August 2018

When the directions don’t make sense

August 30 2018 by Katie McCoy

We were so, so close, yet so, so far.
 

When I moved to Fort Worth 10 years ago to enroll in seminary, my mom and I were navigating around an unfamiliar Texas city after dark trying to find our hotel.
 
The directions were simple. We found the road we were supposed to turn down. But there was one problem – instead of seeing our hotel, all we could see was a road sign that said we were getting back on the interstate.
 
“We’ve got to be missing something,” we thought. “We don’t want to get on I-20. These directions must be wrong.”
 
After looping around a confusing intersection, we gave it a shot and turned down the service road but still couldn’t see the hotel. So we turned around to start over. Finally, after much frustration, we just went with the directions we had, still unable to see where we were going.
 
And just over the hill, there it was, the whole time – our destination.
 
The funny thing was that we were right where we were supposed to have been the entire time. But between the directions that didn’t seem to make sense and the fact that we couldn’t see beyond what was in front of us, we felt like we were going the wrong way. We were on the right road, but since it was unfamiliar territory, the directions didn’t make sense until we could look back and see where we were.
 
Ever been there?
 
God’s Word is full of gutsy, adventurous women who probably felt like they didn’t know where they were going at the time.
 
Before Ruth was the celebrated ancestor of King David, she was an impoverished, widowed Gentile who left all that was familiar to stay with her mother-in-law (Ruth 4:18-22).
 
Before Elizabeth gave birth to the son who would prepare a nation to meet its Messiah, she was infertile until her old age and lived in reproach (Luke 1:5-25).
 
Before Abigail married into royalty after her husband died, she was stuck with a fool for a spouse and had to intervene for their lives when he spoke rashly (1 Samuel 25).
 
Before Priscilla met and traveled with Paul on his missionary journeys and spiritually nurtured the preacher Apollos, she and her husband were displaced Jews who were kicked out of their Roman home (Acts 18).
 
And before she was revered for her obedience and known as the virgin mother of Jesus, Mary was a socially ostracized teenager few would believe (Luke 1).
 
They were women just like us. They faced fears, uncertainties and situations beyond their control. But they trusted God over their circumstances. They obeyed Him before they could see how it all fit together and made sense.
 
It’s easy to attempt to see the destination we’re trying to find instead of simply moving in the direction we’re supposed to go. But God calls us to trust and follow Him even when we feel like we can’t see where we’re going. Everything else is a dead-end road to frustration and confusion.
 
Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant?” we read in Isaiah 50:10. “Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.
 
Are you willing to trust the Lord when you can’t see where you’re going? To believe that He can – and will – accomplish His purpose for you because He is faithful and always good (Psalm 138:8)?
 
Then take the road of faith. Start following His direction for your life right where you are. God is faithful. He always leads you in the right direction.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Katie McCoy is assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Scarborough College of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and editor of the seminary’s Biblical Woman website, biblicalwoman.com. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/30/2018 10:03:45 AM by Katie McCoy | with 0 comments



A meeting of the hearts

August 29 2018 by Rick Lance

“We are going to have a meeting of the minds.” I have made that statement so many times that the expression has become a trite one. Perhaps you feel the same way.
 

Recently, I was a participant in a meeting of the hearts. Our new Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president, J.D. Greear, called for a gathering of southern state convention executive directors, and I was privileged to be able to attend.
 
In this meeting of the hearts, J.D. offered excellent leadership in guiding the discussion through some significant areas of concern and interest. He highlighted his six initiatives that he feels the Lord has led him to address during his tenure.
 
Two major areas of discussion were given much attention. One was related to the need for a greater emphasis upon evangelism in the SBC. J.D. shared his heart about his passion to see people come to know Christ. The room was filled with an atmosphere of amens.
 
He gave testimony to an effort in his church to focus on personal witnessing. He told the group that he is asking his church family to consider the question, “Who is your one?” Who is the one person you are seeking to help come to know Christ? That simple question resonated with the group. More will come from our president in the near future related to that soul-stirring question.
 
J.D. shared the same passion as others in that group who want to see a major missional mobilization of college and university students as they seek to find God’s will for their lives. This is something dear to the hearts of state convention leaders as well. This is an important emphasis of our new president, and state conventions are already in the game on this one.
 
I left the meeting of the hearts encouraged and inspired. I began asking myself, “What can I do to help our SBC president as he leads us in these challenging days?”
 
I determined to do several things now and in the near future.
 
First, I have dedicated myself to pray intentionally for J.D. Greear. I am praying for him as he seeks the will of God, with the wisdom of God for his leadership in SBC life.
 
Further, I am praying for his family. He has relatively young children, and the demands upon him as president of the SBC and as pastor of his church are incalculable.
 
In addition, I am going to remember his church family in prayer, especially his staff as they assist him with the duties and responsibilities he faces.
 
Second, I have dedicated myself to partner with him intentionally. J.D. graciously asked us the question, “How can I serve you?”
 
I quickly responded that we are not accustomed to hearing that kind of question, and then I asked myself when was the last time I said to a president of the SBC: “How can I serve you?”
 
It is a two-way street. Partnership, healthy partnership, is built on the foundation of mutual trust and personal sacrifice. I left that gathering thankful for a leader who would ask us that servant-focused question.
 
I also left committed to asking him that question when the opportunities present themselves.
 
Third, I have dedicated myself to participate with him intentionally in leading the SBC annual meeting in Birmingham next year. Not since 1941 has Birmingham hosted the SBC meeting. I want Alabama Baptists to participate in this convention in record numbers. What all that means is not yet fully realized, but the opportunity to welcome our Southern Baptist family to Birmingham should be something we take seriously.
 
Yes, my fellow state executive directors had a meeting of the hearts with our new SBC president, and I left with my heart being strangely warmed. I believe my colleagues did as well.
 
In that meeting of the hearts, I felt as though we were all on the same team. I was convinced that this was a good way to begin presidential leadership.
 
Thank you, Mr. President, for this meeting of the hearts. Thanks for asking us how you can serve us. Thanks for allowing us to pray for you and to discuss with you what we can do together as you lead us in the days to come.
 
I believe we had a genuine meeting of the hearts. I pray for more to come.
 
Related Stories:
Greear to state execs: ‘How may I serve you?’
J.D. Greear seeks unity, diversity
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rick Lance is a state missionary and executive director of the Alabama State Board of Missions. J.D. Greear’s six initiatives are listed in this BR story. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/29/2018 10:07:23 AM by Rick Lance | with 0 comments



Reading the Bible, every year

August 28 2018 by Doug Munton

Few practices have blessed my life and ministry as greatly as reading the entire Bible at least once each year. Of course, as a pastor, there are some advantages. If I am quietly reading the Bible at church, for example, people say, “Don’t bother Pastor Doug!”
 

If, however, you are in bivocational ministry (God bless you and may your tribe increase!) or your ministry is not part of your vocation (how thankful I am for your willingness to serve faithfully as a volunteer!), you probably won’t have that advantage.
 
One other caveat. If you haven’t read through the New Testament (NT) fully, start there. Read it all the way through several times before going to the more daunting reading of the entire Old Testament. I have sometimes used a reading plan to read the NT in one month; various 30-day plans can be found online. After several times through the NT, you are ready to read the entire 66 books of the Bible.
 
Here are some of the reasons I read through the entire Bible each year.
 
1. I see the big picture of God’s story more clearly. It takes several times through the Bible to begin to put all the pieces together. There are so many names and places and stories, so it takes several times through to begin to see how they all fit. Each time through can provide more clarity.
 
2. God uses unexpected passages in unexpected ways to speak truth into my heart. I read about Jabez, for example, as I worked my way through the chronology of 1 Chronicles. His story was good for my soul. Reading the book of Job many times has deepened my faith in God’s goodness even when I can’t understand my circumstances.
 
3. It stretches my understanding and deepens my faith. I read things I would not normally read and learn things I would not normally learn. Instead of just reading the parts of the Bible that make me comfortable, I am forced to deal with important subjects like judgment and sin.
 
4. It enriches my preaching and teaching. I deal with sections of the Bible I might otherwise ignore, and I understand context better by broad reading, helping me do systematic theology. It allows me to better connect the stories of the Bible and to see the various perspectives of the human authors as they are guided by the Holy Spirit.
 
5. It keeps me from error. If I only read about the love of God and not the holiness of God, I don’t fully see God’s nature. God is both loving and holy, and both are revealed in scripture. Broad reading of the Word keeps me from cultural and personal bias and helps me see the whole truth. It aids in avoiding mistakes that come from knowing only partial truth or not knowing the truth at all.
 
6. It leads me to deeper reflection and focus. Focusing on a single verse does not always lead to bulk reading, but bulk reading of the Word has always led me to focus on a single verse. I underline verses that speak to me as I go, and this has led me to reflect, consider and memorize.
 
7. It reminds me of the value of other spiritual disciplines. Having benefited from the discipline of Bible reading, I see the value of discipline in my prayer life. I love connecting my reading of the Word to a prayer time. This reading discipline also helps me to consider discipline in other areas like evangelism and relationships and fasting.
 
These are just a few reasons to read the entire Bible for yourself. Don’t feel as though you must read the 66 books in order. I usually skip back and forth between the Old and New Testaments and rarely read them in order. There are many ways that you might find most beneficial for yourself. Just begin reading.
 
How about starting through the New Testament today?
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Doug Munton, dougmunton.com, is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O'Fallon, Ill., and a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/28/2018 9:40:05 AM by Doug Munton | with 0 comments



Don’t ditch your denomination

August 24 2018 by Fred Luter

In September 1986, my life was changed forever when I was elected as pastor of a dying Southern Baptist mission called Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.
 

I grew up in the National Baptist denomination. I was the middle of five kids raised by a single mom who required everyone in her house to attend church on Sunday mornings.
 
At the age of 21, I was radically saved while lying in Charity Hospital in New Orleans not knowing if I was going to live the next 24 hours because of a serious head wound. A deacon of the church I grew up in put his finger inches from my face and said without apology, “Boy, obedience is better than sacrifice. If you were obedient to your mom, you would not be sacrificing your life here in this hospital!”
 
That night I asked Jesus Christ to come into my life and woke up the next morning with a commitment to live the rest of my life as a born-again Christian.
 
After getting out of the hospital, I started a street ministry in the neighborhood I grew up in because I wanted everyone to know about this Jesus who turned my life around. While preaching one Sunday at a National Baptist church, someone mentioned to me that Franklin Avenue was looking for a pastor and asked if I would be interested. I said, “Franklin Avenue is a white church, blacks do not go there!” That’s when I was told about the transitioning neighborhood and how Franklin Avenue was now an African American congregation. Well, I submitted my resume, and as the saying goes, the rest is history.
 
After meeting with the pulpit committee several times, I was then scheduled to teach a church-wide Sunday School and preach for the 11 a.m. worship service. After the service, there was about a 90-minute Q&A time with 35 to 40 members. Later that evening, I got a call from the pulpit committee chair to inform me that I had been elected as the mission’s pastor.
 
After hanging up the phone, I was both excited and scared because I had never led a church before.
 
Upon becoming the pastor, I was committed to ask for help in all areas I thought could assist us as a church and me as a pastor. And that’s when I was first introduced to the many benefits of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I met on a biweekly basis with leaders from our local association and then was introduced to professors, staff and facilities at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Our association trained our Sunday School teachers and ministry leaders while our seminary provided the space we needed for outreach events. Because of our growth, within three years we were able to become an autonomous church.
 
While brainstorming with our church leaders, one of our older members asked a question I did not expect. The question was: since we are now an autonomous church, why don’t we get out of the Southern Baptist Convention?
 
I was floored by the question and asked, “Why?” I was once again floored when I was told about the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. I never knew that the convention I was now a part of started as a result of slavery.
 
After a brief history lesson and intense discussion, I made a statement that I knew came from God. I looked each of those members in their eyes and said, “All of us have a past. All of us have done something in our past that we regret. However, there is nothing we can do about our past, but we can do a whole lot about our future.”
 
With that said, I then stated a number of reasons why I felt it would be in our best interest to not get out of the Southern Baptist Convention:
 

– Southern Baptists allowed us to worship in the building we were in at no cost.
 

– The SBC, through our local association, provided training for our ministry leaders without cost.
 

– The SBC, through the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, allowed us to use the gym and         other buildings for outreach events.
 

– The SBC stands on the infallibility of the Word of God.
 

– The SBC does missions, both local and international, better than any other group in the nation.
 

– The SBC is a key leader in disaster relief nationwide.
 

– The SBC believes in the importance of evangelism, discipleship and planting churches.
 

– The SBC is the most racially diverse convention in the nation.
 

 
I then stated, “The SBC is not a perfect convention by any means, but I truly believe that the SBC exists to do the will of God on this earth. So let’s stay with this convention and help to carry out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
 
I then asked for a vote and the vote was unanimous to stay in the Southern Baptist Convention. Looking back on that night, without a doubt, deciding not to “ditch our denomination” was one of the best decisions we have ever made as a church.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Fred Luter is pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.­ Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/24/2018 10:36:13 AM by Fred Luter | with 0 comments



What do spouses do when their callings don’t line up?

August 23 2018 by Lesley Hildreth

Several years ago I was speaking with a student from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary who was in a degree program where the student completes half of it on campus and the other half on the mission field. He said, “I have completed my on-campus hours and am ready to study overseas. But, I have a problem: my wife isn’t willing to go.”
 

Discerning the Lord’s call is an important step for everyone seeking to walk with God. Questions about how to sort out this crisis of calling abound. More specifically for this conversation are the questions about how spouses discern a call together and what they do when they don’t seem to share the same calling.
 
Since all Christians are commanded to make disciples of all nations, the questions believers must ask are “To whom are we sent?” and “Where?” Not everyone will be called to pack their suitcases, sell all their possessions, and move across the ocean to reach the nations. But some will. When this happens, the cost must be considered for the benefit of the nations and for the sake of healthy marriages and families because healthy families are testimonies to the reality of the gospel in a broken world.
 
If a marriage fails, the couple will be forced to leave the field, potentially leaving no witness behind.
 
Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 teach that husbands and wives submit to each other and pursue God’s plan for their lives. One spouse should not base his or her call solely on the experience or discernment of the other.
 
Each must seek to discern God’s call. However, the Bible also depicts a husband and wife joined as one flesh. Although this union does not eliminate the individual responsibilities of each spouse to obey, when it comes to God’s call to missions there is no biblical basis for thinking that God will only speak to one spouse and neglect the other.
 

How to discern God’s call to the nations

 
God uses several tools to awaken hearts to this specific call. Couples should work through these individually and then together.
 

Scripture

 
God reveals Himself through His Word. Christians should study and meditate on His Word. The more believers know Him, the more they can discern His voice. Explore scripture passages that address God’s plan for the nations. Couples can discuss what God seems to be teaching each of them.
 

Prayer

 
Spend significant time in prayer. Learn to be still and listen for God’s voice. In order to know His will, Christians must prioritize this discipline.
 
Pray intentionally for the nations together. Daily prayer requests for specific areas of the world can be found at imb.org/pray.
 

The counsel of mature believers

 
God places Christians in a community of other believers. These men and women know each one’s spiritual gifts, talents, training and ministry experience. Couples should seek counsel from them, and look to the body of Christ to affirm their call. They should find a mature couple or two, talk with them about how they feel the Lord is leading, and ask for advice and prayer support.
 

A willingness to obey

 
Believers cannot put conditions on their obedience to anything God asks them to do (Luke 14:26–27, 33). They should be honest with each other about their hesitation and reservations. They should identify and confess any fears or idols that may be hindering them from hearing from the Lord or obeying Him. Believers should pray for and support each other as they do.
 

Keep a journal

 
The couple should record all that God is teaching each of them through time spent in His Word, in prayer, and through circumstances and opportunities around them. They should discuss what they’ve been journaling. They should ask each other to help identify next steps as they respond to all the Lord is revealing.
 

Missionary biographies

 
They each should read books, blogs, etc. Listen to missionaries speak about their lives and ministries. Invite a missionary to coffee and ask them questions. In the journal, record insights and challenges from other missionaries that stand out and why. The couple should share those with each other.
 

Go on a short-term mission trip

 
If the couple has yet to travel overseas, this could be a significant step. They should make an effort to go on a short-term trip together. As they minister together, they should consider how this experience may be exposing God’s giftings and desires for them. They should record everything from preparing for the trip to debriefing the trip once they return. Discuss insights, challenges and highlights.
 

Work locally with internationals or refugees

 
Nothing magical happens when one gets on a plane and goes. If one is not sharing the gospel here, they won’t overseas either. They should find out how their local church is ministering to internationals, and explore ways that their family can be involved. If a couple’s church does not have ongoing opportunities to do so, they should research other ministries or talk to their local Baptist association or state convention to find specific ways they can help meet the needs of internationals or refugees in their community.
 

The rest of the story

 
As for the student I mentioned above, I encouraged his wife to seek the Lord, to pray to know God’s direction. I challenged the husband to wait for the Lord to do only what He could do in his wife’s heart. For this particular couple, a disconnect in their callings meant delaying one semester so they could walk through discerning their call together before going overseas. Eventually, their callings lined up.
 
This outcome is not guaranteed, unfortunately. However, it is important to remember that the model for how husbands and wives relate to each other is illustrated by Christ and the church. Following this example requires love, service, respect, honor and submission. As Christians consider their callings to missions, it would be unwise for them to make demands or manufacture a calling that is not of the Lord.
 
Those who believe they are called should remember that the same God who called them is powerful enough to call their spouse as well.
 
For more information, go to imb.org.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lesley Hildreth is the director of women’s discipleship for The Summit Church in Durham, N.C. Lesley and her family served for eight years with the IMB in western Europe and Central Asia. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/23/2018 11:43:38 AM by Lesley Hildreth | with 0 comments



Smyrna: The poor church that was rich

August 22 2018 by Lee Pigg

Second in a series
 
The year was A.D. 155 and he was told to curse God and live. The alternative was to be burned at the stake. His name was Polycarp and his response was, “Eighty and six years I have served Him and He has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my king who has saved me?”
 

You probably know the rest of the story. Polycarp proved faithful to God, and it cost him his life, but did you know that he was the bishop of Smyrna and many would say that he is the angel in Revelation 2:8-11?

Smyrna is known as the poor church that was rich, and its story can be compressed into a single word: tribulation. Their challenge was to be faithful. Jesus says to them that He knows what they have been through and reminds them that He is the first and the last, and with Him they are rich.
 
I believe we can be encouraged by these words as well, even when things are difficult.
 
A relationship with God is personal so we must take a personal look at our faithfulness. Jesus is having a personal conversation with John when He says, “I know.” Don’t ever forget that Jesus knows what we are going through, and His answer is that He is the first and the last. The people of Smyrna faced being tested, thrown into prison and even death, but were promised the crown of life for their faithfulness.
 
My encouragement to you is to remain faithful because, in the end, it will be of great worth.
The people of Smyrna are also challenged to have a permanent faithfulness – faithful to the very end, through temptations, trials and tribulations. They are told not to fear what they are about to face but to take courage because it is only temporary. The promise is beautiful.
 
Listen carefully: “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” Aren’t you glad that death holds no power over us because of Jesus the Christ?
 
The best part of the Smyrna story is that their faith will be perfected. What we hope for in this life, we will one day see in full. This church was poor by the world’s standards, but Jesus said they were rich.
 
They had a personal faith and that faith was permanent, to the very end, even when facing prison and death. Jesus says that’s the kind of faith that is rewarded with the crown of life.
 
Imagine with me standing before the one who died for us knowing that we have been faithful.
 
Just like Polycarp, not afraid of the wild beast or the flames, and hearing these words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
 
Related column:
Ephesus: Have we lost our first love?
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article is part of a series on the theme of the 2018 North Carolina Pastors Conference, “7 Churches of Revelation.” This years event will occur Nov. 4-5 in conjunction with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolinas annual meeting. Visit ncpastorsconference.org for more information. Lee Pigg is senior pastor of Hopewell Baptist Church in Monroe and outgoing BSC president. Each column in the series will be written by a different N.C. leader and refer to one of the seven churches in Revelation.)

8/22/2018 10:28:12 AM by Lee Pigg | with 0 comments



Called to communicate: Women serving ‘in seats of influence’

August 21 2018 by Margaret Colson

Just as Jesus affirmed first-century women, calling them to confess Him as Lord and tell the good news of the gospel, He continues to call women in the 21st century to communicate His story to the world.
 

Many women communicators today are answering that call, serving in denominational “seats of influence,” a term Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President J.D. Greear used in his post-election press conference during the SBC in Dallas.
 
From a national agency to a children’s home; from a state paper to a seminary campus – four women – Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources; Stella Prather, Arkansas Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries (ABCHomes); Jennifer Rash, The Alabama Baptist; and Amy Whitfield, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary – are representative of other women serving in key roles as Southern Baptist strategic communications leaders.
 
For about three quarters of a century collectively, these four women have made their mark on Southern Baptist communications, living out their divine communications callings as they craft messages, make decisions, lead staffs, plan strategically, develop budgets, mentor colleagues, manage crises and more. 
 

Strengthening the denomination


In today’s technological world where every person with a laptop computer or smartphone is, in effect, a communicator, strategic denominational communications takes on an even greater urgency.
 
“Quality communication is paramount in today’s world as we seek to cut through the noise and connect with those inside and outside of our denomination,” said Pipes, LifeWay’s director of corporate communications. “Effective communication is key to strengthening partnerships, connecting mission to ministry, building life-changing relationships and inviting people into a transformational faith journey.”

Southern Baptist polity and cooperation make effective communication a non-negotiable, said Rash, editor elect for The Alabama Baptist.

“With Southern Baptist polity of local church autonomy merged with cooperative efforts to partner in large-scale efforts added to the mix, effective communication is truly the only way to survive long term,” she added. 
 
“Effective communication cuts down on confusion, keeps the members appropriately informed in a timely manner and allows for enhanced opportunities to resource the members toward our ultimate goals as Southern Baptists – to share the gospel of Jesus Christ; to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength; and to love our neighbors as ourselves.”
 

Inspired by biblical women


All along the way, today’s women communications leaders find inspiration through the women who come to life on the pages of the New Testament: Martha, Mary Magdalene and the Samaritan woman.
 
Martha’s “bold proclamation” of Jesus as Messiah “profoundly affected” Whitfield, director of communications at Southeastern Seminary. “While Martha is often most known for her interaction with Jesus about following her sister’s example of ‘choosing the good part,’ I am most moved that she went on to become the only woman documented in scripture to confess Christ as Messiah in John 11,” she said.
 


Amy Whitfield

“In her greatest moment of grief after losing her brother, she showed tremendous faith in a bold proclamation.”
 
Having also worked for LifeWay Christian Resources and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Whitfield, co-author of a recently published book, SBC FAQs: A Ready Reference, acknowledges that there are times when she is the only woman in the room for a meeting or event.
 
“But I have been fortunate to be encouraged and affirmed in my participation,” she said, just as Jesus encouraged and affirmed women in His days on earth.
 
Rash is inspired by Jesus’ resurrection, she said. “I love the passage in John where the resurrected Jesus called on Mary Magdalene to go and communicate His resurrection message. It provides clarity for me that Jesus saw women just as capable as men to share the gospel. As far as we can tell, Jesus did not look around for a man first but purposefully picked Mary Magdalene to be the initial person to get the privilege of sharing His important message.”
 
Another woman to share Jesus’ message was an anonymous, despised woman, known in scripture as the Samaritan woman. After meeting Jesus, the Samaritan woman went back into town to tell the people, including men, about her encounter with Jesus in John 4.
 
“Many … believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony,” said Prather, ABCHomes director of communications.  “The Lord used her story to make a difference. I believe He, too, can use the stories and communication I am privileged to tell,” said Prather, who worked previously for Arkansas Baptist News.
 

Committed to the call


Although every ministry opportunity comes with its share of challenges, women serving as denominational communications leaders find their greatest fulfillment in living out their callings faithfully, they shared.
 


Carol Pipes

Sometimes that commitment to the call might include the unexpected. “I still remember a mentor, a boss who took out the trash. It wasn’t that person’s job, but it needed to be done,” Prather said.
 
Both large and small tasks are a part of the mix of serving in a Christian context, believes Whitfield. “Be willing to accept small tasks as part of the team and to accept big tasks as a way to expand your gifts,” she said.
 
Through the years, Rash has learned, “If you are truly sensing God’s calling, then stay focused on Him and the work He has for you to do.
 
“It isn’t always easy, but I am driven by the opportunity and challenge to help believers in Christ learn from each other – to sharpen each other, as scripture says – while also sharing calmly and clearly so we can attempt to be the best versions of the people God made us to be,” Rash said.
 
Grateful that she has “truly felt support, love and empowerment through most of my career and faith journey,” Rash finds fulfillment as she helps “resource and empower the staff of The Alabama Baptist.”
 
Pipes, too, is grateful for those who serve alongside her in Christian communications, saying, “My colleagues at LifeWay inspire me to bring my best every day.”
 


Jennifer Rash

Prather and Rash learned the importance of such mutual support, encouragement and sharpening soon after college graduation, when the two met on the mission field. Rash served with the International Mission Board in a communications-related role and Prather served with the Home Mission Board (now known as the North American Mission Board) in college student and resort ministry.

After her mission work, Prather landed an opportunity in public relations with the Florida Baptist Convention. Her passion for storytelling, honed during that first denominational experience, has only intensified through the years.
 
“I tell people all the time that I have the best job in Arkansas because I have the privilege of telling the story of how Arkansas Baptists are making a difference in the lives of children and families in crisis,” said Prather, the mother of two boys.
 
“We work for the King of kings. Our communication in telling His story should be of utmost importance.”
 
Whitfield, who admits that “work-life balance is always a challenge,” echoes Prather’s passion for storytelling.
 


Stella Prather


“I love getting to tell stories of people on mission. Our school’s mission is to equip students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission. When I tell the story of our institution and the stories of our students, I get to share one small part of what God is doing in the world.
 
“Everything we do points to one great story,” she said, “so it is vital that our messages are honest and compelling.”
 
Years ago, when Pipes served the summer before college graduation with World Changers, a ministry that provides missions experiences for students, she first sensed God calling her to serve Him through communications.
 

“I realized I loved writing for and about the Church. I especially love sharing stories of how God is working in and through the lives of His people,” she said.
 
Today, her commitment to that calling directs her.
 
“My hope is every word I speak, every sentence I publish would honor God, stand for truth and help build Christ’s church,” she said.
 
“What an honorable task we have to be communicators for our convention.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Margaret Colson is executive director of the Baptist Communicators Association and executive secretary for the Association of State Baptist Publications. This article was originally published by Arkansas Baptist News.)  

8/21/2018 11:51:55 AM by Margaret Colson | with 0 comments



Racial unity: Can we move on?

August 20 2018 by Dan Darling

I’m often asked by well-meaning Christians, “Why do we have to keep talking about race?” And the best answer I can give is this: the Bible keeps talking about race.
 

Jesus offered the gospel as something for “all nations” or “all ethnicities” (Matthew 28:19). Luke details how, at Pentecost, people were present from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). This means the good news, made possible because of the death, burial and resurrection of a dark-skinned Middle-Eastern man, is a gospel for every kind of person, everywhere.
 
Jesus is calling together a multi-ethnic people who will one day gather around his throne: “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth’ (Revelation 5:9-10).
 
“… After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).
 
The presence of “every ... nation,” “from all tribes and peoples and languages” around His throne, reflects God’s delight in diversity. He is the one who created, from Adam, the variety of tongues and tribes and nations. He is the one who is calling and building a new people in Christ. He is the one who, in Jesus, creates “one, new man” (Ephesians 2:15).
 
This is where we are heading. And when we pray, “Your kingdom come,” this is what we are asking for – to be fully realized by our King’s return, and to be experienced in our lives and by our behavior as fully as possible as we wait for the King’s return. This is not a liberal or conservative ideal but a reflection of the fullest expression of humanity and of the heart of Christ.
 
Of course, between Jesus’ first coming and His second, the real-world reality of God’s work in the world and in the church is often messy and hard and uneven. It has always been so.
 
The early church struggled with race. Paul was forced to address this reality to congregations struggling to unify Jewish believers and Gentile converts. They were seeing the Spirit of God bring people from a variety of nations and cultures. One of the churches Paul planted, in Ephesus, was situated in a busy metropolis and attracted merchants from around the Roman Empire.
 
Paul says this ingathering of people was a feature, not a bug, of the gospel: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:14-17).
 
Paul was speaking here about Jews and Gentiles – a racial division that was very entrenched, very antagonistic, historically very complex and as seemingly intractable as anything we struggle with and labor under the burden of today. Yet Paul dares to say that in the gospel of Christ, the dividing wall of hostility has been broken down; and therefore within the people of Christ, the walls must always be kept down.
 
Racial unity is not incidental to gospel witness but a feature of the gospel’s work.
 
We are “one new man” – or one race – and yet we delight in our diversity. The gospel overcomes suspicion and pride – those barriers to fellowship and love and unity – yet it refuses to erase our racial identities.
 
God delights in a people made up of the beautiful, diverse peoples He created in His image and called “good.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article was adapted from chapter in Dan Darling’s new book, The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity. Used by permission.)

8/20/2018 1:33:34 PM by Dan Darling | with 0 comments



Heaven on earth

August 17 2018 by Joshua Crutchfield

I love preaching about heaven – but hardly in the way that you might expect.
 

I do not limit it to the place that you go to when you die but what has already erupted on earth due to the salvation that God is imparting to those who trust in Him.
 
Many churches today exist because of shared lifestyles and interests. People gather with others who are most like themselves. This is true of ethnicity, education, profession and just about anything else that functions as an identifier.
 
So, when the world sees the local church, the world sees something they can explain in terms much like their communities’ social clubs and affiliations. The church looks more like a common community occurrence rather than a supernatural movement that can only be explained as a work of God as heaven’s outpost on earth and a demonstration of His phenomenal activity.
 
When Jesus walked the earth, He proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven had come and He commissioned His disciples to say the same (Matthew 10:7). The King had come with power and authority and began to overthrow the dominion of darkness, with every blind eye opened, every deaf ear unplugged, every dance of the lame and every song of the mute.
 
Jesus gave us a glimpse of heaven as He gave us a glimpse of Himself. Where Jesus is, heaven is there also.
 
But upon His departure, Jesus poured heaven out upon His people and filled them with the Holy Spirit. By the presence and work of the Holy Spirit the church comes together as a diversely unified body with one hope, one Lord, one baptism and one God (Ephesians 4:4–6).
 
This is not a programmatic organization, but an enigmatic organism that cannot be explained except that God has brought and is bringing all peoples together as a manifestation of heaven on earth. People who want to know what heaven is like should be able to join you for worship on Sunday with your church family and find out. 
 
While the churches that make up our convention are diverse in just about every kind of category, they are unified together through a shared Savior who has provided the same Spirit for every gospel-centered, God-glorifying assembly. Consider how you and your church family can reveal the supernatural work of God in your community.
 
When our congregations begin to see that Jesus is the common denominator who brings all peoples together and truly gather together because of Him, then our world will begin to see the supernatural – heaven on earth. Those outside the faith community will see the extraordinary because there is nothing ordinary about a church filled with peoples from every culture, every background and from every walk of life, assembling as a family for the purpose of loving God by loving one another.
 
A church who comes together like this does not do so with smoke, mirrors or lights, but by the supernatural awe-inspiring power of God who reveals heaven on earth through a people who look and live like heaven.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/17/2018 10:47:33 AM by Joshua Crutchfield | with 0 comments



4 steps every new small group should take

August 16 2018 by Phanuel Roxas

Small groups build community and help new church members feel more connected to the local church. A smaller setting helps shrink down a large congregation to smaller, more intimate gatherings where members can establish deeper roots.
 
No matter how each group is formed, there are some practical elements to consider when launching a brand-new group. Here are four steps every small group should take in the beginning.
 
1. Establish a realistic schedule: Consistency is key for a flourishing small group. Scheduling time around families, jobs and various life circumstances can be difficult. When starting a small group, take an honest look at the calendar to plan meeting times that work.
 
There is no way to accommodate or anticipate the schedule of the entire group, but it is a healthy practice to set expectations. Make sure each meeting date is treated with a high level of commitment, even if it is every other week. Remember it takes time to adjust to a new routine. Allow grace, but also make sure meeting times are prioritized.
 
2. Do not commit to a study immediately: A new small group needs time to develop friendships and connections. It might not be the best idea to immediately launch into a full book study when launching a new group. Allow some time for everyone to get comfortable sharing and adjusting to the various personalities.
 
In the first few weeks, let each member share their testimony or go out and share a meal together. Once a firm foundation has been established, you can open the discussion to a book or Bible study. Finding the right material for a group is easier once you know the personality of the group.
 
3. Set clear expectations for every meeting: Small groups can easily become a session of oversharing and rambling. Establish a clear vision for every meeting. The format and structure can vary, but make sure every aspect is achieved every meeting. It can be a time of sharing, prayer and Bible study. It is healthy practice to set expectations.
 
Decide which elements are most important for your small group in order to best reach every member resulting in an effective ministry. In the same way, set a time frame for each meeting. Establish a respectable time cap to prevent each meeting from turning into a two-hour long session. It can become taxing when small group meetings exceed a certain point.
 
4. Establish a centralized form of communication: Take time during the first meeting to establish a proper form of communication for all members. Find the best form for communication for your group and stick to it. This helps establish a good foundation for your group to communicate any needs or concerns throughout the week.
 
A group text or a mid-week email can be a simple way to check-in with each member. It is also a helpful way to connect with members who may miss a meeting. A consistent platform of communication helps with making sure weekly studies and prayer requests are shared and accounted for.
 
Community and small groups are often the entryway for church members to feel a sense of ownership. Healthy, Christian friendships and accountability flourish in small group settings. They are also vital to spiritual growth and discipleship. Take time to establish these foundational pieces to increase the longevity of each group.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article first appeared at Vanderbloemen.com. Used by permission.)

8/16/2018 11:07:16 AM by Phanuel Roxas | with 0 comments



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