August 2013

What young atheists can teach us

August 9 2013 by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Larry Alex Taunton directs the Fixed Point Foundation, which seeks innovative ways to defend and proclaim the gospel.

Recently, his organization reached out to college-age atheists nationwide in a unique campaign. As Taunton contacted leaders of Secular Student Alliances and Freethought Societies, he had one simple request: Tell us your journey to unbelief.

Taunton did not dispute their stories or debate the merits of their views. He just listened. Many stepped forward – some reluctantly – but ultimately Taunton found patterns emerging from the young atheists’ stories, and he summarized them in a recent article in The Atlantic.

Their stories have common threads:
  • The young atheists had attended church. Most participants didn’t begin with a naturalistic worldview but chose atheism as a reaction to Christianity, which they found lifeless, hypocritical or uncompelling for a variety of reasons.
  • Their churches promoted vague missions and messages. The students heard plenty of messages on social justice, community involvement and good deeds, but they failed to see a connection between these messages, Jesus and the Bible. They knew intuitively that the church exists for more than social campaigns; it exists to proclaim the teachings of Jesus and His relevance to a sinful and fallen world.
  • Their churches fumbled the big questions. When asked what they found unconvincing about the Christian faith, the students mentioned a lack of satisfying answers to such issues as evolution vs. creation, sexuality, Jesus as the only way, and the reliability of the Bible. Not only was the church often ill-equipped to delve into these issues; it lacked the stomach to tackle them at all.
  • They respect ministers who take the Bible seriously. The young atheists expressed grudging admiration for pastors and other Christians who embrace biblical teaching and are not ashamed to say so. As atheist illusionist and comedian Penn Jillette famously remarked, “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize.... If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell ... and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward ... how much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
  • Ages 14-17 are key. While some participants said they adopted atheism as early as eight years of age or as late as college, most admitted embracing unbelief in high school.
  • Emotions run deep. Most students said they lost their Christianity for purely rational reasons. However, the more they talked, the more they described a deeply emotional journey from belief to atheism. One young woman said she became an atheist after her father died – not because she blamed God for his death but because he was abusive and she did not want to think her father was still alive somewhere.
  • Online is everything. When asked about the key influences in their conversion to atheism, not a single participant mentioned the “New Atheists” like Christopher Hitchens, or their books or seminars. Rather, they mentioned YouTube or website forums.

Getting real

There’s much we can do to engage our young atheist friends by listening to them, helping them wrestle with tough questions and providing a connection between Christ and a broken world. But we also must address the doubts and fears of young people in our own churches.

If Christianity is not objectively true, rationally compelling and personally engaging, then why should anyone – young or old – want to embrace it?

Scottish philosopher and skeptic David Hume once was spotted in a crowd listening to the preaching of George Whitefield, the noted evangelist of the First Great Awakening.

Someone said to Hume, “I thought you didn’t believe in the gospel.”

“I do not,” Hume replied. Then, nodding toward Whitefield, he added, “But he does.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rob Phillips is director of communications for the Missouri Baptist Convention with responsibility for leading MBC apologetics ministry in the state. Phillips is on the Web at This article first appeared at The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)
8/9/2013 12:46:28 PM by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Giving value to the devalued

August 8 2013 by Raleigh Sadler, Baptist Press

NEW YORK – Homelessness in New York City has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s, according to the Coalition for the Homeless.

As of this spring, there was an all-time record of 50,700 homeless people living on the streets of New York. If you walk more than a block, you will be confronted with this reality.

After preaching the parable of the Good Samaritan at the Gallery Church, I was headed to Harlem for dinner with my girlfriend, Liz. As we were walking up the stairs to exit the subway, I saw him: a nameless elderly man in dirty clothes, begging for change. This wasn’t out of the norm to see at a subway stop.

But for me, this time was different. I watched as people walked by and refused to acknowledge his existence. Yet, he persisted, “Can I have a dollar for a sandwich?” I watched as each person actively chose to look down rather than to look up at the face of the man.

I have to confess that I also walked by. But with each step, my feet felt heavier to the point that I could no longer continue.

I heard two voices. One was the faint, defeated voice of the man asking for change. The other voice was my own, reciting the remnants of the sermon I had just preached: “Don’t be the Levite, don’t be the priest, who walked by and refused to love the man who was vulnerable.”

Too many times we dehumanize the people that God loves and values. Tim Keller in his book Generous Justice explains, “Jesus taught that a lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one’s spiritual compass, the heart.”

His point is that a heart that is not bent toward grace and mercy is one that has not experienced true compassion. The fact that we ignore the poor, whom God values, points to a heart that doesn’t value God.

Most of us devalue other human beings unconsciously. Whether we do it out of self-protection, fear or apathy, our response to those who are weak and vulnerable indicates where they rank in our value system.

In the parable, Jesus did not investigate whether the reasons the priest and Levite walked by the dying man were valid. That was not His point. The issue was that regardless of their reasoning, they actively chose to walk away and not show compassion. They chose not to love their neighbor.

By giving this lesson in the form of a parable, Jesus challenges us to identify with the characters. He wants us to see our reflection as we see the lack of love shown by the priest and Levite. He wants us to see our own neediness as we see the man lying in the ditch. Unlike the half-dead man, the Bible says that we are completely dead in our sins.

In our sin and spiritual deadness, we are enemies of Christ. But Christ did not leave us to die. He spoke life into my death when I could not love God and I could not love others. He didn’t merely risk His life to help us, He freely gave it.

Jesus Christ has fulfilled the character of the Good Samaritan. He came to us in our brokenness and rescued us by His grace. By His life, death and resurrection in my place, He saved me. There was nothing I could do to earn His favor.

As a response to His free grace, I am moved to act in compassion and trust God with the results. My response is to care for the vulnerable and to give graciously.

The grace of God alone can change our focus. Whether our response is to have a conversation with a homeless person or to care for the child who has been trafficked into prostitution, we respond to those that are helpless and exploited as a result of our own redemption and freedom from the bondage of sin.

Only as we reflect on the gospel can we go from someone who desires self-protection to someone who desires to protect others. The gospel motivates us to see every person as someone God values rather than merely a statistic. The gospel empowers us to value those society rejects as those who have been created in the image of God.

With that fact fresh in mind, I turned around and began talking with the man. Liz later told me that his face brightened up as I acknowledged him. I asked him what he needed, and he told me he just wanted a sandwich.

So we quickly went to the local bodega, and I told him to order whatever he wanted. As we talked, I began to notice a change in my own heart. This man, whom I had originally chosen to ignore, had a name.

Timothy, or “Dreads” as he liked to be called, told us about his life. He was so excited that we would stop to spend time with him that he invited us to swing by his shelter and ask for him anytime.

He even gave us the phone number for his new prepaid phone. “What are you doing for the Fourth of July?” Timothy asked.

“Because a few other friends in the shelter and I are getting together to have a little barbecue. We would love for you to come and spend some time with us,” he said.

After this invitation, I was moved as I realized that I now spoke to this man as if he were a member of my own family. By the end of the conversation, I could tell that the feeling was mutual and that we both valued one another.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Raleigh Sadler is a North American Mission Board missionary and college pastor at Gallery Church in New York City.)
8/8/2013 11:46:41 AM by Raleigh Sadler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Seeing like a camera

August 7 2013 by Jim Veneman, Baptist Press

JACKSON, Tenn. – “OK, I know it’s here somewhere. I know I took it! I pulled the car over, rolled down the window, and CLICK! The beautiful field, mountains in the background and that fabulous elk standing right there in front of me!”

Undaunted, you begin going through your pictures again, and then on the third time through, you find it. But somehow, the elk seems so much smaller. In fact, he’s a tiny little thing, hardly even noticeable in the picture. It’s just not how you remember it.

God made us in so many amazing ways, and just one of those is how we see. Have you ever thought something like, “Wow, I think the preacher was talking directly to me this morning!” You may have even felt like he was looking you right in the eye. Well, maybe he was.

Now, I don’t mean to make an assignment that will cause you to be distracted this coming Sunday, but I want you to try something. As you look into the choir, or if you’re in the choir looking at the congregation, notice your ability to completely focus on one very specific individual. It’s actually pretty amazing, but we all can do this. Our mind and our eyes work together in such an incredible way that we can basically zone out everyone else and “see” only one person. When you pulled the car over to make a photograph of the elk, that’s what happened. 

When it comes to photography, our ability to see is crucial. Or, maybe I should say, our ability to “see like a camera” sets the stage for successful photographs. While we can look across the congregation into the eyes of one person, or across the field into the face of an elk, our cameras are completely objective. They photograph what we place into the frame. Our challenge is to create a frame that contains our idea as closely as possible.

For some, this may mean putting a different lens on the camera to adapt the camera to the scene. But for most of us, it means placing the camera into the optimum spot to get the photograph we already have in our mind’s eye.

Although we may not be able to sneak up on that elk, in most situations God has made us in such a way that we may not need special lenses. We just need to move, to walk a few steps closer. As you look through your camera, or at the screen on the back of your phone, take an extra moment to consider what’s happening. Sometimes taking an extra bit of time to move closer may cause you to miss the moment completely, but in most instances you’ll have just enough time to make your move.

As you head out on your next great adventure, whether that means visiting a distant location around the world or helping out at your church’s VBS, slow down just long enough to consider where you should be to make the photograph you “see.” At summer’s end you may not have to look quite as long for that elk.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Veneman is a freelance photographer in Jackson, Tenn., and president of the Baptist Communicators Association who has served as director of visual communication and assistant professor at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.) 
8/7/2013 2:40:06 PM by Jim Veneman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Where have all the young adults gone?

August 6 2013 by Jason K. Allen, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Why young adults leave the church is one of the most vexing questions facing the church today.
A LifeWay Christian Resources survey from 2007 indicated that 70 percent of 18–22-year-olds stop attending church for at least one year. Surveys by The Barna Group repeatedly have shown that a majority of 20-year-olds leave church, often never to return.
Citing a recent study by the Brookings Institution, author Rachel Held Evans recently suggested, in essence, that millennials are leaving evangelical churches in search of more progressive fellowships because of dissonance with the more conservative doctrinal stances and cultural convictions of their former congregations.
Yet it seems to reason that if compromising biblical convictions attracted millennials, then mainline denominations would be teeming with young adults. On the contrary, mainline churches are proof positive that liberal theology does not magnetically draw young adults to church.
Causation for young adults exiting the church has been studied for decades, yet little has been accomplished in the way of reversing it. As a gospel preacher, seminary president and father of five young children, to me this is more than a theoretical concern.
At the risk of being overly simplistic, I want to suggest three factors that often are overlooked in this discussion.

They never joined the church spiritually

 Many young adults leave the church because they were never truly converted to Christ in the first place. John the Apostle warned us, “They went out from us because they were never of us; for if they had been of us, they would have no doubt continued with us.”
In His sermon on the mount, Jesus soberly warns, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my father in heaven.”
In fact, this is a troubling but recurring theme throughout the New Testament. Jesus frequently warned of pseudo-converts, most memorably in His parables of the four soils, the wheat and the tares and the sheep and the goats. This grievous occurrence is why Paul exhorted the Corinthian church to “examine yourselves to determine whether you be in the faith.”
This predicament is as old as the church itself, and it is no respecter of age. Young adults have not cornered the market on unregenerate church membership, but with so many other pressures and opportunities associated with their life stage, their exit ramp is more predictable and more pronounced.
In other words, young adults are just one bloated demographic slice of an ever-present challenge within the church today: unregenerate church membership.

They never experienced the church corporately

 To their own detriment, too many churches function like a confederation of parachurch ministries meeting under the same roof. For instance, many young adults traveled from children’s church to children’s ministry to the youth group and then to college ministry.
Amazingly, many young adults spend 20-plus years in a local church with the congregation as a whole always being an ancillary group and with their predominant religious attention focused from one of the church’s subgroups to the next.
Age-graded and targeted ministries can be healthy inasmuch as they undergird the life of the church and facilitate strategic discipleship and family ministry. But when they displace the central and formative place of congregational worship and corporate gatherings as a whole, they prove detrimental to both the individual and the local church.
In fact, the beauty of the New Testament church is its homogeneous diversity: Jew and Gentile, young and old, rich and poor, all united by the gospel and gathered around the common ministry of the Word, the Lord's table, prayer and fellowship, together as the body of Christ.
There is a sweetness in God’s people, and we rob our children of experiences of God's grace when we neglect to incorporate them into the corporate body. It is for this reason I want my children to know the saintly widow seated behind them and the contemporary adult couple seated in front of them as well as they know the children in their own classes.
When they are disconnected from the congregation, it should not surprise us that young adults, who have never known the church as a whole, are disinclined to embrace it when their age-graded group has run its course.
Do you want your children to participate in the church when they become adults? Then cultivate their participation as they travel life toward adulthood.

They never came to love the church personally

 Though the church is not perfect, it ought to be cherished, warts and all, by every member of the congregation, including our children. As parents, we cultivate this by esteeming the church – and the individuals who comprise it – before our children. As a parent, my wife and I have long since covenanted together to guard our tongues, especially before our children, about the ministers and members of the churches we have joined.
Granted, no church is perfect, and if you ever find the perfect church, don’t join it, or you'll likely ruin it. At the same time, a spirit of criticism and sarcasm about the pastor and other members of the congregation mark the homes of too many church members.
In so doing, children are hearing reason after reason why they should doubt the Word of God, not value fellowship of the saints, and be indifferent toward gathering with God’s people. When this occurs, why should young adults commit their lives, time and resources to a pastor and group of people they have overheard their parents repeatedly denigrate?
Why do young adults leave the church? This is a pressing concern but an often misplaced question. Instead of focusing so much on why young adults leave the church, let’s focus more on how they enter the church and how they engage it along the way.
And when you show me young adults who are truly converted, have ministered and worshiped with the church as a whole and have grown to love the people of God, I'll show you young adults who are a lot less likely to depart the church anytime soon.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jason K. Allen is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. This column first appeared at his website,
8/6/2013 11:00:57 AM by Jason K. Allen, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The far-reaching consequences of sin

August 6 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – The reality of sin is fundamental in the Christian understanding of human nature. Falling short of God’s standards is one of the ways the Bible describes sin’s operation in a person’s life. 

The ways sin manifests itself in a life are manifold. An individual’s sin produces everything from religious self-righteousness to senseless evil and all sorts of perversions in between. 

It is no secret that modernity rejects the idea of sin as described in the Bible. “There is no sin except stupidity,” said the Irish writer Oscar Wilde. 

“Everything that used to be sin,” observed comedian Bill Maher, “is now a disease.” American modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham said, “The only sin is mediocrity.”

Though the reality of sin is downplayed and even dismissed by many in contemporary society, its presence is self-evident and its consequences inescapable. Just consider the packaging of most any product these days. 

Everything from a bottle of aspirin to underwear is hermetically sealed and ensconced in layers of plastic and protective wrapping. It requires a jaws-of-life tool just to extricate the product from its packaging.

Consumer products have to be protected because of sin. A person taints a bottle of medicine with poison, and tamper resistant packaging is a result. Someone rips into a box in order to steal an item, and a plastic Fort Knox is used to deter the thief. 

Not only does the heightened security add to the cost of consumer products, it also introduces a frustration factor when trying to open the packaging. I recently purchased an item from a hardware store and almost resorted to a power tool to pry open the package. 

When you consider the secure packaging of consumer products, it is evident that sin affects everyone. It only takes one or two people bent on evil to cause a chain reaction that touches many lives. 

If a homosexual couple in England have their way, sin will affect the entirety of the United Kingdom. If their action inspires couples in other countries, they could well impact the world. 

Barrie Drewitt-Barlow is one half of a British homosexual couple that is planning to sue the Church of England in an effort to force the church to perform “gay” nuptials, according to the Essex Chronicle.

“Britain finally legalized gay marriage when the Queen gave her royal stamp of approval on July 17 after the bill was introduced in January,” the Chronicle said. 

“But religious organizations will have to ‘opt in’ on performing gay marriages, and the Church of England and Catholic Church are not willing,” the Chronicle reported. 

“I want to go into my church and marry my husband,” Barrie Drewitt-Barlow told the Chronicle. “As much as people are saying this is a good thing [the legalization of homosexual marriage] I am still not getting what I want.”

“It upsets me because I want it so much – a big lavish ceremony, the whole works ...,” the Chronicle reported Drewitt-Barlow as saying. “The only way forward for us now is to make a challenge in the courts against the church.” 

Drewitt-Barlow made history in 1999 when he and his partner Tony “became Britain’s first gay surrogate parents and have now fathered five children through surrogacy,” the Chronicle said. 

Those who insist the Bible somehow sanctions homosexual behavior and, by extension, homosexual marriage are, at best, misguided and, at worst, just plain wrong. 

Those who would seek to force a church to violate its fundamental tenets display just how self-centered they truly are. “I want what I want when I want it, and I will make you accommodate me,” is their mantra. Sounds much like a 2-year-old, doesn’t it? 

Speaking of 2-year-olds, if ever there was irrefutable evidence for the reality of a sin nature it is in observing a toddler. There is no more selfish being on the planet than a 2-year-old. 

You do not have to teach a toddler to be bad, they come fully equipped and ready to rebel. You have to teach a child to be good. 

You have to teach a toddler to be kind, to share, to be honest, etc. They are quite accomplished at being bad because they enter the world with a sin nature intact and fully functioning. 

I predict Drewitt-Barlow and his partner’s actions will be copied in the United States. 

Some homosexual couples in America will sue churches for the same reason the couple is suing in Britain. They are motivated by a desire to force every facet of society to bow down and accept homosexuality as natural, normal and healthy. 

“All human sin seems so much worse in its consequences than in its intentions,” observed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. The intent of sin is always selfish, but the consequences are many times far-reaching. Think about that the next time you try to open a bottle of aspirin or ponder gay marriage. 

(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.) 
8/6/2013 10:53:24 AM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Reasons church leaders struggle with prayer

August 5 2013 by Chuck Lawless, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – John, a leader in a church I assisted as a consultant, admitted to me what I’d heard before from seminary students and church leaders alike: “Dr. Lawless, I don’t always pray like I should. I know better, but prayer isn’t easy.” 

I’ve heard something similar so many times that I’ve begun asking for more details. These findings are anecdotal, but here are my general conclusions about why church leaders struggle with prayer.
  1. Leaders are “fixers” by nature. Most leaders don’t readily admit a need for help. Instead, we are problem solvers who seek solutions, attempt answers and try again if the first answer doesn’t work. Indeed, our followers expect leaders to come up with solutions. Our persistence and tenacity to do so – both good traits in themselves – sometimes push prayer to a last resort option.
  2. We never learned how to pray. Churches make this mistake with most spiritual disciplines: We tell believers what to do but don’t teach them how to do it. “Pray. Pray. You must pray,” we proclaim. When we tell but don’t teach, though, we set believers up for discouragement and failure. If leaders are honest, we’ll admit that we, too, have much to learn about how to pray.
  3. Prayer has become more about ritual than about relationship. This reason relates directly to the previous one. We know we should pray, even if we don’t know how, so we go through the motions of prayer. It is not a relationship with a living Lord that calls us to prayer; it is instead only religious ritual. Ritual seldom leads to a consistent, vibrant prayer life.
  4. Prayerlessness can be hidden. No one in our church needs to know about this struggle. We can talk about prayer, teach about prayer, write about prayer and even lead corporately in prayer – all without anyone knowing that personal prayer is sporadic at best. This kind of hiddenness is an enemy of heartfelt prayer.
  5. We don’t really believe prayer works. Sure, we teach otherwise about prayer. No church leader I know would teach that prayer is ineffective. Nevertheless, our prayer life often suggests otherwise. Sometimes we don’t pray at all. When we do pray, we’re too often surprised when God does respond. Surprise is one indicator we’re not convinced about the power of prayer.
  6. We have never been broken under God’s hand. The Apostle Paul, who was a leader extraordinaire, learned the power of strength in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Faced with a thorn in the flesh, he pleaded with God to remove it. God instead sovereignly used the thorn to weaken the apostle, who experienced God’s strength at his weakest moments. It is in our weakness that we learn how to pray, but leaders naturally fight against weakness.
  7. Leaders read the Word in a one-sided way. Leaders often are teachers who read the Word for information transmission more than life transformation. When we approach the Word that way, we miss the opportunity to be in dialogue with God. Our Bible reading – even when preparing for teaching or preaching – should bring us to praise, confession and obedience. It should lead us into prayerful conversation with God.
  8. Some leaders have simply lost hope. It happens. Church leaders who prayed more consistently in the past sometimes lose hope under the weight of church conflict, family struggles or health concerns. Unanswered prayer leads to faithlessness, which leads to prayerlessness.
  9. We miss the gospel focus on the prayer life of Jesus. I love the four Gospels, but I admit to reading them for many years without meditating on Jesus’ prayer life. A seminary professor challenged me to read the Gospel of Luke with this focus in mind, and my prayer life has never been the same.
In fact, church leader, I give you that same challenge. In your quiet time this week, read these texts from the life of Jesus – Luke 3:21-22; 4:42; 5:15-16; 6:12-13, 27-28; 9:16, 18, 28-29; 10:1-2, 21; 11:1-13; 18:1-8, 9-14; 19:45-46; 20:45-47; 21:36; 22:17-19, 31-32, 39-46; 23:33-34, 46; 24:30, 50-51. Note how Jesus prayed. Listen to His teachings. Think deeply about the Word. Then, respond to Him in prayer. Take the first step toward being a praying church leader.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Lawless is professor of evangelism and missions and dean of graduate studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. This article was first published at
8/5/2013 11:27:13 AM by Chuck Lawless, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ramadan’s final week prompts reflections from Istanbul

August 5 2013 by Madeline Arthington, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE: As Ramadan, the annual Islamic month of fasting, enters its final week, IMB writer Madeline Arthington shares her hope that Muslim friends will one day celebrate with her before Christ, the Lamb of God.) 

ISTANBUL (BP) – “This reminds me of a fusion of the Fourth of July in Washington, D.C., and a carnival,” I thought as I looked out at the thousands of families and groups of friends spreading picnic blankets on the grass and unpacking carefully prepared packages of dinner. Others possessively claimed a limited supply of picnic tables.

Regardless of whether people actually kept the fast that day, the pressure of being seen in public conformed everyone into one patient crowd – waiting to eat until the evening call to prayer sounded. 

I accompanied two friends to Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district during iftar, the sunset meal when Muslims across the world break the Ramadan fast. Normally crawling with tourists from every corner of the Western world, this evening Sultanahmet district was welcoming its own – an almost entirely Muslim crowd. 

We moved past the picnickers to the back streets and found our destination – a rooftop terrace restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus Straight, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. 

A young Turkish couple sat at the table next to us. The servers quickly placed already-prepared Ramadan appetizers in front of them – cheeses, olives, hummus and other Mediterranean delights. Restaurants across the city spend the afternoon and early evening preparing for thousands of people to eat at the same precise moment. It is an exact art, and the servers moved with skill and precision. 

Photo by Johnny Alexander
Families gather in a large park as they wait for the fast-breaking evening meal during Ramadan. 

As the sun disappeared, the servers appeared in perfect sequence with tureens of steaming lentil soup, ladling it into bowls just as the call to prayer sounded. It was 8:37 p.m., and the fast was over. As the haunting call to prayer began to fade, the young couple next to us waited a few moments, lifted their glasses and sipped water. Below us, the picnickers began eating their feasts. 

The party was on. 

We paid our bill and left the terrace to join the festivities. Vendors selling popcorn, cotton candy, roasted chestnuts, watermelon and cantaloupe wandered through the crowd. Two small girls dressed in pink danced in a cloud of soap bubbles coming from a bubble machine a vendor was selling. Cheap, blue florescent, helicopter-like toys were exploding into the sky like fireworks. 

“This reminds me of Dollywood,” my friend laughed as we meandered through an arts and crafts exhibit. We stopped to watch a glassblower creating a tiny, exquisite horse. Moving on, we saw a small crowd gathered around an ebru (painting) exhibit, where for a small fee one could create art using the classic paper marbling Ottoman art form.

The woman behind the table carefully guided the hand of a young man as he formed a tulip shape with the paint. She lifted the sheet of paper and laid it behind her to dry. “We will be open until 2 a.m.,” she told him.

In the midst of the festivities, it was difficult to remember that our entire evening was spent with a people who were celebrating a meaningless spiritual exercise that denies Christ’s work of salvation. I recalled my many Muslim friends who have told me that they feel closer to God during Ramadan. It grieves me to remember that they are self-deceived and walking in darkness.

Our evening in Sultanahmet was festive and fun, but it also was sobering. I pray that my Muslim friends will one day participate in an eternal festival that celebrates the Lamb of God.

Prayer requests
The end of Ramadan will be celebrated with an official holiday lasting three days (Aug. 8-10). As many Muslims celebrate by visiting family and friends, pray that God will accomplish a brokenness in many hearts to understand that their fast has not reconciled them to God.
  • Pray for Christian workers to speak boldly of Christ’s work of reconciliation by looking for creative ways to express their love for their Muslim friends and neighbors during the final days of Ramadan and the ensuing holiday. 
  • The testimony of many Muslim-background believers often begins with a dream about Jesus. Pray that Muslims who are having spiritual dreams will encounter believers who would confidently respond with a message from God – the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Pray that Christians around the world, even in Europe and the United States, will show intentional and Christ-like love to Muslim neighbors and acquaintances during this season, and as a result, that God would bring about many spiritual conversations. 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Madeline Arthington is a writer for IMB based in Central Asia.) 
8/5/2013 11:17:03 AM by Madeline Arthington, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Tina & the cross tattoo

August 2 2013 by Mark Snowden, Baptist Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – When the cashier handed me change at a convenience store, the Holy Spirit made sure that I saw the tattoo on her hand. It was a small cross.

“Is that a cross?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “I’ve had it on my hand since I was 14 years old.”

“Does that mean that you are a follower of Jesus?” 

“Yes,” she said, but looked around nervously. 

Nobody was behind me and a young man who was a coworker was distracted with a stocking task. Tina’s name badge also said “manager.”

“In China,” I said, “Some Christians take a ballpoint pen and each morning they draw a small cross right where you put your tattoo. Did you know that?”

“That’s pretty cool,” she said and smiled.

“It serves as a reminder that they are to live for Christ in all they do and to tell others about him.”

And then I added, “Now you can use it to tell others about your faith in Christ.”

As I turned to leave, I looked back and saw her coworker asking about our conversation. Through the closed door I saw her holding up her hand. She clearly was explaining the meaning of the cross, probably for the first time in a long time.

Sometimes we need to be reminded of our earlier commitments to be a witness for Christ. At one point, Tina’s zeal for the Lord drove her to tat a small cross right where her thumb and forefinger came together on her right hand.

Everyone needs to hear the good news about Jesus – whether in China or a convenience store in Missouri. And placing reminders, such as a cross, before others is a great way to strike up a spiritual conversation that is natural and personal. 

Now, before I get in trouble, let me say that I am not in favor of tattoos as a general rule. However, I am quick to discuss body art. They endured a lot of pain to have it inked into their skin. Some of it has religious connotations. And it’s out there to address.

If you’d like to sport your own emblem, don’t be shy about purchasing magnetic or sticker Icthus “fish,” a fisherman’s hook and other meaningful symbols. 

It’s there to remind us to tell others about Christ, make them fishers of men, and do it not out of duty but out of love. Make them obvious by putting them on your car bumper, refrigerator, tackle box ... wherever you want!

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Snowden serves Missouri Baptists as evangelism/discipleship strategist. This article first appeared at The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)
8/2/2013 1:55:25 PM by Mark Snowden, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The Pope, the press & the predicament

August 1 2013 by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Pope Francis pulled a surprise on reporters when he walked back to the press section of his Alitalia papal flight from Brazil and entered into an open press conference that lasted more than an hour. 

The Pope gave the press what Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton offered as presidents – a casual question and answer session that was on the record.

The biggest headline from the Pope’s remarks was not what he had to say about the scandals at the Vatican Bank, but what he said about homosexuality and, in particular, homosexuals in the priesthood. The key sentence in the Pope’s remarks is this: “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?”

The papal remarks put the international press into a frenzy. Headlines across the world announced a revolution in Roman Catholic moral teaching, a changed position on homosexuality, or at least an historic “new openness” on the issue of homosexuality.

Predictably, a closer look reveals a more complicated and far less revolutionary reality. Pope Francis did not change or modify one sentence of Catholic moral teaching. The official Catechism of the Catholic Church states that homosexuality is “objectively disordered.” 

The Catholic Church and this Catholic Pope are not reluctant to offer a moral judgment when it comes to homosexual behaviors. The Catholic Church offers a long tradition of consistent moral judgment on the issue of homosexual acts, and the church declares them to be “objectively disordered” and sinful. That did not change.

So, what did the Pope say? In the context of his larger remarks on homosexuality and the priesthood, Francis was attempting to explain that a homosexual “lobby” within his church is entirely unacceptable. The Vatican has been reeling from a report issued under Pope Benedict XVI that identified a “gay lobby” with inordinate power and influence within the church. 

Francis told the reporters that he saw gay individuals as distinct from a gay lobby. “I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good. They are bad.”

Only then did the Pope offer his most-quoted sentence: “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?”

The meaning of the Pope’s comments is essentially this: Homosexual acts, and even the homosexual “inclination,” are sinful and “objectively disordered.” Nevertheless, as the Catechism also states, homosexual persons are to be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” 

The Catechism explains that to live with a sexual inclination that is objectively disordered is “a trial.” The official Catholic moral judgment on this sexual sin is that a Catholic who struggles with homosexual inclinations is to remain chaste and celibate, looking to the Lord for help.

Within that context, Pope Francis’s remarks are not revolutionary in substance – not even close. But the Pope was clearly signaling a new mode of engagement on the issue. Benedict XVI had warned that the church should not ordain to the priesthood men who have “deep seated” homosexual inclinations. Does Francis’s new statement change that policy? Catholic officials doubt that any change is indicated. 

But Francis, like just about everyone else in the public eye, is trying to find a way to speak of homosexuality and homosexuals that reflects both the moral reality of homosexuality and the respect that all human beings are due.

Those who have no moral issue with homosexuality have no real problem in this situation. They just declare that homosexuality is perfectly normal and a moral non-issue. In that case, the only “sin” in view is the sin of believing that there is anything sinful about homosexuality. 

Thus, secular leaders and those who belong to liberal religious groups have no real problem. They can join the moral revolution and normalize homosexuality and they need not hold press conferences to explain their position.

The Pope is in a very different predicament, and so are evangelical Christians. The Pope did not signal in any way a revolution in Catholic moral teaching. The judgment on homosexuality within the Catholic tradition is consistent and very clear. 

At the same time, the Pope was trying to differentiate between homosexuality and persons struggling with homosexual inclinations. When the Pope spoke of a gay Catholic who “seeks the Lord” he was speaking of a gay person who is seeking to live in faithfulness to Catholic moral teaching.

In other words, the Pope was not talking about those who are involved in homosexual acts or homosexual relationships. He was seeking to speak with compassion about people made in the image of God who are struggling with faithfulness against a homosexual inclination. 

This explains his criticism of a “gay lobby” within his church. He acknowledged the fact that persons struggling with a homosexual inclination are in his church and in the priesthood. So long as they obey Catholic teaching and live in faithfulness, “who am I to judge that person?” he asked.

Evangelical Christians may be rightly impressed by the depth and consistency of Roman Catholic moral teachings on sexuality, but our authority is the Bible. And the Bible’s clear declaration of the sinfulness of homosexuality and the inviolate nature of marriage as a union of a man and a woman puts evangelicals in the same public predicament. 

We also must respect the humanity of those who struggle with homosexuality and accept them with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” At the same time, we must remain faithful to the clear teachings of [s]cripture on the nature of sin. Nothing less than the [g]ospel is at stake.

The Pope made a statement, the press announced a revolution, but even a day later it is clear that the predicament remains. Tim Padgett of TIME pointed to the essence of the predicament when he complained that the Pope “wasn’t exactly going out on a theological limb.” Padgett asserted, rightly enough, that the Pope’s position comes down to this: “The church may love the sinner, but it still hates the sin.”

That isn’t good enough for the new moral regime. Padgett says that the Pope still “demonizes” gays by believing and teaching that homosexual acts are sinful. No religious leader who holds to what Padgett calls the “love-the-sinner-but-hate-the-sin trope” is now to be taken seriously, he insists.

The Pope now finds himself locked in a particular predicament. We know what he wants to say, and we can hear him say it. He, in his own way, is trying to love the sinner as he hates the sin. That is now, we are told, still “demonizing.” Nothing but the moral normalization of homosexuality will do. 

The Pope was speaking of Catholics who endure what the Catechism calls a “trial” of faithfulness. The new moral regime decries any moral struggle as “demonization.” The Pope must go on to renounce Catholic moral teaching, or, in Padgett’s words, he should no longer be taken seriously. The Pope must lead “by reforming the doctrine that attacks gay people,” Padgett insists.

Evangelical Christians, passionate about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, faithful to the authority of the Bible, and eager to show love and respect for all those made in the image of God are in the same predicament. The global conversation about the Pope’s comments makes this very clear. Most of us have heard the same by now.

And yet, we have no choice but to be faithful to all that the Lord has commanded and taught, all that the [s]cripture teaches, and all that the [g]ospel demands.

Tim Padgett asserts that “the Pope’s remarks point up a dilemma for his and many other religious institutions today.” That, Mr. Padgett, is an understatement.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at his website,
8/1/2013 2:38:49 PM by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments

When company shows up early

August 1 2013 by Gayla Parker, Baptist Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – In ministry, our homes are always open to visitors. As a matter of fact most of us use our homes as a way to reach others who are not a part of a church family. 

I love to entertain in my home. But if our invitation reads 6, that means I may be ready by 5:55 with little time to spare! 

It’s my own character flaw, and I am working on it.

As a young missionary, I wanted to do something special for our national pastors. It was Christmastime, and I thought a party would be just the thing. We were expecting 125 to 150 people. Our house was not big enough for that large of a crowd, but our yard was quite large and cold weather is not an issue in the tropics. 

For weeks before Christmas we bought food to cook as well as food to put in small baskets for each family as a gift. All of us were excited and looking forward to our special event.

More than 100 people showed up the day BEFORE the party, expecting to sleep at our house! We had purchased a lot of food but not enough for supper, breakfast and then Christmas lunch!

That night there were wall-to-wall people sleeping on every square-inch of floor in our house along with a large group of men and boys sleeping in the yard. Morning came ... and so did more guests.

The party was great fun. Our guests enjoyed the food, the games, the Christmas carols, the devotional and the gift baskets. My boys had a great time playing Santa Claus by helping with the distribution of gifts. Soon everyone would be going home ... or so I had thought.

The party lasted so long that no one was able to go home. Remember, they had to walk, and it is not safe to walk in the dark. Once again we had a house and yard full of people!

And just when it couldn’t get worse, the electricity went out. There is nothing like a house full of guests and no power. I was getting close to a meltdown. All I could think about were the M&Ms that our friend Chellie had sent us for Christmas, but I sure did not want to share them with 140 guests.

In Matthew 14:13-21, we read about Jesus feeding thousands. He probably did not start off His day wanting to be with 5,000-plus people. He had just gotten word about the death of John the Baptist. He wanted to be alone. (We can all relate to those times in life.) I’m sure He was sad and needed some time to mourn. He got into a small boat to withdraw for a while. 

Before He could get to His destination, the people heard He was coming. When He arrived, they were waiting. Have you been there?

It would have been natural to become discouraged or frustrated. He wanted to grieve the loss of His friend, and now that time was taken away. But read what He did: “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14). If He’d had M&Ms, He probably would have shared them.

Challenges are just a part of the world we live in. We are always going to have challenges and demands of ministry colliding. However, we cannot allow those kinds of challenges to overshadow the need for compassion. As a matter of fact, challenges are all the more reason to have compassion; compassion for believers and nonbelievers alike who are facing their own challenges.

I love using the phrase “active compassion” because it puts action behind the feeling of compassion. Certainly Jesus was the master of living a life of active compassion.

Active compassion is about sharing burdens, concern, and offering hope to others, regardless of our own circumstances. It was OK for me to keep my M&Ms for myself that night and enjoy them later with my husband and children. But it is never OK for me to keep Jesus and His compassion hidden from someone in need because I am overwhelmed with my own circumstances. “Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Take time this week to read through the miracles of Jesus in the Book of Mark. What obstacles did He face? How did He overcome them? What does the attitude of Jesus teach us about being inconvenienced by one person or by a crowd? Share your thoughts. Let us as women be all about carrying each other’s burdens and learning to be more like Jesus along the way.

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– This column first appeared at, a blog of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Gayla Parker has served in ministry for more than 30 years as an International Mission Board missionary, pastor’s wife, state convention and Woman’s Missionary Union employee.) 
8/1/2013 2:35:35 PM by Gayla Parker, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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