August 2015

We don’t own a white flag

August 13 2015 by Owen Strachan, MBTS

There’s a straight line that runs through the thinking of many secular journalists and your average person seeking to claim the many-splendored territory known as “the right side of history” – that the church is going to give on gay marriage. It’s just a matter of time, they argue, before the government drops the hammer. When that happens, evangelical churches – including the nation’s largest denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) – will come to heel beneath the steel-toed boot of progress.
 
They’ve said this about us before.
 
Abortion seemed like a foregone conclusion as a cultural value. The great trudging behemoth of the federal government would eventually squash its resistors, and pro-life conviction would fade away. But today, pro-life witness is surging, with even the most unstudied supporter of Planned Parenthood feeling a hitch in their conscience over medical professionals who hold a tiny, blood-dripping arm and calculate its resale value.
 
They said this about civil rights. The church couldn’t overcome Jim Crow; racism had held sway for too long, and you couldn’t change long-standing prejudices. But many courageous African Americans resisted racial codes, and a number of Christian leaders found their moral courage, and wicked policy fell crashing to the ground.
 
They said this about religious conservatives or “fundamentalists.” Conservative evangelicalism was dead and buried in the 1930s, purportedly. Prohibition was overturned and the leading institutions of academe put what was left of their Judeo-Christian convictions on the pyre. Little did they know that evangelicals, led by Billy Graham and Carl F. H. Henry, had a cause to reanimate and a mind to awaken.
 
Choose your time period; choose your issue. The line is always the same: This time, the church really is finished. The Enlightenment was supposed to rid the world of “superstition,” code for religion. The Baptists were a silly sect that would soon disappear from the New World. The Reformation was a flash in the pan that the Counter-Reformation would stamp out. It’s always the same line; it’s just the dates and locations that change.
 
This is why, when theological therapists made noises earlier in 2015 about the church being “moments away” from embracing gay marriage, we think to ourselves: We’ve heard this saber-rattling before. When we see our major leaders asked in interviews if they fear for the survival of evangelicalism, we don’t move a muscle. The SBC, with many evangelical friends, is not flinching.
 
Look at what we came through: We saw a denomination that was losing its strategic institutions to liberalism roar to life. The silent majority spoke up (and voted). The historical figures that young seminarians learn about today – Patterson, Pressler, Rogers and many more – didn’t flinch. They didn’t fear man. They feared God and acted in His name as best they knew how. God granted them a miracle, as we know.
 
We worship a God of strange providence and stunning reversals. I recently wrote a book outlining the tumultuous and grace-kissed life of Chuck Colson, a longtime SBC church member. Colson was the type of guy you saw walking the halls of power in Nixon-era Washington, D.C., and thought, “We’re never going to get that guy. He’s too tough.” But he wasn’t. He lost everything in the aftermath of Watergate, plummeting from a plum spot in a dominant presidential administration to a jail cell. But God saved him, redirected his life and put him to work in the very place of his ruination.
 
From 1976 until his death in 2012, Colson went into one prison after another. His former pastor, Hayes Wicker, told me that Colson made such an impact on even the most hardened prisoners that inmates from Angola, “the Alcatraz of the South,” made him a coffin through painstaking labor after learning of his death. They and Colson had little in common by way of background, but Colson loved those men in the name of Christ. They loved him back. He never stopping coming for them, because God had not failed to search for him when he was hopelessly lost.
 
This is the nature of our God (Ezekiel 16:1-14). Christ hated the darkness, but He also took on fearsome odds in entering the world. Satan himself tempted Jesus, but He resisted. It was in the worst situations that He looked to His Father and found strength in the truth of His Word (Matthew 4:1-11). Or think of Jesus before Pilate, a ruler who seemingly holds Christ’s life in his hand (John 18:28-40). As I read Jesus’ fearless interaction with Pilate, I wonder if I see a glimmer in His eye. He knows what He is about to do to the kingdom of darkness in His death. It is going to be painful; the cost will be awful; but the blow to Satan will be decisive. The power of sin will be broken and the prisoners will go free.
 
This sums it up for the Christian: We don’t give in to defeat. We don’t have a category for irredeemable loss. We do not own a white flag. There are no terms of surrender drawn up in our official documents. This is true of our exclusive trust in Christ; this is true of our sexual ethics; this is true of our commitment to racial reconciliation; this is true of our pro-life witness. We are led by men who exude fearlessness and who have, perhaps, a certain glimmer in their eye. You see this in Ronnie Floyd, Russell Moore, David Platt and many others.
 
These men have, with all the true church, learned from the ultimate leader. You could kill Jesus, but you couldn’t derail Him from His Father’s work. The same is true of us. We do not work, after all, for any earthly cause. We do not work against any earthly foe. Even when we must stand against the beliefs of our friends, we do so in love, love of neighbor (Matthew 22:37). Our preaching, our public-square witness, our evangelism is not motivated by spiritual imperialism, but by the love of sinners, sinners just like us who need Jesus just as we do.
 
The church isn’t about to give up the truth. The only thing we are ready to part with is our comfort, our safety, our small plans and, if we must, our lives. We hold nothing dear in this world – not our reputation, not our brand, not even our existence. The opinion-shapers may write us out of the camp. The courts may declare our convictions out of bounds. The government may take away our tax status. Come what may, though, we are not going anywhere. We are here out of love. By living or dying, we exist to promote the gospel.
 
With such a mission, there is not – and cannot be – a white flag. Even if we had one, as our own denominational history shows us, the takeaway is clear: We wouldn’t know what to do with it.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Owen Strachan is the author of “The Colson Way: Loving Your Neighbor and Living with Faith in a Hostile World” (thecolsonway.com, Thomas Nelson, 2015). He is a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.)

8/13/2015 11:29:55 AM by Owen Strachan, MBTS | with 0 comments



Time to choose

August 12 2015 by Erich Bridges, IMB

Believing in Jesus as Savior isn’t hard. Following Him as Lord – that’s the hard part.
 
We want to do things our way, not His, because we do not love Him enough to obey Him.
 
The saddest part of the story of Jonah, one of history’s most reluctant missionaries, is not that he took off in the opposite direction when God told him to go to the wicked city of Nineveh. It’s not that he got angry and depressed when he finally preached to the city and saw all the people there repent and believe. It’s not that he cared more about his own personal comfort than the souls of the Ninevites (see Jonah 4).
 
The saddest part is he fled “from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3 NASB). How could Jonah love the Ninevites if he didn’t love the Lord?
 
The Lord certainly cared about the Ninevites. They had committed all sorts of abominations, but they didn’t know any better. He asked Jonah, “And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons...?” (Jonah 4:11a NASB). But Jonah was too preoccupied with himself, his needs, his cold heart, his foolish pride.
 
That’s us. That’s me, at least. I want to serve God only. I want to follow Him. I want to make disciples among the nations – just as soon as I finish all the other things I need (i.e., want) to do. I’m like the young Augustine, called by God out of a fourth-century Roman culture saturated in immorality, who famously prayed, “Lord, grant me purity – but not yet.”
 
Tomorrow, Lord, I will give You my whole heart. I promise, just like I promised yesterday and the day before that.
 
The Apostle James had little patience for two-timing believers:
 
“You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:4-8, NASB).
 
Double-mindedness is a plague in the American church, which now finds itself in hostile surroundings similar to those faced by Augustine and James’ half-hearted disciples. Our culture no longer accommodates the gospel; it despises it. That’s a blessing in this sense: The days when you could comfortably fence-sit with a toe in each camp are coming to a close.
 
The time for choosing has arrived.
 
The culture will tolerate a one-dimensional Jesus who accepts everything, judges nothing and requires neither inner transformation nor outer change. The Jesus of the New Testament is someone else altogether: He refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery, telling her angry accusers, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, NASB). After they left one by one, He asked her, “‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more’” (John 8:10b,11).
 
Revisionists love to edit out that last part, but it’s the whole point of Jesus’ encounter with the woman. Once He dismissed the hypocrites, He bestowed the amazing grace and mercy of God on a sinner, but commanded repentance and obedience.
 
Years ago a missionary in Zambia visited a village that expressed interest in the gospel. He asked to see the village chief to seek permission to return. The missionary sat in the shade of a mango tree, waiting for the chief to come. A few minutes later, he noticed an old man hobbling toward him through the sand, leaning heavily on a stick to support his lame leg. The old chief considered the missionary’s request and gave him permission to return.
 
The missionary and a volunteer team came back a few weeks later to share the gospel through Bible storying. After four days of teaching, a line was drawn in the sand. The villagers were challenged to walk across the line if they were willing to turn away from their sin and make Jesus their Lord.
 
The first person to move was the old chief. He struggled across the line, dragging his crippled leg. When he finally made it, he looked up and declared to everyone, “I want Jesus to be my Lord!” He later was baptized, setting the stage for transformation of the whole village.
 
That’s a decision we need to make anew as followers of Christ. The line has been drawn.
 
What could God do with your life if you choose to follow Him?
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent.)

8/12/2015 11:04:57 AM by Erich Bridges, IMB | with 0 comments



Facing legal action, churches have a ‘spirit of power’

August 11 2015 by Brian K. Davis, BSC Associate Executive Director-Treasurer

In the Aug. 1 edition of the Biblical Recorder, I wrote a column about how churches should respond to the June 26 Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision. I called attention to the negative statement in 2 Timothy 1:7. Paul, writing to young Timothy, proclaimed, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear.” After identifying what God has not provided, Paul identifies three things that God has provided.
 
The first gift from God Paul identified for Timothy is, “a spirit of power.”
 
Regardless of the actions of the Court, the church still has a great deal of power in determining how its ministers and members engage in disciple-making through missions and ministry. The ultimate governing documents of the church, the scriptures, are not perceived as such by the government.
 
But the government recognizes that non-profit entities – including churches – have the power to establish their own policies.
 
Sadly, many churches do not utilize this power as they have few policies, poor policies or no policies at all.
I am currently leading seminars across the state, meeting with church and associational leaders, to help them understand the power they have in creating wedding policies and facility-use policies. In these seminars I explain the distinctions between the various governing documents that churches may develop, beginning with articles of incorporation and moving downward in legal authority through constitution, bylaws and day-to-day policies.
 
Many pastors are concerned their policies do not carry sufficient legal authority. Some church leaders have been led to believe that wedding policies belong in bylaws or other documents.
 
It’s important to remember that bylaws provide a framework for the church’s major decisions – such as annual decisions or matters that only take place occasionally. For example, the bylaws should address how church committees are elected, but the details of how these committees conduct their day-to-day activities are better placed in policies.
 
Certainly, providing an overview of their assignment and expectations is appropriate, but the details of how a committee completes specific tasks are better placed in a policy. The same is true for pastors;  bylaws should identify how they’re called and broad references to responsibilities, but how they conduct day-to-day ministry is better addressed in personnel policies.
 
Some churches have mistakenly placed day-to-day responsibilities for ministers, committees and other church ministries in bylaws. Now is a good time to review all governing documents and move content to appropriate locations – specifically as it relates to marriage.
 
Neglecting to review the congregation’s governing documents is never a problem, until there’s a problem.
The matter of same-sex weddings and facility-use reveals potential problems for many churches since their policies are outdated or simply do not exist. Allow me to explain why addressing marriage matters within the policies is preferable, beginning with the legal aspects and moving to the practical.
 
Church leaders are concerned with how weddings are conducted, how the church’s facilities are used for weddings and how their ministers engage in the ministry of weddings. By updating existing policies, or developing new ones for each of these matters, it’s easy to link the policies. For example, a facility-use policy – which should focus on all the potential uses of a facility, not just weddings – can refer to the wedding policy for those wishing to reserve church facilities for weddings.
 
However, problems arise when policies are scattered throughout a congregation’s governing documents.
If wedding matters are placed partly in the bylaws and partly in a policy manual, then those portions located in the bylaws will bear more legal authority in the event of a legal challenge. Potential conflicts can be avoided when these guidelines are all placed in well-worded and consistently implemented policies.
 
However, some may feel that potential conflict is the very reason that wedding matters should all be placed in the bylaws; due to the increased legal authority of the bylaws. It’s at this point that we move to the practical advantages of utilizing policies to address matters related to weddings.
 
First, day-to-day policies provide churches the ability to update content more quickly and easily. Bylaws, constitutions and articles of incorporation are much more difficult to update – and they should be, as each of these documents outline a congregation’s major decision-making processes.
 
However, the issue of marriage will continue to develop as our society continues to grapple with issues of sexuality. For example, prior to the passage of the marriage amendment to the constitution of North Carolina in 2012, some churches updated their marriage and facility-use policies to address same-sex marriage. But at that time, the concern was limited; few were considering about transgender matters. As a result, these churches now have a blind spot in their policies in light of the ever-changing landscape of sexuality.
 
Second, ministers need a clear and concise document they can place into the hands of any couple that speaks with them regarding marriage. A wedding policy provides a single document that outlines the church’s positions. All the couple needs is the wedding policy, they really do not need the full constitution and bylaws. Again, a policy that is clearly worded and consistently followed provides sufficient legal authority when approached by individuals or groups inquiring about weddings and/or the use of church facilities.
 
Clarity is of utmost importance. In the next installment I will address the content that should be included in church wedding and facility-use policies.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian K. Davis is associate executive director-treasurer at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)
 

Related Stories:

Churches should not fear court action
BSC offers resources for wedding, facility policies
Make church policies clear, complementary, loving
Proclaiming the fullness of God’s love
How churches can avoid three ‘dangerous assumptions’

8/11/2015 2:38:18 PM by Brian K. Davis, BSC Associate Executive Director-Treasurer | with 0 comments



The launch list

August 10 2015 by Diana Davis, Baptist Press

They’re on the front line of ministry in your church. They dedicate countless hours every week to Bible lesson preparation, outreach contacts and ministering to class members. From preschoolers to senior adults, your church’s Sunday School or small group leaders impact lives.
 
Need some fresh ideas for demonstrating appreciation for their faithful ministry?
 
Print an annual bulletin insert listing all Sunday School/small group teachers of the church, with teachers’ names listed under their “sending” Bible class. The sending class is the one they’d attend if they weren’t serving as a teacher. Beside each name, indicate the age group they lead, such as preschool, adult, etc. Challenge the church to pray faithfully for these leaders.
 
There’s no greater compliment to an adult Bible teacher than launching leaders to serve, so this list will encourage adult teachers. Adult classes can be the greatest supporters and encouragers for their members-in-service.
 
Challenge adult classes to honor and support them frequently, using some of these ideas:

  • Create a “wall of honor” display in your classroom, featuring their photos and class names. Leave room for additional teachers that God may call out, and update the display frequently. Email a photo of the wall to those featured there.

  • Pray for them in class often. Snap a photo of the class in prayer and text it to them.

  • Take a brief “field trip” during the last minutes of your class one week to stroll past classrooms where your class members serve in Sunday School. Snap an action photo and send it to them.

  • Send email encouragement notes, or mail notes signed by class members.

  • Help with a specific need for the class they teach, i.e. equipment, transportation, snacks for a fellowship, Bibles for class newcomers, a desired toy for a preschool classroom.

  • If your class has a Facebook group page or newsletter, feature their photo and an update on their class occasionally.

  • Provide a substitute teacher when they go on vacation.

  • Invite them to report annually to their home class about how God is working. The testimony could be given as a brief presentation during a class fellowship.

  • Be intentional about personally inviting them to class fellowship events, and welcome them warmly. As you get to know them, it’s easy to pray.

  • Keep their names on your class phone lists, newsletters and email lists. Put a star by their names to remind members to pray for them as they serve.

  • A simple “thank you” or “I pray for you” can be a great encouragement.

  • The annual updated “launch list” not only encourages adult classes to send out leaders, but it helps them celebrate and encourage all those who serve outside the class.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Davis, on the Web at dianadavis.org, is an author and minister’s wife in Pensacola, Fla.)

8/10/2015 4:15:22 PM by Diana Davis, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Loving the local church

August 7 2015 by Jeana Floyd, Baptist Press

I have a love relationship with the local church. The church has been my life – I was born a pastor’s child and eventually became a pastor’s wife. My father pastored Southern Baptist churches for over 50 years. And although I said I’d never marry a preacher, that’s exactly what I did. Almost 39 years later, I still love my “preacher man” and the local church.
 
I believe the benefits of being a minister’s wife in the local church far outweigh the negatives.
 
The local church supported Ronnie and me way back when we were newlyweds. Our very first church loved and supported us wholeheartedly and gave us our start in ministry life. They followed Ronnie’s leadership even though we were young. I have many sweet memories from that wonderful church. I vividly remember that in that small town with one grocery store and one gas station, there was a passion for ministry. From the First Baptist Church of Cherokee to Cross Church of Northwest Arkansas, the work ethic and passion for ministry in our churches has remained unchanged all these years.
 
As ministry life progressed, so came the birth of our two sons. Precious women poured into my life and mentored me in my new role as a mother. Our churches have also provided substitute parents and grandparents, a special blessing when living away from family.
 
To write with complete integrity, I must share that I was truly saved while serving as a pastor’s wife. I had made a decision as a child out of obedience to my parents; they did not force me in any way, but my desire to please them led me to make a decision that I would doubt for many years. I did not mean to live in a deceitful way. I loved God and I loved His church and would always rationalize, “How could I not be saved?” But great conviction led me to an understanding that my love for the church and God had not led me to a true salvation experience. I truly gave my heart to Jesus as a pastor’s wife in 1985 and have not doubted since that time. I am grateful to have settled that most important decision of my life not only for eternity’s sake but also for the many challenges I have faced since then. Now I know for sure that regardless of what I go through as an individual or pastor’s wife, He is with me.
 
When I was diagnosed with cancer, the church became our family in a deeper way, and instead of being the ministers, we were ministered to. Both of our families lived in another state, which made it difficult for them to be with us during this challenging time. The church became our daily support system in that hard season and I gained another appreciation for what the local church can mean to all of us.
 
As our children grew, committed Sunday School and small group leaders came alongside us as parents. In their teen years, their youth pastors became a huge influence in their lives. These influencers helped to guide our sons into becoming godly young men, who in turn have become godly husbands and fathers. Without a doubt, the church had a huge impact on where our sons are today in their spiritual walks. I have no regrets raising our children in ministry life. In fact, I consider it to have been a blessing and great benefit for our entire family.
 
Today I have a new concern and investment of the church for my grandchildren. Again, coming alongside their parents, the church provides a huge opportunity for their spiritual growth. I am thankful for this provision, again, through the local church.
 
Each place we have served has a special place in my heart. Each one of those places taught us distinct lessons through our time served there. Some have been more difficult than others. There have been hard times as well as great times. God has used specific people to grow us, mold us, and refine us in His calling to serve Him in the local church.
 
My greatest joys in life are being a wife, mother, grandmother and pastor’s wife. You might say that I love my job. I have no regrets at the life investment Ronnie and I have made in the local church. I have definitely experienced firsthand the faithfulness of God, serving Him in the local church in the good times and the challenging times. The Church of Jesus Christ has withstood many trials and challenges, but God’s Word tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). What a privilege to serve Him in ministry and to reap the benefits as an individual and a family, knowing that His Church will stand the test of time, now and forever.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeana Floyd is the wife of SBC President, Ronnie Floyd, and is a member of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark.)

8/7/2015 11:36:27 AM by Jeana Floyd, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Developing stewards

August 6 2015 by Jeff Iorg, GGBTS

One of the casualties of the loss of discipleship focus in many churches is the absence of an intentional stewardship development strategy. Some pastors are afraid to “talk about money” in church (a ridiculous cop-out) and others over-spiritualize church finances (expecting money to magically materialize when it’s needed). Wise leaders implement intentional strategies to develop stewards – helping people manage their wealth (all of it, not just the part they give away).
 
Developing stewards is a favorite theme for me. I was fortunate to be trained as a young adult in a church that did a good job with this facet of disciple-making. One of the early lessons I learned related to giving was “the tithe is the baseline and grace givers exceed the tithe.” My family and I took that lesson to heart and have given away more than 10 percent of our income for more than 35 years. As a result, we have experienced God’s supernatural provision and enjoyed His financial protection in tangible ways.
 
Over the years, some younger Christians have challenged me when I have taught the aforementioned basic conviction. They claim the tithe is passé, and grace frees us to give whatever amount God directs. In one sense, I agree. The tithe is legalistic – and Christians are free from legalistic ritual. But in another sense, I disagree. In the New Testament, the law was fulfilled (filled full and exceeded) – not fulfilled (abolished and ignored).
 
Three examples. Jesus said the law forbade adultery – but He forbade lustful thoughts. Jesus said the law forbade murder – but He forbade vengeful plotting. Jesus affirmed that God required a sacrifice for sin to be forgiven – and then offered Himself as the consummate sacrifice. Jesus taught that legalism was overwhelmed by grace – its standards exceeded by grace-living in every way.
 
So, if you claim the tithe is passé – and by that you mean we should all give more than a tithe, I agree! But if you use the claim to excuse your selfishness – giving less than even a legalist would give – I disagree.
 
American Christians currently give – by multiple survey reports – between 2.5 and 3.0 percent of their income to kingdom causes. Any way you cut those numbers, we are a selfish, greedy people. May God give church leaders courage to re-establish stewardship training as part of their disciple-making ministry. May God give us faith to trust Him as we learn to give away more and more of the resources He has generously provided.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Iorg is president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, with campuses in the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, Denver and Phoenix. This column first appeared at the seminary’s President’s Blog.)

8/6/2015 11:17:45 AM by Jeff Iorg, GGBTS | with 0 comments



The Great Barrier Reach

August 5 2015 by David Jeremiah, Turning Point

London’s far-famed British Museum has more than six million artifacts either on display or in storage. The object that’s most popular with tourists is a 1700-pound block of black granite that British archaeologists brought from the town of Rosetta, Egypt, to London at the beginning of the 1800s. It’s called the Rosetta Stone, and it dates to antiquity. The Rosetta Stone bears an inscription in three languages – Hieroglyphs, Demotic and Greek. By comparing the inscriptions, scholars were able to decipher Hieroglyphics and overcome the barriers to understanding this strange picture-writing.
 
Now, forget about the British Museum a moment and let me tell you another story. Years ago, a man named Allen Stolzfus moved to Germany and picked up the German language with remarkable ease by being immersed in the culture. He had to learn basic words and phrases to get along, and he found the process exciting. But later, in the 1980s, when he tried to learn the Russian language in a classroom setting, he had much less success. Wanting to replicate his German experience, Stolzfus and his brother-in-law created a software that would make language-learning natural and fun. They wanted to create the next best thing to actually being immersed in another language group. In a flash of brilliance, they named their company Rosetta Stone.
 
Perhaps the greatest lesson I take away from the Rosetta Stone story is this: If you really want to understand something, you must experience it and immerse yourself in it. Mr. Stolzfus learned German by plunging into the culture where he had to sink or swim on his own. By living among the people, walking in their streets, eating in their cafes, visiting their homes and offices, he made friends and learned to say “Guten Morgen” and “auf Wiedersehen.” In so doing, he reached across the barriers of culture and language.
 

What Jesus did

In a miniature way, that’s a sample of what the Lord Jesus Christ did for us. The greatest barrier reach in history was when Jesus Christ left the ivory palaces of heaven to immerse Himself in the dusty streets of Galilee. He walked among us, communicated with us in our language and connected with us. He broke bread with us, shared our tears and fears, visited our homes, and called us His friends. Jesus Christ spanned the barrier between earth and heaven, between God and humanity, between righteousness and sin, between time and eternity.
 
I like the way Ken Taylor paraphrased 1 Timothy 2:5 in the old Living Bible: “God is on one side and all the people on the other side, and Jesus Christ, Himself man, is between them to bring them together.”
 
That’s the greatest barrier reach in history because the gulf between God’s holiness and our sinfulness is wider than a billion Grand Canyons, deeper than a million bottomless pits, and only one person could bridge the chasm. Jesus said, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13). Jesus became a human suspension bridge who came to seek and to save those who are lost.
 

What we can do

In John 20:21, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (NASB). Jesus is our Redeemer, but He’s also our mentor and model. Following His example, we’re to devote ourselves to the Great Barrier Reach.
 
As we seek to win others to Him, we encounter a lot of barriers – like language, our own self-centeredness, the fear of rejection, various financial obstacles, and the discouragements Satan throws our way. It costs a lot to immerse yourself in someone else’s problems, their pain, their world, their needs. It took a lot for the Good Shepherd to seek His one missing lamb. It took a lot for Jonah to encircle Nineveh with the message he was given. It took a lot for Peter to go to the Gentiles, and for Paul to stand before emperors. It will take the sacrifice of each of us if we are to break the barriers and reach the world with the gospel.
 
But the assignment is clear – now is the time for us to reach out across the Great Barrier Reach.
 
(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 DavidJeremiah.org.)

8/5/2015 11:35:04 AM by David Jeremiah, Turning Point | with 0 comments



The best of 2015 … so far

August 4 2015 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

Each year movie studios save the good stuff (well, comparatively) until the winter season, having bombarded us the first three months with product they have no faith in, then jamming the theaters during summertime with countless cape-wearing crusaders who battle nemeses for 140 minutes.
 
True, the Marvel extravaganzas are all distracting enough, but without their computer-generated magic we’re usually left with weak storylines and colorless portrayals.
 
For me, this year’s trailers have been better than the films they represented, the best being the one for “Tomorrowland.” Sadly, once past the first 20 minutes, that film itself didn’t live up to the trailer’s promise. Indeed, that’s been a problem with most of the anticipated theatrical releases this season.
 
I keep hoping we’re going to see the art form return to the real special effects – story, character and performance.
 
Also, wouldn’t it be nice if moviemakers stopped dumbing down and crudding up the culture with their products’ content? For example, when’s the last time you saw a comedy that didn’t rely on obscenity in order to garner laughs? Hey, I’m not being prudish – I just prefer the wit of “Dr. Strangelove” to the R-rated humor of funny guys named Seth.
 
This summer’s moviegoers, young and old on the whole, have digested nothing but the cinematic equivalent of headcheese. (Definition: headcheese is a dish made of portions of the head, or head and feet, of swine, cut up fine, seasoned, and pressed into a cheese-like mass.)
 
I keep wondering when we will get some filet mignon. I realize tastes change and perhaps I sound a bit high-minded over my dissatisfaction with the movies so far this year. What’s more, it cannot be denied that the first seven months of cinematic offerings have made a boatload of money. But my question to moviegoers is this: Wouldn’t you like to have some of that time and money back? So, while I will attempt to stay appreciative of changing tastes, when it comes to analyzing films, I shall continue to proclaim “headcheese” whenever it is served.
 
Here are a few exceptions to my grievances thus far this year. To be honest, even they aren’t all that magical.
 
“Woman in Gold”: Sixty years after she fled Vienna during World War II, an elderly Jewish woman (Helen Mirren) attempts to retrieve family possessions seized by the Nazis. Perhaps the most involving aspect of this drama, beside Ms. Mirren’s performance, is the battle of an individual against bureaucracy and government officials. PG
 
“Little Boy”: An 8-year-old boy wants his dad home from the war and he’s told that if you have a faith even as little as the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. He wonders, however, how do we get that faith? Gutsy and profound, Little Boy reminds us that the faith of a child can be more powerful than whole armies. It also reminds us that prejudice is something taught and, once taught, is very hard to un-teach. PG-13
 
“Inside Out”: Young Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness – that live in the control center of Riley’s mind where they help advise her through each facet of life. The makers of this animated family adventure use creativity to catch and hold our attention as they deal with an area seldom investigated in the genre: where sadness, joy and abstraction come from. The film examines the psyche in a way that impresses adults while amusing little ones. PG
 
“Max”: A military dog serves on the frontlines in Afghanistan alongside his handler. Upon the death of his master, Max is returned stateside to the family of the fallen Marine. This isn’t just about a dog and his new sullen teenage master. It’s a film of substance (though perhaps not as profound as “My Dog Skip”), ultimately reminding us of one of God’s great gifts to mankind, the canine. Dogs can be trained to see for us, hear for us, heal us, protect us. They serve the military, the police, our firefighters and those distressed. Different breeds can be trained to do just about anything. On top of that, they love us, forgive us and often better us. PG
 
We are overwhelmed by media influence, much of which doesn’t feed the soul. More unnerving is the fact what was considered abhorrent a generation ago is now accepted and celebrated by an industry that doesn’t create as much art as they profess.
 
I’m looking for an “Up,” or “Life of Pi,” “The Tree of Life” or “Gravity.” They’re not out there. Not yet.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phil Boatwright, in addition to writing for Baptist Press, reviews films for previewonline.org and is a regular contributor to “The World and Everything In It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.)

8/4/2015 11:12:32 AM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The funeral I most dreaded

August 3 2015 by Hershael York, Baptist Press

This morning (July 27) I will preach my father-in-law’s funeral at Camp Nelson National Cemetery in Nicholasville, Ky.
 
For 32 years of our marriage, I dreaded this terrible task because he was not a believer. He wanted no part of Christ or His gospel. We prayed for him, witnessed to him, sent others to talk to him, and five years ago even took him to Manaus, Brazil, to go fishing for tucunaré (peacock bass), but with the real intention of sharing Christ on the entire trip. We colluded, cooperated and conspired for his soul.
 
While in Manaus we attended the Nova Igreja Batista, where our close friends David and Pennie Hatcher serve and we stayed in their home. They and all the members of Nova became co-conspirators in our redemptive plot.
 
I will never forget sitting on the front row of their massive sanctuary surrounded by thousands of bouncing Brazilians worshipping and praising their Savior, smiles beaming from their brown faces. Gene could only recognize one word that they sang over and over – Jesus. He looked at Tanya and said, “These people really believe what they are singing.” She took the opportunity to drive home the point that He had changed their lives and that is why they sang so fervently.
 
When we got back to Kentucky, our niece met us at the airport and drove her grandfather home. She later told us that he did not stop talking – about the church and about David and Pennie. The three days of fishing the Rio Uatumã or seeing freshwater dolphins, caiman, howler monkeys or any of the things that he went to Brazil to see did not even merit a mention. Instead he was fixated on the obvious deep, meaningful belief in the gospel now so evident to him in so many people.
 
A few months later his body failed him. One night his legs refused to work for him anymore and he never walked again. Too big and with too many medical needs for any of us to care for at home, the man whose life was as big as the great outdoors suddenly found himself limited to the four walls of a single room and flat on his back in a nursing home.
 
For the first four or five days we had to go through red tape to get him a television and, coupled with his near deafness, he had nothing to watch or hear when we weren’t there. The strange providence of God had twisted and brought him into the last place on earth he wanted to be but precisely where he needed to be. There, in the silence of that room, God brought to his mind all the times someone had shared the gospel with him, the simple message that Jesus saves by grace through faith. The effect in the lives of his children and grandchildren and his deceased wife and so many others, he realized, was undeniable.
 
The next day Tanya and I came to see him and were amazed by his attitude. Frankly, we had anticipated that he would hate the nursing home and might be terribly uncooperative. Instead he was positive, focused and met this challenge with the same spirit that helped him survive World War II. We were, to be candid, stunned.
 
As we got up to leave, Gene put out his hand and said something strange to me. “Preach to me, Hershey.”
 
He had never said that before. I thought he was confused or that asking me to pray for him was so unusual that he just didn’t know how to do it. In 32 years, until this moment, he had never asked me to pray for him or with him about anything. A few days earlier he had held out his hand and said, “Say some good words for me,” and I had taken that to mean pray for him and I had. Now I was trying to interpret, “Preach to me” and thought surely he meant for me to pray.
 
So Tanya took one hand and I the other, and I prayed. I asked God to strengthen and heal him according to His will, but then I prayed for God to save him. I begged God to help him see that Jesus is the only way. I told God that Gene had had his way for far too long, and I pleaded with Him to overwhelm him with His love and to overrule his stubborn heart and grant him repentance and faith in Christ alone.
 
When I said, “Amen,” Gene patted my hand and looked me in the eye and said, “I’ve done that.”
 
Tanya and I shot each other a skeptical and confused glance, both of us worried that he might say such a thing too lightly – though he certainly never had before.
 
“What?” I asked. “I’ve done that!” “You’re telling me that you have repented of your sins and you are trusting in Christ alone for eternal life?” “Yes,” he answered. “I have.” “Now, Gene,” I pleaded, “I really need to be sure about this because more than anything I want to spend eternity with you.” “Well you will,” he said, “because I have done that.”
 
I wish I could tell you how sweet these last three years of his life have been, even in difficult circumstances none of us would ever choose. We saw God’s grace at work in his life even as it had a profound effect on us as well. So today, I am not preaching the funeral I dreaded. I am preaching the funeral that I could preach for a Rahab, or a Ruth or the thief on the cross. It’s the story of redemption, of God’s love extended to one whom many thought beyond His reach. It’s the story of the 5 o’clock worker who gets the same reward as the one who’s labored since dawn. It’s the story of grace. It’s the story of Jesus.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Hershael York serves as Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He is also pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort and a former president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. This post originally appeared at Hershael York’s website, pastorwell.com.)

8/3/2015 11:22:50 AM by Hershael York, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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