April 2015

2050’s challenges – from risk to friendship

April 15 2015 by Erich Bridges, Worldview Conversation

The number of Muslims in the world will nearly match the number of Christians by 2050.
That’s the main headline from “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050,” a Pew Research Center study released this month. If current population trends continue, the report says, Muslim ranks will increase by 73 percent (to 2.8 billion) – more than twice the growth rate of Christians, who will expand by 35 percent, to 2.9 billion. Total world population is projected to reach 9.3 billion by mid-century.
Other projections for 2050:

  • Hindus will increase by 34 percent to nearly 1.4 billion.

  • Four of every 10 Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

  • India, although remaining majority Hindu, will become home to more Muslims than any other country, topping Indonesia.

  • Atheists, agnostics and others who affiliate with no particular religion will decline as a share of the world population, even as they increase in numbers and influence in North America and Europe.

It’s important to keep two things in mind about this study (and others like it). First, it’s more a demographic survey than a religious one. Muslims are increasing primarily because of fertility rates and young populations in regions where they predominate, not because non-Muslims are converting to Islam. Second, terms such as “Muslim” and “Christian” are broadly defined.
“The projections are based on the number of people who self-identify with each religious group, regardless of their level of observance,” the report emphasizes. “What it means to be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish or a member of any other faith may vary from person to person, country to country and decade to decade.”
Still, the projections highlight the global church’s challenge for the next generation.
“The chief contenders for the hearts and souls of those living in the 21st century will be Muslims, evangelical Christians and secularists,” predicted Patrick Johnstone, British mission leader and former editor of “Operation World,” in an interview from 2012 that bears repeating in light of the Pew data.
“Who is going to be the most successful?” Johnstone asked. “Islam is growing, largely by biological growth, not by conversion. Evangelicals are growing massively by conversion. Secularists are adding to their number every year but are dying as a breed because they are not having enough children to replace themselves.”
Evangelical Christian faith, once based largely in the United States and Europe, spread far beyond its traditional strongholds in the second half of the 20th century. The expansion was fueled by the post-World War II missionary movement – which made Christian disciples among a myriad of peoples who are now taking the gospel to others – along with the spread of education and communication. The end of Western colonial power in many countries, initially a challenge to churches born of missionary efforts, actually spurred the global Christian movement by forcing national Christian groups to depend on God and themselves – not outsiders.
“One day in eternity, I think we will look back and see God’s hand in so many things,” Johnstone observed. “[M]any people thought, with the missionaries and the colonial regimes gone, Christianity would be pushed out. It did the exact opposite. It became indigenous and exploded. In many countries that are now broken politically, the churches became the source of stability and hope for the future.”
To continue to advance, however, the evangelical movement must avoid pride and complacency, Johnstone warned.
“Are the very successes of evangelicalism sowing the seeds of its spiritual demise by grieving the Spirit of God through pride, division, disobedience, carnality, moral laxity, theological error or prayerlessness?” he asked. “Nominalism is not the preserve of more traditional churches – it is increasingly a problem for third- and fourth-generation evangelicals.”
He also urged U.S. and other Western churches and mission agencies to pursue “multi-polar global leadership” with their Asian, African and Latin American brothers and sisters. “Wherever you look in the Christian world in the 21st century, mission teams and strategies that remain mono-ethnic are not going to survive,” Johnstone said. “I sometimes jokingly say that the perfect multicultural team would have a Brazilian evangelist, a Korean church planter, a Chinese to manage the accounts, an Australian to mend anything that’s broken and an American to handle planning and goals.”
Good advice. The church also needs to put away its fear of Muslims and share the gospel with them in the love of Christ. In some places that will require life-and-death risk.
In other places, notably America, it requires only a willingness to be a friend.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board’s global correspondent.)

4/15/2015 11:51:28 AM by Erich Bridges, Worldview Conversation | with 0 comments

Gain to lose?

April 14 2015 by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press

If you follow the trends in our media, you might begin to think that the road to happiness is paved with material possessions. But that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Life is more than materialism, more than fleeting and temporal satisfactions, more than pleasure and power and popularity.
Speaking to His disciples, Jesus said, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

The dividing point

When Jesus spoke those words, it marked the dividing point in His teaching ministry. For many months, He had been demonstrating His identity through messages and miracles. He wanted His disciples to understand that He was the Messiah, the Promised Deliverer. He had preached with great authority. He had healed the sick and even raised the dead. He had quoted Old Testament prophecies and fulfilled the requirements of the Law. His presence was electrifying to the people of Israel, but even His own family was confused about His identity.
At that critical moment, Jesus took a break from the crowds and led His disciples on a backpacking expedition to the far north of Israel, to the regions of Mount Hermon. There, alone with the Twelve after months of instruction, He gave them a sort of final exam, recorded for us in Matthew 16:13-20. It consisted of two questions.
1. “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” The disciples answered correctly that people were confused and were suggesting many answers – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah.
2. “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter offered the group’s answer, and it was 100 percent right: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus was pleased. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
But suddenly, Jesus began a new course of study. If you think of Jesus as a great rabbi or university professor, think of Him as teaching only two courses. The first was His Person; the second was His Work – His identity and His mission. Who He was. And what He had come to do.
So having graduated the disciples from the first course, He immediately began the second: “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again on the third day” (verse 21).
This took them by surprise, and the men who only moments before had been honor students now became dropouts. “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’“
That’s when Jesus retorted with one of the sharpest rebukes in the Bible: “Get behind Me, Satan!” He said. “You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
Then at that moment and in that context, Jesus gave His famous quotation about the danger of gaining the whole world and losing one’s own soul: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (verses 24-26).
Jesus spent the remainder of His earthly ministry prior to the resurrection trying to graduate His disciples from His second course of study. Even after the resurrection, Jesus was overheard asking Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” (John 21:15).
What are “these”?
“These” are anything and everything in your life that isn’t Jesus. We’re to love Him more than anything else, and nothing should stand in the way of our wholehearted commitment to Him. When we take up our cross and follow Him, it means that we love Him more than any of “these things” in life.
Only in the Christian life does surrender bring victory, and only in loving Him more than “these things” can we gain to lose and lose to gain.
(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 DavidJeremiah.org. This column has been approved by Turning Point for redistribution in Baptist state newspapers; for other reprint requests, contact Myrna Davis at mdavis@turningpointonline.org.)

4/14/2015 10:51:31 AM by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

SBC annual meeting – seven reasons to be in Columbus

April 10 2015 by Ronnie Parrott, Baptist 21

This coming June 16-17, thousands of Southern Baptists will gather in Columbus, Ohio, for our annual meeting. In light of the approaching convention, I want to share seven reasons why I believe pastors should join us in Columbus.
1. Gospel Legacy. This will be the 158th session of our 170-year history. That’s right … 170 years and 158 meetings. It’s important for us to understand the faithful gospel legacy that has been passed down from generation to generation since 1845. We have not been a perfect denomination. In fact, we have a tainted past when it comes to subjects like racism and abortion. But we have sought to repent of our past and chart a biblical way forward.
When faced with a liberal trajectory, faithful men and women fought to bring our convention back to understanding the biblical inerrancy of the holy scriptures through what is known as the Conservative Resurgence. Over the last 170 years, many under the banner of The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), have contended for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. The task of continuing this great gospel legacy now rests with us.
2. A National Call For Prayer to All Southern Baptists. One of the highlights of this year’s meeting is a prayer gathering. On Tuesday night, June 16, Ronnie Floyd and other SBC pastors will lead our convention attendees in a time of intentional prayer over many different matters concerning our denomination and country. Thousands will unite under one roof, asking God to bring about a great awakening across the world and accomplish the Great Commission in our lifetime. This extraordinary gathering of men seeking God through prayer and petition is one not to be missed.
3. Church and Mission Sending Celebration. The SBC was formed on the belief that churches could do more for missions together than they could apart. The North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board are two key entities that work with our churches to identify, equip and launch missionaries and church planters around the world. In effect, they help churches plant churches.
On Wednesday morning of our annual meeting, we will witness the commissioning of a hundred missionaries around the world. We will see their faces, hear their stories and pray for them as they take the next step toward landing on the field for the name of Christ. Kevin Ezell and David Platt will lead this service along with Ronnie Floyd. This sending service will be a powerful moment for our pastors and is sure to be a ceremony unlike any other of our time.
4. The President’s Panel: The Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage. The Supreme Court is set to take up the issue of same-sex marriage with a decision this summer, most likely late June. As new realities approach concerning same-sex marriage, a panel will convene at this year’s SBC intended to help prepare churches for what will follow the court’s decision. The decision will have an impact on every local church in our denomination, and as pastors, we must be informed on how to best lead through these days, gaining ground on the forefront of the culture wars.
5. Events Surrounding the Annual Meeting. When pastors attend a SBC annual meeting, they don’t just go for the meeting. The meeting consists of three and a half days of jam-packed, edifying events. Here are a few of the events you do not want to miss:

  • The SBC Pastor’s Conference – The Pastor’s Conference begins on Sunday evening before the SBC and continues throughout all of Monday. The dates for this year’s pastor’s conference are June 14-15. The conference consists of a full day and a half of preaching from various pastors and leaders from around the country. This year, speakers include David Platt, James McDonald, J.D. Greear, Paul David Tripp, Ronnie Floyd and many others. You can view the full line-up at sbcpc.net.

  • The Baptist21 Panel. Columbus will mark seven years of the SBC hosting the B21 Panel at the annual meeting. The panel takes place during the Tuesday lunch of the annual meeting, immediately following the closing of the morning session. Each year brings new panelists and new questions for discussion. Though the full list of panelists have yet to be announced, some names include, Albert Mohler (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President), David Platt (International Mission Board President), and Russell Moore (Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President). We truly hope you won’t miss this exciting panel as key leaders in the SBC discuss the most pressing issues facing the church and what these matters mean for our mission.

  • 9 Marks at 9. Each year 9 Mark holds a two-night event at 9:00 p.m. on both Monday and Tuesday of the SBC. Each night’s activity is led by Mark Dever and includes guest panelists in a question and answer format. The events are always incredibly helpful for pastors and leaders. While this year’s events have not been formally announced, you can keep watch on the announcement at org.

  • SBC Ministers’ Wives Luncheon. While you as pastors are attending the Baptist21 Panel on Tuesday, June 16th, LifeWay hosts a luncheon specifically to minister to your wife. Speaker and writer Angie Smith will be headlining the event, and it is sure to be a tremendous time of encouragement and fellowship. One minister’s wife will be awarded The Willie Turner Dawson Award, an honor given annually since 1958. Information about the event, as well as nomination forms for the award, are available on the website.

6. Network and Fellowship with other Pastors. Seeing old friends and meeting new ones is always a personal highlight of my time at the SBC. The opportunity to network beyond one meeting a year is one of the great realities of social media. But no amount of social media can replace the time you are afforded with someone face-to-face. Brothers need brothers, and the SBC meeting is a time to eat together, laugh together and talk ministry together. For this, I’m thankful.
7. A Time to Refocus. Each year, thousands of SBC pastors and laypersons, representing thousands of churches throughout our country, gather together to worship our King Jesus. For two days, we subject our hearts and minds to our mission as a denomination to train pastors, equip churches, and launch missionaries. These are our priorities. This is what we do. It’s our DNA. Though oftentimes we drift into our own small kingdoms, forgetting our priorities, the annual meeting helps us reengage in our calling with renewed passion. We go back home to our churches and get after it in the name of Jesus.
So I invite you to Columbus. Come, join us as we gather together for a few days to worship our risen King Jesus, launch missionaries, hear about the training of a new generation of pastors and pray for God to move and work like never before.
I hope to meet you there!
Ronnie Parrott
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ronnie Parrott is special assistant to SBC President Ronnie Floyd and, at Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, he is pastor of North American Church Planting and the Cross Church Network. This post originally appeared at baptisttwentyone.com)

4/10/2015 10:24:16 AM by Ronnie Parrott, Baptist 21 | with 0 comments

Germanwings tragedy reminder of true security

April 9 2015 by Carl Neumann, IMB Communications

Germans are understandably in a state of utter shock and disbelief about the Germanwings plane that crashed in the French Alps March 24. This tragedy is not just some anonymous event, but intimate and personal.
There is a fruit stand/gourmet deli in Düsseldorf, Germany. The owner, Frank, and his girlfriend died in the crash along with 64 other victims from that area of Germany. Two sets of parents who lived just a few miles away also died, leaving behind two and four children respectively. One of Frank’s regular customers said, “Normally these catastrophes happen far away, but now death has a face whom we all knew.”
This tragedy has shaken many Germans to the core. Germans crave security just like we all do. There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel secure – it is a built-in, God-given desire. The impressive thing about Germans is that they have managed to create a highly secure society with a thriving economy and a highly socialized welfare system that can pretty much handle any crisis that comes their way. Life in Germany is pretty good. People drive Porsches and Audis, live in luxury apartments, own every possible insurance policy, and have millions of euros in the bank for retirement. They have managed, as much as is humanly possible, to create heaven on earth.
Therefore, when a tragedy happens like the Germanwings plane crashing in the Alps, Germans are vividly reminded that life is fragile and insecure. No matter how hard they work or how hard they try to create structures of security around them, this world cannot give us ultimate security. Only God, Jesus and the gospel can make us – and Germans – truly secure forever.
While 150 people dying in a plane crash is tragic, the greater tragedy is that 98.5 percent of Germans have absolutely no idea about the security that God offers in Jesus Christ. Yes, in this land with a rich Christian history and staggeringly beautiful churches, more than 98 percent of Germans have rejected (or have not heard) the good news that God saves sinners by grace through faith in Christ alone.
Most Germans are religious traditionalists, functional atheists or postmodern spiritualists and are without a saving knowledge of God. So, when tragedy strikes in Germany, the only response – apart from hope in Christ – is to try to ignore the reality of death and to build more structures of security. These structures do not ultimately satisfy and do not reconcile sinners with a holy God. That is the greatest tragedy.
That is why the International Mission Board (IMB) has missionaries in Germany and the rest of Europe. In the region of Düsseldorf and North Rhine Westphalia, which has been shocked and devastated by the plane crash, IMB missionaries are planting six churches in seven different cities. They are sharing with hundreds of Germans the hope and security that can be found only in Christ.
In one church plant, two women have recently received Christ, and now they are sharing Christ with others. One has started a Bible study in her home. At another church planting project in Duisburg, 100 people were in attendance last Sunday, 60 of whom are in multiplying discipleship groups. In yet another church plant in Solingen, families of disabled children are ministered to with a soccer team for special needs kids. The soccer team has now grown to 35 special needs children, and the parents recently asked if their children could learn about the Bible.
God is on the move and at work in this area of northwest Germany. Please pray that, in the wake of this tragedy, Germans will turn their eyes to the eternal hope and security that can be found only in Christ. Please pray that God will draw Germans to Himself and that they will embrace Jesus Christ for peace, security, significance and happiness.
For more stories about Germanic peoples and the church-planting work being done among them, visit germanicpeoples.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carl Neumann is an IMB missionary in Germany.)

4/9/2015 1:27:31 PM by Carl Neumann, IMB Communications | with 0 comments

Baseball – routine plays & the sacrifice

April 7 2015 by David E. Prince, ERLC

Wayne Mitchell was not simply the head baseball coach at Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery, Ala. He was a local baseball institution.
Mitchell had attended Lee and excelled on the baseball team. In 1964, he graduated from Lee and enrolled at Huntington College where he was a star left-handed pitcher, setting the school record for 20 career victories.
After college, he became an assistant baseball coach at Lee from 1971-74. He left to become head coach at Huntington from 1975-78, then returned to Lee as head baseball coach in 1980. When I was playing Dixie youth baseball, I dreamed of wearing that distinctive “L” emblazoned on a fire red baseball cap for Robert E. Lee and playing for Mitchell. I will never forget the first time I put on that Lee uniform in 1984.
I did not know it when I made the team, but in 1978 Mitchell had been diagnosed with cancer. In January 1986, my senior year, he began experimental cancer treatments that prevented him from being with the team. On two occasions visiting in his home with one of my teammates, he would not talk about himself but lit up when he talked about the team. He never made it back to the baseball field, dying shortly after the 1986 season.
Mitchell was a Christian, and it was evident in how he coached and persevered in the face of cancer. He could be stern, like the day he told me to decide whether I wanted to be a rock star or a baseball player, and if it was a baseball player, I should get my hair cut. I heard it as a command, not a request. Mitchell was a walking baseball encyclopedia, but coaching high school baseball was far more to him than a way to earn a living. Reflecting back, I think baseball was his mission field. I am not suggesting he was overtly evangelistic, because he was not, but that he saw coaching baseball as a way he served Christ.

Coach’s lessons

To say that I wasn’t very reflective as a high school student would be an understatement. Three years after graduating high school, I became a Christian while following in Mitchell’s footsteps playing baseball at Huntington College. It was then I realized just how much he had impacted me. It was very common to link what I was learning in a Bible study to life lessons he had taught me on the baseball field.
One of Mitchell’s mantras was that baseball games are not won or lost by spectacular plays. He would say that everybody loves the home run, the strikeout, the diving catch, but plenty of players can do those things yet make too many mistakes on routine plays. He drilled into our heads that playing time was dependent upon consistency and making the routine plays.
He taught us that one of the most beautiful plays in baseball is a sacrifice. I distinctly remember him saying, “If someone hits a home run or makes a diving play, I don’t care what you do. But, if someone lays down a sacrifice bunt or hits a sacrifice fly to move a runner over, then you better be out of that dugout cheering them when they return.”
I began to understand something of the importance of sacrifice for a cause bigger than the individual before I ever came to saving faith in Christ. When I read that Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24), I could not help but think about baseball and about coach Mitchell, and that is still the case. When I read that the great missionary William Carey said about his ministry, “I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything,” I remembered coach Mitchell telling us to focus on the routine play.

Passing on the legacy

I was probably one of those players that Mitchell assumed he wasn’t making much of an impact on at the time. One of the most embarrassing moments of my high school years was the time Mitchell asked me to lead the team in the Lord’s Prayer at the end of practice. There was a moment of awkward silence that probably lasted five seconds, though it felt like five hours, until I said, “I’m sorry coach, but I don’t know it.” He quickly said, “No problem. I will lead us.”
Well, I now know the Lord and His model prayer. In fact, by a miracle of God’s grace, people now call me pastor and a seminary professor. My love for the game of baseball, and the influence of courageous and gracious men who also love the game, like Mitchell, have helped shape my life.
I am thankful for the many lessons I have learned over the years on a baseball diamond. I have passed many of those lessons down to my three sons as I have tutored them in our national pastime. My oldest son will be graduating high school this year and I wish he could have met coach Mitchell. In a sense, he has through what coach taught me, which I have passed on to him.
I am thankful for a great baseball coach who taught me about more than baseball. I think it would please him to know that I am still trying, as a Christian, to consistently make the routine plays, celebrate the beauty of sacrifice, and help my children and others do the same.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Prince is pastor of preaching at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., and associate preaching professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This column first appeared at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s website.)

4/7/2015 11:05:18 AM by David E. Prince, ERLC | with 0 comments

The environment – Why be concerned?

April 7 2015 by Jeffrey B. Riley, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

The environment! Global warming! Why should Christians get involved with those kinds of debates? Don’t we have more important or more interesting issues to consider? The Great Commission, for example.
I’m reminded of one of my sons who, when asked to clean his room, regularly responds, “Why?”
Although I think he likes a clean room, perhaps he thinks that if he does nothing his mom will clean it for him. More than likely, he just doesn’t think a clean room is worth the time and effort. My common response to him is that this is our home and he needs to take some responsibility for it.
I fear that many Christians, when asked about environmental issues, respond in a way similar to my son. We want a safe, clean, productive place to live but don’t really care to take the time and effort to get involved. Scientists, politicians and people with nothing better to do will take care of the details.
Indifference and apathy toward environmental issues, however, is an uncharacteristic position to take for those who follow Jesus Christ.
After all, this is our Father’s world, “the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” The apostle John said of Jesus, “all things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). Moreover, in Colossians 1:16-17, the apostle Paul declares, “by Him [Jesus] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
One could argue that God has it all under control and we, therefore, have nothing to worry about. The problem with this line of thinking is that God involved us with care of the world when He created us: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26).
In short, we are stewards of this earth that God created, and those of us who have been redeemed by Christ Jesus have an obligation to represent the interests of the living God regarding serious issues that affect the earth and that impact human flourishing.
In many cases, who flourishes depends on flawed human beings making evaluations and implementing responses to issues. Examples of humans making flawed evaluations and implementing damaging responses to issues include: a politically powerful group determines that overpopulation is a problem and enforces a one-child policy through forced abortion; air or water pollution are not deemed serious or cleanup is not judged economically feasible and the cases of cancer increase in a vulnerable population; or a scientist declares that humans are causing catastrophic global warming, majority world nations are forced to cut cheap energy sources, and the poor are devastated.
These are the kinds of environmental problems Christians should be keen to understand and eager to answer with godly wisdom in light of theological, moral and scientific truth. Christians should be the most eloquent and serious defenders of creation, compelled by the Great Commandment to love God and our neighbors.
On April 10-11, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Greer-Heard Forum will host respected scholars who will dialogue on “Christians, the Environment, and Climate Change.” This event is a special opportunity for our seminary family, area churches and any interested persons to be informed on this controversial, politically important and globally significant issue.
The truth about climate change matters to every one of us. Come and weigh the evidence for yourself or watch free live streaming of the event at GreerHeard.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeffrey B. Riley is professor of ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and chairman of the division of theological and historical studies. He is also a research fellow with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

4/7/2015 10:59:21 AM by Jeffrey B. Riley, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary | with 0 comments

A story too good to be untrue

April 6 2015 by Jon Akin, Baptist 21

The best movie I took my daughters to see in the past year was Big Hero 6. The story is about an orphaned genius named Hiro who loses his brother Tadashi in a fire, but befriends Tadashi’s invention – a loveable healthcare robot named Baymax. Baymax, Hiro and a rag-tag group of four other self-professed nerds team up as superheroes to find the man responsible for the explosion. The movie is gripping, tragic, funny and inspirational.
What I found most intriguing was the conclusion when Baymax sacrificed himself to save Hiro and a girl named Abigail. As we watched the film, my daughters gripped my arms with tears streaming down there face. It was heartbreaking. But, the film ends with Baymax being brought back to life (his computer chip was placed into a rebuilt robot so that he could live on).
It never fails to amaze me at how often Hollywood mimics the Christian story, the gospel. The good news of the Bible is that Jesus sacrificed Himself to save us from our sins and that He was brought back from the dead three days later on Easter Sunday. Hollywood replays this story every few years. After all, ET died, was brought back to life, and then ascended into the sky at the end of the movie. In the original Star Trek movies, Spock sacrificed himself to save the crew of the Enterprise, and then he came back to life, whereas in the recently rebooted Star Trek series, it’s Captain Kirk who sacrifices himself to save the crew of the Enterprise, and then he is resurrected. Similar storylines emerge in Guardians of the Galaxy, Harry Potter, and even Disney’s Frozen: Anna’s act of “true love” – sacrificing herself for her sister Elsa – breaks the curse and brings her back to life again.
Many skeptics look at this reality and conclude that it’s evidence that the gospel story is “too good to be true.” Scholars who study these things historically usually point to similarities in stories in other cultures, and they argue that the ancient Israelites (or early Christians) picked up these “mythological” themes in their cultural milieu and built their faith around these myths. They say other ancient civilizations had flood stories like Noah’s ark, or other cultures had resurrection stories like the gospel. After all, the ancient Canaanites, people around the same place and time as the Bible, celebrated the “death and resurrection” of Baal as seen in the harvest every year. There is also the story of the phoenix rising from the ashes. Scholars use these examples to try to disprove the historical accuracy of the biblical story. They say the gospel is theology based on a story, not actual history.
I encountered a similar argument my freshman year of college at the University of Kentucky. A guy in my English class wrote a paper entitled, “Why The Matrix Can Replace Christianity.” He observed that many themes in that movie run parallel to Christian teachings: there is an evil system (the Matrix), a forerunner like John the Baptist (Morpheus), a prophecy about a messianic figure (Neo) who just happens to die, rise from the dead and ascend into the sky at the end.
However, these similarities and “borrowings” should not surprise or scare the Christian, nor should they assure those who don’t believe the claims of Christianity. The Bible says that not only does all of scripture point to the death and resurrection of Jesus (Luke 24:25-27), but Paul goes further when he tells the Ephesian Church that all things are being united in Christ (Eph. 1:10). Not just the scriptures but also everything, all of creation, is being summed up in the Messiah, Jesus.
God designed the universe with Jesus as the goal, so there are bound to be cultural items like movies, books, sitcoms, songs, art, literature and more that borrow themes from Jesus’ story. Far from disproving the Christian gospel, these themes show how the cosmos is being summed up in Christ. There is a reason why God made the world in such a way that the death of winter gives way to the new life of spring, and it’s not just because we need a break from the cold. There is a reason why our hearts jump for joy at depictions of sacrifice and resurrection at the movies. The world around us, the art that we consume, and the innermost longings of our hearts confirm what deep down we know to be true: the story of Jesus is too good to be untrue!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jon Akin is the Pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, TN. This post first appeared at baptisttwentyone.com)

4/6/2015 12:50:36 PM by Jon Akin, Baptist 21 | with 0 comments

EASTER: Anticipating our eternal home

April 2 2015 by Randy Alcorn, Mature Living

I once heard a pastor make a startling confession: “Whenever I think about heaven, it makes me depressed. I’d rather just cease to exist when I die.”
I tried not to show my shock as I asked him, “Why?”
“I can’t stand the thought of that endless tedium. To float around in the clouds with nothing to do but strum a harp –  it’s all so terribly boring.”
Where did this Bible-believing, seminary-educated pastor get such a view of heaven? Certainly not from scripture, where Paul said to depart and be with Christ was “far better” than staying on earth (Phil. 1:23). And yet, though my friend was more honest about it than most, I’ve found that many Christians share the same misconceptions about heaven
More than 30 years ago, I began studying what scripture tells us about eternity and have written about heaven and the importance of an eternal perspective ever since. The Bible tells us much more about heaven than is often assumed. In a day when speculation and subjectivism about heaven run rampant, I’ve found it both exciting and refreshing to carefully examine what scripture says.
This Easter season, let’s examine the biblical answers to five common questions people often have about heaven:

1. Will we have bodies? Will we eat, drink, travel, and play? In other words, will we live truly human lives?

Many people imagine that we will remain disembodied spirits in the afterlife and that heaven won’t be a tangible, earthly place.
Given the consistent physical descriptions of the present heaven and those who dwell there, it seems possible – though this is certainly debatable – that between our earthly life and our bodily resurrection, God may grant us some physical form that will allow us to function as human beings while in that unnatural state “between bodies,” awaiting our resurrection. Just as the intermediate state is a bridge between life on the old earth and the new earth, perhaps intermediate bodies, or at least a physical form of some sort, serve as bridges between our present bodies and our resurrected bodies.
Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” This eternal heaven, the new earth, is our true home, the place where we will live forever with our Lord and one another.
In my book Heaven, I develop biblically why I believe that on the new earth there will be natural wonders, animals, trees, rivers, cities, houses, and architecture. We will laugh, eat and drink, tell stories, make crafts, build, garden, care for animals, play, enjoy sports and physically demanding activities, and tend and manage and rule the earth.
We will collaborate, research, invent, read books and write them, create and perform dramas, compose music and perform it, all to God’s glory. Why? Because we will still be physical beings created in God’s image, which means we are creative and intelligent. And, we will be restored to a new earth without sin and death –  to fulfill God’s original plan of stewarding the material universe to His eternal glory.

2. Will we still be ourselves with our memories of this life?

After Jesus rose from the dead, He said to His disciples, “‘Look at My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself! Touch Me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ Having said this, He showed them His hands and feet” (Luke 24:39-40). The resurrected Jesus did not become someone else; He remained who He was before His resurrection. And His old body was the same body made new. Our bodies will be the old ones made new, just as the new earth will be the old earth made new.
You will be you in heaven. Who else would you be? If Bob, a man on earth, is no longer Bob when he gets to heaven, then, in fact, Bob did not go to heaven. If we weren’t ourselves in the afterlife, then we couldn’t be held accountable for what we did in this life. Judgment day would be meaningless. Scripture is clear that our own personal history and identity will endure from one earth to the next.
If you trust in Jesus, you’ll be you in heaven – without your bad parts – forever.

3. Won’t heaven be boring?

Sadly, even among Christians, it’s a prevalent myth that heaven will be boring. Sometimes we can’t envision anything beyond strumming a harp and polishing streets of gold. Satan’s most basic strategy, the same one he employed with Adam and Eve, is to make us believe that sin brings fulfillment. However, in reality, sin robs us of fulfillment. Sin’s emptiness inevitably leads to boredom.
Psalm 16:11 says, “You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures.” Everything good, enjoyable, refreshing, fascinating, and interesting is derived from God. God promises that we’ll laugh, rejoice, and experience endless pleasures in heaven. To be in His presence will be the very opposite of boredom.

4. Will we know our loved ones and have ongoing relationships with them?

Scripture gives no indication of a memory wipe causing us not to recognize family and friends. Paul anticipated being with the Thessalonians in heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), and it never occurred to him he wouldn’t know them. In fact, if we wouldn’t know our loved ones, the encouragement of an afterlife reunion would be no encouragement at all.
Relationships among God’s people will resume in ways even better than what we’ve known here. Once the curse is lifted and death is forever reversed, we may live out many of the “could have beens” taken from us on the old earth.

5. Will there be animals –  and is it possible the pets we’ve loved will be there?

In Isaiah 65:17, 25, the Lord says, “I will create a new heaven and a new earth.... The wolf and the lamb will feed together. ... They will not do what is evil or destroy on My entire holy mountain.” Scripture says a great deal about animals, portraying them as earth’s second most important inhabitants. God entrusted animals to us, and our relationships with animals are a significant part of our lives. Scripture’s descriptions of animals peacefully inhabiting the earth may have application to a millennial kingdom on the old earth, but their primary reference appears to be to God’s eternal kingdom, where mankind and animals will together enjoy a redeemed earth.
Many people also want to know whether their pets might live again. Romans 8:20-23 sees animals as part of a suffering creation eagerly awaiting deliverance through humanity’s resurrection. This seems to imply that some animals that lived, suffered and died on the old earth may be made whole on the new earth. Wouldn’t some of those likely be our pets? Wouldn’t it be just like God to take animals entrusted to our care in the old world and allow us to enjoy with them the wonders of the new world?
So, will you join ranks with those who, as Peter describes, “wait for the new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell” (2 Peter 3:13)? Jesus’ death and resurrection made the way for us to be restored to the Father in our eternal home. If you know Jesus, I look forward to meeting you there and worshiping our King together in that incredible and indestructible world He has planned for us!
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (www.epm.org) and author of “Heaven” and more than 40 other books. This article first appeared at Mature Living, published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
4/2/2015 3:27:51 PM by Randy Alcorn, Mature Living | with 0 comments

Your church can be an Easter illustration

April 2 2015 by Mark Clifton, NAMB

For years in Southern Baptist life the message among pastors about plateaued and dying churches was simple – stay away. As a church planter, I believed, and experience had shown me, that it was easier to start a new church rather than resurrect a dying church with damaged DNA.
But there was a problem with that belief. Jesus is in the resurrection business. The church must be as well.
When a community sees a once-dead church become a thriving, gospel-proclaiming, neighborhood-transforming church again, they don’t just hear the truth about Jesus. They see it.


Photo courtesy The Groves
Church planter Bob Bickford (center) of The Groves church in Webster Groves, Mo., and Jason Weber, president of the Webster Groves United Soccer Club, cut the ribbon on a new practice field on the campus of The Groves. The partnership between The Groves and the soccer club is one way the church invests in the local community, a key component of legacy church planting. The soccer field brings more than 250 children and their families to the campus each week.

That’s what is beginning to happen in the St. Louis suburb of Webster Groves, Mo. Webster Groves is one of those Midwest towns that looks like it could be stolen off the back of postcard. Football games, Fourth of July parades and rich traditions are woven into the fabric of the community.
And Sherwood Baptist Church, which began in 1958, was a part of that community. For about a decade the church connected with its community, demonstrated the gospel and grew. The church peaked in 1967 with about 250 people in attendance. Nearly five decades of decline followed before the church called Bob Bickford to be its next pastor in November 2012. In the past two years God has begun to resurrect the church as it focuses more intensely on the gospel.
Some of the changes are ones you might expect – the music has been modernized, the facilities have been transformed and ministry has been more focused. But when Bickford came to Sherwood Baptist (which later changed its name to The Groves), he made three intentional decisions that were critical to set the stage for everything else.
1. He loved and cared for the remaining members. Bickford did all he could to help the aging members of the congregation realize they mattered to the future of the church. Not all the conversations were easy. Many were not. Preferences had to be given up. Ministries had to be stopped. But he sprinkled the hard conversations with love and tact. You can’t turn around a dying church if you can’t love and care for those who are in the church.
2. He did the work of a church planter. Bickford did what missionaries do. He prioritized getting to know the community and building relationships outside of the church, particularly with young potential leaders. He recruited and discipled new leaders.
Most importantly, he focused on the gospel. Bickford said, “The first thing we had to do is help the church fall in love with Jesus again, to understand the gospel and what it means in our lives.”
3. He served the community with radical abandon. He brought to the church a new vision for serving the community. Like many other legacy church planting situations, the resources needed to bless the community were in short supply. Since the resources needed to serve others and revitalization can’t be obtained just within the church, Bickford found partners – much like a church planter might –  to get funds.
Currently, The Groves has about 60 adults and 20 children attend each week, and it’s growing. God is at work. I love Bickford’s story partly because I know how many more struggling churches like Sherwood are out there. Maybe that’s your church. Remember, we serve a God who is in the resurrection business.
I’m convinced that God gets the most glory when He resurrects what’s dead.
What might a gospel resurrection of your church show your community in Easters to come? What if, instead of waiting on your community to come to your church to listen to an Easter sermon, your church became a visible Easter illustration to your community?
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Clifton serves as the national legacy church strategist at the North American Mission Board. Learn more about legacy church planting at namb.net/Legacy.)

4/2/2015 3:17:37 PM by Mark Clifton, NAMB | with 0 comments

Where was Jesus tried?

April 2 2015 by Stephen Douglas Wilson, Baptist Press

The trial of Jesus Christ before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate is the most famous trial in human history. One of its most fascinating aspects remains somewhat of a mystery: Where was it held in Jerusalem?
Three of the four Gospels contain some helpful clues to the trial’s location but they do not mention a clearly identifiable site in Jerusalem.
For instance, Jesus was taken to Pilate’s judgment hall – the Praetorium (Matthew 27:27; Mark 15:16; John 18:28). In this context, a Praetorium was the governor’s headquarters with its accompanying military escort and encampment.


Photo by Roger S. Oldham
Michael Avi-Yonah’s model of first-century Jerusalem shows the Temple Mount and the Fortress Antonia (at right upper corner from the Temple) where some believe the trial of Jesus took place. The model today is located at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Roman soldiers in the governor’s service usually were housed at two locations in Jerusalem – at King Herod’s Palace/Fortress Antonia near the Temple and at an encampment within or near Herod’s Palace Complex at the western edge of the city. The Gospel of Mark seemingly identifies the Praetorium within one of these palace complexes (Mark 15:16).
In addition, the Gospel of John reveals that Pilate brings Jesus outside the palace proper, sets up his judgment seat on a stone pavement (perhaps in the courtyard of the palace complex or just outside it), and conducts the rest of the trial in front of some Jewish leaders who had refused to enter the palace (John 18:28; 19:13). The stone pavement (“gabbatha” in Aramaic) is thought by some to be a useful clue in solving the location of the trial.
So which of King Herod’s Jerusalem palace complexes provided the locale for the trial of Jesus?
Both locations possess a long history of advocates, dating back to when Jerusalem became a Christian city during the reign of Constantine in the early fourth century. When Christians began to map out the route Jesus took from the trial to His execution at Golgotha (the Via Dolorosa – “the Way of Sorrows”), different routes emerged throughout the centuries that included the two palace locations.

Trial site at the Fortress Antonia

Today virtually none of the fortress exists above ground level. Nevertheless, the current official route for the Via Dolorosa begins near the Sisters of Zion Convent where pilgrims are shown the “stone pavement” thought to be the paving stones of the Fortress Antonia where Pilate pronounced judgment on Jesus. Support for this site has included the thought that Pilate wanted his headquarters near the Temple for the heavily trafficked Passover week. Nervous Roman governors worried that crowds visiting the city during this time possessed a greater propensity for civil unrest.


Photo by Roger S. Oldham
Michael Avi-Yonah’s model of Herod’s Western Palace Complex (foreground) by the heavily fortified Western Hill with its three towers named for Herod’s friend (Hippicus), brother (Phasael) and wife (Mariamme). Today the only part of the complex above ground is the base of one of the three towers in the misnamed “Tower of David.”

Conversely, the site appears to be an unlikely location for the trial of Jesus. While today’s route for the Via Dolorosa begins here, this specific route only dates back to the 18th century (although other previous routes have included this trial site from time to time).
Author Herbert Thurston has documented the evolution of the various Via Dolorosa routes over time in his work The Stations of the Cross. Moreover, archeologists have confirmed that the famed “paving stones” at the site actually date to the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s construction of a pavement during the second century. Hadrian paved over the Struthion Pool for a forum he built in this area. During Pilate’s administration of Judea, this site, although adjacent to the Fortress Antonia, would have been underwater, archaeologist Pierre Benoit noted in his book Antonia Fortress. Although Josephus confirms that Roman troops were stationed in the Antonia (Jewish War, 5,238-247), no ancient sources have specifically stated that Roman governors maintained their headquarters at this particular site. Little reliable evidence exists to confirm the Fortress Antonia as the site for the trial of Jesus.

Trial site at Herod’s Western Palace

The more probable site for the trial of Jesus before Pilate was in King Herod’s magnificent Palace Complex on the western side of the city. While Roman governors of Judea usually were stationed in the coastal city of Caesarea, they stayed and conducted business in this palace when they visited Jerusalem (Josephus, Jewish War, 2,301-8; Philo, Embassy to Gaius, 306).
This palace was more spacious and more elaborately furnished than the palace within the Fortress Antonia – thereby a more fitting residence for a Roman governor. Additionally, the extensive courtyards of the palace complex and nearby fortified towers with its apartments provided space for soldiers to encamp (Jewish War, 2,329).
Recent archeological excavations have uncovered other information about the site. Archeologist Shimon Gibson uncovered some raised pavement stones in 2009 near the site of Herod’s Western Palace that were thought to have been the “gabbatha” mentioned in the fourth Gospel. Gibson has endorsed the belief that Herod’s Western Palace was the location for the trial of Jesus (WORLD News Service, Jan. 9, 2015).
In January, Israeli archeologist Amit Re’em announced the results of years of excavations in and around this palace. Under an old Ottoman (Turkish) era prison, foundational stones have been uncovered, along with an extensive sewer system and related waterworks that once were part of Herod’s palace. Tours of the excavations have been opened to the public and Tower of David Museum director Eilat Lieber hopes that Christian pilgrims will add the site to their Holy Land visits.
Perhaps the only drawback to completely endorsing this location as the site of the trial of Jesus before Pilate remains the silence of the four Gospels regarding the specific locale for the trial.
Less than 40 years after the trial, both of Herod’s fortress palaces in Jerusalem were destroyed in the Jewish Revolt at a time when early copies of some of the Gospels were being circulated. Readers and hearers of these written works could no longer relate what they heard or read with the physical above-ground remains of the doomed city. To a certain extent, then, some uncertainty about the venue of the trial of Jesus continues to this day.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Stephen Douglas Wilson is an adjunct professor at West Kentucky Community and Technical College and a former member of the SBC Executive Committee.)

4/2/2015 10:58:18 AM by Stephen Douglas Wilson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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