August 2012

Is Proverbs 22:6 a guarantee?

August 31 2012 by Mark Coppenger, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A number of years ago, I got a Sunday night call from a pastor who was facing backlash from a prominent deacon in his church. The critic was taking exception to his statement that Proverbs 22:6 wasn’t a guarantee – “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

I believe this came up in an exchange over the prospects of a wayward son. The layman was “claiming the promise” that his son, having been brought up in a seriously Christian home and church, would eventually straighten up and fly right. When the pastor ventured to suggest the verse wasn’t an ironclad warranty, the distraught, indignant dad said he was denying the truth of Scripture, and was threatening to take his complaint to others in the church.

What can one say to this?

Well, a not-so-impressive approach is to suggest that it might well be the case that the man and his wife hadn’t “trained him up in the way he should go” after all. If they had, the boy wouldn’t be on the wrong path. In other words, the proof was in the pudding.

Or, we could say, “Just wait. It’ll all work out, just as the Bible promises.” But we can all think of Christian families where all but one of the kids turned out well, and where it is hard to say how the one child was trained significantly more poorly than the others.

A much better approach is to see Proverbs as a divine book of moral generalities, of rules of thumb, rather than a book of pointed prophecies, physical laws or contractual obligations. That’s just what proverbs or aphorisms are meant to be, whether we’re talking about such secular versions as “a stitch in time saves nine” and “absence makes the heart grow fonder” or the inspired, biblical counterparts, “A gracious woman gains honor” (Proverbs 11:16) or “wealth obtained by fraud will dwindle” (Proverbs 13:11). Though we can think of exceptions to these rules, there is deep and life-important truth in them.

As with all Bible interpretation, it’s important to know what sort of language is being used to convey God’s infallible, inerrant revelation. When someone insists that Jesus is made of wood because He says He’s a gate (John 10:9) or that He’s made of flour because He says he’s bread (John 6:35), they mistake figures of speech for literal talk.

Imagine a young man who manages to walk blindfolded across a busy street. What if, on the opposite curb, he says, “See, those who told me I would be a fool to do this are wrong. I don’t have a scratch on me.” Or what would we make of the statement from a heavy smoker dying of lung cancer, “They said it would do me good to exercise regularly and watch my cholesterol. I did both religiously, and now I’m dying.”

As for Proverbs 22:16, the verse in question, it teaches us that sound religious and moral upbringing is a wise investment of time and energy. It’s the sort of thing that pays off in a big way. And to neglect it is to flirt with disaster.

With this view of Proverbs, you don’t lose trust in Scripture when the skeptic says, “Aha, I know a lazy man who lived like a king all his life on his inheritance” as a way to refute Proverbs 24:33-34 (“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”) The problem would arise if, in general, laziness proved to be a better path to success than hard work. Which it won’t. And neither will laissez-faire parenting, where the kids are allowed to run wild and ignorant.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column first appeared at the blog of BibleMesh, a website that teaches the Bible as a unified story pointing to Christ (online at Mark Coppenger is director of the Nashville, Tenn., extension center for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)
8/31/2012 1:04:51 PM by Mark Coppenger, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Gay marriage – inevitable?

August 30 2012 by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press

DALLAS – Some people say it’s only a matter of time before we have gay marriage throughout America because the younger generation supports it. Conventional wisdom holds that, in the not-too-distant future, young voters will tilt the balance in favor of same-sex marriage.

It’s true that the younger the voter, the less likely he or she is to oppose same-sex marriage. But how strong are those opinions?

One clue arises from the landslide passage of North Carolina’s Amendment One defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Public Policy Polling’s survey of voters under 30 shows they opposed the amendment, but only marginally (51 percent). SurveyUSA also looked at Amendment One in its final weeks and found a similar result – with 41 percent of young voters opposing the amendment and 48 percent supporting it. The American Enterprise Institute ran the numbers and found that, even if no one over age 45 had voted in the North Carolina referendum on marriage, it would have passed by around 8 percentage points.

If we’re waiting for demographics to usher in same-sex marriage, we might have to wait awhile. The fact is, in 30 states so far, citizens have voted to write into their constitutions that marriage is the union between one man and one woman. National Review’s Rich Lowry says that “no referendum simply upholding traditional marriage has ever lost. And even in Maine, voters in 2009 reversed a gay-marriage law passed by the legislature.” If gay marriage is to be ushered in through the democratic process, all these results would have to be reversed which, Mr. Lowry estimates, would take a generation.

Rich Lowry points to the 70s-era Equal Rights Amendment which also was seen to be inevitable. Congress passed it in 1972 and 30 states immediately ratified it. Then Phyllis Schlafly raised an army as she pointed out that the ERA would result in things like women being placed in combat positions and losing protections in divorce settlements. Beverly LaHaye started her Concerned Women for America under the rallying cry: “They (the feminists) don’t speak for all women.” Once the truth got out, only a handful of other states ratified it, and it failed to make it into the U.S. Constitution.

The 60s free-sex crowd foresaw a world of commitment-free physical relationships, with abortion accepted as second-tier birth control. But, unlike them, their kids today are pro-life – and more are practicing abstinence until marriage.

The fact is young voters often change their political views as they age. And some of the bad consequences of things like abortion and easy divorce cause young people to turn against them. Polls show millenials care deeply about family values. Many are forced, due to the economy, to live at home with parents longer. The happy result is, families are becoming closer. It’s not farfetched that the rising millennials could come to see marriage as the cornerstone of a stable family.

Perhaps gay marriage is not inevitable?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Penna Dexter is a conservative activist and frequent panelist on the “Point of View” syndicated radio program. Her weekly commentaries air on the Bott and Moody radio networks.)
8/30/2012 1:57:00 PM by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

What it means that only 41% in the U.S. say they’re pro-choice

August 29 2012 by Owen Strachan, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Politico reported in May that “the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as ‘pro-choice’ is at the lowest point ever measured by Gallup” – 41 percent. Fifty percent of Americans call themselves pro-life.

This is just a poll. Public opinion could and will shift in different directions. Polls, furthermore, are inexact. I don’t ask polls to do a lot of heavy lifting in my intellectual life. With that said, this is a surprising development, a significant one.

This means that the “culture war” has not been for naught.

Granted, some have fought for the cause of life in less than ideal ways. Championing a pro-life position from a God-and-country stance – linking the Kingdom of Christ with the nation of America – is a mistake. Some who have fought for the pro-life cause and other conservative (biblical!) social positions have made personal compromises and used the church as a platform. Yet with all these qualifications stated, the “culture war” is a worthy one to fight.

The media, of course, loves this language of a war. Conservatives are read as a crusading, domineering force; to contend for the rights of the unborn is to become some sort of a vigilante, to shirk thoughtful, respectful dialogue and become a spittle-flecked warrior. Again, some may deserve this reputation, but many do not. Many Christians have fought for the unborn on staunchly biblical and intellectual grounds. These people take a great deal of heat from the secular press. But in reality they deserve a great deal of praise. Their efforts have not been in vain.

All the campus pro-life groups and silent protests and counseling at abortion clinics and legislative action and making of films like “Bella” and careful appointment of pro-life justices and, most importantly, prayer, has all been worth it. This is not to say that abortion is now illegal. It is not. But gains are being made.

This is a pretty strong counter to the rhetoric making its way around evangelicalism that politics don’t really matter, that evangelicals should be neither blue nor red when it comes to social policy, that earthly causes aren’t really worth fighting, that the pro-life cause is really about power and domination and winning the “war.” For most Christians, fighting abortion is not about power. It is not about personally inaugurating Christ’s Kingdom. It is about speaking up for the least of these in a profoundly Christocentric way. Psalm 139 matters; the fight for righteousness mapped out in the Beatitudes matters (Matthew 5).

I am glad to contend for the pro-life cause in a reasoned, rational way. But I am not willing to lay down this fight because someone brands me a “warrior” because of it. God’s glory is in this fight. We may never win it, or we might. But it is worth our time and effort. If we abandoned abortion as a first-order issue to focus on other issues of less import, we would not be seeing the gains we are currently witnessing.

So, young evangelicals: do not believe the “fetus fatigue” language. Do not pass on an issue because it’s controversial and people won’t like you because of it. Do not cease to contend for the unborn, whether through calm conversation in the lunchroom or advocacy in the nation’s capitol. Never make the mistake of thinking that this cause is the Kingdom, or that the state is the church. Don’t make the further mistake of writing everyone off who came before you simply because the media branded them with the “culture warrior” tag.

With a proper perspective on this issue, let’s keep fighting and praying for the day when Roe v. Wade is struck from the books.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Owen Strachan is assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at his website,
8/29/2012 1:30:07 PM by Owen Strachan, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Are we prepared to reach the ‘globals’?

August 28 2012 by Stephen Douglas Wilson, Baptist Press

MAYFIELD, Ky. – In the last few years, pundits have come to recognize a sub-category of young 20- and early 30-somethings called the “globals” generation. These young Americans have developed some characteristics that are relatively new to American culture and society.

If Southern Baptists hope to impact this group of young adults, we should know something about them.

According to pollster John Zogby in his work, “The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream” (2008), and Sam Sander’s report, “‘Globals’ Generation Focuses on Experience” (2012), “globals” share a number of common attributes:

– A largely secular worldview, but one open to some aspects of cultural beliefs from all around the world.

– More than 270,000 studied abroad in 2010 – more than three times the number of students of just two decades ago.

– Two-thirds of this generation possess current passports, and one-fourth of them aspire to live abroad.

– On social, spiritual, cultural and economic issues, they possess an international rather than a distinctly American perspective.

– They are more diverse in terms of race and ethnicity than previous generations.

– Their personal networks, whether face-to-face or online, include people from all over the world.

– They see the world at large as being “instantly accessible” through travel or the Internet.

– Many globals have a different perspective on the “American dream” and do not necessarily aspire to accumulating homes, cars and material success.

– They put less emphasis on marriage and family than their parents.

– Instead, many globals view “experiences” as more important than any other category of goals.

– They value a greater degree of “openness” and “transparency” in their private and public dealings with other people than did previous generations.

– And finally, the globals see themselves as “global citizens” with a responsibility to the world community at-large superseding their responsibilities to more local institutions and constituencies.

Although many globals are not ready to jettison traditional ideas of marriage, family and even American citizenship, these values are less important to them. Needless to say, most young people identified as part of this cohort do not share a Christian worldview, and in fact, Zogby refers to them as “secular spiritualists.” Globals seek to address the social and spiritual problems of their day from a global worldview that owes little to their understanding of both a distinctly American and/or Christian perspective. They are also heavily connected to members of their own generation from all around the world, and this reinforces their global worldview.

If the pundits and pollsters are correct in their assessments of this generation, can the Christian community at large and Southern Baptists in particular hope to reach this generation for Christ?

Admittedly, older American Christians have few connections to the culture and society of this cohort. We are not as well traveled. We are considerably more homogeneous in terms of race and ethnicity. We are literally less connected to the worldwide web than they are, and in fact, we have been less willing to use the Internet beyond our forays into commerce and personal communication. The outlook of older American Christians is set firmly in the cultural perspective of the United States, and we look to a 2,000-year-old faith tradition to guide us in our daily walk. Therefore, we are sometimes apprehensive of some aspects of their global secular worldview – as they are concerning our perspectives. The recognition of the vast chasm between our respective worldviews is the beginning of the hope to bridge it.

Nevertheless, the cultural milieu of the globals also offers plenty of hope for Christians to evangelize and influence this generation. In spite of the secularism that pervades the culture of the globals, they share with the Christian tradition a number of characteristics that include a suspicion of materialism, the desire to create a diverse society and community irrespective of race and ethnicity, a global concern for humanity and a “service ethos” to reach humankind as a means to address global human concerns. For instance, globals would have found much to agree with in the Affirming Human Needs Ministry Resolution that Southern Baptists approved at the 2012 convention in New Orleans.

Guided by the Holy Spirit, Christians can reach this generation for Christ. Conversely, we must first submit to our own spiritual discipline and educate ourselves about this historically very different generation. Christ has called us to a global mission – the Great Commission. The Great Commission always conveyed the expectation that we were reaching out to generations of separate people groups all over the globe. Our challenge this time is unique, for we are now witnessing to a single emerging “global generation.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Stephen Douglas Wilson is a dean emeritus and department chair of history at Mid-Continent University in Mayfield, Ky., and a member of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
8/28/2012 2:12:14 PM by Stephen Douglas Wilson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Make election season a season of prayer

August 27 2012 by Kevin Ezell, Baptist Press

If you are like me, sometimes it is a little difficult to keep a good attitude during presidential election season. I know I have a duty as a citizen and as a believer to participate in the process by exercising my right to vote. And I know I need to educate myself about the positions each candidate holds and vote for the one who will best reflect godly values once in office.
But at the same time, my attitude can’t help but be clouded by past disappointments and the reality that it seems like even the best leaders let us down. And doesn’t it also seem that just when we take a step forward in the public square, something else happens that sets us back two steps?
But then I realize that all the shortcomings of our leaders and our political process are exactly why Christians need to be engaged and involved.
Our anchor holds to something much more solid than a candidate or a party platform or a president.
As with all of our institutions, we shouldn’t be surprised when people fail us or outcomes disappoint. But we should always hold these to a higher standard.
Democracy is not perfect, but I believe it is the best way God has given man to govern on earth. The failures of our process and our leaders should only remind us that we cannot put our ultimate faith in that process.
The North American Mission Board is privileged once again to partner with our friends at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention to promote the 40/40 Prayer Vigil.

I hope you and your church will take this challenge to heart and commit to praying for our nation, our leaders and for our own personal revival and renewal.
Most of all, I believe as Southern Baptists that we need to humbly ask God to break our hearts for those in North America and throughout the world who do not know Him.
We know that Jesus is in the business of changing lives and bringing hope to hopeless situations.
Are you seeing some situations in our nation today that look hopeless? Let’s introduce more of our neighbors and friends to the One who will bring hope. When hearts are changed, the direction of our cities and states and our nation will change.
I am moved and inspired by those pastors and evangelists from our nation’s early years who faced great odds and confronted rampant immorality, yet saw God work in remarkable ways.
Jonathan Edwards, describing the impact of Jesus in the lives of people in one New England town, said there was such a transformation that the entire town “seemed to be full of the presence of God.”
Imagine if a similar trend swept our nation today. Let’s make that our prayer.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kevin Ezell is president of the North American Mission Board.)
This column is part of a series Baptist Press has published in anticipation of the 40/40 Prayer Vigil for Spiritual Revival and National Renewal. The 40/40 Prayer Vigil is an initiative of the North American Mission Board and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission to encourage Southern Baptists and other evangelicals to pray for 40 days from Sept. 26 to Nov. 4 and the 40 hours around election day. Visit

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8/27/2012 2:28:38 PM by Kevin Ezell, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The need for cooperative missions

August 24 2012 by John Yeats, Baptist Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A few weeks ago, I received a letter from Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board (IMB). His letter was primarily a challenge specifically written to the IMB personnel. However, it serves as a challenge for all of us to awaken to the urgency of the hour.

Here is an excerpt from Dr. Elliff’s letter:

“Here is the issue we must address: Over the past 30 years the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) experienced a ‘first’ for evangelical conventions and denominations. For the first time in history, a major entity that was drifting to the left and losing its appreciation of the Word of God as inerrant, inspired and infallible, made a significant turn to the right!

“Southern Baptists, in what has been called the ‘Conservative Resurgence,’ waged a battle for the Bible, and now enjoy the fruit of victory with record enrollment in our institutions, led by entity heads, pastors, churches and mission personnel who embrace a high view of the Word and a pure understanding of the gospel.

“But it appears that we were then much more energized over saving the Word from liberalism than we are now about sharing the Word with the lost. To be perfectly honest, there are bright and remarkable churches, entities, and state conventions that stand out as exceptions to this statement. These churches and entities are embracing the Great Commission in an aggressive, creative and sacrificial manner. But they are still the exception in the SBC ... not the rule, as the statistics sadly reveal.

“Ironically, during the conservative resurgence, the enemy of liberalism was clearly and boldly depicted, and we joined ranks to rise up and defeat him. Yet now the Enemy is the same! We are in danger of becoming theoretical conservatives but practicing liberals, arising each day with little sense of urgency to fulfill the Great Commission.

“At the same time, we have put aside the necessity of working together, a hallmark of the Conservative Resurgence, and drifted into a dangerous and prideful state of independence and isolationism. May God help us!

“So I am calling on you, our IMB mission personnel, and on any churches, entities and state conventions of the SBC who are committed to aggressively living out the Great Commission, to rise up with us in restoring the lost sense of cooperation, urgency and zeal for missions that must attend these days.”

As I read these passionate words, it caused me to take inventory of my own behavior. Am I engaged in cooperatively reaching the lost in such a way that it brings pleasure to my Lord? Does my lifestyle demonstrate God’s desire for His people to cooperate with urgency and passion to reach the lost in this world?

Some will say, “Preacher, the poor economy is the reason our cooperative mission dollars are faltering.” Is that really the case? Or is it because “cooperative missions” is too often the church’s easy target for adjusting a tight budget or limited cash flow? It is tough for church leaders to faithfully prioritize the resources God gives through His people. Are we faithful stewards to His agenda that reaches out to lost people here and there in the outermost?

Or is it because of something I heard a deacon in another state say, “We like sending our dollars where we can see some good”? You cannot see everyone who is supported by the Cooperative Program.

More than half of our Southern Baptist international missionaries are in high security areas. You cannot see all the mission work that occurs every day in Missouri or that occurs with a chaplain in the military or that occurs with a campus missionary – on and on the list could go. The amount of ministry and evangelism accomplished through the Cooperative Program is mindboggling.

You may not see these missionaries and ministries but you support them through the percentage your church gives through the Cooperative Program. You are the one holding the rope, the life-line for missions.

There were days not too long ago when the passion for cooperative missions burned brightly in the hearts of Southern Baptists. In those days, it was not uncommon for local churches to send double-digit percentages through the Cooperative Program to our great mission works in our states, nation and the world.

If our average CP giving ever rises to double digits, that would reflect something that only God can do. Only He can turn our hearts away from what we are doing and what we control and cause us to give our resources to what we cannot see. That would be a revival of great faith.

Some churches are moving forward with an incremental strategy to increase support for cooperative ministries. Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, has challenged Southern Baptist churches to prayerfully consider a “1 percent challenge” – adding 1 percent to the previous year’s percentage of giving through the Cooperative Program. If each of our churches did that, it would demonstrate the power of cooperative giving. If not 1 percent, what about a half percent?

More importantly, let’s approach our cooperative mission giving with the passion of someone rescuing a soul from an eternity of separation from God who loves.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Yeats is executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention and recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared at his blog,
8/24/2012 2:45:44 PM by John Yeats, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The ‘disease of Me’

August 23 2012 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Legendary NBA basketball coach Pat Riley has led multiple teams stocked with superstars, so he knows something about dealing with egos.

He also knows about winning and losing. What prevents potentially great teams from winning championships, in his view? Not lack of size, speed or talent. Rather, they are sabotaged by what Riley calls the “disease of Me.” Selfish stars focus on themselves. They resent others getting any glory. They’re frustrated, even when the team is winning, if things aren’t going their way.

“The most difficult thing for individuals to do when they become part of a team is to sacrifice,” Riley says. “It is much easier to be selfish.”

That pretty much describes the central challenge of the spiritual life. Following Christ requires sacrificing your own agenda. To do that, you have to get your eyes off yourself – and onto Him. You don’t have to be a superstar to struggle with that. As human beings, our natural tendency is to focus on ourselves, our wants and our needs. Others, including the Lord, get the leftovers.

“I start many sentences both out loud and in my heart with the words, ‘I feel like ...,’” admits a missionary in her most recent blog post. “That’s such a dangerous place for me. I’m a feeler and a discerner and many times that gets me in trouble, spiritually speaking. It causes me to presume that things are a certain way and that people think certain things about me. It makes me focus on myself. The enemy loves to use this in my life – to make me forget that it’s not about me at all.”

Why is it so hard to keep our eyes on Jesus? Sometimes it’s because we don’t believe He is enough. We want Him, but we want other things, too. Comfort. Perks. Recognition. Guarantees. Safety and security. Roadmaps. Faith doesn’t work that way.

Brad Bessent, a missions-hearted pastor who has taught me a lot, gets to the heart of the matter in a reflection on the Gospel of Luke, chapter 5: “Jesus calls Levi, a tax collector, to follow Him. The thing is, tax collectors were the scum of the earth. They were extortionists and hated by everyone. But Jesus says to Levi, ‘I want you.’ He had already assembled a pretty motley crew, a mosaic of people. Fishermen, a leper, a paralytic, all in the same chapter, and now Levi (also called Matthew).

“When Jesus calls, Levi gives up everything to follow Jesus. He was a wealthy man and he left all of that behind him. When you follow Jesus, there is only one guarantee. You are not guaranteed security; you are not guaranteed safety; you are not even guaranteed shelter. All you are absolutely guaranteed is if you follow Jesus, you will get Jesus. So everyone considering becoming a believer has to decide: Is Jesus enough?”

For Levi, Jesus was enough. And he believed Jesus was enough for everyone else. Before leaving all he had to follow the Master, he threw a big party at his house, gathered all his lowlife friends and invited Jesus as the honored guest and center of attention. Levi didn’t say, “Look at me and what I’m doing,” although his friends surely noticed the radical change in his life. Instead, he pointed his friends toward Christ.

Levi has something crucial to teach us today, whether we are reaching out to our own fallen culture or to an unreached people group far away: Jesus is enough, and we must point searching people toward Him alone.

Missionaries learned that truth in a particularly resistant area of Asia that had long been known as a “graveyard of missions.” Christian workers tried again and again to confront the evil practices accepted in the culture, to no avail. They tried to introduce their own customs and values – and failed miserably. At the edge of despair, they remembered Christ’s words: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32). They stopped cursing the darkness and began lifting up the Light that shines in the darkness. At last, seekers became followers, and a Christian church movement was born.

“Missions exists because worship doesn’t,” John Piper declares. But the most effective form of missions is worship – lifting Christ over all things. “Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. ... The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. ... ‘Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy’” (Psalm 67:3-4a).

Culture warriors and social justice seekers, take note. You can battle the encroachments of secularism, humanism, greed and injustice all you want, and you might succeed – for a while. But pasting Christian values onto fallen cultures is like putting makeup on a corpse. Without the transforming power of Christ Himself, Christian social and political movements inevitably falter.

It is a matter of focus. Are your eyes focused on the world, on yourself or on Jesus? Jesus says, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9b).

A great old hymn puts it this way: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is International Mission Board global correspondent. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at Listen to an audio version at
8/23/2012 1:21:18 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The gospel bears fruit – even if we don’t see it

August 22 2012 by Jeff Christopherson, Baptist Press

TORONTO, Ont. – This story, my story, changed my view of success.

Allan and Helen Christopherson married June 4, 1960, in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada. With only an eighth-grade education, Allan supported his young family cleaning beer storage tanks at Molson’s brewery. His salary package included only one benefit – free beer. As with many at the plant, alcoholism was the trajectory of his career.

Then one weekend evening in 1967 my parents hired a babysitter and drove their black 1958 VW Beetle to the Orpheum Theatre. For $1.20, and by a “fluke,” they watched the movie “The Restless Ones,” produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

The plot soon captured their attention, and they were engrossed in the human struggle flickering before them. Then they experienced a far more personal internal struggle.

In a final scene Billy Graham’s preaching emanated from a car radio, and my dad clasped my mom’s hand as they wrestled with the conviction of the living Christ.

The film soon reached its conclusion, and a middle-aged man, in suit and tie, strolled center stage. If anyone wished to respond to Christ, he said, they could come pray with him. He patiently waited. No one came.

But God wasn’t finished.

In the comfort of their car outside the Orpheum, Allan and Helen surrendered their past, present and future to Jesus Christ. Immediately God led Allan through faith steps: quitting his job at Molson’s, learning a new trade (welding) and eventually meeting a quiet and intense man God would use to change our family.

His name was Jack Conner, and he would help my dad, the beer-barrel-cleaner-turned-welder, see his place in God’s mission in Canada. That movie screening of The Restless Ones and my dad’s friendship with and discipleship under Jack Conner are two reasons my sister and I have a heart for missions.

Pastor Conner expected barbers and carpenters and schoolteachers and accountants and welders to carry the Good News. Soon, new churches were dotting the maps of towns, villages and native reservations.

Fast-forward 35 years. My father was invited to be on an interdenominational leadership team to host a Franklin Graham Crusade in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

This is the crescendo.

The chairman of the initiative made some introductory comments and then made a request: “I would like us to spend our first few moments celebrating what God has already done through the ministry of the Grahams. Would two or three of you in this room want to come to the microphone and share?”

My dad’s heart began to race. He sensed God saying, “Share your story.” Yet his flesh said, “You’re just a welder.” Before he knew it, he stood and was speaking about that day in 1967 and “The Restless Ones” at the Orpheum Theatre, about a skipped altar call and an encounter with Christ in a VW Beetle. He told about the church they’d found and those two small children who were now spending their lives starting new churches in Toronto and across Chile. “I do not know how many hundreds of lives are now in the Kingdom because my wife and I went to the movies that day,” he added.

Silence filled the room. Then an elderly man slowly made his way straight to my dad. Tears streaming, he stammered: “Hello Allan, my name is Tom Dice. I am a retired family counselor in the area. I want you to know something, Allan. God asked me to bring that movie to Prince Albert. I rallied my friends and colleagues, and we really expected great things to happen. Night after night we played the movie and night after night I stood before the audience and asked them to respond to Christ. Night after night I went home very disappointed. Until this day, to my knowledge, nobody ever responded. I thought my project was a failure. I wondered if I had heard God right in the first place. But I did hear Him, Allan. Now I see that it wasn’t a failure.” He embraced my dad and said, “Now I see. Praise Jesus, now I see.”

Pastors, I hope you also see that you serve a God whose gospel bears fruit, even if you can’t see it. I stand as evidence of this.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Christopherson is the North American Mission Board’s regional vice president for Canada and the Northeast. This excerpt is from his book “Kingdom Matrix: Designing a Church for the Kingdom of God” (Russell Media, 2012). Available for purchase at Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to North American missions.)
8/22/2012 1:23:06 PM by Jeff Christopherson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pastor, abandon not the flock

August 21 2012 by Ben Simpson, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, Tenn. – The stillness of the night is shattered by the howl of a hungry wolf, making the wool of the sheep stand on end in terror like an electric shock just ran through it. Those little sheep really have nothing to fear as long as their brave and strong shepherd stands watching, ready to defend his sheep with his very life. The shepherd, who is a stalwart specimen of manhood, eyes the darkness to see from which way the wolf might come and then picks up his staff to ... run the other direction?! Hey, wait ... where’s ... where’s the shepherd going? What about your sheep?!

That man by anybody’s standard would be a bad shepherd. He might feed the sheep, water the sheep, and interact with the sheep, but to abandon the sheep in their greatest moment of need nullifies the good he had done.

Jesus seemed to think so, as well, as He figuratively spoke of Himself as a shepherd and of people as sheep. He called Himself the Good Shepherd and defined that label as a shepherd who cares so much for the sheep that he puts his life on the line for them instead of running away (John 10:11-13).

Undoubtedly, Jesus is the Good Shepherd and will one day personally shepherd His flock when He returns, but for the meantime, He has placed men over His flock who are supposed to be good shepherds, as well. These “pastors,” a word derived from the Latin word for “shepherd,” are ultimately measured by Jesus’ definition of a good shepherd.

I have been a pastor now for a decade and long very much to be a good shepherd. Yet, I have to be honest and admit that I am often tempted – when the wolf howls – to grab my things with haste and run. The wolf takes many forms for pastors: conflict in the church, financial issues, egregious sin in the lives of congregants, discouragement over personal shortcomings or the shortcomings of the church body, difficult people, discontent with your leadership or preaching.

But before you jump up and run away into the night for safety and ease, consider:

1. Your leaving should only be by the permission of God.

Paul told the Ephesian elders to “be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood,” (Acts 20:28). You have been called and placed by God where you are. Since this is true, it’s not up to you when to leave. He called you go there, and He will call you to leave there. Until then, stand and persevere against the wolf!

2. Your leaving very well may cause you to miss something glorious that God is doing.

The 16th-century Reformers rallied around the slogan “after darkness, light.” Scripture and history prove that saying to be wise. It’s often the darkest of hours that precede glorious days of light. Stay put and rest in the sovereignty of God who “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose,” (Romans 8:28). Light is coming!

3. Your leaving could erode the trust of the sheep for the next shepherd.

In a field, when you leave the sheep to the wolf, he likely will get a few of them, but those that remain will still be vulnerable even after they have a new shepherd because they won’t trust him. They’ll expect him to run when the wolf comes, leaving that next pastor an uphill climb to gain the trust of the sheep, which will cause ministry to be greatly hindered. Step back, and look at the long-term, big picture. What effect will your leaving the sheep to the wolf have on the church for years to come?

4. Your leaving might say something about your pastoral motivation.

Jesus says that hirelings run away when the wolf appears (John 10:12). They are shepherding primarily for selfish reasons – what they can get out of it – and when the wolf shows up, a quick cost-benefit calculation leads the hireling to decide that the sheep and the benefits aren’t worth the trouble of dealing with the wolf. “They don’t pay me enough to mess with that!” the hireling says. In contrast, Jesus wasn’t concerned about what He was getting, but whom He was serving. In fact, Jesus came not to be served but to be serve (Mark 10:45), and that caused Him to be willing to face the wolf even if it meant death. He was that concerned for the sheep! Is that same mentality in you? Ask yourself why you are pastoring and why you are thinking about leaving your flock. What motivation surfaces? Is it Christ-like?

5. Your leaving might be based on what you can do instead of what God can do.

We look at situations and say in our flesh, “it’s hopeless,” but is that declaration ever true in light of the God of the Bible? No way! We who walk by faith and not by sight say with Jeremiah, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, ... nothing is too hard for You!” (Jeremiah 32:17). We often run away because we think that the wolf is too much for us, the whole time being right but forgetting that God will face the wolf with us. Alone, the wolf wins, but with God, the wolf loses. Don’t base your decision to leave upon what you can do. Keep in mind what God, the one with whom all things are possible (Matthew 19:26), can do.

Brother Pastor, when the wolf howls outside the sheepfold, abandon not the flock. May you stand firm against him and endure for the sake of the sheep and the glory of Christ, the Chief Shepherd.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ben Simpson is pastor of West Main Baptist Church in Alexandria, Tenn.)
8/21/2012 1:01:07 PM by Ben Simpson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

In London, venturing among the unreached

August 20 2012 by Ava Thomas, Baptist Press

LONDON – “Jesus will keep you from going straight to hell!”
The Caribbean lady shouted until her voice went hoarse, parting the multicultural sea exiting a London mall as she stood preaching in the doorway.

Young girls with covered heads gawked at her as they passed by. What was that look? Wonder? Fear? Revulsion?

It was hard to say.

Looking at them, they’d come from everywhere, possibly places where most Americans can’t go. I wondered if this moment was the first time they had heard the name of Jesus here in London or in their home countries – and if so, what they thought of Him now.

There was only one way to find out.


Asking is a part of my job as a writer in Europe for the International Mission Board (IMB). But this week the questions were being posed as part of an ethnographic research class from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

We were student researchers, there to help the IMB’s London team find unreached people groups – identify where they live, eat, shop and worship. In the morning, our professor prepped us on research procedures and cross-cultural issues; in the afternoons we went out to practice what we had learned.

The residents of London’s Stratford community where the Olympic Park is located are so diverse you could grab the first 20 people you saw and few, if any, would be of the same ethnicity. As people groups, they’re splintered, largely choosing not to live in enclaves for social, financial and political reasons.

Add to that the fact that they walk with their heads down, constantly buffeted in their neighborhoods by street preachers and charity solicitors, and a student researcher has got a challenge.

“Hi, I’m a student doing research, and I just wanted to ask you three quick ...”

“I’m sorry, I have no time,” one lady said, even though she was sitting alone in her shop on the street with no customers.

It’s easy when you read about the IMB’s varied initiatives to go straight to the hands-on work, or use the statistics and strategy without thinking about where they came from.

But someone had to learn the ropes of ethnographic research and do the legwork of figuring out who’s where, who’s open to conversations and how to meet their needs strategically.

“Hi, how are you?” I asked, sidling up to a woman covered in black so that only her face was showing. She was leaning against a coffeehouse watching the woman preaching nearby.

She was well. We struck up a conversation. She was Somali by birth. Highly educated. Working as an interpreter but felt because of her dress and religious background no one treated her with the respect she deserved. Her eyes smiled when she spoke.

“Thank you for talking to me. People rarely take me seriously,” she said.

Somalia, a very closed country, has eight unengaged unreached people groups (UUPGs), some or all of which may have representation in London. That afternoon, she was the fourth Somali woman I talked to at length in the same hour while others turned us away. The Somalis seemed just waiting for someone to talk to them.

I think we found something.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board based in Europe. She is also a distance student of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)

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8/20/2012 2:17:22 PM by Ava Thomas, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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