April 2017

MOVIES: Jury duty & ‘12 Angry Men’

April 28 2017 by Phil Boatwright

I was summoned for jury duty back in January. Now, I have yet to meet anyone who was excited over the prospect of serving on a jury. I wasn’t. It was winter in Kansas and I live 40 miles from the courthouse! That would not deter most of my fellow Kansans, but I’m a city boy originally from snowless Southern California. I could only picture snow and ice on the roads and being arrested for not showing up on time.

Phil Boatwright

A few days before I was to appear, I drove the 40 miles to the courthouse just to make sure I knew where I was going. Sure enough, I couldn’t find it. When I finally did arrive, I went inside and spoke with the security guards. Both gave me sound counsel for my appearance date and instructed me to call the night before to see if the trial had been cancelled.
So, 5 o’clock the evening before, I made the call. Whew, the trial I had been selected for had been called off.
I’m probably not the only Christian who has sought to escape jury duty, but my attitude changed after a recent DVD viewing of the original 12 Angry Men, the greatest jury drama of all time. Suddenly, I became aware of the obligation Americans, especially we as Christians, have concerning service to our nation’s court system.
Directed by Sidney Lumet, who would later helm Network, The Verdict and Murder on the Orient Express, just to name a few from his long list of Oscar contenders, this brilliantly conceived, intense 1957 production (it has been remade a couple of times) concerns a lone juror not convinced of the guilt of a young man accused of murder.
During the closing arguments of a murder case, this one man is nagged by a reasonable doubt. At first he stands alone but, one by one, others come to grips with their assessments, all while the filmmakers adroitly pronounce the merits of our judicial system.
In 2007, 12 Angry Men was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress due to its cultural, historical and aesthetic significance. This classic remains as relevant today as when it first hit movie screens.
For younger generations who may not be familiar with the work of the film’s star, Henry Fonda, much less his costars Lee J. Cobb, Jack Klugman, Martin Balsam and the rest, these were all seasoned pros, both on stage and in film. Most of Fonda’s costars were best known as character actors or supporting players. However, once given the proper role, they shone as brightly as any star.
Filmed much like a play, almost the entire production is set in one confining jury room during a hot, muggy New York summer. Don’t let that fool you. It never bores, mainly due to the fact that the deliberations in 12 Angry Men contain the truest special effects: story, performance and dialogue. To be sure, a defining moment in a screen character always outweighs computer-generated imagery wizardry.
The film sparked in me an appreciation for our trial-by-jury system. I was humbled by the realization that there have been men and women throughout our nation’s history who did their best to see that justice was sought and attained through our courts.
Though 12 Angry Men was made with no particular spiritual impact in mind, I think the Lord used this film to convince me that even though serving on a jury can be an inconvenience, it’s also a privilege. It got me to thinking: While this world is not our home, we Christians are to love our fellow man. And we’re not being scripturally obedient when we avoid looking out for one another.
If and when I’m again summoned, I know I will seek the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and then serve as best I can. Not many films from Tinseltown impact our spiritual obligations that way. 12 Angry Men does.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phil Boatwright, in addition to writing for Baptist Press, reviews films at moviereporter.com and is a regular contributor to The World and Everything in It, a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group. He is the author of MOVIES: The Good, the Bad, and the Really, Really Bad, available on Amazon.com.)

4/28/2017 3:27:45 PM by Phil Boatwright | with 0 comments

What autism parents wish Christians knew about autism

April 27 2017 by Nathaniel Williams

1 in 68 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. These numbers suggest that families all around you wrestle with this issue. They’re in your neighborhoods, schools, family reunions and churches.
Most Christians want to serve these families, but too often we don’t know enough about autism spectrum disorder – nor do we take the time to ask.
In honor of Autism Awareness Month, I reached out to fellow Christians who parent children with autism. I asked them to share what they wished fellow Christians knew about autism.
Their comments were revealing and challenging. Here are four broad lessons these autism parents want us to learn about autism.

Every child with autism is different.

We often assume that all children with autism have the same symptoms. They don’t. Christy, who has two children with autism, explains:
“Autism is a spectrum disorder. The spectrum ranges from people mildly affected by autism who function much like their peers to people very severely on the spectrum who are debilitated by this disorder and who will require lifelong care. It’s exceptionally important to understand that this disorder presents itself differently in every person it affects.”
Thus, some children with autism have sensory issues, and others don’t. Some children with autism are social, and others are not. Some children with autism are high functioning, while others are low functioning. Every child is different.
Cathy, another parent of two children with autism, elaborated on this important point that every child with autism is different: “One of the first things you’ll read when you start researching autism is the saying, ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met ONE person with autism.’ While people on the spectrum share many traits, each one is different in how they are effected. This is why it’s important to get to know the individual person.”
No two children are the same. If we know a child with autism in our family, church or community, we must do the hard work of getting to know them as individuals.

Too many churches are ill-prepared to serve children with autism – and their parents.

Christian autism parents desire to find a community of believers with whom they can worship and fellowship. But I quickly learned how difficult finding such a community can be.
Most children’s and youth ministries are not prepared to minister to children with autism. For example, Celeste, another parent, told me a story about her family’s difficulties in the worship service. Her six-year-old son is supposed to leave half-way through the worship service to attend children’s church, but the parts of worship he does attend are overwhelming for his acute sensory issues. The child’s father often must sit with him in the foyer. When her son finally does arrive at children’s church, he’s uncomfortable because the activities are not developmentally appropriate.
“My children will eventually learn to sit through a church service, but it will have to be at their own pace,” Celeste explained.
Celeste’s experience is not uncommon. Many parents of children with autism expressed similar difficulties. One parent, Lou Ann, explained that she and her husband didn’t attend small group for years because they had no option for their son. As a result, they felt disconnected from the church. “One of the biggest obstacles that families of autistic children face is the issue of feeling ostracized,” she said. “This can lead to feelings of isolation and ultimately loneliness.”
Christy encouraged churches to find ways to serve families with special needs. “Look for ways to accommodate their needs at church, and seek out tangible and practical ways to be a help to them at home or in the community,” she said. After all, all Christians need biblical community – including autism parents.

Children with autism are a blessing, not a curse.

Often, Christians express pity for autism parents. While these sentiments are well intended, the parents I talked with wanted to remind us that their children are a blessing, not a curse.
Lou Ann helpfully explained, “The very last thing that we expect or want is pity. We are the lucky ones! ‘For you created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.’ (Psalms 139:13-14)”
Children with autism are not an exception to the psalmist’s rule. They, too, are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Celeste also reiterated that children with autism are not as different as we would often assume. “Children with autism are just like normal children, they simply process and learn things differently,” she said.
Thus, while we seek to serve families with special needs, we shouldn’t do so with a posture of pity. We come alongside such families, joyfully acknowledging that their children are loved and blessed by God.

We can learn from autism parents – if we’ll listen to them.

Parenting children with autism can be immensely difficult, particularly when children are on the severe end of the spectrum. What hope can such parents have? Christy wants us to know that her greatest hope is in the sovereignty of God. She writes, “For believers, facing the struggles that accompany a diagnosis of autism requires an acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty in our lives. There is nothing that happens to us outside the will and plan of our Heavenly Father. It requires a dependency on the promises of God and Christ’s ability to sustain us no matter what He may choose to bring into our lives. And it requires a focus on the hope of all believers: eternal life in Heaven someday with Jesus. The Bible refers to the struggles we endure on this earth as a ‘light momentary affliction [that] is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.’”
Reading Christy’s comments humbled me. We often view ourselves as agents of blessing for autism parents and their families. But they’re more likely to bless us. They have much to teach us about love, hope, trust and God – if we’ll take the time to listen.
Will you take the time to listen?
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nathaniel Williams oversees intersectproject.org and pastors Cedar Rock First Baptist Church. Originally published on the Intersect Project website and used with permission.)

4/27/2017 8:16:17 AM by Nathaniel Williams | with 0 comments

Your social media feed

April 26 2017 by Brian Hobbs

We’ve all done it. When somebody does something wrong, we take to Facebook with a comment or criticism. When a controversial issue or event breaks into the news, we throw in our two cents on Twitter.
We have come to a place when our first impulse is to post something on social media. For many, this can be a drive-by comment. For others, it can be arguing back and forth with others online. And for some, it comes in the form of a lengthy soap box moment to let people to know our thoughts, our opinions.

Brian Hobbs

For whatever reason, people these days (including Christians) have become slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to anger, which is the very opposite of the scriptural command (James 1:19).
What if, instead of posting every time controversy rears its head, we did the following:

Pray, don’t post

The next time you see trouble brewing on social media and feel the impulse to post, channel that into your cue to pray. Instead of offering up your thoughts and opinions to your social media audience, who may or may not care, offer up those thoughts to the Lord, asking God to intervene in the situation.
The next time you feel the need to tee off, hit your knees in prayer. The famous Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon was reported to have said, “On his knees, the believer is invincible.” In each era, Christians are tempted to rely on worldly tools like politics and protest in place of prayer. Yet, if we are to be an effective witness, this must change.

Listen, don’t speak

After you have prayed, take some time to listen to what others are saying. Take note of who is saying what. Take note of who is not saying anything. Also, listen to the quiet voices, not only the loudest.
The great British statesman Edmund Burke once said that we should not think the loudly chirping crickets are the mightiest animal in the prairie just because they make more noise than the great cattle quietly chewing its cud. Burke’s point was simple: Those who speak the most often and most loudly are often the same people whose opinions are most quickly dismissed.

Love, don’t despise

C.S. Lewis once said he thought the most unpopular Christian views related to sexual purity. After further consideration, though, Lewis realized that Christ’s command to “Love your enemies” is the most unpopular.
Only in the Christian faith are we told to love those who oppose us, who may even hate us. If people looked at your social media feed, would they think you love your enemies? If not, it’s time to change the tone.
In the end, social media like Facebook and Twitter are simply extensions of our own personality and character. Christians have an excellent opportunity to engage with their neighbors online. If we pray, listen and love more, the world will notice the difference.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Hobbs is editor of The Baptist Messenger, baptistmessenger.com, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, where this article first appeared.)

4/26/2017 3:30:24 PM by Brian Hobbs | with 0 comments

An uncomfortable question

April 25 2017 by Keith Shorter

I went to the nearby convenience store to get a Mountain Dew and came back with so much more.
Our church is located in a rural community. Everybody in this area uses that store from time to time. On this particular evening, though, no one else was in the store. So I asked the man behind the counter his name and if he had a church home.

Keith Shorter

He told me his name was Harry and that he was a Hindu by religion. He was very friendly and open to our conversation. I invited him to our church and explained where it was.
Then he said something that surprised me a little: “Many of my customers go to that church.”
How did he know that? Perhaps they, too, have been inviting him to church. He assured me that he would come visit us soon.
On the way home, I began to wonder: What if he and his family do show up? Will they feel welcome? Will they understand our service? Then there was an uncomfortable question that I had to ask myself: Are our services focused on those who desperately need the gospel or are our services focused on those who are already Christians?
All churches have to wrestle with that tension, don’t they? I’ve pastored for 30 years, but that night I started thinking through each segment of our worship service. As I did, I asked one simple question: If Harry were to come to church this Sunday, would he hear the gospel in a way that he could understand it? I’m glad that we are an inviting church, and I hope that we are a friendly church, but we need to be more than that. We need to be a church where a Hindu can hear the gospel presented clearly and lovingly when he shows up.
I’ll bet you have someone like that in your community as well. He may or may not be a Hindu, but there are probably lots of folks around your church who need the gospel. Ask yourself the uncomfortable question: As you worship this Sunday, if someone like Harry shows up, are they going to hear how Jesus can change their lives? To put it another way, does your church have an outward focus? I hope so.
Each Sunday, I’m going to be looking for my new Hindu friend and reminding myself to talk clearly and simply about the cross. Please pray for Harry and for the people around your church who are just like him.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Shorter is pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Easley, S.C., and president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. This column first appeared in the Baptist Courier, baptistcourier.com, the convention’s newsjournal.)

4/25/2017 9:44:30 AM by Keith Shorter | with 0 comments

Crossover – too important to neglect in prayer

April 24 2017 by Ralph Tone

Southern Baptists will meet in Phoenix for the 2017 annual convention on June 13-14. A citywide evangelistic outreach known as Crossover is organized every year before the convention. This year, on Sunday night, June 11, evangelist Greg Laurie with Harvest America will be preaching the gospel at the University of Phoenix Stadium, the home of the Arizona Cardinals football team.

Ralph Tone

Crossover Arizona is a wonderful opportunity, even now, for us to begin praying for the thousands of people who will gather to hear the life-transforming message of Christ in Phoenix and streamed around the world. Our prayers along with the proclamation of the gospel have tremendous power to advance God’s Kingdom.
It has been said that prayer without evangelism lends itself to mysticism, and evangelism without prayer lends itself to presumption. Prayer without gospel proclamation and gospel proclamation without prayer is akin to a boxer trying to fight with one hand tied behind his back. Two hands working in harmony are so much more effective.
Prayer by itself packs a powerful punch. The gospel by itself is powerful as well. But God desires these two spiritual weapons to function simultaneously. Prayer and gospel proclamation unleashed together on the battlefield for men’s souls is a divinely volatile mix, capable of “demolishing arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
I had the privilege of witnessing the one-two punch of prayer and the gospel in Argentina during a weeklong evangelistic campaign. The evangelist preached on an elevated platform, about 10 feet high. This made the preacher more visible to the vast crowd. But there was a more important reason for the elevated platform. Underneath, more than 100 intercessors were raising their voices to God.
Well before the first worship song, and all the way through to the altar call, we prayed for the salvation of those who heard the message. We were invisible to the crowd but very visible to God. I’ll never forget the palpable presence of God under that platform and in the lives of those who responded to the gospel – many hundreds gave their lives to Christ.
In Phoenix, on the night of June 11 there might not be an army of intercessors under the platform. Instead, they will be spread around the city and state and probably even spread throughout the stands at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
The last time this stadium figured so prominently in the national spotlight was during the 2015 Super Bowl. You might remember that game. The Patriots snatched victory from the jaws of certain defeat when, on the last play of the game and with less than a minute to play, they intercepted the ball on the one yard line. An improbable victory was wrestled from the hands of the adversary.
The event scheduled for June 11 in that very same stadium will not be a football game. But make no mistake. It will certainly be a contest, a battle and an intense spiritual struggle. And the spoils of victory are astronomically more important than a mere trophy. The eternal destinies of thousands of people will hang in the balance.
We will pray and the message will be proclaimed. It will be a message about the Victorious One who, by all appearances, had been defeated. The adversary’s game plan appeared to have carried the day. He had run out the clock, it seemed. The Son of God hung dead upon the cross, and there was no hope.
But God is the keeper of the clock, and He is very adept at intercepting the adversary’s schemes. On the third day the Victorious One – the crucified, dead and buried one – rose from the dead, turning apparent defeat into glorious victory for all who believe in Him.
This message is too important to neglect in prayer. Jesus is the hope of Phoenix, the nation and the world. Let’s begin to pray today that on the evening of June 11 the proclamation of the cross over Phoenix transforms lives around the world.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ralph Tone, online at ralphtone.com, is a writer and former missionary living in Phoenix.)

4/24/2017 10:42:46 AM by Ralph Tone | with 0 comments

Water fights open talks with Buddhists about Christ

April 21 2017 by Lily Xingh

One of the largest water fights in Southeast Asia takes place during the Songkran festival in northern Thailand marking the lunar new year.
The moat that surrounds the ancient, inner gates of Chaing Mai becomes the center of a city-wide party. People load up in pickup trucks and drive slowly around the moat, dumping buckets of water on those stationed along the moat and nearby. Meanwhile, those on the ground wield large barrels of water to spray passersby with water hoses and oversized water guns.

IMB Photo
The lunar new year festival Songkran is celebrated with water fights in Thailand and other revelry in Southeast Asia, but it also is known for its reverence and reflection in Buddhist tradition.

In the capital city of Bangkok, streets are full of people celebrating Songkran (song-krän). It’s a party on a grand scale, with music, water, food and drink that can last up to a week. In Laos, the holiday is called Pi Mai (bee-my), which literally means “new year.”
Buddhists in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar celebrate the lunar new year with so much fervor that people come from around the world to experience the incredible festival.
Songkran typically falls in the middle of April every year, during the hottest season in tropical Southeast Asia. Songkran is a time to “throw water,” as locals call it.
Revelry isn’t the only feature of the holiday. Songkran also is known for its reverence and reflection in Buddhist tradition.
Temples in Thailand and Laos set up sand stupas, or mounds, where followers can light incense and candles as well as post Buddhist banners that ask for good luck and prosperity. Participants pour cups of water over Buddha images to atone for sins and attain merit. Families gather together and the younger generation asks for blessings from their elders. Birds are bought in small bamboo cages and then set free to demonstrate the release of sins.
Some Buddhist devotees even shave their heads and enter the temple for a time of purification and meditation after the Songkran festivities die down. The Thai and Lao people know they need repentance and cleansing from sins. They face an ongoing battle in the Buddhist system to increase their good deeds to outweigh their bad ones.
This is where the good news of the gospel gives incredible hope. The cleansing from sin and the need for constant repentance is replaced by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the grave. “But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself,” we read in Hebrews 9:26 (NIV). The victory over sin and death is won; there is real hope for a new life and an everlasting peace through Jesus.
The Buddhists of Thailand and Laos need to hear this Good News. They live in a constant state of trying to appease evil spirits and increase their good karma. They instinctively acknowledge that enlightenment – nirvana – is impossible to reach, so they set their sights on the hope of a better life in their next round of reincarnation.
Theravada Buddhism teaches that each person is responsible for their own karma, fate or destiny. To accept any kind of benevolent covering of sins, especially from an unknown person or source, is unacceptable and even offensive in this culture. The concept of a personal and loving being who created the world and has an interest in relating to each individual is deemed outlandish and absurd. Buddhists believe God is so far above humans in the spiritual realm that to bring him closer to us diminishes any divinity or power He may hold.
Despite the worldview barriers that Christians face among Southeast Asians, Songkran offers opportunities to share the living water. Southeast Asian people feel the weight of their humanity. They long for unconditional love and acceptance in a culture that teaches they must accept their fate both in this life and the next. The spirits they seek to appease, and the Buddha they hope to emulate, are too distant to make a lasting impact on their lives. Sharing a personal testimony and showing the love of Christ in action goes a long way toward opening a door to share the truth of the gospel with Thai or Lao Buddhists.
The love of the Father God who gave His only Son unto death to atone for sins of strangers is powerful. This is the real living, cleansing water people are craving during the Songkran festival. Instead of “throwing water,” or pouring it on the Buddha, let Jesus’ cup of living water come to the people of Southeast Asia. Rather than water that washes away sins for the season, they need Living Water that springs up from within, welling up to eternal life (John 4:10,13).
To intercede for Southeast Asian Buddhists:

  • Pray Southeast Asian Buddhists would become disillusioned with their current practices of merit-making and long for a way out of the cycle of reincarnation.
  • Pray Christians would be bold witnesses and share the living water of the gospel during Songkran.
  • Pray the spiritual eyes of the Southeast Asian Buddhists would be opened and their hearts would receive the gospel.


(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article by Lily Xingh, who has lived in Southeast Asia among both Thai and Lao peoples for 17 years with her husband and family, initially was posted at the International Mission Board’s imb.org website. Used with permission.)

4/21/2017 9:37:07 AM by Lily Xingh | with 0 comments

Keep your eye on the ball

April 20 2017 by Randy C. Davis

It’s been said the hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a baseball. It’s a tough point to argue.
Take a guy like Nolan Ryan, one of the greatest fastball pitchers ever to play the game. Ryan unbelievably had a 27-year career and was still throwing the ball 95 mph-plus when he finally retired, ever the “Ryan Express” to the end.

Randy C. Davis

Now, imagine standing in a batter’s box waiting to hit his fastball. Don’t wait too long; you only have four-tenths of a second to make contact – that’s less than half a second. It takes a significant amount of focus and “keeping your eye on the ball” if you have the remotest chance of getting a hit. Allow distraction and you’ll strike out.
Southern Baptists are a lot like the batter standing in the batter’s box waiting on the fastball. We look out at the world and we see a challenge staring back at us. This game is for keeps, though. The souls of our relatives, friends and neighbors are literally at stake. They can’t afford for us to lose concentration and take our eye off the ball.
The great thing is we aren’t standing there alone. Over nine decades ago a network of churches that made up the Southern Baptist Convention met in Memphis and decided they’d give at least 10 percent from their undesignated receipts and began what we know as the Cooperative Program.
With that commitment to work together and the decisive action that followed, our denominational forefathers launched the greatest global missions enterprise known to man. This missions mutual fund grew, and now ensures that global evangelism, ministerial preparation and benevolent ministries like orphan care will be financially supported.
Our predecessors came together then despite some fairly deep theological differences because a shared gospel passion fueled a Great Commission calling that burned hotter than the secondary differences they shared. And just look at us now. We have effectively done Kingdom work around the world that has led millions to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, helped the destitute and healed the hurting.
There will always be distractions that tempt us to lose our focus, but we must recognize those distractions for what they are and determine that we are going to come to the table and work together for the sake of the gospel. If a group of Southern Baptists could overcome their differences then, surely we can determine to overcome our differences now.
The key is collectively focusing on what is important and what is at stake.
For example, we have made inroads here in Tennessee over the past three years seeing a slight increase in baptisms, but if every church in our state were able to “win 17 in ’17” as current Tennessee convention president Steve Freeman has challenged us to do, we would see a significant advance of the gospel and we would reach our goal of seeing 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship.
If, meanwhile, every Tennessee church increased its Cooperative Program giving, there would be countless additional millions of dollars available for state, national and international missions – money like we’ve never seen invested in reaching people for Christ.
No power on earth can dim the power of the gospel when advanced by committed followers of Jesus Christ. I believe the human and financial resources necessary to shake this world from beneath the dark veil of spiritual lostness currently reside within our churches. However, for us to have that kind of impact we must work together.
And for us to do that, we must maintain our focus and keep our eye on the ball.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Randy C. Davis is executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. This article first appeared in the Baptist & Reflector, baptistandreflector.org, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)

4/20/2017 11:51:03 AM by Randy C. Davis | with 0 comments

The Malatya murders: 10 years of forgiveness

April 19 2017 by Ed Allen, IMB

Ten years ago, in the Turkish city of Malatya three Christians were martyred for their faith by men who pretended to be interested in the gospel.

Tilmann Geske, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yüksel went to their office on April 18, 2007, to study the Bible with a group of five young men, some of whom they had known for several months. The young men, none of whom were older than 20, threatened the Christians, tied them up and tortured them. When another local Christian became suspicious, he called the police. As the police were arriving, the young men took the lives of the three Christians.

Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske

The youth were caught red-handed, arrested and tried for their crimes. The plot was later revealed to be part of a larger conspiracy in which powerful people had agreed to support the young men’s families if they would commit the crime.
In the days following, the press spoke to one of the widows, and she declared her forgiveness for the murderers. In Turkish culture, however, forgiveness is not a common trait – and it certainly was unheard of that someone could forgive such an act of evil.

So the story spread, and people across Turkey were talking about it in their homes, tea houses and places of business.

Proclaiming forgiveness

This message of forgiveness is the message Christians carry wherever they carry the gospel. All of us stand guilty before God. It is only when we accept the sacrifice of Christ’s death on the cross that we find forgiveness for our sins. When Tilmann’s widow shared her sentiment, she was simply following the teachings of scripture: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13, NIV).
During the 50-plus years of evangelical Christian work in the modern era of Turkey, this message of forgiveness has been proclaimed hundreds of thousands of times. Sometimes it is proclaimed through God’s Word, sometimes through preaching and prayer, but rarely has it been declared more vividly than in the sacrifice of our brothers and in the words of this widow.
Many people have heard these proclamations of truth and, currently, the evangelical church of Turkey lists its number of believers at around 6,000, a number about double from 2007, the year of the murders. When compared to a total population of between 75 million to 80 million, this number seems incredibly small. But to discount a small number is to discount the miracle of 6,000 lives changed by the gospel.
In a country like Turkey, the entirety of society, culture and family life is predisposed against someone responding to the gospel. When the message of forgiveness in Christ is shared with the people of Turkey, they typically find it too easy. They have been taught that God requires a complex system of balancing the good and the bad of life, without ever knowing if they can stand in honor before God. To hear that someone is offering forgiveness for free doesn’t make sense to them.
This happened when they heard this widow’s message of forgiveness. People questioned how she could say that. Some said she must not truly love her husband. What they didn’t understand was that while her family must live on, grieving their loss, Tilmann, Necati and Ugur’s eternal fates were sealed in Christ. They had been forgiven, so their physical deaths did not end in condemnation.
The message of the gospel for the people of Turkey and for people around the world is one of acquittal. People live as captives of guilt, but the message of Christ offers hope for all: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:17–18).
Every year on the anniversary of the murders in Malatya, the Turkish church has called Christians around the world to remember these martyrs with a Global Day of Prayer for the Church in Turkey. This month, as we look back on the past 10 years at the growth of the church in Turkey, we can celebrate the miracles of salvation and rejoice in the growth of the church and the maturity of many leaders in Christ.
At the same time, we can cry out for mercy for the millions who don’t know or understand that Christ’s righteousness can be theirs if they will only accept His message of forgiveness. Join with us in both praising the Lord for what He has done and calling on His name to act among the Turkish people in ever more mighty ways.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article by Ed Alden, who has served in Central Asia since 2000, first appeared at the International Mission Board’s imb.org website. Used with permission)

4/19/2017 8:03:32 AM by Ed Allen, IMB | with 0 comments

What is a ‘pocket of lostness’ in North Carolina?

April 18 2017 by Michael Sowers

Three years ago, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina launched a strategy to impact lostness through disciple-making starting in the most concentrated areas of lostness located in eight population centers. Within these eight population centers is where we find our top 100 “pockets of lostness.”

Michael Sowers

These pockets are geographic areas that range from one-half to 2 miles in radius. The people in these pockets are often very diverse. In most cases, there is ethnic, income, education and other areas of diversity present, which has been documented through demographic and field research. The key understanding of these pockets, however, is lostness.
In each of these pockets, there is an extremely low number of people who identify themselves as having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
In most cases, more than 70 percent of the people in these pockets would not claim to have a personal relationship with our Lord.  
The numbers are staggering, but the reality is that these numbers represent people who need Jesus.
In many cases, the pockets are in areas where disciple-making efforts among the people living there are sparse or non-existent. The reality is that without the development of new disciple-making strategies, the number of lost people will continue to grow exponentially.
In addition to these 100 most concentrated pockets of lostness, there are 150 more pockets that have also been identified across the state.
It is imperative we answer the call to work together as local churches, associations, the state convention and individual believers to engage these pockets of lostness with the gospel.
The people living in these pockets of lostness are in desperate need of Jesus, so we must become desperate to be on God’s mission to take His gospel to them.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Sowers serves on the BSC Strategic Focus Team as the strategy coordinator for the Triad region.)

4/18/2017 8:41:34 AM by Michael Sowers | with 0 comments

Safety & short-term mission trips

April 13 2017 by Andy Johnson

The woman on the phone was gripped by that kind of fear that sounds like anger. I, a pastor at a local church, was considering sending her adult son overseas for the summer.

The place he hoped to go wasn’t a war zone, exactly. But it was uncomfortably close to a war zone. And mama was not happy. I told her we were trying to be careful, wise, were seeking counsel and how the risks seemed reasonable given the gospel opportunities. None of that helped.
Finally, in frustration she said, “OK, if you can personally guarantee he’ll be absolutely safe, I’ll be OK with him going.” I replied something like, “Ma’am, nobody can do that. I can’t even guarantee he wasn’t run over by a bus five minutes ago right here in Washington, D.C.”
This was not the high mark for my pastoral sensitivity.
There was a long silence as she incorporated this new terror into her already considerable collection of anxieties. She abruptly thanked me and ended the call, no doubt to frantically phone her son to discover if he was lying mangled beneath a bus somewhere. Bad pastor!
While my manner was poor, I stand by my point. Perfect safety is an illusion, everywhere. Instead, gospel-informed wisdom should be our objective and God’s goodness our refuge. This is especially important as we think about short-term missionary efforts in unstable places.
Here are six reflections to consider if we intend to join the work in the difficult, unreached places.

There is something much better than life.

We can’t think about risks in a Christian manner unless we are convinced the gospel is worth dying for. We must join the Psalmist and say, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you” (Psalm 63:3, ESV). Our people need to understand that in pursuit of gospel ends, death is always possible but never pointless.
I hope we all intend to be wise and careful, but Jesus was clear that faithfulness to His gospel commission would mean suffering (John 15:20) and for some, death (Luke 21:16). If we can’t conceive of this happening in a way that would bring glory to God, then we probably shouldn’t be sending our short-term teams anywhere.

We are not promised safety, anywhere.

One effect of the hellish “prosperity gospel” is that even in churches too biblical to believe Jesus died to give us health and wealth, there is still contamination. Too many Christians now believe that if we are in the “center of God’s will” nothing bad will happen to us. Such a promise is found nowhere in the Bible.
As Hebrews tells us, many believers faithfully committed to God’s will have “faced jeers and flogging.” Others “were chained and put in prison” and “they were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword” (Hebrews 11:36-37, ESV). Could God be any clearer? He promises to use our life for His glory and bring us safely to heaven for our joy and His honor. God does not promise us safety anywhere in this fallen world.

Taking unnecessary risks is still stupid.

There is nothing especially godly about dying because of a dumb decision.
And there’s nothing glorious about bringing on suffering through stupidity. Boldness should be tempered with wisdom. This means taking advice from trusted missions organizations to avoid being foolish. So if we are thinking of sending a group to a location, we should probably trust the wisdom of friends in the country. We may not ask, “Is it safe?” but we should certainly ask, “Is this trip necessary, useful and wise?”
An honest “no” to any of those metrics is a fine reason to cancel or delay the trip.
Risks for a short-term visitor, who likely knows neither the culture nor the local language, can be very different from those for a well-established long-term worker. If we do go, we should be willing to rigorously follow the advice and directions from long-term partners too.
Sometimes the greatest danger is not to us, but to the people who continue to live there after we’re gone.

It’s OK to consider your parents or spouse.

Taking into consideration the fears of your family members is not wrong either. More than once I’ve counseled a young person to delay a trip out of kindness to a fearful parent. While we can’t be ruled by others’ fears or lack of faith, we still need to keep long-term relationships in mind.
This is why counsel from godly friends and church leaders is important.

Bible-informed risk/benefit analysis is not ungodly.

I remember calling my wife during a short-term project in Central Asia. A friend in an unstable country nearby had discovered a historical site, knew of my interest in history and asked me to take a trip with him to look at it. There was no gospel project in view, just a fun trip with a good friend, in a country full of landmines.
Unsurprisingly, the response I got from my wife Rebecca wasn’t positive. In short, she said, “I’m happy to raise three kids as a single mom if you die over there doing gospel work.” My wife is an amazing woman! “But,” she continued, “I WILL NOT be happy if it’s because you were taking a trip in a war zone for no good reason, just to hang out with one of your buddies.”
Needless to say, I didn’t go. Of course she was right. Not all risks are worth taking.
Likewise, we should be asking if our short-term trips are useful to gospel work. Given how much trouble short-term trips can be, we should be asking this about our trips everywhere, regardless of obvious risks. Most often we’ll know a trip is useful when our partners actually ask us to do something or at least affirm that what we’re planning to do is useful. But it isn’t wrong to ask whether the risk is worth the potential benefit, and it isn’t wrong for them to tell us it’s not.

Unreached places are unreached for a reason.

Finally, realize that places unreached by the gospel tend to be that way for a reason. Many are unstable, hard to reach and unfriendly to the gospel. Taking the gospel to places like this will entail risk and potentially result in suffering. But we should finish at the same place we started – “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” May we have boldness, wisdom and gospel courage to say that to our faithful God.
Someone will have to take risks and potentially suffer loss if the gospel is to reach the remaining corners of our world. Why should we expect others to take those risks instead of taking them ourselves?
For more information go to imb.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andy is an associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Andy also gives special attention to the discipling and international missions efforts of CHBC.)

4/13/2017 8:27:36 AM by Andy Johnson | with 0 comments

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