April 2018

‘Let me get back to you’

April 27 2018 by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press

When comedienne Amy Poehler gave the commencement address at Harvard University’s 2011 graduation, she told the graduates, “Even though, as a class you are smart, you are still allowed to say, ‘I don’t know.’ Just because you are in high demand, you are still allowed to say, ‘Let me get back to you.’”
It is OK to use Ms. Poehler’s second answer to life’s hardest questions: Let me get back to you. But think about what this answer can mean.

David Jeremiah

First, when someone says, Let me get back to you, it can simply mean they’re in a hurry; they’re walking out the door and can’t stop to talk.
Second, it can mean, I have time to talk but I’m really not interested. It may mean, I am saying I’ll get back to you, but don’t count on it. This is rude – definitely not recommended.
Third, let me get back to you may be a form of procrastination – again, not a good reason to delay getting involved.
There’s something missing from all those replies: They don’t contain the promise of an answer. All they say is, I don’t have the knowledge, time or interest to respond right now.
Here is what I would recommend instead: When someone asks you a difficult question, consider a response that affirms the questioner and the question, allows you to be humble enough to admit you don’t know the answer and allows you to commit yourself to serving the person by working to find an answer.
It allows you the opportunity to continue the conversation at a later time – especially important if the person is someone who is curious about the Christian faith.

Q&A evangelism

Christians often are hesitant to share their faith with non-Christians because they fear being asked a question to which they don’t know the answer. And there are some hard questions to be asked and answered: How do you explain the evidence for dinosaurs and evolution? What will happen to people who die without hearing about Jesus?
These and other questions are reasonable and deserve reasonable answers. And there are answers to be found.
But there are also questions that come up when talking with a friend, neighbor or coworker – personal questions that go to the heart of our faith: Our newborn baby has died – do infants go to heaven? I’ve committed a terrible sin – how can I know God will forgive me?
Whether you are asked a question that might call for a scholar’s reply or a question about living the Christian life, every Christian has the same responsibility to “be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
God doesn’t expect us to know everything at every given moment. But when we don’t know the answer, we should say, I don’t know. But I will find the answer and get back to you.

The quest for answers

The root word at the heart of the word “question” is “quest.” And quest doesn’t just mean “to search for something.” The dictionary says it is can be a long or arduous search. Built into the very idea of a question is the possibility that it will take some effort to find the answer (Proverbs 2:1-7).
Are you a “quester” (a questioner) when it comes to your own faith? As in having a desire for more and a deeper knowledge about God, His Word, His plan of redemption and the expansion of His Kingdom in the world. Are you a quester when it comes to knowing how to be a better spouse, a better parent, a wise steward of God’s gifts, a better employee or employer?
As Christians, we have been rescued from a kingdom of lies and darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of God’s Son (Colossians 1:12-14). Our entire reborn spiritual life should be a quest for God’s truth. Only by renewing our mind in His truth will we learn to know and discern His will (Romans 12:1-2).
Research tells us that childhood is when we learn the fastest and our senior years are when we learn the least. But guess what? Jesus said adults are to live with the innocence and curiosity of children all our lives! (Mark 10:15). We should all be enrolled in a lifelong school of continuing spiritual education. How? Be a personal student of God’s Word; attend a church that is faithful to build up the saints through strong and faithful teaching; read books of theology and practical Christian living; ask your pastor or others you trust for answers to your questions; and share your faith with others and help them gain the knowledge they need. In short, never stop learning!
And if you say, I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you – never fail to follow through.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., and founder and host of “Turning Point for God.” 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@tursningpointonline.org.)

4/27/2018 11:19:16 AM by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

A normal Baptist church

April 26 2018 by Randy C. Davis, Baptist & Reflector

I recently found normal about an hour and 15 minutes south of Nashville. The weather was nearly perfect for an early morning drive with my bride Jeanne as we wound our way along country roads through the beautiful rolling hills of Middle Tennessee.

First Baptist Church, Howell, Tenn.

Howell is a small community located between Lewisburg and Fayetteville. We pulled into the parking lot of First Baptist Church (FBC) Howell and the thought came to mind: First Baptist Church and the town of Howell are, well, normal.
According to the last census, if you draw a ring around Howell about eight miles from the center of town, the population of Howell is about 8,800. That’s not many folks, but it’s normal. And the church – First Baptist Church Howell – has between 75 to 100 people of all ages in worship, but that’s normal.
And Brian Gass, pastor of FBC, is bivocational. And that’s normal.
You see, scattered across our country are thousands of communities just like Howell, and thousands of churches just like First Baptist, and thousands of pastors just like Brian. Tennessee, for example, is comprised of small towns where Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC) churches average about 120 members and where more than 60 percent of all our TBC pastors are bivocational. We call these bivocational brothers the “Iron Men” of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Preaching at First Baptist Church of Howell was a special experience. The choir sang a call to worship and special music preceded the message. There was a warm welcome that included hand-shaking and extending genuine hospitality. Birthdays and wedding anniversaries were recognized with participants placing dollars for benevolence in a little church on the Lord’s Supper Table and singing “Happy Birthday” and “Happy Anniversary” songs. Announcements were made. Hymns were sung from a hymn book. A good children’s Bible story, complete with flannel graph illustration, was presented. Children (and adults) listened intently. An offering was received. The invitation was given. A man in his 50s came to Christ for whom many in the church had been praying.
Afterwards, we gathered in the fellowship hall for a “dinner on the grounds” covered dish lunch. The church does this once a month. I suspect if you live in a town like Howell and go to a church like FBC, you’d probably say, “Well, that’s normal.”
But just because a church is normal doesn’t mean it can’t also be exceptional because exceptional is how I’d describe FBC Howell.
People are being saved and the church is financially generous. The congregation has increased its Cooperative Program giving to 10 percent. It gives through the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions as well as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. The church is actively involved in the local association.
And for nine faithful years, Pastor Brian and his wife Lisa have loved serving this church. The affection of the people for their pastor is obvious. There is a healthy spirit in the church and the environment is full of joy, unity and peace. These are godly people simply loving the Lord, loving each other and loving their community.
I believe FBC Howell is the picture the apostle Paul had in mind when he painted “normal” for the church in Ephesians 4:2-3: “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”
Personally, I can’t wait to return, and I am so thankful for the countless “normal” churches across our state and nation that are having an eternal impact like FBC Howell led by pastors like Brian.
They’re all pretty exceptional in my book.
(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, news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)

4/26/2018 8:26:20 AM by Randy C. Davis, Baptist & Reflector | with 0 comments

Missionary heroes

April 25 2018 by Doug Munton, Baptist Press

We need heroes. The true hero of our story, of course, should always be the Lord Jesus. No earthly hero can do what He did or give what He gave. But there is something to be said for the example of a fellow Christian who has followed the Lord in a way we can emulate.

Doug Munton

The apostle Paul said, “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). He served the church of Corinth as an example of a sinner following the Savior. He was a model, an example – a hero if you will – for other Christians to follow. He reminded them to follow him only as he followed Jesus. But he showed them how it was done in the real world by a real sinner who was following a real Savior.
Career missionaries serve as models for Christians back home. They might not like the tag “hero” but they serve as models and examples for the rest of us who follow Christ.
We see their example of sacrifice and learn something of what it means to “die to self” amid the joys of a calling often tempered by loneliness, isolation and illness. We see what “take up your cross daily and follow Jesus” is all about. We learn from them. We “imitate them as they imitate Christ.”
Having missionary heroes doesn’t mean we think they are perfect. Only Jesus is. It doesn’t mean we don’t know they have feet of clay like all the rest of us.
It just means that we have seen people who followed Jesus even when it was hard. And we learn that we can follow Jesus through hard times as well. We learn that we can sacrifice, we can value the eternal over the earthly and we can be obedient to our Lord. They serve as models of the kind of heart we need as we follow the Lord wherever He leads us.
We don’t put missionary faces on bubble gum cards like we used to do with baseball players. Not many movies feature missionaries saving the day. But career missionaries ought to be a special kind of hero to us. We should honor them, pray for them and love them. We should tell their stories. We should follow their examples.
Maybe you will never be called by God to serve as a career missionary far from family and home. But every missionary can serve as an example to you of how to follow Jesus where you are. Missionaries can be spiritual heroes who point you to the greatest hero – the Lord Jesus who loves you and calls you to follow Him.
Missionary heroes may not leap tall buildings in a single bound or be faster than speeding bullets. But they point us to the Ultimate Hero. And that is better than being more powerful than a locomotive any day!

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Doug Munton, online at dougmunton.com, is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., and a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is the author of Immersed: 40 Days to a Deeper Faith.)

4/25/2018 9:51:55 AM by Doug Munton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Lessons from Flight 1380

April 24 2018 by Adam Covington, Baptist Press

The Southwest Airlines plane traveling from New York’s LaGuardia airport to the Dallas Love Field airport has been at the forefront of many Americans’ minds and Facebook feeds. Flight 1308, which experienced an engine failure at 30,000 feet just 30 minutes into the flight path, executed an emergency landing in Philadelphia. One person lost her life as a result of the engine failure.
The stories making headlines from this experience are ones of heroism, bravery and cool-headedness in the face of dire circumstances. From pilot Tammie Jo Shults (see April 20 story) to the firefighter who attempted to resuscitate an injured passenger, the stories are captivating.

Adam Covington

One of the narratives also unfolding from Flight 1380 includes passengers who used the plane’s Wi-Fi-enabled in-air text messaging service to correspond with loved ones they thought they might never see again.
Wearing the yellow “in-case-of emergency” oxygen masks that dropped down from above, some passengers with shaky hands typed messages of love and farewell to loved ones on the ground. Some have shared screen grabs of these conversations on social media, and the messages should penetrate even the hardest of hearts.
We, as a culture, have withdrawn from thinking about death on a regular basis, but the stories from Flight 1380 should prompt us to stop and evaluate our lives. We all have something we can learn, if we’ll stop to think about it:

1. We should prioritize maintaining healthy relationships.

If you were to find yourself in a situation like those on Flight 1380, what fractured relationships would you wish you had taken the time to fix? What words would you wish you had said more often or apologized for? The Bible is not silent on this subject; in fact, a significant theme within the scriptures is how we, as believers, should treat one another. Jesus mentions it in the “Golden Rule,” and we’re reminded by Romans 12:18 that, if possible, so far as it depends on us, we must live at peace with everyone.

2. We should remember that we have a limited amount of time on earth.

Scripture is full of references to the reality that our days are numbered. Job said that the number of days and months of a person’s life are determined and dependent on God (Job 14:5). James calls our lives a vapor or a mist, that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14). It would be crippling to spend every moment of our lives in fear of death or to constantly be thinking about it, but a balanced and thoughtful reflection on the limited amount of time we have means we are more likely to maximize that time.

3. We should use our time wisely.

Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” Carefully evaluating our days brings clarity to the work we are to be about. As believers who seek to imitate Christ, we should be about the Father’s business, as He was about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49). Friends and fellow church members of Tammie Jo Shults have remarked that she seeks to share her faith as often as possible. Counting our days “carefully” reminds us that those days are precious and develops wisdom in our hearts. That wisdom will influence all of the decisions we make.

4. We should keep in mind that we will all taste death.

The old adage about only two things being certain – death and taxes – rings true to all ears. We know that life is fragile, and the one guarantee is that it will end for each person on this earth. The Bible says that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
What hope is there in the statement that all are appointed to die, and all will be judged after they die? We find hope in Romans 8: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (vs. 1-2). Because of Christ’s atoning work on our behalf and our belief in Him as God’s blameless and perfect Son who died, was buried and rose to life, we have hope that the Lord no longer sees sin and death in us, but sees Christ’s righteousness covering it.
Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who successfully landed a plane on the Hudson River after a dual engine failure in 2009, was asked about the similar circumstances of Flight 1380’s emergency landing. After noting that the work of the pilot and crew of Flight 1380 impressed him, he made a statement of great importance: “These kinds of events are life-changing for everybody on the airplane. They divide one’s life into before and after.”
These are words about the experience of everyone on that plane, but words that also characterize a life surrendered to Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” As we reflect on Flight 1380, may we be bold to proclaim the message of an “after” that looks vastly different from the “before” in our lives because of what Christ has done for us.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adam Covington is director of communications at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This column first appeared at the seminary’s Theological Matters website.)

4/24/2018 7:19:46 AM by Adam Covington, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

A Bible in his pocket

April 23 2018 by Keith Shorter, Baptist Press

I sometimes wonder if God ever smiles and says to an angel, “Watch this!” Many days we follow God out of obedience. Then there are other days when we get a glimpse at what God routinely does behind the scenes. Those are the days that make you shake your head in amazement!

Keith Shorter

A few months ago, a man named JD started the daily process of reading Psalm 143:8: “Let me hear Your loving kindness in the morning; for I trust in You; teach me the way in which I should walk; for to You I lift up my soul.” Each day JD seeks to live out that verse and prays that God would show him what to do that day to express His love. JD said it has been an amazing journey the last few months watching God work.
Not long ago he stopped at a gas station to use the restroom as he traveled toward Columbia, S.C. On the way to the door of the gas station he was approached by a man seeking help. The man asked for 80 cents. He said he needed it to catch a bus to a new job he got downtown.
JD found out that the man’s name was James. Remembering his daily prayer, JD went back to the car and found some cash, and gave James $8 or $9.
At that moment, James started to weep. He told JD how his life had been changing a lot lately. James told JD that he and his 19-year-old son had been homeless, but recently things have begun to look up for them.
“First, I get a job. Then my mom gives me a trailer for us to live in, and then someone buys me breakfast today, and now you give me this money. We are really trying hard, and I can’t believe how we have been getting blessed.”
Then James said, “It all started when a man gave me this.” He pulled a small Bible out of his pocket and showed it to JD. James continued to cry as he thought about how good God had been to him lately.
When I first heard that story, I quickly realized that this was more than just a story about a man named James who was down on his luck. This is the story of three men – and the Bible.
First, there was an unnamed man who believed the Bible is so powerful that he gave a copy of it to a total stranger. Then there is a man who decided a few months ago to start praying and living out the promises of the Bible. Finally, there was a man in a desperate situation who discovered that the Bible is life-changing.
God connected these three men together as only He can. One had the Bible in his hand, another had the Bible in his heart and the third man had the Bible in his pocket.
What is it about the Bible that makes it such a powerful book? I think the answer is found in Psalm 119:160: “All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.” The Bible doesn’t just contain truth, it is truth. A thousand years ago it was true, and a thousand years from now it will still be true. Truth, by its very nature, does not change, and that’s why it can change us.
James doesn’t have very many earthly possessions, but he has truth in his pocket. Suddenly his life is changing for the better.
This might be a good day to pick up your copy of truth, and begin to find out what God is capable of doing in your life.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Shorter is pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Easley, S.C., and immediate past president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.)

4/23/2018 9:23:21 AM by Keith Shorter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Experiencing the Holy Spirit

April 20 2018 by Shane Pruitt, Baptist Press

For some Christians, the Holy Spirit is something we experience intellectually through songs and hymns but not someone we consciously relate to on a daily basis. We know He exists, and we know that He is a part of the Trinity of God, but because we don’t know what scripture teaches about Him, we tend to ignore Him.

Shane Pruitt

There can be plenty of confusion, emotionalism and even misuse of scripture when it comes to the doctrine, presence and work of the Holy Spirit. However, if we don’t desperately yield to and depend on the Holy Spirit in our daily lives, we can never expect to walk and live in the freedom and victory that only comes from the Spirit of our great God.
Consider these truths about the Holy Spirit that we simply can’t ignore:

1. The Holy Spirit authored the scriptures.

Anything that we know about God and how to live with Him comes from the Bible, authored by the Holy Spirit through the pens of men. Key scriptures include 2 Timothy 3:16 – “All [s]cripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” – and 2 Peter 1:20-21 – “... no prophecy of [s]cripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” When we fail to engage scripture on a daily basis, we starve our souls of knowing Him intimately.

2. The Holy Spirit exalts Jesus.

Any kind of work of assertion that puts more focus on “giftings,” “expressions” and “fillings” than on Jesus, you can be sure it is not the Holy Spirit. The primary work of the Holy Spirit is to exalt Jesus. The Spirit has come that we might be deeply impressed with the person of Jesus Christ and His work. As Jesus said in John 15:26: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” To the extent that we exalt Jesus, the presence of the Spirit becomes more palpably real in our lives.

3. The Holy Spirit makes us the church.

The church is a not a building, but rather the church is a people. When the Spirit of God makes His home inside of us as believers, we become the church. We are now the temple of the Holy Spirit sent to tell the world that Jesus is alive! “Do you not know that you are God’s temple,” the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” As we seek out fellowship with other believers, the manifestation of the Spirit becomes more evident in our lives.

4. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin.

The Spirit awakens us to the reality of sin and the need of a Savior. Then, as born-again children of God, the Spirit in us will awaken a heightened sense of sin. Where things may not have bothered us before, now there is a grieving that takes place when we sin. As Jesus said of the Spirit: “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). The closer we draw to the Spirit, the more consciously aware we are of strongholds of sin in our lives.

5. The Holy Spirit guides us in everyday life.

We’re completely dependent on the work of the Spirit to help us understand His scriptures, to guide us to live according to the Word and to direct us in the ways of righteousness and holiness. As Paul put it: “... the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). These qualities of the Holy Spirit are not character traits we work up; they are the natural expressions of the Spirit radiating from us.

6. The Holy Spirit seals believers until the day of redemption.

One of God’s great desires is for His people to feel secure in His love and power as they go into the world to be witnesses. Everything else in life may be unpredictable and unstable – our health, job and relationships – yet our identity in Christ and our eternal destination are completely sealed, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Key scriptures include Ephesians 4:30 – “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” and Romans 8:38-39 – “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The more we rest in the Spirit, the deeper is our assurance that this world is not our final home.
Lord, make us Spirit-filled Christians who faithfully proclaim the Spirit-authored scriptures to a people who are being Spirit-awakened for the glory of God to be witnesses to a lost world that’s in desperate need of the Spirit’s work.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shane Pruitt, @shane_pruitt78, is director of evangelism for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. This column first appeared at his website, shanepruitt.com.)

4/20/2018 9:36:31 AM by Shane Pruitt, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Googling autism & the church

April 19 2018 by DeAnna Gibson, Baptist Press

Sitting in a hallway of our church one typical Sunday morning, holding my child in my lap as he curled into the tightest 5-year old ball he could make, I pleaded with him to return to class and try again. Something about the morning had set him off, and no one was sure why. Then again, week after week, no one was ever sure why.

DeAnna Gibson

I kept my head down. I did not want to draw any attention to myself. On the cusp of tears, a kind word would have burst the floodgates, so I left early.
I spent that afternoon googling things like “Christian moms autism” and “Church children autism moms” and even desperately typed in “Church with Autism is hard.” I read at least 20 blogs that day. All but one recounted that their families do not attend church anymore or the parents switch off attending church without the special needs child because it is just too hard to attend.
The one blogger who did attend church was a pastor’s wife (who had to be there) and even she said it was nearly impossible each Sunday.
This internet search was like looking for the needle in a haystack, and three convictions emerged for me that day:

– Special needs families are not automatically excused from being a committed part of the local church.

– Churches are responsible for doing whatever it takes to reach, disciple and minister to special needs families.

– Special needs families are statistically an under-reached demographic, yet when committed to the church, they will be some of its most faithful members.
Keeping my son at home, rather than attending church, will never accomplish what I want for him, which is to know that Jesus and His church are as much for him as they are for me, and the church misses out on something God has for them by not having special needs people in it.
As an autism mom, I am not exempt from raising my autistic child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). The methods by which I do this may look very different from parents of typical children. But as a mom of both a neurodiverse child and two neurotypical children, I know every child is distinct and requires uniqueness in how they learn about Jesus. The call is the same for every Christian parent: We must teach and train our children to know, love and obey Jesus to their fullest capability.
One major way we all learn about Jesus is through Christian community in our local church. Our children need to be a part of worship, see adults and children with open Bibles listening to teachers and preachers, and they need to experience kindness and encouragement from people (other than their parents) who display the love of Jesus toward them. It also provides a place of service to others, because sometimes much of their home life is devoted almost exclusively to their own needs.
As a church member and ministry wife, I see the need to consider what special needs ministry looks like in each of our churches. Factors like size, number of special needs families or even flow of the service play a part. Some churches devote entire sensory-minimized services to individuals with special needs. Other churches, like mine, have “Buddies” to help my child navigate services and transitions. We may need to look at modifying spaces to better meet the needs of special needs families: family bathrooms, calming sensory-free rooms or overflow rooms where the sermon can be heard but those who wander or make noises can be a little less conspicuous. Whether you attend a bigger church or a smaller church, if you look around and see your church is empty of families with special needs, then your church is hardly complete.
Lastly, Jesus is our example, proving that all kinds of people are welcome at His banquet table when He said, “Go out quickly to the streets and alleys of town and bring in the poor, crippled, blind, and the lame. ... Go out and compel them to come in, so that My house will be full” (Luke 14:21b-23).
Those with special needs may no longer be hidden away on back alleys and abandoned roads, but they are often isolated in suburban homes or ostracized and stigmatized in other ways. Jesus says to call them to come. In doing so, we show the value of special needs families – exalting Christ, glorifying Him in His church and serving alongside one another. What a beautiful sight to see the Lord’s church with all its variety and uniqueness!

(EDITOR’S NOTE – DeAnna Gibson, online at deannagibsonwrites.com, is a mother of three boys and member of Holly Ridge Baptist Church in Simpsonville, S.C., where her husband Brett is the worship minister. April is Autism Awareness Month.)

4/19/2018 8:20:12 AM by DeAnna Gibson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Equipping the American church for missions

April 18 2018 by Emily Verlin, IMB

Before I moved back to the U.S. after serving as a missionary for two years in South Asia, many people told me to expect a difficult season as I returned home. They told me I would experience reverse culture shock in a variety of ways.
Reverse culture shock is a common experience for many returned missionaries. And it would be easy to let these struggles paralyze us when we return from the field. However, our field experience – whether it was two years or 20 – has given us a tremendous opportunity to continue the work back home.

IMB photo

Scripture holds a high view of the local church and gives us examples of how people like Paul and Barnabas equipped the local church for mission (Acts 14:24-28). Like them, missionaries can take their passion for sharing the gospel and turn it into a desire to equip the American church.

Sharing the gospel through shared experiences.

Last Christmas, I invited a South Asian friend to go see Christmas lights around our city. Instead of going with her by myself, I decided to invite a fellow church member, Sarah, to go with us. During the evening, many doors were opened to gospel conversations. Sarah shared the Christmas story and later elaborated on why we serve the one true God.
Afterward, Sarah was overcome with joy. We talked about what a privilege it is to share the best news. She was reminded of how easy it can be to have spiritual conversations, and she shared her desire to make gospel proclamation a higher priority. She was convicted that she had not taken full advantage of the gospel opportunities with her own South Asian neighbors.
The Lord used that evening to challenge and encourage me in three specific ways.

Build relationships with the unreached in my city, share the gospel with them, and bring fellow believers with me.

Jesus exemplified this methodology by bringing his disciples with Him as He preached the gospel in word and deed. Believers can attend every evangelism class and training that comes along, but there is something about actually seeing another believer demonstrate gospel proclamation that makes it click. I have found that my best evangelistic conversations have happened alongside another believer. Just as Sarah said, sharing the gospel is not that hard!

Invite more of my believing friends into my relationships with South Asians.

Before we went to see Christmas lights that night, my South Asian friend invited us in for chai with her husband. We ended up staying a full hour before we ventured out. Sarah mentioned later how unusual that experience was for her. Her first instinct when we were invited in for chai was to say no. She didn’t want to be a burden on the couple.
However, South Asian culture is very different from American culture. Although we may see guests as an inconvenience, South Asians see guests as an honor. Many Americans Christians fear stepping into cross-cultural relationships because they have not had a cross-cultural experience. As returned missionaries, we can use our experience to teach other believers about and invite them into our cross-cultural relationships. In doing so we help lessen initial fear and discomfort and increase a desire to build cross-cultural and missional relationships.

Believers experience great joy when we share the hope of the gospel with someone who has not heard and is searching.

We are not merely saved from our sin. We are saved to make disciples of all nations. We fully live out the life God intends for us when we share the gospel with the unreached around us.
In doing so, we glorify God and experience the unique joy of joining God on mission – part of the intended purpose of our salvation. This joy we experience can only come from our obedience to proclaim the good news. It is a unique and contagious joy.
I pray as missionaries come back from the field, they are burdened with the state of faith here in America and with the lack of joy many American Christians experience when they are not obedient to share the gospel. It is an act of love toward your fellow believer to encourage and equip them to live on mission. I also pray that many more believers would choose obedience to the Great Commission for the glory of God and the sake of the lost around them.
Returned missionaries can use their unique cross-cultural experiences to equip the American church to share the gospel with those around them. As missionaries come back from the field, I pray they will take advantage of this unique opportunity and allow themselves to be used in catalytic ways. I also pray that the Lord will raise up an army of American believers passionate about sharing the gospel and making disciples of all nations starting in their backyard.
For more information, go to imb.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Emily Verlin is a missions minister at a local church in Tennessee. Previously she served in South Asia with the 2+2 program through the IMB and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

4/18/2018 7:58:10 AM by Emily Verlin, IMB | with 0 comments

Seminary or cemetery?

April 17 2018 by Micah Carter, Guest Column

As a young ministerial student in college, I’d eagerly accept any opportunity to speak so that I might grow and develop as a preacher of the gospel. A frequent venue for me was a “brotherhood breakfast” in small rural churches.
After speaking at one particular meeting, an older man approached me and engaged in conversation. He was interested to know about any future plans after college.

Micah Carter

So I said, “I think I’m headed to seminary.” “Oh yeah?” he replied, “which one?”
I told him I’d narrowed my decision down to a couple of options, but my intention was to enroll at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
About that time a couple other guys had joined us in conversation, and the man turned to his friend and said, “Hey, this young man is headed to the Southern Baptist Theological Cemetery.” Everyone kind of chuckled, like they’d heard that one before. It took me a couple seconds, but I played along and said, “I see what you did there!”
I’m still not sure what was behind his quip, however. It could’ve been just a joke, or a dig at Southern Seminary specifically, or caution against higher theological education in general. I recall having conversations with church members and friends in other churches who believed seminary would ruin me because “knowledge puffs up.” Others said not to worry about more study and to “just get to work for Christ.” Sadly, far too many well-meaning folks doused cold water on the fire I had to prepare for a lifetime of ministry.
The comment from the man at the breakfast is revealing, though. A cemetery, by definition, is a place of grave plots, a place dedicated to physical death. But a seminary, by definition, is a place of “seed plots,” a place dedicated to spiritual life. Far from smelling the academic aroma of death in seminary, I was immersed in the life-giving fragrance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Even though some of the Baptists I’ve encountered downplayed seminary education to me, I am profoundly grateful that they still contributed to my pursuit through Cooperative Program (CP) giving in their churches. Such CP giving helped make it possible, and affordable, for me to be equipped and prepared for gospel ministry.
The gospel came alive to me regardless of the course subject matter. Biblical languages brought the scriptures to life in deep and meaningful ways. Church history classes reminded me that generations of believers before me lived and died in the hope of eternal life in Christ. Theology courses energized and grounded my faith. Evangelism and preaching classes stirred up a desire for all people to find eternal life in Jesus and to proclaim the riches of His grace.
In no way did seminary deal a ruinous death-blow to me! On the contrary, seminary planted and watered and cultivated the seeds of gospel truth, biblical knowledge, evangelistic fervor, pastoral care and theological rigor. In short, my spiritual life and ministerial call matured for fruit production and did not wither on the vine.
As I recall those days in college when I wrestled with whether to continue in higher education, I am pleased that the Lord led me to seminary. I’d do it all over again the same way! Although all of our Southern Baptist Convention seminaries are wonderful and are producing faithful and fruitful ministers, I’m thankful for Southern and her investment in me as a herald of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
At every convocation since the seminary’s founding, Basil Manly’s hymn “Soldiers of Christ, in Truth Arrayed” has been sung. Its words still ring in my heart and call me to make the most of my time and experience in seminary. May they encourage you as well as you proclaim the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ:
Soldiers of Christ, in truth arrayed,
A world in ruins needs your aid:
A world by sin destroyed and dead;
A world for which the Savior bled.
His Gospel to the lost proclaim,
Good news for all in Jesus’ Name;
Let light upon the darkness break
That sinners from their death may wake.
Morning and evening sow the seed,
God’s grace the effort shall succeed.
Seedtimes of tears have oft been found
With sheaves of joy and plenty crowned.
We meet to part, but part to meet
When earthly labors are complete,
To join in yet more blest employ,
In an eternal world of joy.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – April 22 is SBC Seminaries Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention. Micah Carter is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Ripley, Miss.)

4/17/2018 8:35:20 AM by Micah Carter, Guest Column | with 0 comments

Why attend denominational meetings?

April 13 2018 by Gary Ledbetter, Baptist Press

When the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) comes to Dallas this summer for its annual meeting, it will do so for the second time since 1985. That 1985 meeting was the largest convention meeting ever, the high water mark of our movement to return the SBC to its commitment to biblical authority.
I’ve attended SBC meetings regularly since 1982. I was 27 when I started and the convention was run by guys my dad’s age. It took a while to figure out how things work but I was part of a movement unique in church history for its scope and impact on American Christianity.

Gary Ledbetter

Adrift as I was, and surrounded by people twice my age, I’m glad I was there as my denomination turned from its support for abortion (the reason I was most likely to leave the SBC) and took another hard-fought step toward biblical integrity. Since then, small and large issues have arisen during the business and hall talk at the convention, but something important happens every year – even when the important things are predictable and tedious.
Here are a few reasons you should make it a priority to attend the SBC’s annual meetings:


This is not the most fun reason for attending but it is the essential reason we meet every year. The messengers from the churches, gathered during two days each June, have authority over everything our institutions and missionary boards do for the remaining 363 days. We approve their budgets, assign them trustees and give instructions though motions to those who serve our churches. It’s not easy to make a big impact but I have seen it done over the course of decades; I helped it happen.


If you’re a Southern Baptist, you learn things at our annual meeting that you won’t learn elsewhere. Sure, you’ll hear good preaching and even get some free books if you plan your week right, but also you’ll see some things that will challenge you.
The reports of our institutions are the stories of people – pastors, church planters, missionaries, Sunday School teachers, choir members, widows and others enriched and trained by the work you support. The Cooperative Program is not just a boring fundraising effort in this narrative; it is the lifeblood of a broad and effective missionary enterprise.
You’ll also see, as I did at my first meeting, a fellowship of pastors and church members who are diverse racially, culturally and generationally. Few niche meetings you attend will hit all those marks. It’s hard to maintain some prejudgments of your brother and sister Baptists after seeing us together. There are a lot of meetings you can attend where your particular affinity or interest is the entire agenda. I find it enlightening to occasionally hang out with people I don’t understand very well.


This is a big reason for most conferences. The SBC always features solid preaching, chances to talk with ministry specialists and even a health screening station to encourage you avoid Tex-Mex and barbecue. It’s hard to come back from the SBC without being spiritually and professionally challenged at least once.


Hallway meetings, alumni meetings, side meetings, luncheons – we have those in abundance. I always see friends from my former ministries as well as people who live across town but whom I see only at the convention. This benefit is not unique to our Southern Baptist meetings, but you won’t miss out on chances to make and renew friendships as you attend our meetings. This aspect has grown in recent years with the addition of different affinity group meetings and meals. For many of us, fellowship is the most memorable aspect of Southern Baptist meetings.
Do you find other Southern Baptists, or the general collection of us, uninteresting? I get it; most of us are not very cool. But do you love the seminary that trained you or your pastor? For most of you, that seminary wouldn’t/won’t be here without the SBC. Do you love the International Mission Board (IMB) more than you do the rest of the convention? Not even the IMB would/will be around without the SBC.
You can be conservative, an expository preacher, missional as all get out and lead your church well without being a Southern Baptist, though it would be hard. But you probably are a Southern Baptist if you read this column. Join us in Dallas on June 10-13 or some portion of those days – especially if you’ve never been before. You’ll come away understanding a bit more of what “Southern Baptist” means for your ministry; I guarantee it.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary Ledbetter is editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, texanonline.net, news journal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, where this column first appeared.)

4/13/2018 9:59:17 AM by Gary Ledbetter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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