August 2013

Engage gospel against racial strife

August 30 2013 by Jarvis J. Williams, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Civil Rights movement in the second half of the 20th century worked ferociously to secure equal rights for people of color, especially African-Americans. Many women and men, both black and white, sacrificed time, money and the high price of their own lives in order to end racial discrimination by means of boycotts, rallies, freedom rides and impassioned speeches against the sin and evil of racism.
 
The Aug. 28, 1963 March on Washington was one of the largest civil liberties rallies in the history of the United States. The march featured Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I have a Dream” speech, in which the civil rights leader movingly argued for equal rights and racial harmony for all people. Both the march and King’s speech certainly impacted the culture’s attitude toward race and racial harmony.
 
However, as the days and months after King’s speech demonstrated and as our nation’s current racial tensions illustrate, the march was unable to eradicate racism and incapable of universally accomplishing racial equality. The reason is quite simple: the march, as significant as it was, could not change the human heart inclined toward sin.
 
To the contrary the Gospel of Jesus Christ when faithfully lived, preached, and taught, can in fact eradicate all forms of racial hostility. As I suggested in my book on racial reconciliation, “One New Man,” the Bible confirms that sin is the reason racism exists; Jesus’ death and resurrection are God’s provision for racial reconciliation, and Jesus actually accomplished racial reconciliation for believers. Further, racial reconciliation must be intentionally pursued and can be experienced by those within the Christian community who believe, love and live for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
 

Birth of racial enmity

In Genesis 1-2, Moses states that God created a perfect world without sin. Humanity in its original pristine form was reconciled both to God and to one another. But after Adam and Eve violated God’s command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17), sin devastated God’s original creation. The hostility between humanity as a result of sin illustrates the universal power of sin over human relationships.
 
Prior to the fall, humans were in perfect harmony with our creator, creation and one another (Genesis 1-2). When Cain murdered his brother Abel, (Genesis 4:8) it was a consequence of Adam’s sin in the garden (Genesis 3:15). Furthermore, because of the sin of idolatry, God confused humanity’s one speech into different dialects with the result that humanity became more alienated from one another (Genesis. 11:1-9).
 
A key New Testament passage by Paul discusses the division between different dialects and different people groups, and God’s solution to the division (Ephesians 2:11-22). When speaking of Jews and Gentiles, Paul asserts that the Gentiles were separated from all of God’s promises to Israel (Ephesians 2:11-12). However, he asserts that Jesus’ death incorporates Gentile Christians into God’s family along with Jewish Christians by means of faith (Ephesians 2:13).
 

Godly racial reconciliation

Paul declares that Jesus’ death unites believing Jews and believing Gentiles into one new humanity by killing the enmity between them, namely the law (Ephesians 2:14-16). Finally, Paul asserts that Jesus’ death grants both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians access to the one true living God and the same Holy Spirit, and makes them citizens within the same household, whose foundation is the apostles, the prophets, and the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:18-22).
 
Of course, the ethno-racial problems between Jews and Gentiles are not the same as ethno-racial problems still prevalent on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Washington march. For example, the racial harmony that Paul discusses in Ephesians 2 has nothing to do with skin color.
 
Nevertheless, Paul’s words in Ephesians precisely speak to us today. For example, he reminds us that the division within humanity is not only a black and white problem, because sin is a universal power that enslaves every ethnicity and causes divisions between them (see Romans 1:18-32, 6:1-23; Galatians 2:11-14). Jews and Gentiles, all ethnic groups, are alienated from one another.
 
In addition, Paul reminds us that the provision for racial harmony is not civil rights rallies and well-attended marches, as helpful as they can be, because he promulgates that Jesus Christ himself actually accomplished racial reconciliation for His followers.
 
The Bible emphasizes the universal power of sin over humanity, the universal effects of sin over humanity and the alienation of humanity because of sin. Paul presents the only solution to this massive problem of racial alienation as the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May the churches, therefore, be vigilant to promote and preach a God-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-filled, and gospel-centered message of racial harmony, and may they be intentional to achieve this in the church, in the academy and in the world.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jarvis Williams is associate professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He has written and spoken widely on the subject of biblical racial reconciliation and is the author of One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology.)
8/30/2013 10:12:13 AM by Jarvis J. Williams, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Martin Luther King Jr.'s preaching

August 28 2013 by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – This week the nation marks 50 years since the 1963 March on Washington. The most famous moment of that historic event is, of course, the speech by Martin Luther King Jr., now one of the most iconic speeches in American history. The refrain of that speech is one that is so embedded in the American memory that most people know the speech simply as the “I have a dream” speech. There are some things about that speech that likely could inform Christian preaching today.
 
The primary lesson we need to learn from this speech is the way it spoke to the conscience. Part of the gravity of this speech came from its location, before the monument to the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln. Part of the gravity came from the surroundings, a mighty throng of men, women and children gathered in the nation’s capital to ask for the cashing of that metaphorical “check” of equality guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence.
 
But a great deal of the power behind this speech came from the way King was pressing a claim onto the consciences of those who heard his voice.
 
He started with a contrast between the promised end to the injustice of slavery and the ongoing injustice of Jim Crow. This contrast is similar in content, though different somewhat in rhetoric, to King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Against the so-called “white moderates” who counseled “patience,” King pointed out “an appalling condition” – that Americans were still, in large numbers, exiles in their own land. With such injustice, there was no room for the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”
 
What was King doing here? He was doing precisely what the Old Testament prophets did with Israel and Judah, pointing out sin and judgment, warning implicitly of the justice of God.
 
We often hear caricatures of evangelical “hellfire and brimstone” preaching. But I don’t think I’ve heard a hellfire and brimstone sermon in years. Most evangelical churches breezily converse about sin in terms of consequences to be avoided. In fact, most of the preaching I hear on sin and judgment sounds an awful lot like my dentist telling me I should really floss more. I feel guilty and I know he’s right, but it hardly feels like a transcendent word – because it isn’t.
 
King’s words, though, intentionally were resonant with the cadence of the King James Bible because he was speaking a word of judgment to a Bible Belt who knew that Bible. He wanted to confront consciences with what they said they believed. Whatever King’s personal doctrinal commitments were or weren’t, he didn’t preach Fosdick, Tillich or Niebuhr. He preached Jefferson and Madison and Lincoln to Americans, and he preached Amos and Isaiah and Jesus to Christians. And when the regenerate conscience is confronted with Jesus, remember what the Shepherd of Galilee said, “My sheep hear my voice ....”
 
But King didn’t simply preach judgment. After all, Malcolm X could preach judgment, and did early in his activism, in harshly nationalist Islamic terms. King knew that his argument wouldn’t resonate with Christian consciences unless it appealed to the Christ-haunted imagination. That’s why he spoke of a dream.
 
What King did was to enable his hearers to imagine what it would be like if the appalling condition were reversed – if freedom were to ring “from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.” He also didn’t picture this future as simply liberation for African Americans. He recognized that hatred is a heavy burden on the heart and the conscience. Those singing “Free at last!” aren’t just black men and women, but all people. His future is one in which “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.”
 
Where did King learn to speak with fiery denunciation and with welcoming invitation in the same speech? Well, I would suggest he learned it in church pews, listening to the preaching of the Gospel. He saw there a vision that doesn’t leave sin undisturbed. Jesus, as with the prophets before Him and the apostles after, consistently called out sin, and not merely in generic abstract terms but in all the ways sinners creatively find to consider our sins acceptable. Jesus often stops people who want to follow Him by pointing out that He isn’t sure they understood how His Gospel contradicts their lives.
 
But in the Bible, Gospel preaching never left off with condemnation. Jesus presents a Kingdom that He pictures consistently as including those who would never feel themselves welcomed. He asks us to picture what it would be like to join His little flock of future galactic servant-rulers. He asks us to imagine what, left to ourselves, we would never imagine, that the Gospel is really good news for us. It’s meant to leave us with the sort of shock that I remember from an old gospel song we used to sing in my boyhood church, “Whosoever surely meaneth me!”
 
I wonder how much weightier our preaching would be if we remembered to thunder God’s justice while always following with God’s welcome, through the proclamation of a God who in the crucified Christ is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).
 
As we remember 50 years of that monumental March on Washington, let’s remind ourselves of how far we have to go as Americans to see the promise of racial justice realized. Let’s remember how far we have to go as Christians to see Gospel unity in our own congregations. But let’s also think about the fact that there’s a reason this speech is still on our minds after 50 years, and maybe we could learn something in our Gospel preaching about what it takes to address both the conscience and the imagination.
 
Most of us will never address thousands of people before a statue of Lincoln. But many of us will stand in front of our small gatherings, before an unseen multitude of angels and the great cloud of witnesses. Let’s preach to the conscience. Let’s preach to the imagination. Let’s preach the bad news with thunder and the good news with laughter. Let’s identify where we’re trying to hide from God’s judgment and where we’re trying to hide from His invitation.
 
Let’s be hellfire-and-Kingdom preachers who know how both to warn and to welcome, how both to weep and to dream.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
8/28/2013 2:43:45 PM by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The Outcast Camp & other invisible people

August 28 2013 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Here’s a handy back-to-school tip: Make friends with that pimple-faced kid sitting alone in the back of the classroom.
 
You know the one. Nobody wants to be around him because he’s weird. He doesn't belong to a group, except for maybe the losers. He smells funny. All the cool people make fun of him. The jocks push him around. If you talk to him, he either freezes up or gives you an excruciatingly detailed description of his comic book collection.
 
Talk to him anyway. Not out of pity. Not because he might become the next Bill Gates. Do it because Jesus would.
 
The Lord left the flock to search for the lost sheep. He associated with the lowly and He touched lepers. He endured personal rejection and shame, even unto the cross. So if Jesus were in your classroom this year, where do you think He would sit? If He lived in your town, where would He hang out?
 
God loves the whole world, but He has special compassion for the rejected, the forgotten and the neglected. “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18).
 
Ten minutes outside an African city lies a place that’s easy to miss. Few people talk about it. It’s called the Outcast Camp. It is home to 90 women and children who have been accused of witchcraft.
 
“The majority of these women have been abandoned by their husbands, parents and friends. They are forced to farm the chief’s land in return for their safety. They are outcasts of society,” a missionary writes. “We go twice a month to share Bible stories. We facilitate volunteers and churches in America coming to help ensure these women are loved and cared for. When a woman is able to leave the camp and return to her village, we help her transition back. We are excited for this opportunity.
 
“Please pray for these women and children. Pray for their eyes to be opened to the truths of the Gospel. Pray they would know that though they are outcasts in society, in God’s eyes, they are worthy and someone for whom Christ died.”
 
Whole peoples and ethnic groups have been treated as outcasts through the ages. The Jews. The Roma (Gypsies) of Europe. Bedouin of the Middle East. The Kurds, caught between multiple nations. Untouchables in caste-ruled parts of India. Tribal peoples. Mountain peoples.
 
Mountain communities “were often isolated not only from the outside world but also from each other, even when they were not very far apart as the crow flies, but were separated by rugged mountain terrain,” says economist Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. “A pattern of poverty and backwardness could be found from the Appalachian Mountains in the United States to the Rif Mountains of Morocco, the Pindus Mountains of Greece and the mountains and uplands of Ceylon, Taiwan, Albania and Scotland.”
 
Even when they migrate to dominant cultural centers – willingly or after being driven from their traditional homes by war, persecution and other factors –  
forgotten people often remain invisible in plain sight.
 
The United States leads all nations of the world as a destination for migrants, the Pew Research Center reported last year. With 43 million foreign-born residents, America is home to one of every five migrants worldwide. According to mission research, nearly 600 unengaged, unreached people groups also can be found in North America. They have yet to hear the Gospel in ways they can understand it and respond to it. Up to eight of every 10 refugees resettled in the United States come from unreached areas of the world.
 
Yet 20 percent of all the non-Christians in North America don’t even “personally know” a Christian, according to new research from Gordon-Conwell’s Center for the Study of Global Christianity. The top reason: immigration. Newly arrived Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims or non-religious people move into ethnic enclaves – or right next door – and no Christian attempts to meet, greet or welcome them. True, churches and church folk are the main sponsors of incoming refugees and have been since at least the 1970s. But that doesn’t make up for the waves of immigrants who find no hospitality at all.
 
“Why does our compassion so often scab over in response to those closest, and most unlike us, even as our hearts burn with passion for ‘those in need’ who are far off?” Melody J. Wachsmuth asks in Mission Frontiers magazine. “Perhaps Jesus told His parable of the Good Samaritan in order to elicit a visceral reaction regarding the true challenge of loving our neighbor – a reaction we can experience today if we take out the word Samaritan and insert a neighbor with whom we share close physical proximity but try to avoid.”
 
It’s not as hard as you think. It’s like talking to that kid in the back of the classroom: A little kindness goes a long way.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent whose column appears twice monthly in Baptist Press. Visit WorldView Conversation, the blog related to this column.)
8/28/2013 2:40:26 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The moment of truth is coming

August 26 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – A  moment of truth is rapidly approaching for those who believe homosexuality is an immoral, aberrant behavior. The choice will be whether to capitulate to a culture that asserts, without evidence, homosexuality is natural, normal and healthy, or to insist it is sinful and suffer consequences.
 
The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled Aug. 22 against a wedding photographer who refused to contract with a homosexual couple to photograph a “commitment ceremony.” The court upheld a decision by a state agency that found the photographer had violated state law.
 
Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that advocates for religious liberty and that defended the photography company, described the situation in a news release.
 
In 2006, Vanessa Willock, one half of a lesbian couple, contacted Elaine Huguenin about photographing a commitment ceremony to be held in Taos, N.M. Huguenin co-owns Elane Photography, located in Albuquerque, N.M., with her husband.
 
Willock communicated that the ceremony was designed to celebrate her homosexual relationship. Huguenin declined the business because she and her husband are Christians and hold the conviction that homosexuality is a sin. They wanted no part of celebrating that which they believe is wrong.
 
Though Willock found another photographer, she filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. The commission ruled that Elane Photography had engaged in sexual orientation discrimination, which is prohibited by state law. The photography company was ordered to pay $6,637.94 in attorney's fees to the lesbian couple.
 
There is much that is troubling about the New Mexico Supreme Court’s decision, but the most disturbing thoughts were conveyed by Justice Richard Bosson, who offered a concurring opinion.
 
“The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead,” Bosson wrote. “The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more. But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.”
 
Bosson continued, “In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different.
 
“That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.”
 
The Huguenins, Bosson wrote “now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives. Though the rule of law requires it, the result is sobering. It will no doubt leave a tangible mark on the Huguenins and others of similar views.”
 
The message sent by the New Mexico Supreme Court and Justice Bosson is clear: religious conviction is a private matter. You can believe what you want, but you must keep your deeply held convictions to yourself if you are to participate in society.
 
What is disturbing is that the ruling rejected outright one of Huguenin’s arguments. It was made clear she does not object to homosexual people. She objected to photographing a ceremony designed to celebrate homosexual marriage – a relationship the state of New Mexico does not even recognize.
 
Huguenin was willing to turn down business for the sake of maintaining her conscience. She gladly lost money rather than compromise her convictions. But the court said she cannot do that in New Mexico.
 
The U.S. Supreme Court set the stage for the New Mexico ruling in June with its twin decisions in support of gay marriage. It seems that it is only a matter of time before other state courts will follow.
 
It is worth noting that neither gay marriage nor civil unions are legal in New Mexico. Additionally, there has not been one single, definitive, scientific study that has established that homosexuality is innate. Thus, two courts have made unprecedented rulings that have, for all practical purposes, conveyed civil rights upon a behavior.
 
The push to have homosexuality accepted as natural, normal and healthy in the United States knows no compromise. The movement to have homosexuality celebrated in America will not stop, nor will it be satisfied, until all voices that would even whisper it is sinful are squelched.
 
Homosexual activists have long used their free speech right to publically advocate for their aberrant lifestyle. Many of these same activists now use almost any means possible to restrict the freedom of speech of those who believe their lifestyle is wrong. Can you say ironic?
 
“In matters of style, swim with the current,” Thomas Jefferson said. “In matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Good advice from America’s third president. In light of recent court decisions, it is especially applicable.
 
If the trend toward the celebration of homosexuality as natural, normal and healthy continues in America, and likely it will, people with deep-seated convictions will have a decision to make. When the moment of truth arrives, the choice will be whether to stand firm against the current of popular culture or float along downstream like a dead fish.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.) 
8/26/2013 1:48:55 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



The basics of a dynamic faith

August 23 2013 by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press

EL CAJON, Calif. – None of us set out to live a mediocre spiritual life. But in the midst of our busy schedules, many of us have forgotten something very important. We have forgotten to practice the basics that shape us as Christians. 


Getting back to the basics 

  • Worship. What is worship? Worship is seeing the things on earth in perspective to the things in heaven. When you understand what the Bible says about God in His majesty and power, you will be able to praise Him, no matter what your present circumstance. Worship God every day in your prayers, songs, thoughts and conversations. If you only practice praise on Sunday mornings, you’ll miss what God wants to do in your life the other six days of the week. 
  • Prayer. If you want to find out where you are spiritually, ask yourself this question: What is the level of my commitment to my prayer life? If you want the Lord’s blessing on your life, there just isn’t any alternative to prayer. Prayer is the way you defeat the devil, reach the lost, restore a backslider, strengthen the saints, send missionaries out, cure the sick, accomplish the impossible and know the will of God. Prayer is the hard-work business of Christianity, and it nets amazing results. 
  • Bible study. Reading the Bible takes discipline in the same way that exercise does. You can’t just do it when you feel like it. Set up a system in your life to study the Bible on a daily basis. The Bible not only provides information; it gives practical instructions for dynamic Christian living. When you read the Bible, ask yourself three important questions: What does the passage say? What does it mean? How can I apply it to my life? Find out what God says and do it.
  • Scripture memorization. Commit yourself to Bible memory. Sometimes you need a word from God immediately when there’s not a Bible available. If your mind is filled with the Word of God, then it can’t be filled with impure thoughts. Two things cannot occupy your mind at the same time. Psalm 119:11 says, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”
  • Journaling. A journal is simply a book in which you keep a personal record of your spiritual journey. Record your goals, prayers, thoughts or scriptures. Not only will the journal keep you accountable to spiritual disciplines, it will encourage you for years to come as you record God’s work in your life. 
  • Church fellowship. Is church membership really important? Some people claim that they can worship God from any location. So what makes the church necessary in my Christian experience? God never intended that any Christian should live in isolation. Hebrews 10:25 says that we need to “stir up love and good works” and to “exhort one another.” Be sure to find a church where you are spiritually fed and have opportunities to serve the body of Christ.
  • Giving. Giving may be the most neglected of the basics, and yet every single one of us is responsible for what we do with our money. God’s plan for our financial success is clear. Giving, or tithing, 10 percent of your income to your church not only provides for God’s work, it shows God that He is your priority. The Bible tells us that if you give generously to God, He will open the windows of heaven and pour out a great blessing into your life. 
  • Witnessing. When researcher George Barna asked Christian adults what their most important goal was in life, not a single person said to make disciples of Christ. Yet what was Jesus’ last command to us as believers? To make disciples of all the nations. 


Basic training

As you’ve been reading, were you reminded that you have slowly forgotten to practice one (or more) of these basics in your life? If so, it’s time to get back to basic training. With a specific basic in mind, ask yourself three important questions: What needs to change in my life to make time for the basic? What prevents me from making these changes? What are the consequences to my spiritual life if I do not change? 

It’s not always easy to practice the basics of a dynamic faith. But as you do, you will discover a life so full of God’s presence that you will never forget them again. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. For more information on Turning Point, visit www.DavidJeremiah.org. This column has been approved by Turning Point for redistribution in Baptist state newspapers and in Townhall.com. For permission to reprint it, contact Myrna Davis at mdavis@turningpointonline.org.)
8/23/2013 12:25:14 PM by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Lessons from the work bench

August 23 2013 by Randal Williams, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – As a young man, I worked in a small, family-owned meat market. Our primary business was to cut and wrap meat from livestock local farmers raised, slaughtered and brought to us. We would start early in the morning, take a quarter of beef or half a hog from the cooler, and within a matter of an hour or so, we would have it cut, wrapped and boxed for the owner to take home.

Most of the work we did revolved around using very sharp knives to section, break down, debone and process the meat. It did not take me long to learn that having a sharp knife made the work easier, safer and faster. In fact, I learned within the first week that the fastest way to keep my knife sharp was to use a “steel” to re-shape the edge of my blade. Just a few well-placed and well-timed honing strokes really made a difference.

Over the years as I have studied the book of Proverbs, I have noticed how often the simplest phrase can carry the greatest meaning. Proverbs 27:17 is a great case in point. I have often thought of the lessons I learned in using a steel to sharpen a knife. Many who are reading this have quoted this verse in discussing the importance of transparency and openness in genuine friendship. The verse has a beautiful symmetry: “Iron sharpens iron; so the countenance of a man sharpens the countenance of another.” I see several important lessons that I think the writer of this proverb intended for his readers to learn.

First: Just as iron will not sharpen iron unless there are two pieces, we need other believers to sharpen us. The beauty of the Christian faith is that God brings us into community with other believers. Christian discipleship is not a solo act; it is not an individual sport. With routine, frequent interaction between the knife blade and the sharpening steel, the knife blade remains straight and true and is able to accomplish much.

Second: Just as iron pieces can damage other iron pieces if they strike each other in the wrong way, we can dull each other if we are not careful. To be most effective, the knife blade must be drawn against the steel at a proper angle. We all know what happens when two pieces of steel clash into each other – dents and dings, maybe even sparks! The resulting dullness is counterproductive all the way around. Using spiritual tact and biblical wisdom, our goal is to help guide one another into the way of righteousness, holiness and peace.

Third: It is not always a pleasant experience being sharpened. Iron must reshape another piece of iron if it is going to make it sharp. The human spirit is created to be sensitive to God’s Spirit and malleable in God’s hands.

But, our spirits can also be rigid and unbending, especially when confronted with our imperfections by others. Regardless of who we are, the sharp edge of our usefulness in God’s Kingdom will be dulled through routine service. The longer we go without being sharpened, the more bent out of shape we become. A knife can become so dull that a few swipes across the knife steel are no longer sufficient. It must be taken to the knife sharpener or put on a stone to rebuild the edge.

Finally: Some individuals are better at using iron to sharpen iron. We need to make sure that we and our sharpening partners are in the right hands as we sharpen each other. In the right hands, the knife blade and knife steel work in harmony, creating a keen edge for effective service. In the hands of the novice, the knife can be an instrument of danger and death. 

Before we interact with one another, we must be sure that we have spent time alone with the Lord, drawing from His wisdom, power and strength. Only then are we ready to be used by Him to sharpen the countenance of a brother or sister in Christ.

Iron sharpens iron; so one man sharpens another.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Randal Williams is executive director of Seminary Extension, a ministry of the six Southern Baptist seminaries. This article first appeared in SBC Life, journal of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.)
8/23/2013 12:20:40 PM by Randal Williams, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Sharing Good News from Galatians

August 22 2013 by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Can you confess that the Spirit of Jesus dwells in you? Does He bear witness with your spirit that you have a personal relationship with Abba, Father?

These questions have become second nature to me the last few years. But it wasn’t always so.


Mentored in the gospel

The first time I asked someone if he would like to pray to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, I was unprepared for his answer.

Seven weeks before, during the final week of my sophomore year in high school, I had become a follower of Christ. On that Monday in May, I acknowledged that I was a sinner and placed my faith in Jesus. Thirteen days later I was baptized as a believer in Jesus Christ.

Gary Bryant, home for the summer from college, approached me after my baptism and asked if I had any plans for that Thursday. We met at the church building and I embarked on my first evangelistic visit as a Christ–follower.

Throughout the summer, Gary and I met each Thursday, visiting a few dozen high school students in the neighborhood. In early July, as a teenager opened the door at our knock, Gary stepped down from the stoop and said to me, “It’s your turn to talk.” Taken aback, I stammered around a bit. After a few minutes, Gary stepped in and shared the gospel with clarity and power.

Now, two weeks later, I had just shared my first complete gospel presentation, asking a fellow teen if he would like to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. I was prepared for rejection; I was unprepared for his “yes.”

Since that day, I’ve had the privilege to be present at the spiritual birth of many individuals. But, in recent years, even though I have learned numerous evangelistic methods including the Romans Road, Evangelism Explosion, Faith, Continuing Witness Training, Lay Evangelism School and Share Jesus without Fear, it has seemed more difficult to engage people in meaningful conversations about the gospel.

In our changing culture, many people no longer have even a general awareness of the gospel, although they still hunger for spiritual things. I began asking the Lord for a new “entry point” to engage people with the Good News of Jesus Christ, one that would create natural interest, opening doors for meaningful conversations on a deeply spiritual plane.

I found myself drawn again and again to Galatians 4:6, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’”

“Abba” – a relational entry point

The first time I used this text was when I shared the gospel with a young mother. Active in church, she knew all the right answers to the traditional gospel presentation. Grasping for an entry point that would move past “religion” to the gospel itself, I finally asked, “Does the Spirit that is ‘life in Christ’ dwell in you? Does He bear witness that you have a personal relationship with Abba, Father?” She looked at me for a long moment before saying, “I’m not sure what you mean, but, no, I don’t think so.”

I shared with her that Abba is an Aramaic word still used by Jewish people in their homes. It calls to mind the image of a healthy, wholesome, pure relationship between a loving dad and a trusting child. The child runs to her father, shouting with glee, “Abba! Abba!” much the way my own daughters would run down the hallway crying out “Daddy! Daddy!” when they heard my voice as I came in the door from work.

A daughter intuitively knows she is safe and secure in her father’s arms when he swings her up and around and gives her a big hug. A son knows he is accepted and respected when his dad laughingly swoops him high into the air and calls him by name.

This young mother’s response was so typical. “I’ve been a good person and tried to do the right things, but I’ve never had that kind of relationship with God.”

A few minutes later, she bowed her head in prayer and confessed her faith in Jesus Christ. Her husband, listening to the conversation, said, “What you’ve said really resonates with me. I was baptized when I was young; but a couple of years ago, after a morning worship service, I prayed to receive Christ. I need to get my baptism on the right side of my conversion.” Two weeks later, I had the precious privilege of baptizing both husband and wife as believers in Jesus.


Galatians 4 – the gospel in a nutshell

In conversation with an engaged couple two years ago, it was apparent that his nominal Baptist upbringing and her nominal Methodist upbringing had prepared them to give “right” answers to basic questions about their relationship with Jesus.

Trying to move us forward, I explained Galatians 4:4–7, elaborating briefly on each phrase:
  • The perfect timing of God – but when the fullness of the time had come . . .
  • The full deity of Jesus – God sent forth His Son . . .
  • The purposeful humanity of Jesus – born of a woman, born under the law . . .
  • The redemptive mission of Jesus – to redeem . . .
  • The problem of personal sin (compare Romans 8:3–4) – those who were under the law . . .
  • The saving act of Jesus – that we might receive the adoption as sons . . .
  • The judicial declaration of Jesus – Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son . . . And because you are sons . . .
  • The indwelling presence of Jesus – God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts . . .
  • The restored relationship through Jesus – crying out, “Abba, Father!” . . .
  • The eternal promise through Jesus – and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (NKJV).
By the time I asked them individually if, in their heart of hearts, they could confess, “I know that Jesus Christ is my Lord, and that, by faith, the Spirit of Jesus lives in me,” the atmosphere had changed. Pretense evaporated. Resistance to the gospel faded away. His eyes rimmed with tears as the reality of Christ gripped his heart ... and his life was changed. Her demeanor softened and, for the first time in the conversation, we connected spiritually.


The continuing power of the gospel

Over the last few months, I have seen the Lord continue to use the “Good News from Galatians” as a key to unlock conversational doors about the gospel.
  • Newlywed Monica, adopted as an infant, was hooked when I quoted from verse 5, that we might receive adoption as sons. Her husband Josh, raised in the Catholic tradition, took it all in.
  • Calvin, a high school senior from Hong Kong, raised in a nominally Buddhist home, was captivated with the concept of the Spirit of Jesus living in us. After our conversation, he promised to look up and meditate on the idea of a God who wants to have a personal “Abba” relationship with us.
  • Kyle, an unemployed 25 year old traveling through Nashville with two friends, Karlie and Matthew, prayed to receive Christ as the reality of Galatians 4:6 gripped his hungry heart.
  • Maggie, a first–year orthopedic surgery resident who has recently confessed her faith in Christ, was strengthened at this reminder of God’s unfailing love and care for her during a time of tremendous marital, physical and spiritual stress in her life.
  • Jordan, a corporate executive whose confession of faith in Jesus as an 8–year–old boy seems distant, is finding renewed energy and vitality in his relationship with Christ through the Spirit of Jesus.
  • Katharina, a Ph.D. student from Nuremberg, Germany, raised in a nominal Lutheran home, was drawn in by the image of God as “Abba, Father.”
I could mention others – a family–practice physician whose life has unraveled; a homeless man whose eyes were so empty, but now shine with hope; a hotel clerk who confessed his faith in Christ after promising to meditate on Galatians 4:4–7 for one week; a Hindu wife and mother who, new to our neighborhood and with only the barest acquaintance of the “regulations” of Christianity, listened attentively to her first exposure to the message of God’s grace through Jesus Christ; a single–parent banking executive whose new faith was reinforced through considering the open arms of her heavenly Father.

The apostle Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes ...” (Romans 1:16).

Perhaps your witnessing efforts have grown stale. Perhaps you have bumped into conversational barriers in your efforts to share the gospel. Galatians 4 has such a compelling message! How refreshingly uplifting to be reminded that God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts crying out, “Abba, Father!”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger S. Oldham is the SBC Executive Committee’s vice president for convention communications and relations and executive editor of SBC LIFE, journal of the Executive Committee, where this article first appeared.)
8/22/2013 3:13:56 PM by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



A pastor’s first 90 days

August 21 2013 by Thom S. Rainer, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – I remember well receiving a call from one of my sons. It was his first day on the job as a new pastor. It was also his first full-time ministry position. His words were amusing: “OK, Dad. I’m here. What do I do next?”

A new pastor has a great opportunity to begin a ministry positively. Conversely, the first 90 days also can be the eventual downfall of a pastor. In speaking with hundreds of pastors around the country, many of them have shared with me their keys to early successes. I distilled them to nine steps that should help most any new pastor.

By the way, these nine steps require much upfront investment of time. You can slow down after the first 90 days, but this time is too critical to short-change any one step.
  1. Spend significant time in the Word for your sermons. All preaching is important but your first few sermons are critical. That’s where most members will hear and see you. And that’s where many first impressions are formed.
  2. Listen. Take time to listen to the stories and concerns of your members. Unless you must speak, allow them uninterrupted time to share with you. As a consequence, you will learn much about the church, and you will win the trust of those to whom you listened.
  3. Be visible. I know. I just said to spend significant time in the Word. It’s hard to do that if you are constantly visible. As I indicated, you should be prepared for some long workweeks your first 90 days.
  4. Be accessible. Again, you can overdo it here. You need time to carry out the other steps. But early in your ministry you should not be hidden away in a secret study at the church.
  5. Find low-hanging fruit. In almost every church there are some actions you can take that will cost little and please most members. One pastor knew that the members really wanted to paint the worship center, but the church didn’t have the funds. So he challenged them to an all-day paint day. Some members committed to buy paint. Several agreed to do the painting. And others cooked meals and served the workers. The young pastor became an instant hero.
  6. Learn the powerbrokers. No one is asking you to compromise your principles or play dirty politics. It’s just a good idea to know who the true decision-makers are in the church. You need to get to know them and befriend them if possible.
  7. Go into the community. Make a statement to the church members and the community that you are determined to serve and love the community where your church is located. Eat in local restaurants. Join a civic organization. Go meet some of the community leaders.
  8. Express your enthusiasm about being their pastor. If you don’t have enthusiasm for the church when you first arrive, you are in trouble. Let the members know how excited and honored you are to serve them as pastor.
  9. Don’t speak badly about your previous church. I have eight “thou shalts,” so I’ll add just one “thou shalt not.” If you start speaking negatively about your former church, many members will assume you’ll do the same for your present church. There is nothing to gain in such negative talk.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared on his website, www.ThomRainer.com where he also has posted a podcast interview on the same topic.) 
8/21/2013 12:13:56 PM by Thom S. Rainer, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



A witnessing community

August 21 2013 by Jim Stitzinger, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Evangelizing unbelievers can be difficult for the same reason criminals struggle to find policemen – most are not looking for one. Instead of pursuing others with the gospel, we cocoon ourselves with those who already know it. A vortex pulls us into the Christian bubble and slowly we can be lulled toward indifference to those yet to repent.

Genuinely drawing near to Christ will rightly submerse us in fellowship with believers, but it will simultaneously thrust us toward others in gospel ministry. Heavily evangelistic churches become that way as individual believers are passionate and proactive in daily life. They implement the faithful exposition of scripture and are propelled out to reach sinners for Christ.

The Great Commission is an individual commission. It will not be fulfilled in silence, but in conversations that confront unrighteousness with the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Christians must cultivate evangelistic instincts, the humble tenacity to engage in gospel conversations.

Here are a few encouragements to help in pursuing unbelievers with Christ’s saving message.


Spring-load the gospel

This isn’t complicated – if you’re saved, you know enough of the gospel to present it to someone else. However, it takes work to be clear and understandable. Memorize the foundational gospel components and key verses. With those stamped in mind, work daily to recite it and role-play with others. You may not always have your Bible in hand when an evangelistic opportunity presents itself, so memorize the message. Be alert and stay ready!


Recruit a prayer team

The hard work of evangelism begins on our knees, petitioning God to work in the hearts of those we pursue. In humility and dependency, following the example of the apostle Paul in praying for others (Romans 10:1) and watch as God answers prayers in increased opportunities to proclaim His gospel. As we join one another in evangelistic prayer, we invite accountability and can encourage one another, too.


Live “excellent”

Live with integrity. The apostle Peter wrote, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). Live so that when our name crosses the mind of unbelievers they associate us with Jesus. The most clear and accurate gospel presentation is muted if unbelievers identify us by patterns of sin instead of righteousness. In humility, repent when we sin, and use our failures to magnify God’s mercy. Keep in mind that our example may be the first exposure many receive to the transforming power of the gospel.


Engage your mission field

God in His sovereign grace chose to place you alongside unbelievers – in your neighborhood, family and at work. It’s not enough to talk about them; we must talk with them, using our points of connection to advance the gospel conversation. Don’t throw away the opportunity to proclaim His saving message. This is your first mission field. Every unbeliever in our life should both know our identity as a Christian and know our desire to see them come to believe in Christ as Savior and Lord.


Create new mission fields

Along the way, create new mission fields, finding new ways to interact with unbelievers. Volunteer at a local school; help in a community project; go out of your way to introduce yourself to others. These ideas and more help to create new networks that open up new mission fields for gospel ministry.

Here’s a place to start: Take a “two-minute challenge.” Give yourself no more than two minutes to identify yourself with Christ when meeting someone new. As an ambassador of Christ, be quick to let others know Who you represent (2 Corinthians 5:20). Say something that lets another know you belong to, have been forgiven by, are loved by, are trusting in God. That way, as your conversations develop, you’ve already identified with Christ right away. No procrastinating!


Relentlessly love other believers

Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Christians biblically loving one another make the love of Christ visible for the world to see. How are the “one anothers” made visible in our relationships with other believers? Does your love for other believers lend credibility to your gospel presentation?


Lead by example

No matter your age, level of responsibility or visibility within the church, you can lead by example. The heart of Paul’s encouragement to Timothy is to lead by example despite his youth (1 Timothy 4:12). Some of the greatest evangelists are those whose names we won’t ever know, yet they were relentlessly faithful to tell others about Jesus. Don’t wait for someone else to lead by example; take initiative and set the pace as the Spirit works through you.


Celebrate salvation

Never lose sight of the miracle that happens in new birth. If heaven explodes in celebration in response to the new birth, so should we. One way to do this is to share testimonies often. We can never hear enough of the work Christ has done in drawing someone to salvation. Incorporate the recounting of salvation wherever possible. Doing so reminds us of the many ways the gospel penetrates hearts and how God chooses to use saved sinners in that process.

Paul told the Corinthians that he delivered to them “as of first importance what [he] also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). For you to do faithful evangelism, the Gospel must be of first importance to you. Only then will you overcome the challenges that have prevented you from boldly sharing the gospel with unbelievers.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Stitzinger is director of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization in Louisville, Ky. This article has been adapted from A Guide to Evangelism [SBTS Press, 2013].)
8/21/2013 12:06:02 PM by Jim Stitzinger, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



6 tips for prospective pastors

August 20 2013 by Joe McKeever, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – It’s a wonder to me why some seminary hasn’t come up with a specialized advanced degree in “Search Committee Negotiating.” No doubt they would be flooded with applications from pastors wishing to master that mysterious discipline and more than a few laypeople wishing to learn what’s going on here.

From what follows, you might conclude that I see myself as an expert on pastor search groups. Believe me, I don’t. In fact, anyone who does is suspect in my book.

They’re all different, these small teams of church members assigned to “go find our next preacher and bring him back alive.” They subscribe to a thousand different philosophies and generally will plot their modus operandi according to the will of their strongest member or the say-so of their chairman. 

Moreover, I am well aware that not all pastors are as forthcoming with committees as they should be.

In both cases, they reason that “If I were to tell the whole truth, no one would want to (come to this church) (employ me).”

In a half-century of ministry, I dealt with somewhere around 100 search committees. So, while I’m no expert, I’m not without a certain amount of experience on these pastor-hunter teams.

So, here are a few thoughts on how many search committees function. 

1) The committee will begin their work with a strange blend of humility and confidence.

Six months into their search, after a thousand phone calls, hundreds of letters and emails, dozens of dead-ends, and all kinds of fruitless detours, the humility will still be there – stronger than ever, even – but the confidence will have been replaced by fatigue and frustration.

This is a dangerous time for a committee; fatigue can cause many an error of judgment. This is when the church needs to double and triple its prayer for them. The problem, of course, is that by now the church is tired of waiting, tired of special prayer meetings for the committee without seeing results, and tired of being tired.

The committee which began their work with such high hopes and fresh energy now just wants to get it over. Pray for them. They may end up grabbing the next guy just to “get ’er done.”

2) While most committees I’ve dealt with at length have been the cream of the crop, churches do not always select their most spiritually sensitive people. Sometimes it’s the most outspoken ones.

Pastors go into these things thinking they are dealing with the sharpest and godliest people in the church when they sit in a room with a search committee. A wise prospective pastor quickly figures out which is which. Sometimes, they learn the hard way – and too late! – that the chairman was chosen because he lobbied for the position, bullied the others into submission, or intends to hand-pick a pastor whom he can control. When the preacher investigates a little, he may find that one or two families make up the entire committee. None of this is good.

There are clues available as to the quality of the committee’s makeup if the pastor will pay attention. Notice how they relate to one another and who does most of the talking. Notice the promises and guarantees they’re willing to make to get a pastor. (Keep in mind that the more mature a committee, the less likely they are to promise the moon and to guarantee anything. They see themselves as servants of the congregation, not rulers.)

Get agreements in writing and ask for them to be signed by every conceivable officer of the church.

3) You sometimes get the impression the committee wants to get this job over with as soon as possible. Not good for them and definitely not good for you. Take your time, pastor, and encourage them to do likewise.

When a search committee invited me to meet them for lunch at a cafeteria and invited me right off the bat to become their pastor, I had no difficulty declining. These folks were simply interested in bringing in a warm body, it appeared, and I was handy. What was their hurry? I wondered, and never found out.

I counsel search committees against falling in love too quickly. If they do – they return from their first visit swimmy-headed, certain they have found the pastor of their dreams – they shut down the process too quickly. Like any lover captivated by another person, they do not want to hear anything negative, and will want to get the other to the altar before he/she changes their mind. Not good at all. The stories I could tell you!

4) They may ask some hard questions, taking pride in that great list of questions. Often, however, the members cannot tell whether the answer was excellent, flawed or awful so long as it was given with style and grace. 

Every pastor in our denomination gets asked certain questions by search committees. Currently, it’s something like, “So, pastor ... (ahem) ... tell us your position on Calvinism.” A generation ago, it was: “What do you believe about the inerrancy of Scriptures?” A generation before that, committees wanted to know your eschatology. Before that, it was creation/evolution.

“Ah, yes. I’m glad you asked that question. The issue of Calvinism and Arminianism has been plaguing our churches and dividing the Kingdom for hundreds of years and it’s a burden to those of us on the front lines for the Lord. I was telling a friend just the other day....”

He’s giving concern and stories, smiles and words, but no answer. I suggest they let him go on, then when he finishes, Mr. Chairman (or Madam Chairperson), smile sweetly and say, “Now, tell us your position on Calvinism.” And wait.

Search committees need sharp people on their membership as well as training from experienced pastors and/or denominational leaders who can prepare them on what to watch for and how to tell when they’re being scammed.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “A pastoral candidate will try to scam you?” When a man wants the job, he may find language to convince you he believes what you believe and count on you not being sharp enough to tell what he’s doing. When he does not believe the fundamentals of the faith – and knows that to admit it would mean ending this interview – he may (not always, but “may”) camouflage his real views by wordiness or cleverness.

Many a committee has been taken in by a skilled wordsmith.

5) The committee will not tell all the facts about their church, although they want to know every detail about the candidate.

Members of search committees will agree among themselves that certain details about their church history reflect poorly upon them and would be better off left unspoken. They reason that those things are in the past and have nothing to do with the next pastor and his tenure.

Sometimes they are right. Often, they are wrong.

The fact that this church has ousted the last five preachers in a row is most pertinent. That a little unelected group has made life miserable for the last two pastors is something a prospective pastor needs to know. That the senior members of the congregation shot down the last attempt to hire a full-time youth minister because they resented the young people getting a large share of the church budget is valuable information.

I once asked a search committee why the sign in front of the church said nothing about the times of the Sunday services. Someone blurted out, “The previous pastor tried to put up a sign with that information, but the grounds people took it down. Said it detracted from the beauty of the campus.”

In so few words, I found out who is calling the shots around that church.

Every church has its negatives. But don’t look for the typical search committee to reveal any of them. You’ll have to develop other sources for that.

Call the associational director of missions and also his predecessor if he is relatively new. Phone the last two pastors of this church and any former staff members you can find. And one more group: call neighboring pastors and ask for their take on this church. (Do this by phone and not by mail or email. Anything leaving a paper trail will make them cautious. You want to hear the inflection of their voice, the pauses, everything.)

Little by little, you are forming a complete picture of this church.

Note that I’m NOT saying you should not go to a church with a troubled past, only that you should know what you’re getting into before you go.

6) Finally, in many cases, the pastor search committee will want to keep functioning after the new pastor arrives.

On the surface, it looks like a plan. These people know him and have a vested interest in his doing well. The problem is other members of the church, particularly the leadership, will resent it. It will appear to them that this group does not want to give up their intimacy with the new pastor and is attempting to set themselves up as an ongoing center of influence.

New pastor, if you need a team of advisers, work with the elected church leadership to form a new group composed of representatives of the search committee and a number from the membership at large.

Then, pray it will be a long time before this church has to choose another pastor search committee or that you will have to deal with one.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe McKeever is a Baptist Press cartoonist and columnist, a former longtime pastor and former director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association.)
8/20/2013 3:03:31 PM by Joe McKeever, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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