl up and out the poison and rot of self and sin and damnable, willful stupidity – the sort of thing you find in James 4:8-10: “Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.”

Sometimes we hear and say that a witnessing Christian is “just one beggar telling another one where to find bread.” I’d suggest it’s more like a formerly-suicidal fellow who was talked off the ledge trying to talk a currently-suicidal fellow off the ledge. Or it is like a repentant Taliban terrorist in Gitmo going on TV to dissuade current Taliban terrorists to cut it out.

Of course, most don’t think that a law-abiding, philanthropic citizen – working the NYT crossword in Starbucks on Sunday morning, sitting across from his wife Khloe enjoying a half double decaffeinated half-caf with a twist of lemon, beside their jogger stroller bearing little Nash – is a suicidal terrorist. But he is just as we were. He’s bound for a well-deserved sinner’s hell, indifferent to the godly stewardship of his life, harming innocents along the way by his passive, aggressive and passive-aggressive defiance of the Kingdom and its gospel of grace, Khloe and Nash being his prime victims as his “spiritual leadership in the home” couples them to his downgrading train.

And so we intervene. If, that is, we love the person, are convinced of his plight and are willing to risk the alienation of affection. It doesn’t take licenses or programs or eloquence, though those can help. It simply demands compassion, courage, a firm grasp of the hard truth and, yes, a life which reflects a better way.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Coppenger is director of the Nashville extension center and professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)
4/16/2014 11:06:48 AM by Mark Coppenger, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

A time to remember

April 15 2014 by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press

Today in movie making, a flashback is often used to take the viewer back in the story to fill in details and supply the story’s backdrop. Cinematic flashbacks put past information into the present, keeping us on track. Cultural flashbacks do the same – remind us of simple truths worth perpetuating in the present.

It is the same with our walk with God. It is a good thing to remember the past as we move forward in victory in the present.

Power of Remembering: New Testament

To keep us on track in the present, God gives us spiritual flashbacks of information from the past that He wants us to pull into the present.

Flashbacks were more common in the Old Testament than the New. In the New Testament, the one central remembrance is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul exhorts us to remember what Jesus said on the night of His betrayal and arrest as He shared a final meal with His disciples.

“Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me,” Christ said. “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).

For two thousand years, the Christian church has remembered the death of Jesus by celebrating the Lord’s Supper, Communion, on a regular basis.

We not only remember Jesus’ death, we remember His resurrection! Paul wrote to a young pastor named Timothy to remind Him not to forget the Resurrection. “Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8).

In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, everything God had done in the Old Testament was fulfilled. Those three days in the history of the world – and especially resurrection morning, the Lord’s Day – are the most important memories the Christian can have.

Jesus Christ overcame the greatest enemy and obstacle in life – death itself. That means there is no enemy or obstacle in our lives today that we are not capable of overcoming through Christ as we trust in Him.

Power of Remembering: Old Testament

Old Testament exhortations to “remember” and “don’t forget” keep us mindful of who God is and what He’s done. The exhortations keep us mindful to use the past as a beacon for the future.

Here are seven flashbacks about God that gave Israel a backdrop for the circumstances she faced day by day. They serve you and me as well.
  • Remember God’s deliverance. “Remember this day... for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place” (Exodus 13:3). Through Christ, God delivered us from sin’s enslavement (Romans 6).
  • Remember God’s holiness. One of the Ten Commandments is to remember God’s holiness one day each week: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).
  • Remember God’s commands. It is God’s will that we, “Do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes” (Deuteronomy 8:11).
  • Remember God’s judgments. “Remember … what the Lord … did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:18). God does not wink at sin (1 Corinthians 11:29-32).
  • Remember God’s blessings. “Remember the Lord … it is He who gives you power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18). Remember Him by your thankfulness and generosity in His name.
  • Remember God’s covenant. “Remember His covenant” (1 Chronicles 16:15). God’s promises are our permanent possession (Jeremiah 31:33; Luke 22:20).
  • Remember God’s works and wonders. “Remember His marvelous works” (Psalm 105:5). God created the world and everything in it, and nothing can separate you from Him (Romans 8:38-39).
Take time to remember what God has done. Flash back on that as you work and worship. Remembrances of Him help complete the storyline of your life.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. For more information on Turning Point, visit www.DavidJeremiah.org.)
4/15/2014 10:24:56 AM by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Lessons from Apollo 13

April 14 2014 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

On April 11, 1970, Apollo 13 successfully launched at 2:13 p.m. Eastern Standard Time from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The space flight’s goal was to land on the surface of the moon, the third such lunar landing undertaken by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). However, Apollo 13 never reached its intended destination.

An oxygen tank exploded on the Command Module slightly less than 56 hours into the mission and a second tank failed almost immediately. NASA Mission Control was alerted to the situation when Mission Commander Jim Lovell announced, “Houston we’ve had a problem.”

Approximately 87 hours after Lovell’s understated articulation of the explosion, and 143 hours after liftoff, Apollo 13 splashed down into the azure waters of the South Pacific near the Cook Islands.

Deemed a “successful failure” by NASA, many lessons for life and leadership can be gleaned by reviewing the experiences of astronauts Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert as well as the members of Mission Control.

The most significant lesson to take away from Apollo 13 is that we must know what is most important. Just minutes after the explosion, the mission to land on the moon was scrapped by NASA. The most important element of the mission was getting the three astronauts back to earth alive.

Establishing what is most important will make all other decisions much easier, because all other decisions must support or at least be compatible with what is most important. All considerations that do not support what is most important are superfluous.

A second principle to learn from Apollo 13, which is also found in the lyrics of my high school’s fight song, is, “We are one for all and all for team.” Every member of the NASA team was important and every member was wholly dedicated to what was most important, getting the astronauts back alive.

Mission Control worked out processes to keep the astronauts alive. Then the space crew carried out the plans. The 87 hours between the explosion and splash-down were an amazing display of teamwork and a perfect illustration of the aphorism, “It is amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.”

A third lesson to take away from Apollo 13 is the necessity of doing whatever is necessary to achieve what’s most important. Innovation, creativity, adaptability and perseverance were hallmarks of both the astronauts and Mission Control.

The three astronauts abandoned the damaged Control Module for the Lunar Module (LM). The LM was only designed for two men, but the three crammed themselves into close confines. Later they performed a critical course correcting maneuver, not designed for the LM, and without instruments.

If performing difficult, unrehearsed maneuvers in cramped quarters were not enough, the astronauts operated in almost freezing conditions, lacking both proper food and sleep.

Mission Control developed new procedures and tested them in a simulator on the ground before giving them to the Apollo crew. What normally required months to produce took less than 87 hours.

Urgency fostered a new level of production. The NASA team did not have time to whine, “We can’t,” or “We’ve not tried this before,” or “I’m tired.” They pulled together and found ways, created ways, to achieve what was most important.

Another lesson is that achieving what is most important requires training, training and then more training. Of the three astronauts, only Commander Lovell had space flight experience. However, the trio had been drilled mentally and physically to the point that they did not panic when faced with a life threatening and dire situation.

One other take away from Apollo 13 is that an individual or team cannot merely go through the motions if they want to achieve what is most important; it requires complete commitment.

While you would expect the three astronauts to be committed to preserving their lives, their dedication was not enough. It required everyone at Mission Control to give their all to the point of physical and mental exhaustion.

Have you identified what is most important in your life, in your business or your organization? Once you do, you have taken the first step toward realizing it. Next assemble a team, adapt, innovate, train and commit yourself to the goal.

When Apollo 13 blasted off 44 years ago, no one associated with the mission anticipated that it would be a successful failure. But if we will learn from their experience, not only will we be able to realize success from our failures, we will also be more likely to avoid failure altogether.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
4/14/2014 9:15:27 AM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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