December 2015

15 things I seldom hear in church

December 30 2015 by Chuck Lawless, SEBTS

Many of us could write blog posts about surprising things we’ve heard in church. Here, though, are 15 things I’ve seldom heard in church in my 40-plus years as a believer:

  1. “I planned to fall morally.” I’ve never met anybody who set out to fall into sin. As I’ve said before, we slide into a fall more often than leap into it.

  2. “Looking back, I really regret serving God.” I’ve never heard those words from someone who truly gave his or her life to God.

  3. “I got married with the intent of getting divorced.” Nobody I know has walked the marriage aisle assuming he or she would someday end the marriage. I do know many, however, who still got divorced.

  4. “I love singing songs I don’t know.” Regardless of one’s preferred worship style, I’ve not met many people who enjoy singing new hymns or choruses. Most of us prefer to worship with familiarity.

  5. “We love you enough to remove you from membership.” I’ve heard this one occasionally, but likely not enough if congregations are truly being New Testament churches. 

  6. “We can start small group early since everyone’s here on time.” It’s funny, you know – churches are often deeply concerned about ending on time, but they don’t worry much about starting on time.

  7. “I don’t mind it when your boring preaching is also long.” I’m sure you hear two points here. I’ve never heard anyone appreciate boring preaching, and I’ve certainly never heard anyone affirm long boring preaching.

  8. “I hope we send out more people than we keep here.” Some younger leaders are beginning to speak this language, but not many.

  9. “I want my pastor to speak more about money.” If anyone says this, it’s usually the church treasurer.

  10. “I’m praying that the Lord will call my children and grandchildren to the mission field.” It’s one thing to dedicate a baby to the Lord when he’s in your arms; it’s another matter to let him go when he’s grown up.

  11. “To free up room for guests, I’ll sit on the front row.” Many people would rather stand than sit in the front.

  12. “I pray regularly that the enemy will not win in the lives of our pastors.” Too many church members recognize the reality of spiritual warfare in their pastors’ lives only after a pastor has fallen. 

  13. “I grieve when we don’t see people saved through our church’s ministry.” We may rejoice when people do get saved, but we don’t match our rejoicing with grief when nobody’s getting saved.

  14. “I really don’t like baptisms.” I don’t know anybody who doesn’t get excited (even a little) when a new believer illustrates his or her faith by baptism.

  15. “If I’m honest, I don’t read the Bible or pray much.” If more people would be honest here, perhaps our churches would do a better job of discipleship.  

What would you add to this list?
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Lawless is Dean and Vice-President of Graduate Studies and Ministry Centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, where he also serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions. This post first appeared on his blog, chucklawless.com)

12/30/2015 10:41:15 AM by Chuck Lawless, SEBTS | with 0 comments



Evangelical witness in an age of mass incarceration

December 22 2015 by Matthew J. Hall, ERLC

For many evangelicals, the question of our nation’s penal system is one largely unconsidered. Our vast and growing prison system operates behind a curtain, mostly hidden from view. And yet, for many of our communities, it has a profound and long-lasting impact.
 
Biblical revelation forms the foundational reality for Christian thinking. We should be leery of jumping into any moral or ethical dilemma without first considering the biblical parameters for righteousness and justice. Beyond that, faithful Christians can have a variety of opinions and convictions, even disagreements, as we all strive to submit to biblical authority. I know this is the case with discussions about incarceration, criminal sentencing and justice. Perhaps we can seek to find some common ground though.
 
As Christian citizens in a democracy, we understand that the “power of the sword” in Romans 13 has been entrusted to us, the people. And it is we who will give an account to God for how we have stewarded that power. So we cannot choose to look the other way when it comes to incarceration.
 

American justice and the current crisis

While the United States comprises five percent of the global population, our nation houses 25 percent of the world’s prison population. That’s a staggering number that tells a story. For instance, look deeper into those numbers, and you will find that black men are disproportionately incarcerated. Take a second look, and you will see that the rate of incarceration for women has surged dramatically in the last three decades. All of this comes at a moral cost and brings measurable implications to our communities and churches. Unfortunately, evangelicalism’s silence on this urgent moral issue is deafening.
 
Faithful Christians can and will disagree over a host of policy questions when it comes to how to ensure a just and equitable penal system in this country. We need to be able to have civil and gracious dialogue even when we see things differently, especially among our Christian communities.
 
But surely we can all agree that the status quo is woefully unacceptable. Not only is it inefficient, it is also immoral. So let’s at least agree to have the conversation. Let’s agree to start talking about this. Let’s commit to listening well, learning, and then seeking ways in which our churches and communities can be faithful.
 
Here are three areas where an evangelical social ethic must be brought to bear on our American prison system.
 
First, the racialization of American incarceration raises troubling questions about enduring racism.
Right now in the United States, the statistical odds suggest that one out of every three black men will likely be incarcerated at one point in his life. In contrast, only one out of 17 white men will. The disparity also exists for Latino men, one out of six who will likely be incarcerated.
 
Why is this? Some will suggest that black and brown men are just more likely to commit crimes, especially drug related offenses that comprise so much of the surging incarceration rates. But Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness documents the various ways in which the American penal system is structured in an inherently inequitable way. Evangelicals can and should have healthy dialogue and even disagreement on what might prove to be the best solution to the problem. But surely we can agree that a prison system that is incarcerating this many of our nation’s black men is scandalous.
 
Second, the dramatic increase in female incarceration comes at a tremendous cost.
One of the neglected realities of our incarceration is the way women have entered into the system. In fact, between 1980 and 2010, the number of women in prison increased by 646 percent. The racial disparity that is endemic among male prisoners is also at play here. The lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for black women is one in 19, while it is one in 118 for white women.
 
This brings a host of ethical and moral problems. For example, women can be shackled during labor and delivery in 13 states. While the Federal Bureau of Prisons ceased shackling pregnant inmates, these states have not addressed the issue in their respective systems. And the majority of children born to imprisoned women are immediately separated from their mothers. Only a handful of states have adopted creative models to provide continued opportunities for qualified inmates to stay with their children. The National Women’s Law Center reports that only thirteen states provide a prison nursery system for qualified mothers, and of these, only two allow children to stay beyond the age of two.
 
Third, we should be leery of any system that profits on the misery of another.
It can never be Christian to profit from another’s misery. Throughout the Bible, God makes clear to his people that righteousness and justice never bow before the idols of profit. Southern Baptists have rightly spoken in the past against predatory systems that profit from the misfortune and suffering of others. For example, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a strong resolution in 2014 rightly lamenting the prevalence of payday lending operations that prey upon the poor and vulnerable.
 
While there may be a number of creative solutions in privatization, we should at least give due consideration to the inherent challenges in the commercialization of our nation’s prison systems. While a free market is right and good for economic development, it is a horrible model for serving justice.
 
Private prison companies now take in a combined $3.3 billion in annual revenue, while the federal prison population has more than doubled between 2000 and 2010. What if the financial incentives for these companies were not tied to capacity—the number of inmates housed—but to demonstrated success in rehabilitation and lowered recidivism rates? Surely we could leverage the economic interest in a better and more productive way.
 
As it stands now, nearly two-thirds of these private prison contracts require that state and local governments maintain a fixed occupancy rate, usually of 90 percent, producing a system built to incentivize incarceration. Most often, if they fail to meet those thresholds, taxpayers are expected to foot the bill for empty beds. This system has produced its fair share of scandals too. Perhaps the most notorious was the “Kids for Cash” scandal where two judges were convicted of receiving $2.6 million in kickbacks from private prison companies for sending more minors with unusually large sentences.
 
In many of these private prisons, inmates receive as little as 17 cents per hour for labor of up to six hours a day. In contrast, inmates in federal prisons can work more hours and earn $1.25 an hour. What often goes untold is how many Fortune500 companies are now reliant on low-cost prison labor. Of course, there is moral and economic complexity involved in an issue like this. We should be leery of simplistic generalizations or solutions. But, by and large, Americans in general, including evangelicals, are not even involved in the conversation.
 
This only scratches the surface of some incredibly complex moral questions regarding the American penal system. Surely, there’s more to say about how we treat prisoners while incarcerated, the challenges posed by incarcerating more and more of our nation’s children, and questions as to the democratic rights of prisoners, particularly those convicted of felonies, to vote. These issues require more conversation from the broad spectrum of evangelicalism and they need not polarize our churches. Surely we can learn and listen together, as a people marked by both grace and truth.
 
So where do we go from here? What does it mean to make disciples of Christ in the age of mass incarceration?
 

God’s care for the prisoner

You might be tempted to think that the incarcerated are “the scum of the earth.” And don’t forget those “violent offenders.” They’re the worst sort, right? Well, have you considered Moses? Here was a man who saw his fellow citizen being abused by an Egyptian supervisor and intervened. However it happened, when everything was over, Moses was guilty of murder and ended up a fugitive, a violent offender. There’s no small irony that years later, on the backside of a mountain, God revealed his law to this same murderer, commanding, “Thou shalt not kill.”
 
And what about David? Here’s a man who sees a woman who is not his wife one night and lustfully desires her. She’s married to another man, so David conspires to have him killed. His plan is successful, and he eventually takes the woman as his wife. It would take the prophet Nathan, not a district attorney or grand jury, to indict this conspiratorial killer.
 
And the Scriptures are full of men who were incarcerated. Joseph. Samson. Daniel. Jeremiah. John the Baptist. Peter. James. John. And yes, even Jesus was processed through the judicial system of his day and unjustly convicted and sentenced.
 
So we might think twice before we casually assume or generalize about the condition of those 2.4 million men and women living in our nation’s prisons. These are people, made in the image of God. And every one of them has a unique story.
 
Have you ever noticed how Jesus launched his public ministry? Luke 4:17-19 tells us how he entered into the synagogue in Nazareth, opened up the scroll, and read Isaiah’s prophecy: “to proclaim liberty to the captives” (cf. Isaiah 61:1). Most gloriously and wonderfully for Christians, that certainly means liberty from the bondage of sin and death. But it does not mean less than that. It is also good news, right now, to those locked up.
 
This is also why Jesus specifically identifies the way we treat prisoners as one evidence of whether or not we truly know him (Matthew 25:36). The writer to the Hebrews also makes specific mention of our duty to “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body” (Hebrews 13:3). While these passages have in mind especially our fellow Christians incarcerated for the faith, it cannot imply that we neglect our unbelieving neighbor in the next cell.
 
Thank God for ministries like Prison Fellowship. Thanks to the enduring vision of Chuck Colson, evangelicals have been on the front lines of caring for the men and women who live in our prisons. Thank God for people like Dr. Harold Dean Trulear, a Baptist scholar and theologian who is helping so many to think biblically on these issues. But there is an overwhelming amount of work to be done. It is time for the evangelical conscience to be pricked. If we don’t lead the effort, who will?
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Matthew J. Hall is vice president of academic services at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This article first appeared at erlc.com.)

12/22/2015 9:36:17 AM by Matthew J. Hall, ERLC | with 0 comments



Allen: Considering year-end contributions

December 21 2015 by Jason K. Allen, MBTS President

The Christmas season is now upon us, which means year-end solicitations are upon us as well. I know this all too well. I am on the receiving end of scores of appeals and, as president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I am on the requesting end also.
 
With so many pressing needs and viable ministries to which you can give, how should you discern which causes are most deserving of your financial support? How should you consider year-end giving in light of biblical principles of Christian stewardship?
 

Be pre-committed to biblical stewardship

First, consider your giving in light of the broader, biblical principles of Christian stewardship. Ultimately, your resources are not your own. They are the Lord’s resources, with which you have been entrusted as a steward (see Genesis 2:15; Psalm 24:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:8).

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Be honest with yourself, your income and your giving opportunities. Sheltering money from the government may work on earth, but it doesn’t work in heaven. God does not desire excuses; He desires obedience. He’s not looking for us to negotiate or enter into private arrangements with Him. He is looking for us to be faithful, sacrificial stewards with all He’s entrusted to us.
 

Give to your local church first

Second, prioritize your local church. In the New Testament, we see by prescription and by pattern God’s people giving to their local church. The apostle Paul repeatedly instructed and celebrated this pattern. Though I lead a theological institution dependent upon the generous donations of God’s people, my wife and I prioritize our local church and encourage others to do the same.
 
Doubtlessly, you are confronted with many worthwhile opportunities to give this Christmas season. As you pray through these options, do not let any of them displace or curtail your giving to your local church. Through your church’s contributions to Southern Baptist Cooperative Program, you will be supporting missions, ministry and witness in your state, across the nation and throughout the world.
 

Look for optimal impact

Third, look for optimal impact. Don’t give to fill ditches. Give to build mountains. Every Christian entity faces seasons of unusual need or unanticipated challenges. But, if an entity perennially engages in crisis fundraising, odds are they do not have a donor problem, they have a business-model problem. Be leery about throwing good money after bad.
 
Look for organizations that have a track record of good financial management. Moreover, look for ministries where your gift will have a ripple effect. Why settle for making a short-lived impact if you can make an ongoing one?
 

Be fully informed

Fourth, be fully informed about the cause you are considering supporting. Are they a distinctively Christian organization? What is their vision? What is their mission statement? What is their doctrinal statement? Where do they stand on pressing social issues like marriage and abortion? Are they committed to the Word of God as absolutely true and the exclusivity of the gospel as the only message that saves?
 
And specifically, how will the gift be utilized? Be on the lookout both for what they don’t state publicly as well as what they do.
 
As a donor, no question should be off-limits. In fact, if there is an inappropriate question for a donor to ask, I have yet to be faced with it. There are too many great Christian ministries with pressing needs to settle for making ill-informed contributions.
 

Run from manipulation

Finally, run from manipulation. Making needs known is entirely appropriate, but placing undue expectations on potential supporters is not. If a solicitor resorts to heavy-handedness, it may belie duress or something much worse. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured by such tactics. Instead, pray, reflect, inquire and seek the will of God.
 
Christian stewardship includes more than generous giving, it includes wise, discerning giving as well. The power to give is the power to impact lives. The upside can be unlimited, and that is good. In fact, the upside is too great to be careless. Be a generous – and wise – steward of all God has entrusted to you.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jason Allen is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. This article first appeared at Allen’s website, jasonkallen.com.) 

12/21/2015 11:10:29 AM by Jason K. Allen, MBTS President | with 0 comments



Akin: Great Commission families

December 18 2015 by Danny Akin, SEBTS

Last words are meant to be lasting words, words that make an impact – and Christ’s Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 certainly does that!
 
As a Southern Baptist, I am committed with my brothers and sisters in our convention to obeying the Lord Jesus’ last words. As a Great Commission people, we rightly focus on the “outer edges” of lostness, the underserved and unreached people groups of the world.
 
We are told that there are 7.3 billion people on planet Earth, with 11,489 distinct people groups. Of these, 6,832 are “unreached people groups” totaling a shocking 3.78 billion persons who have either inadequate access or no access to the gospel. Such people will likely be born, live, die and spend eternity separated from God without ever hearing a clear presentation of the gospel.
 
It is right, even imperative, for us to focus on and give serious attention to these people.
 
I am convinced, however, that one of the most biblical and strategic ways to impact the world’s lostness is to look closer to home, much closer. For mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, obeying the Great Commission should begin in the home, though it should certainly not end there.
 
We should begin our obedience to the Great Commission in the home, first, because it is biblical.
 
Jesus informs us in Matthew 22:37 that the Greatest Commandment is, “Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He is, of course, quoting the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Bracketing the Shema is the instruction that this commandment is to be taught to children by their parents and their grandparents. Jesus then notes that the second Great Commandment is like the first: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). “All the Law and the prophets,” He tells us, “hang on the two commandments.” Teaching our children all that He has commanded would certainly be grounded in the two great commandments. The close relationship of the Great Commission to the Great Commandments is clear. They are interconnected and must not be separated. They are mutually reinforcing.
 
We should begin our obedience to the Great Commission in the home, second, because it is strategic.
 
I am confident most pastors and seminary professors would agree that good theology and good missiology are more caught than taught, though both are necessary. Therefore, the vital role a father and mother (and grandparents!) play in conveying and modeling a missional life for their children cannot be overemphasized. It is crucial and in many instances decisive.
 
Most children look up to, admire and follow in their parents’ footsteps. When teenagers are asked to name their number one role model, parents generally top the list. In January 2015, stageoflife.com surveyed teenagers on the topic of “unsung heroes.” Parents ranked number one. In 1998, Newsweek magazine reported the same thing. The fact is, our children do care what we think, they do listen to what we say, and they pay a whole lot of attention to what we do!
 
So, in the context of the Great Commission, what do they hear you saying? What do they see you doing?
 
Parents who model and talk about giving their lives for the sake of the lost around the world will likely, by God’s grace and for His glory, see their children grow up to follow in their footsteps. Parents, what you love, they will love. What you value, they will value. What you have a passion for, they will have a passion for. After all, you are their heroes!
 
The question before us as parents and grandparents is clear: What will we do to embed the Great Commission into the DNA of our children and grandchildren so that they may have a lifelong passion for making disciples of all nations – the very passion of King Jesus?
 
I believe there are concrete and even simple steps for accomplishing this weighty task – reading missionary biographies as a family, bringing actual missionaries into your home and praying for missionaries, just to name a few. However, I am convinced of this: It will not happen accidentally. It will require thoughtful and purposeful effort to live out this submission to Christ in our lives and homes.
 
Will you join me in thinking and working intentionally to build Great Commission families at home so we can walk faithfully in Christ’s last and lasting words: “make disciples of all nations”? It is biblical. It is strategic. Let’s get to work!
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, describes “Great Commission families” as “one of the most biblical and strategic ways to impact the world’s lostness.”)

12/18/2015 10:44:59 AM by Danny Akin, SEBTS | with 0 comments



Be a joy whisperer

December 17 2015 by Diana Davis, Baptist Press

Be brutally honest. Which of these two phrases do you exclaim most often this time of year? “Merry Christmas!” or “I’m so busy!” When a Christian spends the Christmas season in a stress mode, that doesn’t honor God.
 
Here are six tips to help you have joy – inside and out – during the busy Christmas holidays.
 
1) Begin well. Personally start each morning of the holiday season by reading the Bible and asking God to give peace and wisdom. Those minutes will invigorate and focus your day.
 
2) Snatch snippets of time for peaceful relaxing. A new 1000-piece puzzle sits on our coffee table each December, with a goal of finishing it by Christmas as family members or friends sit and chat, working on the puzzle. Find ways to encourage laid-back conversation and togetherness for your family or friends to do together. Sit around a fire. Decorate Christmas cookies. Sip hot cocoa. Watch a Christmas movie. Sing. Cram into the car and drive around town to see Christmas lights.
 
3) See people in your pathway. Be extra kind to strangers. Smile. Show sincere interest. Be patient. Don’t critique non-Christians who don’t celebrate a Savior they don’t even know yet. Instead, let them see Jesus in you, spreading His joy everywhere you go.
 
4) Refocus. Remember that Christmas is about celebrating Christ. Yes, we treasure traditions, decorations, parties, community events, benevolence projects, baking, eating, gifting and so much more. We’re especially busy this month! But when our key reason for celebration is Christ, the stress to please people disappears. There’s joy. One idea: place a touchable nativity on child level for kids’ and grandkids’ hands-on play.
 
5) Joy doesn’t whine. Philippians 2:14 says, “Do everything without grumbling or complaining....” If we constantly lament, “I’m so busy” or “I’m so broke,” it can come across as, “God isn’t in control.” A God-follower must never be a complainer. God gives His children joy on good days and difficult days. Treasure all the moments of life.
 
6) Give joyfully to someone who can’t give back. Generously share your time with someone who’s lonely, poor, grieving or ill. Give an extravagant missions offering. Be kind to a child. Anonymously bless someone in Jesus’ name. Instead of a “wish list,” help your children discover the joy of giving, making homemade gifts or doing Christian ministry projects.
 
This Christmas season, will you choose to stress out and complain? Or will you joyfully celebrate Christ. Be the “Joy Whisperer,” spreading God’s joy wherever you go. Joy is not loud or forced. It comes directly from God. Your Christian joy oozes over those around you, even at Christmas. Especially at Christmas.

12/17/2015 10:22:46 AM by Diana Davis, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Obeying God’s call to the nations

December 16 2015 by Kevin Ezell, NAMB

If you take a look at one of our family photos, you’ll see we are a diverse bunch. We have six kids from four countries. John Michael (JM) became part of our family five years ago. I’ll never forget the first night after we picked him up from the orphanage in the Philippines.
 
As I put him to bed that first night, he did something I thought was very strange at the time. He made fists with both hands and pushed them against my cheeks. I had no idea what he was trying to communicate. Then he said, “I love you, dad.” It was the first time he had ever said that to me. So I told him, “I love you, too.”
 
“I will be a good son for you,” he told me. Five years later and I still get a lump in my throat when I think about that. The next morning, when he told me the same thing in the same serious tone, I realized something was wrong. He saw every day as an opportunity to earn my approval and earn the right to stay a part of my family. I told him right then that no matter what he did, he would always be a part of our forever family. That wouldn’t change no matter if his behavior was good or bad.
 
“Yes sir, but I will be a good son for you,” he responded.
 
What if you and I looked at our relationship with our Heavenly Father like JM looked at his relationship with me?
 
We don’t try to please God in order to earn our salvation, but we long to please God because of who He is. Because God has been so good to us in Christ, we give all we have to please Him.
 
You and I can strive for many different things in life. We can work for riches. We can pursue power. We can seek after fame. But because of who God is, there’s only one ambition in our life that really matters – that we obey and please our Heavenly Father.
 
Paul realized this. He said in Acts 20, “But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24, HCSB).
 
Nothing mattered more to Paul than obeying God’s call to share the gospel of grace throughout the known world. You may long to be good at what you do for a living, to be the best engineer, the best lawyer, the best mechanic, the best doctor or the best stay-at-home mom you can possibly be. Those are fine ambitions.
 
But above all else you and I have been called to be a good son or daughter of the King because of who He is. Because of who He is we must obey God by going to the hard places on this continent – the large cities with so many people and so few churches – to tell people about Him.
 
But the lostness in North America is only a fraction of what it is worldwide. More than 3,100 unreached people groups are not being engaged with the gospel by anyone. As we strive to be good sons and daughters of the King, only one ambition really matters in our life – to give all we have to make much of Jesus where He is not known.
 
This Christmas season will you obey your Heavenly Father and make reaching the nations your No. 1 priority, your top ambition?
 
No other ambition is worth your time, talents and treasures.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kevin Ezell is president of the North American Mission Board.)

12/16/2015 11:21:52 AM by Kevin Ezell, NAMB | with 0 comments



CHRISTMAS: Beyond parties, hurry, food, kids & panic

December 14 2015 by Vicki Heath, First Place 4 Health

Worry, hurry, traffic, presents, shopping, tree, food, kids, money, food, family, parties, food and more food. Are you getting panicked? Well, don’t!
 
God never intended the celebration of the birth of His Son to be anything but joyful. The culture’s craziness at Christmastime does not have to consume us. We can experience the true meaning of Christmas with a happy heart and attitude. For example:
 
1. Set food boundaries.
 
The average American will gain 3 to 7 pounds over the holidays. This might be the average, but Christians shouldn’t be average. We don’t have to participate in this statistic.
 
Boundaries are just lines we decide not to cross for our own well-being. There is power in the pen so I have written out my boundaries for the holidays:
 
a. I will enjoy my favorite foods but I will not take large portions of anything.
b. I will not go back for seconds.
c. If I get off track, I will not allow the enemy to shame me into abandoning my boundaries.
 
2. Seek out the Wonderful Counselor.
 
Jesus, as the Wonderful Counselor, said in Matthew 6 not to worry over money, clothes or your house. If He can take care of the birds in the air and the flowers of the field, He can surely take care of us.
 
Let’s not allow guilt or shame or television commercials to dictate how much we should spend on Christmas. Instead, let’s seek the guidance of the Wonderful Counselor and pray over each person that He will lead us to meaningful and creative gifts.
 
3. Stop and smell the mistletoe.
 
Take time to slow down and enjoy all the sights and smells of the season. The merriment will be gone in the blink of an eye.
 
Were you so busy last year that you cannot recall Christmas? Leave time to enjoy the music, decorations and the special shows. Make the decision now. No over-scheduling this year. Let’s not rush it but enjoy it.
 
4. Ask for peace from the Prince.
 
Nobody does peace like Jesus, for He Himself is our peace.
 
If all you want for Christmas is some peace and quiet, it’s not a bad thing for which to ask. God’s peace can reign over our homes during the season if we seek the Prince.
 
5. Revisit the incarnation every day.
 
The Bible foretells and tells the beautiful story of the Messiah’s birth. It has been the inspiration of carols and poetry for centuries.
 
Read these six passages of Scripture starting today. Take your time and spend several days on each passage. Meditate, pray through and visit again the miracle of the incarnation.
 
a. The Prophecy – Isaiah 9:1-7
b. The Fulfillment – John 1:1-14
c. The Mom – Luke 1:26-56
d. The Birth – Luke 2:1-7
e. The Visitors – Luke 2:8-20, Matthew 2:1-12
f. The Long Expected – Luke 2:22-35
 
Keeping it real, keeping it simple and keeping it focused on the holy infant is my plan. There may not have been room in the inn but I’m making sure there is room in my heart.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Vicki Heath is the national director of First Place 4 Health, a wellness program for balance in spirit, soul, mind and body based on a giving Christ first place. The FP4H movement began in 1981 as a ministry of Houston’s First Baptist Church and became a separate nonprofit ministry in 2010. FP4H counts groups in 12,000-plus churches, fitness centers, offices and homes, with more than 500,000 participants.)

12/14/2015 11:10:07 AM by Vicki Heath, First Place 4 Health | with 0 comments



Is Donald Trump right about closing the border to Muslims?

December 11 2015 by Russell Moore, ERLC President

Donald Trump is at it again. This time, the Republican presidential frontrunner suggests that the United States should close the border to all Muslims – including Muslim-Americans traveling abroad. Anyone who cares an iota about religious liberty should denounce this reckless, demagogic rhetoric.
 
Trump, of course, is a master at knowing and seizing a moment. The country is reeling from a terrorist attack by two Islamic radicals. Moreover, the president seems to many to have little plan to eradicate the threat of the Islamic State from building a massive caliphate in the Middle East and exporting terror all over the world. Enter the Man in the Trump Tower with a plan to “get tough” by closing the borders to Muslims, all Muslims, simply because they are Muslim.
 

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ERLC President Russell Moore

As an evangelical Christian, I could not disagree more strongly with Islam. I believe that salvation comes only through union with Jesus Christ, received through faith. As part of the church’s mission, we believe we should seek to persuade our Muslim neighbors of the goodness and truth of the gospel. It is not in spite of our gospel conviction, but precisely because of it, that we should stand for religious liberty for everyone.
 
The Revolutionary-era Baptist preacher John Leland repeatedly included “the Turks” in his list of those included in the sorts of religious freedoms he was demanding from the politicians of his time (including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison). This was despite the fact that there were virtually no Muslims to speak of in the colonies or in the new republic. Leland included them specifically and intentionally anyway. He wanted to make it clear that his concept of religious freedom was not dependent on a group’s political power. He chose the most despised religious minority of the time, with no political collateral in his context, to make the point that religious freedom is a natural right bestowed by God, not a grant given out by the government.
 
The governing authorities have a responsibility, given by God, to protect the population from violence, and to punish the evildoers who perpetrate such violence (Romans 13:1-7). The governing powers, as with every earthly power, have a limited authority. The government cannot exalt itself as a lord over the conscience, a god over the soul.
 
The United States government should fight, and fight hard, against radical Islamic jihadism. The government should close the borders to anyone suspected of even a passing involvement with any radical cell or terrorist network. But the government should not penalize law-abiding people, especially those who are American citizens, for holding their religious convictions.
 
Muslims are an unpopular group these days. And I would argue that non-violent Muslim leaders have a responsibility to call out terror and violence and jihad. At the same time, those of us who are Christians ought to stand up for religious liberty not just when our rights are violated but on behalf of others too.
 
Make no mistake. A government that can shut down mosques simply because they are mosques can shut down Bible studies because they are Bible studies. A government that can close the borders to all Muslims simply on the basis of their religious belief can do the same thing for evangelical Christians. A government that issues ID badges for Muslims simply because they are Muslims can, in the fullness of time, demand the same for Christians because we are Christians.
 
We are in a time of war, and we should respond as those in a time of war. But we must never lose in a time of war precious freedoms purchased through the blood of patriots in years past. We must have security and we must have order. But we must not trade soul freedom for an illusion of winning.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article first appeared on Russell Moore’s blog, russellmoore.com)

12/11/2015 11:54:02 AM by Russell Moore, ERLC President | with 0 comments



The faith of a small-town girl

December 10 2015 by Erich Bridges, IMB

It must have been a fearful moment for this small-town girl when the mysterious visitor showed up out of nowhere – looking for her.
 
Mary probably was all of 12 or 13 years old, the common age of betrothal for Jewish girls in those days, when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. (Read the account in Luke 1:26-38). Engaged to Joseph, a carpenter, Mary was looking forward to the quiet life of a wife and mother in the small market town of Nazareth.
 
Suddenly, here was a supernatural being before her, declaring, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28, NASB).
 
Luke says she was “greatly troubled” by this statement (v. 29). Confused, anxious and terrified might also describe her reaction. The angel’s appearance must have been overwhelming for Mary, his words even more so.
 
Gabriel saw her anxiety and said, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end” (vv. 30-33).
 
Mary didn’t comprehend what he was saying. How could she become the mother of this great king? She was a virgin, for one thing. For another, Gabriel was speaking of mysteries far beyond her understanding, beyond the understanding even of the great teachers of Israel. The angel revealed a bit more, telling her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, that the power of God would overshadow her, that her holy child would be called the Son of God.
 
Mary’s response echoes through the ages: “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word” (v. 38).
 
We should neither idealize nor idolize Mary. She was as human and fallible as the rest of us. Even after Gabriel’s explanations, she probably suffered doubts and fears about what he was telling her. It had likely begun to dawn on her what the potential consequences might be if her unmarried pregnancy became public. Scandal and family shame? Rejection by Joseph? Death by stoning? She had nothing whatsoever to rely on – except God’s promise through His messenger.
 
Yet without fully understanding what was unfolding, without being sure of what was expected of her, without knowing what would happen to her, Mary submitted herself to God’s will. When she was told by God to leave the safety of the familiar and launch into the unknown, she obeyed.
 
“There is very little unusual about the outward life of [Mary], or at least the Gospels do not record it,” wrote Jeanne-Pierre de Caussade, author of “Abandonment to Divine Providence,” an 18th-century spiritual classic. “They show her life as very simple and ordinary. What she did and endured might have been done and endured by anyone in her station in life. She visited her cousin Elizabeth just as her other relatives did.... [S]he went to Bethlehem to be registered. Because she was poor she sheltered in a stable. The persecution of Herod drove her from Nazareth, but she returned and lived there with Jesus and Joseph, who worked to earn their daily bread.
 
“But what was the bread which nourished the faith of Mary and Joseph? It was the sacrament of the moment.”
 
The moment. When her moment came, young Mary was ready. Not because of her education, talent or insight, but because of her quiet obedience. Faith is actually believing what God says, no matter how illogical or mysterious it might seem, and obeying it out of love for Him. Moment by moment.
 
What is God saying to you at this moment? Maybe something that strikes you as rash or risky. Maybe something that seems small, but will require you to move a few steps beyond the familiar and the comfortable. Maybe something that He will use to change missions history – if you obey Him.
 
When you celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas, think about the faith of the small-town girl who brought Him into the world.
 
Learn more about how you can give to send and support missionaries at imb.org.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board global correspondent. His WorldView column appears twice monthly in Baptist Press.)

12/10/2015 1:59:40 PM by Erich Bridges, IMB | with 0 comments



Deliver us from evil

December 8 2015 by Ronnie Floyd, SBC President

The continual shootings in America are unprecedented and they are evidence of a desperate need for a spiritual awakening in this country.
 
Whether the shootings in America are related to terror, work, race, family, mental illness, or hate, they are killings. Violent. Lawless. Evil.
 
This lawlessness cannot be solved by legislation, but by the power of the love of Jesus Christ to destroy the evil in our hearts.
 
More than one evil shooting a day
 
The New York Times addressed the San Bernardino killings as the 354th mass shooting in America this year. The Times stated, “Since January, there have been at least 354 such cases in about 220 cities in 47 states, according to shootingtracker.com.”
 
In response to the San Bernardino mass shooting, The Washington Post stated, “The Mass Shooting Tracker is different from other shooting databases in that it uses a broader definition of mass shooting – the old FBI definition focused on four or more people killed as part of a single shooting.”
 
In fact, both the New York Times and Washington Post illustrate graphically the shootings that have occurred in 2015.
 
Others can debate the terminology and statistics regarding what comprises a mass shooting. Regardless, we cannot deny we are seeing people shoot and kill others at a rate of more than one a day.
 
This is pure evil. It is a spiritual problem.
 
The human heart and the forces of hell
 
What is the cause of this shooting spree in our nation? Opinions abound, every one is expressed passionately, and they are debated continually. Yet, almost no one discusses the real problem, which is much deeper.
 
The problem is the condition of the human heart, as affirmed by the Holy Scripture in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable – who can understand it?
 
The human heart has the potential to express evil in unimaginable ways.
 
We are experiencing this today. While each of these shootings is occurring in different cities and for different reasons, the root problem is consistent in each of them – the evil condition of the human heart.
 
Jesus Himself answered a question from His disciples about various signs that will point toward His coming and the end of the age. One of these glaring signs Jesus gave to them is stated in Matthew 24:12, “Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold.”
 
This is the evil we are witnessing in our time. Lawlessness is multiplying. The love of many is growing cold. Everything we are seeing relating to the devaluation of human life from an epidemic of abuse to the cold-hearted murder of innocent people begins with the condition of the human heart.
 
I believe the Bible speaks clearly about the powerful force of Satan and his demonic forces, and a weak, sinful and evil human heart is vulnerable to the evil forces of hell. The Bible states in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.”
 
Be assured, Satan is alive and well, scheming against each person who is a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, and stoking the fire of hate in the hearts of those who chase after violence.
 
I believe Satan is especially and continually scheming against America because of our Christian heritage. His goal is to destroy our lives, our nation and all it represents. This is why evil abounds not only inside of our nation, but also from outside our nation.
 
America is becoming more susceptible and vulnerable to our enemies when we fail to listen to the words of Psalm 11:3, “When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?
 
The foundation of our nation is strong, but with every attack on that foundation, our nation suffers. Presently, America seems to be experiencing a season of unrestrained and unrelenting attack.
 

The hope for America

On December 2, 2015, an op-ed was printed in The Wall Street Journal by its owner – Rupert Murdoch – who is also the executive chairman of News Corporation. Rupert Murdoch had received the Hudson Institute’s Global Leadership Award, and the op-ed, which was titled “America the Indispensable,” was an excerpt of his remarks in that gathering.
 
Murdoch’s remarks are worthy of the attention of America.
 
He called for, “Reviving our sense of direction and celebrating America’s exceptional nature.” Then he stated these words that captured my attention: “Around our country, there is a restless desire for revival.” He is speaking not of a spiritual revival, but a revival of our nation that is in, as Murdoch called it, “a slow descent.”
 
I appreciated his dynamic words and his call to our nation.
 
Yet, my call to America would take his concern one step further – to a revival of the human heart. I love America and believe in our future greatly. But the evil we are seeing unrestrained in our nation today will not find its answer politically, socially, materially, nor financially. Rather, it all begins in the heart.
 

My hope is in the gospel

The condition of the human heart discovers its cure only in the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we repent of our sin and by faith turn to Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven completely. A spiritual transformation occurs within us, changing us from the inside out.
 
We must share, speak, write and preach the gospel to people and in places where the gospel has never been before, across our nation and world.
 

My hope is in the revival of the church

I believe there is a restlessness also occurring in the church that is desirous of an unprecedented move of God like we have never seen before. Spiritual revival in the church is our hope.
 
When the church desires this move of God and seeks the God who can give it, then we will become even more convicted of the need to pray for ourselves and for our nation the powerful words of Jesus from the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:13, “…deliver us from the evil one.”
 
The church needs to get prayer back in the church. We need our churches to become houses of prayer as Jesus said we must be. The church must become the leader in praying, “Deliver us from the evil in America.” It is the church that must lead the way in praying for the security in our nation.
 

My hope is in a great spiritual awakening

I am often asked, “Dr. Floyd, have you given up on America?” I respond immediately, “Absolutely not!” I have not given up on America because I believe in a God who can do anything, anytime, anywhere, with anyone.
 
This includes America. A great spiritual awakening is the greatest hope for America. This is our hope.
 
Lord, deliver us from the evil in America.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ronnie Floyd is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas. This article first appeared at Ronnie Floyd’s website, ronniefloyd.com.)

12/8/2015 10:57:47 AM by Ronnie Floyd, SBC President | with 0 comments



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