December 2014

‘Unbroken’ misses story

December 31 2014 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

Many of the top films of 2014 did their best to promote secular significance while avoiding a spiritual component found in the greatest films of years past.
 
Successes including “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Dead Man Walking,” “Schindler’s List,” “Places in the Heart,” and “Tender Mercies” are works of art, both nurturing and entertaining. There were some good films this year, but no enduring classics.
 
One film comes close.
 
Unbroken,” opening Christmas Day, details the early life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was taken as a prisoner of war by Japanese forces during World War II after being stranded at sea for 47 days. Leaning on his faith, the POW was able to endure and eventually forgive the evil thrust upon him. Alas, this healing process and ability to forgive is only given in a couple of lines at the very end of the production.
 
“After years of severe post-traumatic stress, Louis made good on his promise to serve God, a decision he credited with saving his life.”
 
“Motivated by his faith, Louis came to see that the way forward was not revenge, but forgiveness.”
 
One leaves the theater suspecting the filmmakers missed the real story.
 
Please understand, Unbroken is a solid film, well acted, moving and instructive. Director Angelina Jolie bravely depicted Zamperini’s torment at the hands of the Japanese, despite the politically correct climate in which we live. The fierceness of Zamperini’s captors had to be depicted in order to reveal the man’s indomitable spirit and the grandness of his absolution. Jolie will catch some flak for the depiction, but it was a brave and honest decision.
 
It’s a good movie; but why isn’t it a great movie?
 
The answer lies in those two closing lines. We are told that Zamperini came to forgive his tormentors, including the camp commander known as the Bird, who was particularly barbaric. Reading those lines, I thought, there’s your story! The great majority of the 137-minute film includes seemingly endless scenes reflecting Zamperini’s suffering first at sea, and then in a POW camp.
 
Zamperini’s conversion and healing process are given virtually no screen time, but comprise the true story that needs to be told. Salvation and healing are Zamperini’s legacy, showing how a soul can find healing and peace.
 
How many films have we seen depicting soldiers enduring POW camps, while movies of survivors learning to forgive the horrific deeds done to them are few? If Zamperini can forgive those who bullied and beat him nearly to death, can we not forgive those who have mistreated us in more limited ways? So, show us the example, Hollywood!
 
I was privileged to speak with Luke Zamperini, Louis’ son. While he understood my frustration, he told me how his dad felt about the film. Louis died at the age of 97, but had been able to see a rough cut of the production, on Ms. Jolie’s laptop, no less.

  • “My dad’s story was so immense I can’t imagine getting it into a single film,” Luke began.

  • “We’re talking sequel?” I ask.

The son laughs. “There should be. The film is the way my dad would like it to be. Here’s why. He didn’t want it to be a film that just appealed to Christians. In his work as an evangelist, he was very subtle. He didn’t want to put the gospel right in front of your face. His style was more to get you interested and have your curiosity get the best of you and to find out for yourself.
 
“I personally think this film accomplishes that. When you see those few lines you’re talking about shown over him running in an Olympics marathon in Japan [at age 80], with this joyous expression on his face, that will cause curiosity. That shot and those lines will get people to start thinking.”
 
Luke makes a good point. The symbolism of his father running with that smile on his face may indeed get people to think about spiritual matters.
 
“When do you think he came to terms of forgiveness?” I ask Luke.
 
“With his post-traumatic stress, life was really going down the tubes for him,” Luke responds. It was his mom who suggested he attend a local Billy Graham crusade. So he found himself in that tent meeting in 1949, Billy Graham’s first crusade in Los Angeles.
 
“[My father] remembered his promise to God made when near death at sea, that if He got him out of this, he would serve Him. So he went backstage to the prayer area and found a young counselor who led him in the sinner’s prayer. He told me that he realized at that moment he was done getting drunk, done fighting, that he’d forgiven his prison guards, including the Bird.
 
“A year later, instead of going back to Japan for revenge, he went there to preach the Gospel and to preach forgiveness. It was important to him to look his former tormenters in the eye and shake their hand and show that he had forgiven them.”
 
That picture of forgiveness is the great movie, yet unmade. Such a film would address the question, ‘How do we forgive those who trespass against us?’
 
In the filmmaker’s defense, there is nothing more difficult to bring to the screen than a depiction of spiritual healing and forgiveness. Faith is not seen by eyes. But there have been films more successful with addressing the question of how one comes to forgive monsters. Though I think Unbroken is worth viewing, I’ll leave you with two other films that are more open with how we can forgive others.
 
The telefilm “Amish Grace” is the true story about the aftermath of the 2006 schoolhouse shooting in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Penn. The title of the book from which it is drawn, “Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy,” best summarizes the production’s theme.
 
Amish Grace is not a defense of a religious sect, but rather a penetrating examination of the concept of true forgiveness. The film may commit a few production misdemeanors, but it deals with spiritual truths and provides a positive answer to a nagging question.
 
“The Scarlet and the Black” was a made-for-TV true story of a priest (Gregory Peck) who harbored allied POW escapees, and the Nazi official (Christopher Plummer) who tried to catch him. The film is long, 155 minutes, but the message contained should not be missed. A true example of Jesus’ compassion will help remind each of us to love our enemies.
 
One of the greatest mysteries of the Christian walk is this ability to forgive those who wrong us. After trying vainly to forgive others on my own, I have learned that hurts and a broken spirit can only be healed by the great physician Himself.
 
There’s your story.

12/31/2014 10:00:20 AM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Great movements of God begin with prayer

December 29 2014 by Ronnie Floyd, Guest Column

There is no great movement of God that has ever occurred that does not begin with the extraordinary prayer of God’s people. The time is now for us to come together before God in clear agreement, visible union, and in extraordinary prayer for the next Great Awakening and for the world to be reached for Christ.

For the sake of our nation and the spiritually lost around the world, it is time to humble ourselves before God. For this, I plead with all Southern Baptist pastors, missionaries, laypersons, denominational leaders, churches, denominational entities, conventions, colleges and universities; from student to adult, regardless of age, vocation or status.

As we come to God in humility and repentance, entering into this special season of extraordinary prayer, we plead with God for spiritual revival personally, revival in the church, and the next Great Awakening in the United States. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes:

“And in movements of the Spirit the first thing that happens and which eventually leads to a great revival is that one man or a group of men suddenly begin to feel this burden and they feel the burden so much that they are led to do something about it.”

I am pleading with each of you to join in this spiritual movement to pray for the next Great Awakening so the Great Commission will escalate to its rightful priority and accelerate to its completion in our generation.
  

A look back

Jonathan Edwards was a man who believed in the absolute sovereignty of God. He was the catalyst for the first Great Awakening and was even impactful in the second Great Awakening. Even with Edwards’s deep abiding belief in God’s sovereignty, he called upon God’s people to act, because he believed God would listen to the promptings of His people.

In fact, Malcolm McDow and Alvin L. Reid record the words that Edwards wrote to pastors directly: “Be much in prayer and fasting, both in secret and with one another. It seems to me, it would become the circumstances of the present day, if ministers in a neighborhood would often meet together, and spend days in fasting and fervent prayer among themselves. … So it is God’s will that the prayers of His saints shall be great and the principal means of carrying on the designs of Christ’s Kingdom in the world. When God has something to accomplish for His church, it is with His will that there should precede it the extraordinary prayer of His people.”

Therefore, as we look back, we must fully embrace the deep belief that God responds to the prayers of His people, especially when these prayers are cried out to Him in desperation and done in an extraordinary way. Evidence is becoming clearer nationally that God is calling His people into a season of special focus and commitment to extraordinary prayer.

It has been over one hundred years since the last great move of God occurred in our nation. It was in 1857 and 1858 that a movement of prayer led to one million people becoming Christ-followers from a population of only thirty million in our nation. This movement of prayer was begun in New York City by a layperson named Jeremiah Lanphier. After failing to minister effectively to the immigrants in his church’s neighborhood, he was moved to pray.

At noon on Sept. 23, 1857, in the Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street in New York City, Lanphier knelt alone. Before 1 p.m. six men joined him. Within a month, 100 men joined him daily. Soon, thousands of men began to pray each day at noon around New York City.

This resulted in one million Americans coming to Christ within a two-year span, as well as another one million converted to Christ in Great Britain and Ireland. The church was revived. Christians were never the same. The fires of evangelism were burning brightly. The advance of the gospel to the nations of the world was profound. Men like David Livingstone and J. Hudson Taylor, and eventually the Student Volunteer Movement, saw twenty thousand young people surrender their lives to missions. Additionally, these great movements of God impacted renowned men of history like Charles Spurgeon, D.L. Moody and William Booth.

These were not perfect times. Simultaneously, tension over slavery was growing and financial panic was occurring. In this time of uncertainty, God’s people became desperate and began to cry out to Him. The Sovereign God of Heaven determined to pour out His Spirit in a supernatural way, resulting in one of the greatest movements of God in the history of our nation.

While it has been over one hundred years since the last great movement of God upon our nation, we cannot ignore the moments when the Lord has still moved upon our nation powerfully. For example, in the early 1970s, the Jesus Movement touched a generation, including many of our leaders today. Through this work of God, thousands came to Christ, followed by many of them being called into ministry. The greatest year of reaching and baptizing teenagers in our Southern Baptist history occurred in 1972, all due to the influence of the Jesus Movement. While not a “great” awakening, many joyfully remember the work of God in those days.

Sadly, we now have a generation or more of people who have never experienced anything close to a movement of God with this level of impact. It is past time for this to change. God is ready, are we?
  

Our present status

Unquestionably, we find ourselves experiencing days unlike any we have seen in our history. The moral slide in our nation has degraded into a revolution that seems to be out of control. While marriage is being redefined by our culture and the family is under an unprecedented attack, social problems are rising everywhere due to this new cultural reality. Simultaneously, there are so many national and global crises rising up that we cannot keep up with their supposed threats. As well, the world is becoming more dangerous by the second.

While this present status is undeniable, much of the church in America sleeps. Spiritual lukewarmness is plaguing the church, resulting in the infrequency of church attendance, declining churches, lagging evangelism, sagging giving and generational disconnectedness. Complacency and conflict categorize the church more than contrition and compassion. Among the people of God, announcements and promotions within the church gain a higher priority in planning and follow through than prayer.

While these realities are rising to a seeming point of no return, it is in this hour that we must wake up from our slothfulness and sleep. Romans 13:11 says, “Besides this, knowing the time, it is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” We are at a decisive point in time. Therefore, this is an undeniable moment and season, fixed by a sovereign God as a moment of destiny. God is at work and we cannot miss this season of decision and opportunity by being unresponsive and asleep.
  

A call to extraordinary prayer and urgent action

The church must rise up in extraordinary prayer and urgent action. We must take desperate steps forward spiritually for these desperate times in which we live. With urgency in this hour, knowing the Lord could return at any time, it is incumbent on us to rise up together now as His church.

Therefore, I am pleading with our Southern Baptist family to come together in clear agreement, visible union and extraordinary prayer for the next Great Awakening and for the world to be reached for Christ. Recently, I read a sermon by Dr. Billy Graham that he preached on Oct. 14, 1993, at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In the sermon, “Can Revival Come?,” Graham called for revival and awakening.

In one sentence, he cast a vision that represents my overwhelming passion personally and for all Southern Baptists. He said, “An awakening can bring about evangelization of the world in our generation.” These words so resonate with my pleading with Southern Baptists and beyond. Surely we can embrace with clear agreement that spiritual revival personally, spiritual revival in the church and spiritual awakening in the nation are all needed so we can accelerate our pace in reaching the world for Christ. Certainly we can deny ourselves, defer our own preferences and visibly unite together in extraordinary prayer for the next Great Awakening and for the world to be reached for Christ.

With conviction in this desperate hour, I want to call us to consider some unprecedented actions in our modern history that will move us into a season of extraordinary prayer as a convention of churches.

  • Action #1: Sunrise/Sunset – Challenge your church to pause at either sunset on Saturday evening or sunrise on Sunday morning, to pray for three minutes for the anointing of God to come on their pastor as he preaches God’s Word and the anointing of God’s power to come upon the worship services of their church. Prayerfully, these 180 seconds of focused prayer will soon begin a true 180-degree change in our churches. While God creates the change within our churches spiritually, He will also lead us to strategic change in our churches in order to rise up like never before to do whatever it takes to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ regionally, nationally, and internationally.

  • Action #2: Month of Preaching – Between the months of January and May 2015, move into a one-month emphasis in your church to teach and preach God’s Word on the subjects of repentance, extraordinary prayer, revival, awakening, and reaching the world for Christ. Extend passionate calls to your people about each of these topics individually and collectively. During this same time period, we would ask those who lead staff teams and chapels of our Baptist entities, conventions, seminaries, and colleges to consider this same emphasis. For a collection of sermons on these subjects, provided by several Southern Baptist pastors, go to www.pray4awakening.com/southernbaptists.

  • Action #3: Sunday Morning Prayer – On one Sunday in this same period of time between January and May 2015, dedicate an entire worship service or services to extraordinary prayer for spiritual revival, the next Great Awakening, and for the world to be reached for Christ. For a closer look at how to do this, perhaps my article, “Leading Your Church in a Sunday Morning Prayer Meeting” at www.ronniefloyd.com, will be of assistance. You can find more prayer-focused services led by pastors from across the country at pray4awakening.com. Perhaps these will encourage you to lead forward in this initiative.

  • Action #4: One Day of Prayer and Fasting in May – In the month of May, we call upon every Southern Baptist to spend a day in prayer and fasting for spiritual revival personally, revival in the church, spiritual awakening in America, for the completion of the Great Commission in our generation, and for our upcoming annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, June 16-17, 2015. For a closer look at fasting and how you can lead your church in a corporate fast, go to pray4awakening.com.

  • Action #5: Call to Columbus – Join us in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday evening, June 16, 2015, as we commit the entire evening session of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention to come together in clear agreement and visible union at one place at one time with God’s people. We will unite in extraordinary prayer for spiritual revival personally, spiritual revival in the church, for the next Great Spiritual Awakening, and for the world to be reached for Christ. 

Therefore, in Jesus’s name, I plead with Southern Baptists to humbly come together before God in clear agreement, visible union, and extraordinary prayer for the next Great Awakening and for the world to be reached for Christ.
 
 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ronnie Floyd is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas. This column is the text of a booklet he wrote titled, "Pleading with Southern Baptists To Humbly Come Together Before God in Clear Agreement, Visible Union, and in Extraordinary Prayer for the Next Great Awakening and for the World to Be Reached for Christ." He gave the Biblical Recorder permission to publish the text of his booklet. Click here for a download of the booklet.)

 

12/29/2014 2:37:47 PM by Ronnie Floyd, Guest Column | with 0 comments



Missions: Give your money to His vision

December 29 2014 by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, adds his voice to this year’s prayer emphasis for international missions in the Southern Baptist Convention, under the theme “One Sacred Effort – Find your place in God’s story.” The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches support approximately 4,800 international missionaries in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at imb.org/offering, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year’s goal is $175 million.)

Some of us would describe ourselves as “Baptist to the bone.” Not having been born into such a family, I was determined after marriage to help my young family become so.

During my childhood my parents had moved the family to Greensboro, N. C., and had been blessed to have a neighboring family visit and invite us to church. We children were invited to Vacation Bible School and Sunday School. It was there that I heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was there that I began realizing the intense missionary and evangelistic passion of Southern Baptists.

God saved me and called me into the ministry. Having been reached for the Lord by Southern Baptists, when I became a father I wanted my girls to come to appreciate the “missions heart” of Southern Baptists. I wanted my girls to learn to love the local church. They quickly became aware that we would always be in church, even when on vacation. We tried to be very positive about the local church and we praised God. To this day, my girls actively participate in and truly love the local church.

We began to learn to support missions by prioritizing the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. We decided – maybe this was more of a parent’s decision – that our largest Christmas gift would be to international missions. We wanted our girls to know what mattered most. I did not skimp on my girls, and I certainly was not going to skimp on missions.

What matters most to you? Some people say that we really vote our convictions with our pocketbooks. Having been a pastor for over 30 years, I assure you that I have seen that to be true.

Some also say that money follows vision. I have found that to be true as well. Is there any greater vision than that given before our Lord Jesus ascended unto the Father in Acts 1:8? “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” our Father said, “and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Does our money follow this vision? Have we voted with our pocketbooks to support that vision? I am convinced that we need to give first-rate loyalty to this first-rate cause. Will you join me in supporting this Lottie Moon Christmas Offering even more than you did last year?

Last year, Southern Baptists gave a record amount. It is time to keep up that forward momentum.

 
12/29/2014 12:37:53 PM by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The aroma of CHRISTmas

December 23 2014 by Diana Davis, Baptist Press

What’s the best Christmas scent? Is it cinnamon? Pine? Nutmeg? No, it's much better than those! The "aroma of Christ" is something every Christian spreads like a sweet perfume.
 
Read carefully: "But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of  the knowledge of Him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing" 1 Corinthians 2:14-15.
 
How are you handling extra stresses of the Christmas season? With unusual expectations, bulging calendars and extra work, it's easy to become anxious and self-absorbed. But that's not an option for a Christian.
 
You are assigned to spread the fragrance of Christ everywhere. God's the source; you're the scent-carrier. Try these simple ways to intentionally spread His aroma:

  • If you use social media, each update, "like" or photo can be a life-giving fragrance to readers seeking purpose in life and an uplifting aroma to Christians.

  • In the place where you work, your Christ-like fragrance permeates the atmosphere. Give your best work effort during this season. Be extra patient and kind with coworkers and clients.

  • Share His aroma with children. Kneel down and say a kind word to your young neighbor or relative or a toddler crying in a grocery cart.

  • Before you cross any threshold into a room – a party, your office, the living room, a doctor's office – silently ask God to help you spread the aroma of Christ.

  • Public places need His scent. Be aware as you walk through the mall or stand in a slow checkout line, at the concert, game or town festival.

  • Fill your own home with the aroma of Christ. Talk about Him. Be joyful. Treasure small moments. Take pleasure in your family and guests.

  • To believers and nonbelievers, friends, enemies, neighbors, hairstylist, babysitter, server – to every individual you encounter – spread the fragrance of Christ.

Isn't it amazing that God has entrusted you, His follower, to spread the life-giving fragrance of Christ everywhere you go? Smell sweet this CHRISTmas season.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE  – Diana Davis, on the Web at www.dianadavis.org and Twitter @dianadavisideas, is an author, columnist and ministry wife in Pensacola Fla.)

12/23/2014 10:10:11 AM by Diana Davis, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Missionary kid shares about ‘the girl in the story’

December 22 2014 by Bethani Thomas, IMB/Baptist Press

People say everyone has a story, but I think every person is a story: a living, breathing, walking, heart-beating book. Some people create their own stories, while others are forced into them. My story falls into the latter category.
 
Some of you reading this may recognize me as “the girl from the article” or “the girl who was kidnapped.” See related story.
 
On the other hand, some of you may not have the slightest idea who I am, so I’ll start from the beginning.
 
I was 7 years old when my story took its first drastic turn. Responding to God’s calling in each of their lives, my parents packed, sold or gave away our belongings and bought one-way plane tickets to Costa Rica. We lived there one year to attend language-learning school, then moved to Guatemala, where my parents still live and serve with an indigenous people group.
 
This would change the projection of my life and would forever mark my life as different from most of my peers. I would not lead the typical American life or be your average American kid because of the different culture in which I was immersed.
 
After a few years, I became accustomed to life in Guatemala. In fact, it became to me a fairly “normal” life as I entered my teen years. Our village in Guatemala was a nice place to live; my family and I were blessed. Of course, there were ups and downs, but overall I was content. My spiritual life was the same. My parents had raised me and my brothers in God’s Word and taught us that the stories it held were true. Yet, looking back, I think it’s safe to say that I had not yet truly experienced God.
 
On the night of Oct. 23, 2006, that changed. What began as a normal trip to the grocery store for a 13-year-old girl and her mom, ended in a carjacking at gunpoint. I was thrown headfirst into a sea of chaos as one of the carjackers hustled my mother from the driver’s seat, removing her from the vehicle. She lay on the street, unharmed, yet in shock as she realized that the vehicle driving away held her daughter. I was still in the passenger seat.
 
I panicked, of course, and sat for a few moments in terror, knowing that I had no control of this situation.
 
My moment of panic quickly changed into a moment of relinquishment when I realized there was nothing I could do. I knew I was helpless, so I began to pray. The moment the name of God left my lips in a cry for help, the entire atmosphere calmed. I was still on edge, and I still had no idea what was going to happen to me, but I knew I was taken care of because God was writing this story, not me.
 
The men only wanted the vehicle. They soon dropped me off, and my family and another missionary brought me home. The trauma had passed, and slowly we began to move on with life.
 
But the story doesn’t end there, because God never sets down His pen.
 
My family recovered from that night. I never had any trouble sleeping, nor did I suffer from fear or anxiety, and for that I am grateful. My struggles stemmed from the reactions I received from others. I didn’t know if I should tell people what had happened to me, so for a while I kept quiet. In Guatemala and in the United States, people I knew would avoid the topic. Others wouldn’t talk to me at all, they would just wonder if I was OK or if at any second I was going to have an emotional breakdown. Most of the time I wished someone else would bring it up, because I didn’t know how.
 
On the other hand, even years later, some people would walk right up to me and say how proud they were of me or how my story changed their lives. I never knew how to take that. I had no control over what had happened to me, so I didn’t think I could take any credit for how it turned out.
 
As a pre-teen trying to figure out who I was, I wanted to fit in and be “normal,” not stand out for something unusual that happened to me. Although it was a crucial moment in my life, I didn’t feel like it should define me.
 
Looking back, I realize there was no way around it. Although I often resented the way people labeled me as “that girl,” I was “that girl,” at least to them. “That girl,” that experience, was and is a huge part of my identity; it is a part of who I am, whether I choose to accept it or not.
 
There were obstacles I had to overcome because of my experience. But through these I gained insight into people in need that created a unique bridge, connecting me to others in a special way. I think it is a given to add that God had this in mind all along.
 
As I left my home in Guatemala for college in the U.S., I was overwhelmingly excited as well as afraid of the new world ahead. I felt like a girl who had grown up in a ship out at sea. The constant toss of the waves and unknown weather had become my home, but it was time to live “on land” in the U.S. My sea legs were wobbly and weak, but I ventured on my own anyway. The people on land struggled to understand why I had lived at sea. What was out there? What had I seen? I felt like a foreigner sometimes. I told people I grew up in Guatemala and answered any questions they had. This automatically put me in a different light to them, but I learned to be OK with that, because it was a part of me.
 
I am slightly ashamed to say that I did not immediately tell people about the many ways I had seen God work in and through my life, specifically my kidnapping story. I kind of ignored it for a little while, part of me hoping it might go away. I lost a little of my identity in that time. I didn’t know how people would react when I told them.
 
I began to tell some of my closest friends at school. God was gentle with me and slowly gave me opportunities to share with people, opening doors in which it was natural to talk about it.
 
That episode in my life, and the trials that came with it, changed the way I viewed myself. When I was put in such a position of complete surrender, it was as if the blinds were taken off of my eyes. I no longer saw in tunnel vision, seeing only my life and the pathway God had for me, but I was given a short glimpse of the big picture and the part I played in His master plan.
 
What I want for myself and what I deem “good” dulls in comparison to the plan God has for me. In the book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller gives a good depiction of this concept. He says, “I realized I was a tree in a story about a forest.” The night of the carjacking was all about God and the way He wanted to use me as an extension to touch other people’s lives. I was shown how God could take terrible circumstances in people’s lives and use them for His glory.
 
This story that I’m in right now is not about me. In fact, my life has little to do with me. “The girl in the story” is really a girl who plays a part in the huge ongoing story about God, where He uses His children to change other people’s lives and glorify Himself.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE ­­– Bethani Thomas is an MK (missionary kid) whose parents, Jeff and Karen Thomas, serve in Guatemala with the International Mission Board.)

12/22/2014 10:31:09 AM by Bethani Thomas, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Christmas: When family is far away

December 17 2014 by Kathy Ferguson Litton, Baptist Press

My late husband Rick Ferguson received a letter from a noted leader in Denver in November 1990 urging him to consider moving from our home state of Missouri to Colorado. In the letter he used this phrase from Acts 16, language from the apostle Paul’s vision, “Come over to Macedonia to help us.” And we like Paul concluded “that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them” and we went.
 
If you are in Chicago and your family is in Tulsa, or you live in Oakland and your family is in Fort Worth, or you are in India and two of your kids are students at Liberty University, you get this.
 
God calls us sometimes to leave comfort of family and friends for the sake of the gospel. There may be a true personal cost to obeying God, a cost that many will refuse to pay or will not be asked to pay.
 
The holidays can exacerbate that loss.
 
And let me warn you. Satan will fire his darts right at that vulnerable place.
 
I am a sports fan and it’s football season. Sports announcers are quick to point out that one team is more than willing to take advantage of another team’s weakness. If a defensive player has a slight knee injury, the quarterback will throw toward him, expecting the player to be weakened. He intends to capitalize on the other’s vulnerability.
 
Satan is exponentially craftier and exponentially more evil than the NFL. His goal: to stop the advance of the gospel as it brings complete glory to God. Though the Christ of Christmas dwells in each believer (after all, “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” Colossians 1:27, is the heart of the Christmas message), the “earthen vessel” dimension of our lives (see 2 Corinthians 4:7) creates vulnerabilities that Satan targets. If he sniffs out vulnerability in spiritual leaders, he will fully exploit it.
 
If you have been called to a far-flung place, the holidays may be a very vulnerable place. Deep longings for family and precious traditions will emerge. Nostalgia will arise from the familiar tunes of Christmas or recipes for homemade treats. A simple smell can stir a deep memory that may illicit tears.
 
If you are feeling vulnerable, consider these things:
 

Grieve the loss

Admit your sense of loss to the Lord. For some, that may mean giving yourself permission to sit down and have a big blubbering cry. Yes, that’s my advice. We all want to be “brave little soldiers” but truly, it’s okay to grieve. Hand those losses over to Jesus. Create a private sacred place to mourn. He will enter into that moment. Pouring out these tears and releasing the grief can create space for joy to replace that sadness.
 

Build a fresh holiday history

So grandma’s house and homemade donuts are out of the question? Then do something else. Your children are making their own holiday tradition under your watch. Make their memories powerful and joy-filled. Find a unique if not a crazy substitute for old traditions. “Yes, we always went bowling on Christmas Eve mornings,” can you hear your kids saying that to their kids?
 

Embrace others who are vulnerable

Others are in similar positions for different reasons. Gather with them. Easter was always a meal at the Ferguson home where a large collection of disconnected lives would gather for the required ham. We needed them and they needed us. If the truth be told, we needed them more.
 
Satan will be telling you, “EVERYONE is in front of picturesque cozy fireplaces with five generations in one room opening elaborate presents, with the most amazing pumpkin pie and praying together while simultaneously having outrageously fun snowball fights.”
 
Not true.
 
Countless others will be without loved ones. Find them. Serve someone else. Your newfound pain will create a missional platform of understanding and insight. God wants to use our losses for good.
 

Be aware of Satan’s schemes

Rick and I began to identify a pattern during the holidays. Rick would battle guilt as the leader of our household. He would feel guilty for his calling that removed us from our comfort near family. Eventually we saw this for what it was – hand-to-hand combat with a deceptive enemy of the gospel.
 
Please recognize his tactics. Battle them in prayer. Don’t take them personally because his ultimate goal is to thwart the gospel.
 
Don’t let your holiday vulnerabilities ambush you. And don’t let Satan “steal, kill and destroy” your joy and celebrations. Get with Jesus. He can give us peace that passes understanding.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kathy Ferguson Litton is the North American Mission Board’s national consultant for ministry to pastors’ wives. See more resources at NAMB’s www.Flourish.me website, an online equipping community for ministers’ wives.)

12/17/2014 2:11:34 PM by Kathy Ferguson Litton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



When truth is applied to the church first

December 16 2014 by Matthias Ponce-de-Leon, Guest Column

It is a great burden to see our culture shift so far from biblical truth on the issue of same-sex relationships. Scripture is clear regarding the sinfulness of these types of relationships. These behaviors are characteristic of cultures given to idolatry and all types of sexual immorality.
 
This does not happen suddenly or without warning. It is the neglect of the primacy of scripture that produces an acceptance of moral laxity. The Word of God is replaced by the word of man. Apathy of this nature does not happen outside of the church, but within. When the Word is neglected, the warnings about the danger of forgetting God and living according to self-will are missed. This process begins slowly and subtly. Churches seek to arrange life to suit their own will rather than aligning life to suit the will of God. Small concessions are made in morality that deprecates the Christian example.
 
The starting point of these concessions are in the areas of integrity and character – doing whatever I need to do, and saying whatever I need to say to get what I want. Before sin ever takes place in the church, it has already gained a foothold in the heart and mind of a believer.
 
Remember, the heart and mind, not the outward action of flesh, are the seat of defilement. When there are concessions in integrity and character, personal desires and opinions become the standard for actions among believers. The church, in such a state, is being propelled by the will of man and not God.
 
Consequentially, the church is plagued with the pressure to accept moral looseness and succumb because they do what they feel like doing. This is what the lost world sees from the church.
 
In many ways the silence over ungodly, unscriptural heterosexual relationships among believers has had the greatest impact upon our lack of influence than any other single behavior.
 
The problem can always be traced back to apathy and neglect of the Word. It sets an example to the world of the exact opposite of what the church is to be. The world becomes indifferent to the “noise” of the church and often views our “stands” as hypocritical. While our lips don’t promote same-sex relationships and unions, our hypocrisy does.
 
Until the church accepts responsibility for the role it has played in the production of the carnality that surrounds us, there will never be any progress.
 
What is tragically missed in the midst of all the anger related to the same-sex issue is that the church possesses the power of the Living God to radically impact the world.
 
What is going to transform the society is not the addition or subtraction of laws, but the establishment of genuine, blood-purchased, personal relationships with Jesus Christ! One of the greatest weapons in our arsenal is the union God has sanctified between one man and one woman for life. It is the “divine metaphor” of Christ’s love for His church!
 
Does the world see the beauty in the provision, protection and unconditional love in our marriages? Are we teaching our children through our example of the husband and wife relationship in our home? Are we teaching the definition of a covenant relationship and how careful and prayerful we should be when it comes to the marriage union? Does the church realize that our witness depends in large part upon the sanctification and success of our marriages? Our marriages should shout the awesome, beautiful love of the Savior! Do they?
 
As the church, we are bound to proclaim truth. The truth is, sin is never OK. It is the knowledge and acceptance of truth that brings freedom. We are in a challenging time where the temptation is great to find ways to distance ourselves from an extremely uncomfortable issue.

But this troubling issue is merely the next symptom in a progression of symptoms that always happens when God’s people neglect His Word. This progression will continue if there is not genuine repentance among the people of God for our own personal sin. Until the Lord calls us home, movements of God will always be initiated through the church, for that is where the power of God’s Spirit resides. If we are waiting for the world to change in any other way than that, we will continue to be disappointed in the direction of our society.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Matthias “Matty” Ponce-de-Leon is pastor of Arlington First Baptist Church in Jonesville.)

12/16/2014 1:09:18 PM by Matthias Ponce-de-Leon, Guest Column | with 0 comments



Embrace your place in God’s story

December 15 2014 by Tom Elliff, Guest Column

When our eldest daughter was only 4 years old, I went to her room to talk with her at the end of a very trying day. Sitting on the edge of her bed, I rehearsed some of the day’s events, hoping she would understand why her behavior had demanded a particularly stern amount of discipline. As I spoke, she fastened her eyes on mine, looking at me in rapt attention.
 
“She’s getting it,” I thought to myself, not just a little pleased at the effectiveness of my conversational approach. “I think she understands just how troubling her behavior has been.” My deep thoughts and stern lecture were interrupted by her small voice.
 
“You know what, daddy?” she asked in a voice that could not conceal her wonderment. “I can see me in your eyes!” The truth had now surfaced. Her rapt attention had nothing to do with my lecture. Instead, she was overcome at the way her face was reflected in my eyes!
 
Since that interchange with my daughter, I have often thought of her exclamation, “I can see me in your eyes!” If you gaze into the eyes of your Heavenly Father, you will see the same. You are in His eyes.
You have a place in God’s story.
 
This year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) theme, One Sacred Effort – Find Your Place in God’s Story, is designed to help each of us see our role in God’s great plan of redemption. Yes, you do have a place in His story.
 
When the Southern Baptist Convention was formed over 169 years ago, missions was the centerpiece, the stack pole around which Baptists placed their hearts, burning with a desire to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. They believed that missions is the one sacred effort that should bind us together.
 
The International Mission Board (IMB) is, in fact, Southern Baptist churches focused together in one sacred effort to fulfill the Great Commission.
 
IMB, originally called the Foreign Mission Board, quickly found its place in Southern Baptist hearts. And we found our home in Richmond, Va., from which missionaries of old would travel down the James River, out into the Chesapeake Bay, and from there across the oceans over which many of them would never return. On some occasions missionaries actually packed their belongings inside the very coffin in which they would later be buried.
 
One Sacred Effort. That’s what it will take for us to reach the world with the message of Christ. And you, your church and all Southern Baptists have a place in God’s continuing story of redemption. Missions requires teamwork. At the very outset we are each co-missioned by Christ, joining Him and others in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. What is your role? Going? Letting go? Helping others to go? Praying for those who go? What a wonderful sense of fulfillment comes when you find your place in God’s story.

This year, join Southern Baptists everywhere in One Sacred Effort. Find your place in God’s story.
 
Here are some resources:
  • Pray: pray.imb.org.
  • Give: give.imb.org – to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions through your local Southern Baptist church.
  • Go: going.imb.org – has guidance on volunteer, partnership and career service opportunities.
  • Connect: View a related video on One Sacred Effort at vimeo.com/96915293, as well as at imb.org/lmcovideo.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Elliff is IMB’s past president.)
12/15/2014 2:04:52 PM by Tom Elliff, Guest Column | with 0 comments



FAYETTEVILLE: When an LGBT ordinance comes to town

December 12 2014 by Douglas Falknor, Baptist Press

Although I have been in the ministry nearly 30 years, the Fayetteville ordinance promoting the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) agenda was the first time I felt the need to oppose the local government to stop an action they had taken.
 
On Dec. 9, Fayetteville voters successfully repealed the ordinance, which the city council had enacted on Aug. 19. While I will be glad for this issue never to occur again, a few lessons have been learned along the way:
 
Work with others.
From the first days that this ordinance was proposed, many people expressed a desire to stop it from going into effect. I was asked to host a gathering of interested people to discuss what steps could be taken. Leading this meeting was akin to herding cats with so many emotions and ideas from so many different leaders, but it was important to begin the organizational process. While this initial meeting was comprised mostly of pastors and other church leaders, successfully repealing the ordinance required broadening the base of active opposition to include business owners and others from the community.
 
Recognize the important role of activists.
Some people are comfortable – even energized – by the role of activist. I am not. Activists sometimes make me uncomfortable. However, successfully overturning bad laws requires someone who will spend hours tirelessly making phone calls, strategizing, knocking on doors and encouraging others. Activists often need us non-activists to keep them more balanced, but we need them to beat the drum for change.
 
Money is helpful; people are essential.
In Fayetteville, the supporters of the ordinance received over $190,000 in donations (including "non-money contributions") while opponents received $35,000. The difference, however, was the broad-based support for repealing the law. People from every part of the city spoke out in the city council meeting, gathered signatures for the petition, put out signs for repeal, and, most importantly, voted.
 
Lead in your own church family.
As a pastor, I spoke for repeal of the ordinance during worship services, addressed the ordinance in newsletter articles, and emailed the church family a reminder to vote. Churches, especially pastors, need to remember their responsibility to lead in moral and religious freedom issues. Our words must be gracious and compassionate, but they must also be clear and biblical.
 
Stay focused on your purpose.
It is tempting to focus all of our energy on stopping a bad law and bringing change through political activism. As important as that work may be, we remain focused on our mission of changing lives by proclaiming the good news of Jesus. Elections will be won and lost. Bad laws could negatively impact us and religious freedoms may be lost. But we will continue to declare "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" and "whoever believes in Him will have eternal life" (John 1:14; 3:16).
 
(EDITOR'S NOTE – Douglas Falknor is pastor of First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ark.)

12/12/2014 1:06:09 PM by Douglas Falknor, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Missions: The relevant call of Lottie Moon

December 11 2014 by Randy David, Baptist Press

A diminutive woman named Lottie Moon sat down at a table in China on Sept. 15, 1887, and penned a letter that would transform the Southern Baptist Convention forever.
 
Lottie called for prayer and financial resources to ensure that the gospel would be effectively preached, linking them to the example found in Christmas. She wrote:
 
“Need it be said, why the week before Christmas is chosen? Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?”
 
Fortunately, Southern Baptists were wise to follow her lead and eventually formalize two significant giving opportunities to accomplish her goal of gospel proclamation: the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
 
The Cooperative Program is how Southern Baptists decided 90 years ago that we as a network of churches could most consistently and effectively give financially to ensure the advancement of the gospel within our states, across our nation and around the globe. I’ve often wondered if our forefathers could have ever imagined the impact that single decision would make in Southern Baptists staying the course as a Great Commission people.
 
The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions goes beyond Cooperative Program support for our missionaries and is also a lifeline for funding and sustaining missions overseas. Our 4,800 overseas personnel depend on the Lottie Moon offering for ministry support that includes vehicles, housing, equipment and ministry budget among other needs. It means everything to them financially. As a result of generous giving by Southern Baptists, our missionaries can spend their time preaching the gospel rather than raising support.
 
There are some who believe we must rob one of these giving opportunities to pay the other, that if we give more or less to the Cooperative Program then it is either to the benefit or detriment of the Lottie Moon offering.
 
That simply is not the case. In fact, I’ve found the opposite to be true: The more we give to one, the more we give to the other. “Why is that?” you ask. I’ve not done a formal analysis of it, but I can offer an informed opinion after nearly four decades in ministry.
 
Here are a few thoughts on how both can increase simultaneously:
 
Increased giving comes from a correct biblical worldview.
 
The Bible is distinctively clear: Jesus’ expectation of us is that we will go into all the world and reach the nations with the gospel. If that truly is our passion as well as our mandate, we will do whatever it takes, and that includes joyfully giving. A correct biblical worldview reorders how we spend our money. We’ll see missions as an eternal investment rather than a budget line item.
 
Increased giving comes because missions is a priority of the pastor.
 
In virtually every case, the church whose pastor leads it into the community and around that globe sees an increase in generous giving and a desire to see souls saved. I’ve seen pastors for years protect their budgets and worry that missions will bleed off valuable resources.
 
This is a lie I’m convinced Satan has perpetrated on pastoral ministry because it is the antithesis of what the Bible calls us to as shepherds of our local flocks. Pastor, lead your people into the harvest fields at home and around the world and watch how the Holy Spirit will set hearts afire for the advance of the gospel.
 
Increased giving comes because pastors preach and teach biblical stewardship.
 
Yes, I know money is a sensitive subject, but it is like any other doctrine we teach from the pulpit. Pastors, if we don’t teach what the Bible says about financial stewardship, then the majority of our people will never learn biblical stewardship from any other source.
 
Make it a priority, teach so they’ll grow to maturity, challenge them in light of the Great Commission, teach giving on a regular basis above tithes and offerings (yes, that’s biblical too) and set big goals to accomplish over a period of time.
 
Increased giving comes as a matter of prayer.
 
This is actually where a pastor should begin and then lead the church to pray for its giving.
 
The world is a never-ending source of need. There is no way even cooperatively we can alleviate all that is spiritually and physically wrong with nearly 8 billion people. However, the Holy Spirit has mightily used both the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon offering to advance the Kingdom of God.
 
But even within these two giving opportunities the place to start is with people. Ask, how can God use you, your resources, your church and your church’s resources to impact the lives of specific people in your community, nation and the world. See the people. Don’t pray for the masses; pray for individuals. See them, go meet them, know the challenges they face in life. Then pray. I honestly believe you’ll see a marked change in your generosity.
 
This holiday season, Lottie Moon’s call for international missions is as relevant today as it was 130 years ago. This truly is “the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Randy Davis is executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)

12/11/2014 11:57:50 AM by Randy David, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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