December 2017

The newspaper & your leadership

December 29 2017 by Randy Adams, Baptist Press

It was once said a preacher ought to have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other – that the sermon needs to connect biblical truth to life today, life in this world and life in a particular place.
 
That image of the pastor-preacher with the Bible and the newspaper made sense when I first heard it many years ago. It still resonates with me.

Randy Adams


I suspect, however, I’m fighting an uphill battle on this one. Newspapers are in decline. Most young adults don’t read them anymore. News is found in other places and with personal “filters.”
 
Uphill battle or not, it’s one that deserves a fight. Ministry leaders need to read their local newspaper. Thumbing through the paper with your hands, your eye catches things it would miss if you read the paper on your smartphone or computer.
 
First, your local newspaper helps you to know your community. Your city has issues involving economic, political, legal, educational and moral aspects of life. The churches, residents, schoolchildren, businesses, homeowners, homeless, everyone in the community is affected by decisions of community leaders and the particular issues the city is facing. And certain hot-button issues change daily.
 
No person should know more about the city than ministry leaders. You might pick up bits and pieces down at the coffee shop or through the internet, but the local newspaper will give you the broadest coverage of life in your community. Rarely a week goes by that I don’t relate something from the newspaper to my sermon text on Sunday.
 
Second, who’s being born and who is dying in your town? Most local papers will inform you daily or weekly about these matters.
 
If someone is killed in a tragic accident, or a young person’s life is cut short in some way, the church needs to know about it and maybe you can minister to the family. At the very least you can pray for them. Who is filing a marriage license or divorce papers? Who was arrested for a DUI or other criminal behavior? The paper will tell you. Maybe you can reach out to them. Maybe you host substance abuse classes, or Divorce Care classes, or parenting classes and they can be invited to attend.
 
Third, what’s going on at the schools in your town? Which students had a great game, suffered an injury, had a part in the school play or won the spelling bee?
 
Every week young people in your town are featured in the local newspaper. How encouraging it is for them to receive an extra copy of the article, with a note written by a pastor, Sunday School teacher or other ministry leader.
 
Fourth, ministry leaders can use the paper to influence others. You can write letters to the editor. I’ve written articles for local papers and established relationships with reporters. Sometimes the local paper will publish articles about something the church is doing as a byproduct of these relationships.
 
Fifth, the local newspaper will help you pray for your city and its leaders. Every city has people and situations that need prayer. The newspaper will provide you matters for which to pray each and every day.
 
These principles are not for people who don’t care about their city or have no desire to impact their city. This is about ministry leaders, sent by God to a particular place, for a particular time. No one should care more about the city and its people than the ministry leaders called there. The newspaper is indispensable in connecting you to the city in a holistic way.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Randy Adams, online at randyadams.org, is executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention.)
 

12/29/2017 9:17:54 AM by Randy Adams, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



CHRISTMAS: No need to grieve alone

December 22 2017 by Jesse Campbell, Baptist Press

I just wanted to make her smile once. That was all I wanted that Christmas. I wanted my wife to smile again.
 
Christmastime has taken a quantum leap toward the better in my family over the past few years. Our 2012 Christmas was mired in grief with few glimmers of glee. Today, it is conversely defined mostly by joy with sparse speckles of pain.
 
The climb out took time and a work of God’s Spirit through His Word in our hearts. God’s Word can do the same for you and I will share with you how. Just know first that you are not alone in your grief, friend. The Lord is near to you. He is close because of your pain, and He is trying to teach you something through it. He is pointing you to His saving gospel.
 
The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit.” This exquisite passage from Psalm 34, verse 18, has been a salve to my heart many times. Now, I extend it to you. May you know that He is near. May He save you whose spirits are crushed. These incredible words of hope appear in the middle of the Bible and they extend a hand from God to those who are drowning in heartache. However, they do much more than that.
 
Psalm 34 was first written by David more than 1,000 years before Christ’s birth, but its full purpose was not realized until the first century when it was quoted by John as he wrote the New Testament Gospel that bears his name. In Psalm 34 as a whole, we see a picture of Jesus on the cross. This is especially remarkable when we consider that it was written centuries before the Romans developed crucifixion. Psalm 34 was a prophecy fulfilled by Jesus.
 
Now, I can hear the accusations of circular reasoning in showing how a prophecy made in the Bible is fulfilled in the Bible. However, these accusations fall flat when we understand that the Bible has not always existed as we know it today, bound in a single volume with both the Book of Psalms and the Gospel of John sharing one book spine. The Psalms existed in printed form on their own for over a millennium before John’s Gospel was written and the two did not appear together in a collection until well after Jesus’ ascension. There is a clear historical line between Psalm 34:20 and John 19:36. Thus, the reasoning here is linear and not circular.
 
In fact, that line has a purpose. The line begins at Psalm 34:16, connects to John 19:36, and now points squarely at you as you now read.
 
We have the Christmas story and the life of Jesus preserved in the Gospels for a purpose. John shared that purpose outright by writing directly to us in John 20:31: “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and gave his firsthand account of what he saw as he stood by the cross.
 
He wrote straight to you when he penned John 19:33–36: “When they came to Jesus, they did not break his legs since they saw that he was already dead. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows he is telling the truth. For these things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’”
 
You see, the words of Psalm 34 are more than healing for your heart in this mere moment. They were part of God’s plan to heal your soul for eternity. They were words of prophecy foretelling what would happen centuries later to the Messiah as He took upon Himself the punishment for sin laid out by His own law.
 
I did eventually get my bride to smile that Christmas day after we buried our son Aiden. She smiled when I showed her a message I received from an old friend. He wrote, “I was watching the video of your son’s funeral. You quoted Psalm 34, so I looked it up. I read it and gave my life to God.”
 
The soul-piercing and life-giving words of Psalm 34 are alive and active today. That is why you are not alone this Christmas. God is near you, brokenhearted one. He is calling to you through His Word. Would you join Him there and listen?
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jesse Campbell is the brand manager of the Explore the Bible curriculum published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; teaching pastor at LiveBible.TV and member of Hermitage Hills Baptist Church in Nashville; and author of I’m A Christian - Now What?, 365 Life Devotions for Teen Guys and What It Means to Be a Christian. Find more at jessethecampbell.com.)
 

12/22/2017 10:37:50 AM by Jesse Campbell, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



10 community questions pastors should be prepared to answer

December 20 2017 by Chuck Lawless, Guest Column

When I do a church consultation, I usually want to know if pastoral leaders know the answers to the questions below. Too often, they don’t – and that finding usually coincides with finding a church that is inwardly focused.
 
1. Is your community growing, stagnant, or declining? This question ought to be an easy one, but I’m surprised by how many pastors aren’t sure of the answer.

Chuck Lawless


2. What is the ethnic makeup of your community? It’s hard to reach a community you don’t really know.
 
3. What percentage of your community does not look like your church? Many pastors assume their congregation reflects the community, but that’s not always accurate.
 
4. What’s the age demographic of your community? In many cases, pastors are shocked when they learn how young their community is (primarily because their church is older).
 
5. What’s the fastest growing age segment of your community’s population? Pastors who can’t answer that question usually aren’t thinking strategically about the future.
 
6. How many people in your community attend church every Sunday? This answer is usually easier to find than the number of unchurched people in your community – but it answers both questions.   
 
7. How many languages are spoken in homes in your community? You might be surprised by this answer. Just because people speak English in public doesn’t mean that’s the language they use every day – or the language in which they would most prefer to worship.
 
8. What’s the average household income in your community? Sometimes it’s quite different than the assumed average income in the church, reminding us again that our congregations don’t always reflect our community.
 
9. What is the name of the primary political leader in your community? Maybe it’s a council chairperson, a mayor, or someone with another title; regardless of the position, though, you should know this person.
 
10. What’s the growth goal/plan for the community in the next decade? Pastors who are thinking about the future know this information.
 
What questions would you add? How many of these questions can you answer?

(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 column was originally published at chucklawless.com. Used with permission.)
 

12/20/2017 11:39:35 AM by Chuck Lawless, Guest Column | with 0 comments



How long can you run?

December 19 2017 by Randy Bennett, Baptist Press

Back when our son was 5 or 6, he desperately wanted to take a drive to the local park where he could fly his new Christmas kite.
 
There was just one problem – there was no breeze or wind to sustain the kite.
 
I tried to explain to my hopeful little boy how impossible it would be to fly his kite without any wind. But he did his best to tell me he could run fast enough and long enough to get the kite into the air and keep it there.

Randy L. Bennett


Even though I knew what the result would be, I agreed to drive us over to Kit Carson Park. He was true to his word. He ran fast. And he ran and ran. Sure enough, his kite began to soar into the beautiful December sky there in Escondido, Calif.
 
But as I suspected, he began to slow down and his kite began to descend back to earth. I could see the disappointment on his face as his determination turned into despair realizing that his dad was right – you cannot fly a kite without the wind.
 
This year I’ve felt like my little boy. I faithfully kept running as fast as I could. But at the end of the day I had to slow down. My determination slowly turned into despair. In recent days, though, the fog lifted and I remembered the painful lesson my son learned at the park.
 
You cannot see the victories of God without the movement of the wind of God or the movement of the Holy Spirit.
 
Ephesians 5:18 commands us to “be filled” with the Holy Spirit. We are to allow the Holy Spirit to infill us and empower us to do this work. Only the things that God does will last. The book of Acts demonstrates the mighty power of the Holy Spirit that surrounded Christ’s apostles as they shared the gospel with a lost world. Without the power of the Holy Spirit the world would not have been won to Christ.
 
Would you join in praying for me and all our other missionaries that they would see the power of God in their area of responsibility? Whether serving in the heartland of California or overseas in Nepal, we can only be victorious when the wind of God’s Spirit blows across our land and our work.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Randy L. Bennett is director of missions for the Kern County Southern Baptist Association in Bakersfield, Calif., and a former president of the California Southern Baptist Convention.)

12/19/2017 8:30:33 AM by Randy Bennett, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Christmas hospitality: How missions, parties collide

December 18 2017 by Preston Fidler, IMB

In our part of the world, there are no Christmas parades, no lines to visit Santa and no corner lots filled with cut trees for sale. But our neighbors – most of whom have never observed Christmas – know that we celebrate Jesus.
 
This isn’t because our front lawn has a giant nativity scene or because we put on a spectacular laser light show (not that there’s anything wrong with that). They know for one simple reason: we invite them into our home.

IMB Photo
One family in Central Asia explain how a simple Christmas party can provide powerful opportunities to share Christ.


I’m sure that for some who are reading this, the thought of having people over is as scary as Charles Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Future. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Hospitality is a trait followers of Jesus ought to develop. For us, it’s one of the best ways to build bridges to the gospel with our neighbors. As you look to make the most of this Christmas season, consider how to share Jesus with people who are right around you.
 

Prepare your home and heart

We begin by preparing our own heart as a family. Since we have young children, the way we draw the heart of our children toward the Lord is by using a little nativity set. Our children love setting it up.
 
We bring out one piece at a time each day, starting with Mary. On that first day, we have one of our boys read Luke 1:26-35 when Gabriel visited Mary and said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God” (Luke 1:35 ESV).
 
When we set up the figure of Joseph, we read Matthew 1:18-25 when the angel visited Joseph, saying of Mary, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21 ESV). The next day, we read Luke 2:8-20 when an angel of the Lord appeared to the fearful shepherds.
 
We love reading these Bible passages together and cherishing this event of Christ’s incarnation – so incredibly powerful in history, so life-changing. Each part is worth reading, worth remembering, worth pondering. God uses His Word through this simple tradition to stir up our hearts to share His love with others.
 

Cross barriers and invite lost neighbors

One early December evening a few years ago, my wife went to talk with Zephir* to invite her to our Christmas party. Zephir was drunk and sad. She was bruised all over. She wanted to leave her husband but had nowhere to go, and she couldn’t leave her children.
 
My wife had given her a Bible and had read parts of it with her, but the eagerness to hear about God had been consumed by the darkness of abuse. She had slowly withdrawn into her own world, pushing everyone away. But a Christmas party? Yes, she would love to come to our Christmas party.
 
We prayed for Zephir, and we are so thankful she came and experienced our celebration of Christ’s birth. Perhaps you know someone just like her. We also prayed for neighbors in our building, down the street, at work, at school, our friends and our children’s friends.
 
We prayed for open hearts and opportunities for many to hear the gospel at our Christmas party. We invited people from all the local places where we are regarded as regulars – the coffee shop, our neighborhood playground, the local grocery store.
 

Have a simple plan

There was a look of true wonder on Mert’s* face as he entered our house.
 
It was clearly the first time he’d ever been in a home to celebrate Christmas. We drank chai together and talked. Without even trying, the conversation moved toward what this holiday was all about.
 
After spending a good amount of time welcoming each guest, serving light refreshments, sharing in friendly conversation and introducing people to others, we include everyone in our family tradition of going through the meaning of the nativity.
 
There is something remarkable about sharing the simple story of the birth of Jesus, especially when we see our neighbors start to get it. Mert’s smile exuded the joy of a child. Zephir listened with tear-filled eyes as she learned about Christ’s incarnation.
 

Let the gospel shine brightly

After sharing about the nativity, we had a few young believers from our church stand next to it. They had words taped on their shirts – words like envy, anger and jealousy. One of the young people went to a little cross that had been placed next to the nativity. One after another, they traded their words of sin and hurt for words like love, joy and peace.
 
Several of those precious young believers had fled from war-torn neighboring countries. The words on their shirts read murder, suicide and violence. They recounted some of their horrific experiences as we tearfully listened – alongside our unbelieving neighbors – to their powerful testimonies of God’s forgiveness and redemption.
 
They each laid down their words at the cross beside the manger and then picked up words of grace, freedom and forgiveness. That beautiful moment of gospel clarity was the highlight for us. Our neighbors heard the message of Christ and caught a glimpse of our joy in Him.
 
I hope you’ll consider making this simple tradition a part of your life too. Share the gospel through simple hospitality and the Christmas story. Read it. Dramatize it.
 
Most of all, tell your neighbors that it really happened – that Jesus really came, that He saved you, and that He’s the Savior of the world.
 
*Name changed. For more information, go to imb.org.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Preston Fidler lives with his wife and sons in Central Asia. He currently works as a language trainer and cross-cultural church planter.)
 

12/18/2017 9:47:50 AM by Preston Fidler, IMB | with 0 comments



IMB’s Platt: When we pray, God works

December 15 2017 by IMB staff

No matter what the story is, whether it’s a family planting a church in a doctor’s office in Japan or a young man sharing truth over coffee with university students in Mexico City, International Mission Board president David Platt says two things are true: God is at work through missionaries around the world and praying for them matters.

IMB Photo
Believers pray during a worship service in Nepal, a country where it often takes people years to decide to follow Christ after they hear the gospel for the first time. Pray for IMB workers who are giving their lives to be there for the long haul, sharing with the Nepali people in the face of difficulties.


“This isn’t just a rushed or mechanical exercise. God has ordained our prayer as a means to accomplish His purpose in the world,” Platt said. “We’ve got to be aware that our praying for boldness for missionaries is actually going to affect whether or not they have boldness. God ordained it that way. When we pray, God works.”
 
And missionaries need that support as they work in places where darkness has long had a foothold, he said.
 
“To go into a place among a people and a culture that’s never known the gospel and say, ‘You need to think totally differently about who you are and the world around you,’ and ask them to change their worldview – that’s a complicated task.”
 

How you can pray

He offered some ways to pray for missionaries year-round.
 
Pray for missionaries to invest quality time in God’s Word and in walking intimately with Him. Pray for them to be confident to preach God’s Word. In addition to relief work and learning about a culture, we should also speak truth with boldness, no matter the circumstances.
 
Pray for the gospel to be clear through missionaries’ lives and words and for God to open hearts. Ask God to give them success in sharing the gospel with others, and that they would see disciples made and churches planted.
 
Pray for missionaries to be at peace with other believers, and that Satan would not have success in attacking families, friends and ministry partners. Pray for them to establish strong relationships on the field as well as back home so that they can be focused on the task.
 
Pray for missionaries to be able to clearly identify the leaders whom God desires to raise up from among the people they serve. Ask that missionaries would have the time, energy and willingness to focus on those emerging leaders.
 
Pray for missionaries to possess joy when they suffer, kindness when they are slandered and patience during difficult times. Pray for God to help them persevere; fighting the battle for souls is hard, but it’s worth it.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention was Dec. 3-10. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches, 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 IMB.org/lmco, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year’s goal is $160 million.)
 

12/15/2017 10:35:04 AM by IMB staff | with 0 comments



What would Jesus do about harassment?

December 14 2017 by Eric Reed, Baptist Press

We had to terminate a deacon in a church I once pastored. No one wanted to do it, because he had served for 40 years, and because his wife was one of the kindest, godliest women any of us knew. They were pillars in our church. But it had to be done.
 
The man would approach young women at church, hug them close and ask if they wanted to go for a ride. “Would you like to go to the coast?” was code for who-knows-what, because no one took him up on the offer, so far as we knew. But the implication was uncomfortable and the hands-y hugging very inappropriate.

Eric Reed


Even then, 20 years ago, we knew what we had to do. After meeting with his accusers, then him and his wife, we removed him from office. What would Jesus do about sexual harassment? Put a stop to it.
 
It’s surprising how little comment there has been recently from church leaders on the subject of harassment and the Christian’s responsibility. Perhaps because it’s patently obvious that sex belongs within marriage, and no one should harass anyone about anything. But given the proliferation of accusations, from Hollywood to the halls of Congress, perhaps we should review the subject – for ourselves and for our children.
 
What are we teaching young men about their behavior and young women about their value? Jesus has a few lessons:
 
Jesus was respectful of women. Some of His last words from the cross concerned the salvation of lost men and the future care of his mother. Some of his most tender sayings were to women, “Little girl, arise,” “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” And in the presence of Lazarus’s grieving sisters, Jesus wept.
 
Jesus was honest with women. The woman at the well in Samaria is a good example of this. Pointing out the woman’s sexual past would be uncomfortable for most men, but in the context of ministry – especially as it related to her salvation – it was necessary. But we note that Jesus conducted a challenging conversation in a public place. And only as it related to sin, repentance and forgiveness.
 
Jesus stood up for women. Jesus was willing to confront the accusers of the woman caught in adultery. As they took up stones to kill her, Jesus issued the warning that caused them to drop the rocks and walk away. The law said stone her; mercy said forgive her. And the truth was that no one in that circle was sinless except Jesus. In this instance, the boys club was closed. The boys went home mulling their own complicity, and the woman was spared.
 
Jesus did not exclude women because of controversy. Here is the difficult part for men in leadership today: how to include women fully in the workplace without being overly familiar. Jesus’ entourage at times included His mother, Mary Magdalene and several other women. Whether their traveling together was unusual for the time, I don’t know. But I do know that if not for the women, Jesus would have died with almost no one in attendance and there would have been no plans to prepare His body for burial. It was women who anointed His hair, washed His feet, ran to the tomb and cried out His name upon recognizing Him, resurrected, in the garden.
 
The easy answer for men fearful of accusations would be to isolate themselves from women in the workplace. And there is wisdom in the usual precautions: have a glass installed in the office door, don’t spend time alone unnecessarily, don’t dine privately with women. Billy Graham’s “Modesto Manifesto” is a good guideline for men today, but it’s not an excuse to exclude women from ministry or leadership.
 
At the highest levels, with Vice President Mike Pence being a recent example, leaders who exercise caution are as likely to be criticized as those who exercise none. But, with the right motivations, standing up for women means being as concerned for their reputations as we are for our own.
 
My mother quit a job once after only a month. That was very unlike her. She was excited about her new work at the beginning but quickly soured on it. “It wasn’t a nice place to work” was the only explanation she would offer to me as a pre-teen.
 
Years later she gave an account that sounds much like the news stories we hear today. No one in management would listen; resignation was my mother’s only choice. What followed was months of unemployment and the beginning of a long rough patch for us as a family. Actions – and inaction – have consequences. How differently it might all have turned out if someone had stood up for her and put a stop to the harassment.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist news journal, illinoisbaptist.org, and associate executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association’s church communications team.)
 

12/14/2017 8:07:53 AM by Eric Reed, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



2017 N.C. legislative summary

December 12 2017 by Mark Creech, Guest Column

The Christian Action League of North Carolina (CAL) is a Christian public-policy organization, birthed by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in 1937, but today represents conservative evangelical churches from 16 denominations in the Tar Heel state. The organization has a full-time presence in the North Carolina General Assembly, addressing legislative and public policy matters from a biblical worldview.
 
The 2017 Long Session of the General Assembly was a grueling one. It was a session of highs and lows. Following is a summary of actions taken by the state legislature:
 

Crisis pregnancy centers

The budget increased spending for the next two years for crisis pregnancy centers from $300,000 to $1.3 million. Various grants of upwards to $1 million were allocated to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship for “durable medical equipment.” The equipment includes ultrasound machines, along with training clinics for properly using them.
 

School choice

The state’s budget expanded the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarships Act, which passed by the General Assembly in 2013, to help students from low-income and working class families attend a private school, by providing state-funded tuition scholarships up to $4200 annually. The Children with Disabilities Scholarship, which became available in 2014, reimburses families for approved educational expenses for special needs children. Those expenses include private school tuition, tutoring and other therapeutic services. The budget appropriates $44.8 million for the 2018-2019 school term and increases the appropriation to $54.8 million for 2019-2020.
 

Human trafficking

Language in the budget also requires the National Human Trafficking Resource Hotline number to be displayed at adult entertainment venues, alcohol outlets, hospitals, highway rest stops and other places where victims of human trafficking often frequent. The number is (888) 373-7888.
 

Age of juvenile jurisdiction raised

Legislation to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction was added to the state’s budget. This legislation was about bringing North Carolina into line with the rest of the country in its treatment of juveniles in the court system. Our state was the only state that prosecuted defendants as adults when they are as young as 16 and accused of low-level and non-violent crimes.
 

Repeal of HB2

In March HB2 was repealed by the legislature. Commonly known as the Bathroom Bill, the measure created a national firestorm. It was a common sense law that prohibited men from using the women’s restroom, locker room or showers and vice versa. It also protected private business owners’ rights to live and work according to their religious beliefs without punishment by the government. CAL was a strong advocate for the law. The repeal was touted as a compromise, but was not full repeal.
 
It still protects privacy in bathrooms and shower facilities by leaving regulation of multi-occupancy facilities to the state, returning to the status quo prior to the passage of Charlotte’s bathroom ordinance, which precipitated the need for HB 2. It implemented a temporary moratorium on local sexual orientation and gender identity ordinances similar to Charlotte’s until Dec. 1, 2020, to allow for federal litigation to play out.
 
(FOLLOW-UP NOTE – On Oct. 18, Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order that essentially resurrected the Charlotte ordinance and now allows men into women’s restrooms, locker rooms and showers. The order applies to any multiple occupancy bathrooms, locker rooms or showers owned by the state or any local government entity, government offices and public schools. It also requires that private contractors and subcontractors doing business with the state must adopt a nondiscrimination policy including “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”)
 

Gambling and alcohol 

Lawmakers sponsored and vigorously supported legislation for gambling and alcohol interests in 2017 They passed a bill that authorizes tax-exempt organizations to operate Las Vegas-style gaming nights and serve alcoholic beverages as a part of a non-profit’s fundraising events.
 
The Gaming Nights (or Casino Nights) bill that lawmakers passed by a wide margin was, unfortunately, the state’s affirmation of Las-Vegas style gaming beyond its compact with the Cherokee. Fortunately, Governor Roy Cooper vetoed this legislation. We hope those who typically identify with us on the values we represent, will make no effort to override the Governor’s veto.
 
There were other bills put forward that were meant to expand gambling. The Senate’s budget proposal included a provision to double the appropriation for lottery advertising. This measure was defeated, as was a bill that would have legalized online Daily Fantasy Sports Gambling, which died in committee.
 

Alcohol distribution 

Another measure in this category was a bill titled ABC Omnibus Legislation. It originally had a provision that would have raised the current limit on the number of barrels a brewery could self-distribute directly to retailers without working through a middleman or a wholesaler from 25,000 barrels to 200,000 annually. It would have allowed brewers to circumvent the second Tier of our critical Three Tier system of alcohol control, making it possible for them to concentrate their power directly with retailers.
 
The Three Tier system is a control system that provides essential checks and balances to prevent overly aggressive marketing and sales practices that can lead to alcohol falling into the wrong hands like underage drinkers. The system also provides a clear and identifiable distribution chain that ensures the location of every ounce of a product well-known for its inherent dangers and establishes a transparent means of collecting taxes. Lawmakers strip this provision from the bill, but the measure was still left with other provisions that expanded alcohol sales.
 

Sunday-related bills

Several Sunday-related proposals were considered by the legislature like the Sunday Brunch Bill. It was a provision left in the Omnibus alcohol legislation that authorizes cities, towns and counties to roll back the time for earlier Sunday alcohol sales from noon to 10 a.m., providing they pass an ordinance to do so.

There was more legislation this year that also expanded Sunday hunting. In 2015, lawmakers repealed North Carolina’s 145-year prohibition on Sunday hunting. Lawmakers prohibited Sunday hunting from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. – the hours most churches meet.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Creech is executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina.)
 

12/12/2017 9:53:03 AM by Mark Creech, Guest Column | with 0 comments



10 mistakes churches make at Christmas time

December 11 2017 by Jonathan Howe, Guest Column

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. Some would even say it’s the most wonderful time of the year. While it still has its wonderment, Christmastime has a tendency to be stressful as well – especially in the church. Unfortunately stress can lead churches to plan poorly and make unnecessary mistakes. Here are 10 such mistakes to avoid in your church this Christmas:
 
1. Missing the focus. This may seem basic, but please keep the birth of Christ as the focus in your church this year. Everywhere people turn at Christmas, they see Santa, presents, and all the other material trappings of the holiday. The church should be one place where people can be reminded of the true reason to celebrate – the coming of the Christ.
 
2. Decorations outpace invitations. We talk a lot about outward focus versus inward focus on the blog and podcast. This is the Christmas version of that tension.
 
While nothing is inherently wrong with decorations, when members are more focused on what the church looks like than whom they’re bringing with them, there’s a problem. Remind your people that it’s more important to focus on who’s in the pews than what’s on the walls.
 
3. Scrooge serves on the greeter team. Jim Collins’ popular “seat on the bus” paradigm fits well with volunteer teams. Make sure you not only have enough people volunteering for Christmas services (because you’ll likely have larger crowds), but also make sure you have the right people in the right places. No one wants to meet Scrooge as they walk into your church building.
 
4. Scheduling too many events. December is a whirlwind of a month. School and work Christmas parties, church parties, church events, local Christmas parades, travel and much more make for a jam packed month. With everything your members have going on, it might be better to simplify the church’s Christmas schedule and host a few special events than to have several events for different age groups that stretch families and resources thin.
 
5. Not appreciating volunteers. I have been in several churches that hosted Christmas parties to show appreciation to volunteers. The easiest way to keep volunteers is to let them know they are appreciated, and Christmas makes that easy. A small token of appreciation goes a long way with those who keep your ministry going week to week.
 
6. Not equipping families. I appreciate churches that make available advent devotionals for families. This is a great way for families in your church to start (or continue) family devotional times. There are several free resources available at Lifeway.com, as well as books like The Expected One that offer parents a simple way to point kids to the coming Christ.
 
7. Ignoring community needs. Want to make an impact on your community? Meet the needs of those in the community at Christmas. There are countless ways this can be done. It simply takes asking different groups in the community what is needed.
 
8. Showcasing the church instead of Christ. Christmas productions can easily become more about the church hosting them than the Christ they should be displaying in them. We know several pastors who have scaled back on Christmas events and productions because the productions became the ends instead of the means. You need to know when enough is enough – and that’s not an easy call to make, but it’s a necessary one.
 
9. Failing to follow up. You’ll have guests at Christmas. If you don’t, well that’s another problem. What’s important is how you follow up with those new to your church. If you fail to follow up with guests, you’ll probably not see them next year – or ever again. Don’t miss out on prime opportunities to share the gospel with new attendees by failing to follow up with guests.
 
10. Using bad theology. Sentimentality often breeds bad theology. We see it at funerals all the time, and Christmas is no different. Christmas is the most sentimental of holidays and often leads to inadvertent theological aberrations. Be vigilant to guard your theology from the pop culture sentimentality often associated with Christmas.
 
Has your church made one of these mistakes? Have you corrected some of them that you’ve made in the past? What would you add?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jonathan Howe serves as director of strategic initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources as well as the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week. Jonathan writes weekly at ThomRainer.com, where this column originally appeared. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.)
 

12/11/2017 3:07:05 PM by Jonathan Howe, Guest Column | with 0 comments



Have you ever met a real Magi?

December 11 2017 by George Braswell, Guest Column

Our family arrived at 3 a.m. in the quiet Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran, Iran, in 1968 as newly appointed Southern Baptist missionaries. Since we were the first missionaries assigned to Iran from our mission agency, there were no Baptist missionaries to greet us. But, some Presbyterian missionaries welcomed us and took my wife, three children and me to their guest house in the center of the city.
 
By the time we settled in, it was daybreak. I was exhilarated and keyed up to capacity. Exhausted, the rest of the family fell asleep on the hard mattresses and doubly hard pillows. It was 6 a.m., and I joined early risers who were served bread with butter, jam and hot tea.
 
After customary greetings, my first question was, “Where do the Magi live?”
 
Since childhood, my Sunday School teachers taught me about the three Wise Men of Persia. I had studied the biblical characters like the Persian kings Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes. At divinity school, I studied comparative religions with a professor who told us he visited the Magi in Iran and studied their Zoroastrian religion.
 
I learned that a Magi temple was a short walk from the guest house in Tehran. Armed with only a few words of greeting in the Farsi language, I boldly set out to find the temple.
 
I came to the recognizable green gate and pressed the buzzer. A man appeared, dressed in a white robe, a white cap and wearing sandals. He let me in, then took me to another Magi in identical dress who spoke English. My lifelong dream of conversing with a Persian wise man began.
 
I told him the story about the Wise Men in the Bible – about the three Magi who traveled a long way to arrive at Bethlehem and presented to the baby Jesus the very best gifts they had: gold, frankincense and myrrh. I told him how pleased I was that they did not tell King Herod all that they knew. They really were wise and fearless. The Magi in front of me looked so calm, cool and collected as he tended to the sandalwood fire. The fire has been kept burning for eons of time.
 
Their deity, Ahura Mazda, wanted it to be. He told me of his prophet, Zoroaster, sometimes called Zarathustra, of the battle between good and evil, between light and darkness, between Ahura Mazda and the evil one.
 
I felt the warmth of the fire as well as the warmth of his personality. He told me there were so few Magi and Zoroastrians left in Iran, and even in the world. He had studied the Bible and its narratives about the Magi. He said he honored Jesus as a prophet and a very wise man.
 
As I drank my second cup of tea dissolving a sugar cube in my mouth, as I had earlier learned to drink tea at the guest house, I looked at this Magi with his sparkling eyes and distinct Persian appearance.
After barely six hours in Iran, I had found the Magi.
 
He poked another piece of sandalwood into the flames, its incense refreshing the air. I felt calm, cool and collected around him. I told him the story of the Jesus I knew who grew up from that manger scene with the Magi and taught such beautiful lessons for the living of our days, the one who was crucified on the cross and was resurrected from the tomb. I told this Magi that I called Jesus Savior and Lord.
 
He said he had heard that story and read it in the Bible. Then he told me what I had learned in my studies of Zoroastrianism, “We teach that there is a ‘son of man’ coming in the future for whom we are to watch.” I smiled with him and said, “I believe that ‘Son of Man’ has come.”
 
As we walked to the green gate, I thanked him for letting a stranger in, for a warm cup of tea and for the gifts long ago of the Magi to Jesus. As I walked back to the guest house, I felt like a little boy of long ago. I really talked with a wise man! Wait until I tell Joan and the kids.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – George W. Braswell Jr. is the author of nine books, the Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Missions and World Religions of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and recently retired as senior professor of world religions at Campbell University Divinity School. He is the founding director of the George W. and Joan O. Braswell World Religions and Global Cultures Center at Campbell. The Braswells served as the first Southern Baptist missionaries to Iran from 1967-1974.)
 

12/11/2017 3:04:13 PM by George Braswell, Guest Column | with 0 comments



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