December 2016

A blank sheet of paper

December 9 2016 by Art Toalston

Take an 8½-by-11 sheet of paper and fold it in half.
Now fold it in half again.
Then fold it in half one more time, so that you’re holding a pocket-size piece of paper.
Pray and think a few moments – perhaps off and on for a day or two or as long as need be – to seek God’s guidance for a short phrase that might spark someone’s interest in your journey of faith or the importance of Christ in your life. Write it on one side of the pocket-size folded paper.

Art Toalston

On the other side, write your name, perhaps just your first name, and your cellphone number and/or email address.
Next, partly reopen the piece of paper, going back to the prior fold (see accompanying video). In this section, write a few sentences about what your life was like before you placed your soul in Christ’s care as the Son of God – your yearnings, struggles and/or emptiness. If you became a Christian as a youth, perhaps write a few sentences about what your life might have been like if Christ hadn’t been your Savior and Lord.
Unfold the paper another time, back to the panel that is half of the full piece of paper. Here, write a few sentences about when you became a Christian – the juncture(s) when the Holy Spirit led you toward asking God’s forgiveness for all your sins and surrendering your life to Christ. Or perhaps it might be the daily junctures when, nowadays, you turn to God for forgiveness and His guidance.
In the final step, fully unfold the paper and write out how a person can become a Christian, perhaps including a prayer that someone could pray to repent of sin and accept Christ’s death on the cross as the eternal payment for our waywardness and, continuing in prayer, to surrender to Christ for His redeeming and transforming our souls as our Savior and Lord.
You needn’t fill every blank space on the panels; just write what’s on your heart.
And certainly it’s OK to practice with several sheets of paper to fine-tune this expression of your faith. Or you could write each panel on a notepad and transfer it to the appropriate place on the folded paper. Some people might do this on a computer, adjusting the margins to the size of each panel.
Once you have completed this venture over a few days or a week or two, use a copying machine to make a supply of the panels on both sides of the paper. Or take it to an office supply store that can make multiple copies.
Fold the copies and put them in one or more handy places – in your bedroom for when you get dressed each day and at your workplace. If you have a car, that also could be a good place.
Carry one or two with you each day to give to people as the Holy Spirit leads. In our busy world, it’s difficult to strike up conversations with folks about your faith. This way, however, they can take your faith with them.
Say a prayer for each person that he or she might read through your words of faith in the coming days and encounter the love of God the Father and the inward presence of Jesus the Son through the tender, precious Holy Spirit.
There are many ways to share your faith; this is but one of them as a thankful response to God for our salvation, in keeping with the counsel in the New Testament book of 1 Peter, verse 15, to always “be prepared to give an answer for the hope that you have.”
Watch Art Toalston demonstrate folding a piece of paper to create a personalized tract:

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, and author of the ebooks When I Meditate and Meditation & Morality, with descriptors at Video by John Stroup; photos by Jim Veneman.)

12/9/2016 11:22:39 AM by Art Toalston | with 0 comments

Mission trip miscues

December 8 2016 by Shane Pruitt

The number of Christians in the United States participating in short-term mission trips – those lasting a year or less – has risen exponentially over the last 50 years, growing from 540 in 1965 to more than 1.5 million annually, with an estimated $2 billion per year spent on the travels, according to Missiology Journal.
Sadly, in recent years, there has been some negative light shed upon short-term mission trips. Questions have arisen such as, Are the trips truly advancing the mission of God? Are the teams who go on these trips more of a help or a hindrance to the missionary who is living there? Are we really being good stewards of our resources? Would it more helpful to send the money directly to the missionary and the ministry instead of paying for plane tickets?

Shane Pruitt

These are all great questions and worthy of consideration. However, all of these concerns shouldn’t discourage missions but rather make us better in our missions efforts. The act of going is important. Jesus left His home to be among the people and to bring them a message of hope, love and life. Plus, Jesus has commanded us to “go” in the Great Commission.
However, we’re not perfect; we’re going to make mistakes. Be wary of making these mistakes on short-term mission trips:
1) Believing you’re the Savior. We must remember that we are not the hope of the world – Jesus is. What countries, cities and people need is Jesus, not me and my passport. At the very best, I can make a temporary impact; however, the gospel will make an eternal impact. Give them Jesus.
2) Treating missionaries like travel agents. Now, don’t get me wrong. Often, missionaries are the best people to help plan the details of the trip. However, we must realize that is not their primary reason for being there. Their calling is to minister to the community, share the gospel and make disciples, not to be an on-call travel agent.
3) Going with our own agendas. Sometimes teams go on a mission trip with their own agendas, looking for the missionaries, cities and local ministries to meet their demands. Rather, missionaries, ministries and communities need long-term partners who will encourage, energize and invest in continuing the Kingdom work that has already begun there. Be a help, not a hindrance. Remember, if you make a mess and then leave, they are the ones who have to stay and clean it up.
4) Operating as though they are on your turf. Once, while on a mission trip, one of our team members said, “Wow. There are a lot of foreigners here!” What? Seriously? Yes, there are a few foreigners here. It’s us! Remember, you’re on their land, their streets and in their homes. Be sure to respect their culture, context and history. Once again, cultures need the gospel, not a Western mindset or even the “American church.” People will sing and do church differently than what you’re used to. Praise God for that. There is a lot we can learn from people in different contexts.
5) Doing things for people that they can do for themselves. We must ask ourselves, “Why are we flying halfway across the world and paying thousands of dollars just to paint a wall all by ourselves?” Are we doing jobs for people that they can do for themselves? If painting a wall or handing out food is really a need in a place, then invite people in those villages to do it with you. Or, if our teams are going to do these projects alone, then we must make sure that we’re doing them with gospel intentionality. For example, sometimes, handing out food opens the door for gospel conversations in closed countries. Likewise, painting or light construction can accomplish needed work that would be impossible for one or two missionaries to accomplish on their own, so it serves a critical need. Empowering people with the gospel for change should always be our driving force.
6) Impressing people instead of empowering them. It’s so easy to impress people with a certain skill set that the Lord has blessed you with. However, what if you spent that time teaching people to continue doing the same things once you left? That would be true long-term community impact. For example, if you have a dental hygienist, instead of them cleaning teeth the whole time, have them utilize their time teaching others in-country how to clean teeth properly. The work done in those few days will have more long-term impact than simply one person performing a handful of cleanings.
7) Participating in poverty tourism. If the biggest lasting impact on you from a mission trip is that it made you more thankful for your stuff back at home, then you’ve missed the point of missions. You must search your heart and intentions. Our motivation for missions cannot be to have a great experience or to take photos of hurting people. You are part of something much larger than yourself. You’re a part of the story of God and of fulfilling the Great Commandment and the Great Commission – love God, love people, make disciples.
8) Not asking before clicking. Pictures can be a great – they help you remember what God has taught you, they remind you of the relationships that were made, and they tell a story to others who were not there for the glory of God. Just be sure to ask first and be wise. Don’t turn your camera into a weapon. How would you feel if strangers were taking pictures of you, your children and your home?
So, yes mistakes are often made, but God is sovereign and His grace is sufficient. However, we can be aware of the mistakes, learn from them and make the changes necessary for healthy Kingdom expansion. We have an incredible opportunity to go in wisdom and with excellence because our King deserves our best.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shane Pruitt is director of missions for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

12/8/2016 9:33:06 AM by Shane Pruitt | with 0 comments

A question of (alt)-right and wrong

December 7 2016 by John Mark Yeats

It’s an annual event our house – the celebration of the day our children became part of our family forever. “Gotcha Day” or “Adoption Day” features ice cream, pictures, favorite meals, and a recounting of their unique adoption story.

Like most families, we share these moments online. But this year, our celebration angered individuals in the recently emboldened alt-right movement. The alt-right or “white nationalists” as some call them, are a grouping of far-right individuals that truly believe the best solutions for our country comes from separating races. Some have blamed the rise of the alt-right on the current political climate, others on the rapid expansion of politically-correct cultural change. Whatever the rationale, the trolls from the alt-right assured my racially mixed family that I was a disgrace to whites everywhere and that I was most assuredly “going to hell” for violating God’s racial laws. Even worse, according to these individuals, I was “cucked.”

Perhaps you aren’t familiar with this term, but it tends to be a favorite of the alt-right to refer to Christians who take a stand for racial equality. Historically the term “cuck,” or “cucked,” implied a lack of masculinity and virility – particularly to a husband of an adulterous wife or to men who unwittingly invest parental effort in raising children not connected to them genetically. Creating familial relationships through adoption that bridge the racial divide are case-in-point. Even integrating churches or ministries that work with refugees are seen as cowering to the political culture and therefore, weak. Churches taking biblical stands on these issues become demonstrative of “Cuckservative Christianity,” “Cuckianity,” or “Cucked Christianity.”

For the alt-right, white nationalist, race is tied to cultural expression so that certain races inherently possess cultural markers. For those cultures to then flourish and reach their natural ends, the races should be separated and become their own nations. For many, the white, European race needs to reclaim its uniqueness and primacy and therefore protect its cultural heritage. It’s the grand reversal of the identity politics of the left.

This isn’t a new idea launched during a 2016 political campaign. Incredibly prescient, Carol M. Swain identified this Nationalist impulse present in American culture over 15 years ago. Her book, The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration deserves a close read by anyone seeking answers to the longer history of this movement. Swain, quotes Dan Gayman, leader of the Church of Israel, a Christian Identity/white nationalist movement located in Missouri, “Most white Americans believe in their hearts in the doctrine of racial separatism even if they are too intimidated by its current disfavor in the media and elsewhere to openly acknowledge their beliefs.”

In a post-2016 election cycle that empowered many of radicalized groups on both sides of the aisle, the cultural filter Gayman referenced has lifted. It’s gone. The attacks have gone mainstream.

Swain argued that a variety of economic as well as cultural currents could ultimately lead to the challenges we are facing today. Her suggestion? The solution has to come from the church.


Because the gospel doesn’t change. Because the need for all of humanity to be reconciled to God doesn’t change. Because once we trust Christ, our identity changes fundamentally as part of the family of God – we are all adopted sons and daughters and share in the inheritance of the gospel!

But this concept is often missed by many in America. The gospel decimates our broken and sinful concepts of race! Jesus' victory on the cross ended the hostility between Jew/Greek, male/female, black/white/Hispanic/Asian. It doesn’t erase our ethnic heritage or unique attributes – this is not an “I don’t see race” proclamation. Instead, it is a new vision that despite these differences, we are placed into a new family where we become one because of Christ. Ephesians 2:14 is especially poignant: “For He (Christ) himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” We are one in Christ. Period.

But every Sunday, we bring our wretched, broken souls into the gathering place of our churches carrying discrimination against each other or those outside of our doors. How should pastors respond to this reality?

  1. Understand that the media is not “fabricating” or “creating” stories of the rise of an emboldened, racially motivated alt-right. While I believe they are a very small, yet loud, subset of the population, they are doing everything they can to target the young, the disenfranchised, and the poor with their racially charged message. If Swain’s research bears out, this group will continue to see gains if the seed of their teaching is watered and left unchecked.
  2. Your brothers and sisters in Christ who are part of a minority group may actually carry some justified fear about what might happen to them during this presidential transition. If you are not listening to them, please take time to consider what they are feeling and hearing in their congregations.
  3. You must remain vigilant about issues of race and racial reconciliation. Pastors must preach the peace and healing that comes through Christ alone. Beyond preaching, congregations must continue to work to reach their specific mission field. Do a census study of a five-mile radius around your congregation’s meeting place. If your congregational doesn’t mirror the racial proportions of that same space, you are missing your mission field!
  4. Recognize that individuals in your congregation may carry racial discomfort or even hatred against others into your building every week. If the church really is a place where broken sinners find healing through the gospel, this is a live issue. Since the truth of our true identity in Christ is connected so deeply to the gospel, we should expect the ideas of race and racial division to be live issues that Satan will use to create division.
  5. Preach the gospel. Over and again share the hope of the gospel. There is no underestimating, as Carol Swain states, “the enormous power that Christian religion can exert to save us from our ingrained bigotries and prejudices.” The gospel forces us to deal with our sin and the inherent racism that each of carries and annihilates it on the cross of Calvary.

Christians must hold to the higher standard that all believers are one, new race in Christ. This is our identity that supersedes all other markers. When it comes to a question of the alt-right, they are wrong. Attitudes of racial superiority or even discrimination are morally wrong according to what we are told in scripture. Pastors and churches must guard against this cultural moment and continue to point people to the cross where we are made new.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Mark Yeats serves as the dean of Midwestern Baptist College. This column was originally published at Used with permission.)

12/7/2016 9:49:12 AM by John Mark Yeats | with 0 comments

Small but healthy

December 6 2016 by Jeff Iorg

It was my pleasure to worship with a small, open-country church in West Texas on a recent Sunday – not a traffic light in sight for miles.
Farmers and ranchers, teachers and homemakers, retirees and preschoolers gathered for worship and fellowship. They sang from the hymnal, preached from the Bible and shared life together like a large family.
Denominational demographers call a church like this “plateaued” or “declining.” It is neither stagnant nor dying; it’s just small – and very healthy.

Jeff Iorg

The church had 60 worship attenders, 15 by my count were middle school or younger. During the service, the pastor reminded everyone about a community outreach – working with other churches in their local Baptist association – taking place that afternoon. He also promoted the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, reminding the church of their mission banquet coming just after Thanksgiving. The lay youth director announced a “boys versus girls” contest related to an upcoming Christmas mission project for their community. The choir – what most people would call an octet – announced final rehearsals for their Christmas musical coming in a few weeks.
Thank God for healthy smaller churches! They reach people – like my extended family of farmers and ranchers – and do meaningful ministry in their community and around the world. They do the same things larger churches do – only to their scale.
Without them, millions of Americans wouldn’t know the joy of Christian fellowship and service.
During this Christmas season, thank God for your church – no matter the size – and ask God to enhance its ministry by making you a better member. Thank God for churches who have changed our lives.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Iorg is president of Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. This article first appeared at the seminary’s blog,

12/6/2016 11:45:14 AM by Jeff Iorg | with 0 comments

Lottie Moon – The rebel I want to be

December 6 2016 by Lori McDaniel, IMB

Lottie Moon. I want to be like her, but I didn’t realize how much until I dove into her life story.
You could draw a line in the sand, mention the name Lottie Moon, and people who revere her will move to one side of the line while people whispering, “Who’s that?” will migrate to the other. I had one foot in each camp.
My current church is in the “who’s that?” category. Most people at my church, planted 15 years ago, did not grow up thoroughbred Southern Baptists. While they participate in and give to global missions, they’re not familiar with Lottie. But I grew up in a church that revered her, and I raised money for missions in my rice-bowl-shaped piggy bank to give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

Lottie Moon

Her photos in a Victorian-laced collar might give the impression she was a stuffy school marm who adhered to strict rules. Yet, she was playfully defiant, poking fun at the church until she chose to follow Christ at age 18. And she was ambitiously smart and became one of the first women in the South to earn a master’s degree.
Whether you’re already familiar with her story or this is your first introduction, you’ll find that her somewhat terse language flows from a contagious, tenacious heart for God’s mission.

Why I want to be like Lottie

1. She confidently believed that salvation was personal and so was the Great Commission. The gospel came through Christ to us to save us, but not to stop with us. We are saved for God’s glory and then appointed to declare His glory.
“Should we not press it home upon our consciences that the sole object of our conversion was not the salvation of our own souls, but that we might become coworkers with our Lord and Master in the conversion of the world?” Lottie asked.
2. She daringly called for an insurrection in status quo mission thinking.
If the Great Commission is for all believers, then we must personally answer the question, “Am I going or sending?”
– She challenged young men: “Ask not if it is his duty to go to the heathen, but if he may dare stay at home. The command is so plain: ‘Go.’”
– She challenged pastors: “Knowing the loud call for laborers in the foreign field, will you settle down with your home pastorates? So many could be found to fill your places ... so few volunteer for foreign work.”
– She challenged women: “Thousands of women will never hear the gospel until women bear it to them.”
3. She unapologetically asked believers to give.
Although salvation is free, sending people where the gospel has not been shared has a cost. Giving to God’s mission is an investment. Lottie’s questions create a jolt meant to stir hearts to an urgent need. “Why this strange indifferences to missions?” she wrote. “Why these scant contributions? Why does money fail to be forthcoming when approved men and women are asking to be sent to proclaim the ‘unsearchable riches of Christ’ to the heathen?“
4. She unwaveringly obeyed God and abandoned comfort to live in a hard place.
The eternal reality that people were dying without hearing of Jesus trumped the reality of living in a place devoid of convenience and comfort. Living in China during political upheaval and among people who “had an aversion to foreigners” were mere splinters of the difficulties she faced. Yet she wrote from a village, “The circumstance would suggest an utter absence of comfort, yet we find ourselves more than contented.”
5. She didn’t shy away from pleading for a legion of workers to be sent.
Lottie didn’t merely play at missions but confidently persuaded others to consider the reality of people going to an eternal hell. “We implore you to send us help. Let not these heathen sink down into eternal death without one opportunity to hear that blessed gospel, which is to you the source of all joy and comfort,” she wrote.
Lottie defied the limits of generational, cultural, and missional norms for the sake of the gospel. I want to be so bold. With nearly three billion people who have never heard of Jesus, we should dare be the same kind of rebel, disrupting casual mission thinking and ambitiously resolved to get the gospel to all nations at all costs.
I’ll unapologetically ask the same words as Lottie: “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?”
Let us go. But if we stay, let us give, so that others may be sent.
All quotes are from Lottie’s letters written while she lived in China.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lori McDaniel is church initiatives leader at the International Mission Board. She served with her family for several years in Africa before returning to plant a church in the United States. This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 4-11 with the theme of “The Gospel Resounds.” The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supports international workers in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year’s goal is $155 million. )

12/6/2016 11:37:19 AM by Lori McDaniel, IMB | with 0 comments

What will people say?

December 5 2016 by Gary Ledbetter

I think about funerals differently today than I did 30 years ago. It never occurred to me at that time to wonder what my kids and grandkids and pastors might say over my coffin.
Today, that day is easier to imagine. As I attended a recent funeral for a prominent and godly man I noticed who talked about him, what they said and what they did not talk about. If we want our friends and families to praise us for significant things, we must think about whether those things will be true in our lives.
In observing some encouraging memorial services, I’ve noticed some trends:

Gary Ledbetter

No one talks about the politics or even the celebrity of the deceased. Unless that’s all there is. If there are funerals where someone says with wonder, “This guy had 200,000 Twitter followers,” I’ve not attended them.
In fact, I’ve been surprised to find how intimate the funerals of some prominent men can be. Even when hundreds attend, the emphasis is not on the public accomplishments of the deceased.
No one testifies about how many arguments the deceased won. Clever zingers and unassailable logic are rarely on the list of things for which the godly departed are praised.
Even if we don’t spend most of our time thinking about these things, we may spend more time on them than we do on more impactful things.
Family members talk about your marriage. They say, “Mom and Dad had a great love story for as long as I remember” or “Grandpa treated Grammy like a queen.”
Children do grow out of the stage of shrieking “gross!” every time Mom and Dad hold hands. They apparently come to expect that parents and grandparents will care deeply for one another and show it. Children fall back on what they’ve seen in their parents’ marriage as they face the inevitable challenges of their own. The people who watched us while they were learning to walk are still watching.
Kids and grandkids talk about your priestliness. At a recent funeral, the eldest son related that his dad, while on his deathbed, had asked during a late night vigil if the son was sure that he would go to heaven. This story was not told to show that Dad was getting forgetful in the last days, but it was told as an example of the deceased’s sincere love for his family.
Other stories tell of the faithfulness of a mom who prayed for the salvation of her kids, or for their sanctification for decades after. Is there a time when you stopped feeling a responsibility for the spiritual lives of your family? I’ve observed that kids and grandkids appreciate it when we still watch over them; they expect it and might later tell proudly that we did it.
Your family will talk about your spiritual disciplines. I remember a great story a son told about his dad who, knowing that he would die even within the next day or two, was sitting up in bed memorizing scripture. Another mom witnessed to nurses and doctors and technicians as they came through during her last days, and her kids remembered that.
A parent’s Bible seems more precious on these occasions when the Bible is worn out and marked up – the well-used tool of a faithful disciple.
Your pastor will talk about your faithfulness to your congregation. I admire the testimonies of pastors and Sunday School class members who relate how the deceased loved her church. Deacons who served for 40 years or a teacher who impacted hundreds of students who passed through on the way to being pastors or teachers themselves are highly praised during uplifting memorial services.
Sometimes, a younger pastor will talk about how the deceased prayed for him, encouraged him or otherwise uplifted him after the time when the departed was unable to serve in a prominent role at church.
Those who are loving spouses, devoted parents and true disciples already have a legacy, even if we do not think yet about what those who remain will say – what will be true about us when this life is over.
Yet it’s really not about the dead person.
I’m convinced that we will care little for our reputations once we are gone. It is about our stewardship of our days and our people. The testimony of, and about, those who have gone before is that faithfully loving God and loving people is the way to impact those who know you and love you best.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary Ledbetter is editor in chief of the Southern Baptist TEXAN,, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

12/5/2016 9:47:38 AM by Gary Ledbetter | with 0 comments

“Fixer Upper” and cultural totalitarianism: 3 ways Christians can respond

December 2 2016 by Dayton Hartman

This may be shocking, but I’m not the biggest fan of HGTV. I know, right? Still, I do enjoy the occasional foray into shows like Fixer Upper. It reminds me of all the things I am incapable of doing with a hammer and a saw while at the same time reminding me that God created mankind in His image. God created us to be living mirrors of His nature and to embody His communicable attributes: such as creativity. Fixer Upper only works because of the attribute of creativity that God has endowed Chip and Joanna Gaines with.
Fixer Upper isn’t perfect. Chip is always taking his shirt off, and that’s not good for anybody. Plus, parts of this “reality” television show are obviously scripted and (poorly) staged. Still, we can celebrate a show like Fixer Upper. Let me recount just a few reasons why:

  1. In an age of revived racial division, the Gaines family demonstrates that interracial marriage is not just acceptable, it is good!
  2. Our rabidly consumeristic culture often demands that we sacrifice our families on the altar of career advancement and financial gain. In this milieu, the Gaines family demonstrates that the prioritizing of family while pursuing one’s career/socio-economic advancement is vitally important.
  3. Millennials have become the punchline to virtually every joke regarding a lack of initiative and the proliferation of poor work habits. Yet, millennials love Fixer Upper, a showed based around a strong family unit that has an entrepreneurial spirit and a solid work ethic.

Nevertheless, BuzzFeed and Cosmopolitan have decided to target the Gaines family for absolute destruction. Why? For attending a church that holds to the historic teaching of Christianity on the definition of marriage. In short, BuzzFeed and Cosmo are pursuing the Gaines family because they attend a church that believes what Christians have always believed.
I recognize that the controversy partially stems from their pastor’s assertion that homosexuality is almost always the result of some form of abuse. Sweeping generalizations like that are most-often suspect, and we must discuss issues like homosexuality with great nuance and careful language. BuzzFeed and Cosmo have capitalized on this statement to attack the Gaines family, but the heart of their outrage is that evangelicals don’t immediately bend to the changing winds of culture on sexual ethics.

Cultural Totalitarianism

What this demonstrates is that the authors of these “news” pieces have never researched the historic position of Christians that tie the male-female definition of marriage to the very thing that makes us definitionally Christian: the gospel (Ephesians 5). However, what’s even more disturbing than this dereliction of journalistic duty is the undergirding worldview that BuzzFeed and Cosmopolitan are proliferating in their attacks on the Gaines family.
BuzzFeed and Cosmopolitan are celebrating and advancing a form of cultural totalitarianism. When moral and convictional disagreements are no longer allowed in a given culture, the inevitable next step is cultural totalitarianism. Cultural totalitarianism must always give way to political totalitarianism.
In short, taking offense at every dissenting opinion and moral conviction doesn’t ensure greater freedom; it guarantees the eventual rise of tyranny.
Those advocating for “freedom” by crushing dissenting thought are actually hastening the demise of freedom. The question that must be posited is what will be the endgame for BuzzFeed and Cosmo? Is their goal to give homosexual couples the right to legally marry in the United States? That’s already legal. What then is afoot? I propose it is simply this: Secularism doesn’t actually value diversity in thought because it can only withstand the sounds of an echo chamber.

Beyond the Outrage

As Christians, how should we respond? Here are a few ways:
1. Get out of your echo chamber.
Most Christians are Christians by conviction. Theologically, that means the Holy Spirit has called us to Christ and Jesus has changed our hearts. Experientially, it means that we have considered the facts before us and we are convinced that Jesus is the Messiah and the Scriptures are true!
Nevertheless, we must be willing to consider and engage with the arguments of those outside of our camp. Of course, we filter everything through Scripture (because it is our final authority), but we ought to be the people willing to interact with any and all ideas in the market place. Why? Because we are confident that we know the truth and we have no fear of any untruth supplanting the truth. We have nothing to lose in an exchange of ideas and a robust dialogue. Secularism is incapable of this kind of openness because it is a proverbial house of cards that is merely propped up by borrowed capital from other worldviews.
2. Give grace to those opposing biblical morality.
Without the regenerating work of Christ in our lives we too would find the moral convictions of evangelicals to be nothing short of revolting. All of mankind, by nature, conceals truth (Romans 1). As you engage with those who are enraged by Christian morality (grounded in historic orthodoxy), remember that these are souls bearing the Imago Dei who are in need of grace. Treat them with kindness and pray for their souls.
3. Know what you believe and why.
Sadly, many Christians fall into an emotional quagmire when a topic like this is raised in the media or over their dinner table. When we hold to a conviction without considering the supporting evidence for that conviction, our response to anyone opposing that conviction will usually be an emotionally charged, knee-jerk reaction. The end result is almost always anger and frustration mixed with a bit of ad hominem.
Friends, this is what secularists do in response to Christian truth claims, and it is not becoming of the people of the cross to reply in the same unstable manner. Know what you believe, why you believe it, and then communicate it winsomely and persuasively.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dayton Hartman is the founding pastor of Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, NC, and serves as an adjunct professor of church history for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. This article was originally published at and is used with permission.)

12/2/2016 11:04:56 AM by Dayton Hartman | with 0 comments

Whose property is it?

December 1 2016 by Timothy Paul Jones

It is a privilege to lead the people of God, but the privilege of being a leader of God’s people never transforms the people into the leader’s “property.“
Godly leadership results in humble stewardship, not prideful ownership. Church leaders are not called to stand above a conglomeration of individuals as if the purpose of these people is to fulfill our vision. God calls us to serve as shepherds in the midst of a flock wholly devoted to His purposes.
And yet, the notion that the people are our property remains a persistent temptation.

Timothy Paul Jones

Some expressions of this delusion are obvious. There’s the dictatorial pastor who is angered when people don’t measure up to his expectations or the bullying elder who silences dissent by abusing the gift of church discipline. A leader may rack up charges on the church’s credit card that don’t clearly contribute to the purposes of the church.
This delusion also may manifest itself in more subtle ways.
Sometimes, it is revealed through our complaining and impatience when the church doesn’t immediately applaud our best-laid plans. In other cases, it’s seen when a church is used as a pastor’s platform to promote his own personal brand for the purpose of gaining multiplied popularity in social media. It’s treating a small congregation or an associate ministry role as a passing inconvenience until a more prominent position becomes available.
It’s any action or attitude that treats the church as a tool to be manipulated for our benefit instead of as a holy communion in which we share a sacred stewardship.
When a pastor treats the people as his platform, it is an act of treasonous theft, stealing for himself that which Christ our great high priest has purchased at the cost of His own blood.
Nor is the leader the “property” of the church.
“Let me tell you something, Dr. T.,” the deacon leaned over the lunch table to make certain I didn’t miss a word he had to say. “If your wife ever has to call me about this again, I will personally take over your calendar so that you’re home when you need to be.” More than a decade in retrospect, I realize this threat from a deacon who loved me probably saved my ministry.
I had served four years as this church’s associate pastor when the senior pastor left to lead a church plant. A few months later, the congregation asked me to take his place. But there was a problem: I wasn’t letting go of the roles I’d had as associate pastor, even after calling an additional staff member. So, in addition to leading the staff and preparing multiple messages each week, I was still overseeing monthly trainings for Sunday School teachers, attending every youth and children’s ministry committee meeting, playing guitar in the youth worship band, and helping with the logistics for three upcoming mission trips.
The result was that my wife was spending far too many evenings at home alone with our first daughter.
My wife tried to talk to me about releasing some of my responsibilities, but I didn’t see the problem that she was seeing. So Rayann called a faithful deacon named Mark and described what was happening in our household. And that’s how I ended up being interrogated over lunch about why I was spending so many evenings enmeshed in church meetings instead of heading home.
That afternoon, I began the process of delegating and reassigning a long list of responsibilities, but it was more of a struggle than I thought it would be.
After an hour or so of wrestling with the list, I came to a painful recognition: I was living under the delusion that the church could not accomplish these tasks without my direct involvement. One result of this delusion was that I was living as if I belonged to the people and programs of the church instead of living first and foremost as an adopted child of God.
In some ways, the notion of living this way seemed noble and sacrificial. But according to the apostle Paul, our integrity as leaders in the church is grounded in our habits of leadership in our homes (1 Timothy 3:4-5). A pastor who neglects his family and acts as if he is the church’s property isn’t demonstrating sacrificial love for the church. What he’s revealing is his own unwillingness to develop and deploy the people of God for the work of God (Eph. 4:12).
Whenever we neglect the unseen aspects of ministry, we eventually find ourselves unable to engage in the visible practices of ministry in the power of Christ. And when churches treat their leaders as the congregation’s indispensable property, the people of the church miss opportunities to use the gifts that the Spirit has given them.
So what’s the answer to this struggle?
The pastor must learn to see his central identity not as a property of God’s people or even as a leader of God’s people but, first and foremost, as a child of God and a follower of God’s Son. The pastor is the church’s servant but the church is never the pastor’s master. Leaders and laity alike are not the property of each other; together, they are the devoted property of God and God alone.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Timothy Paul Jones is the C. Edwin Gheens Professor of Christian Family Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as associate vice president for the global campus and editor of The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry. This article originally appeared at his website, Used with permission.)

12/1/2016 10:59:37 AM by Timothy Paul Jones | with 0 comments

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