February 2013

An 'accommodation' for the naive

February 28 2013 by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press

The federal government finally kept its promise to provide a revision to its abortion/contraceptive coverage policy under the health care law. The announcement of the so-called accommodation came earlier in February. It was too convoluted – really – to explain on the nightly news.

This new policy was supposed to be the miracle that relieved concerns of the Catholic church and all the religious groups and Christian-owned companies who object to providing contraception and/or abortion-inducing drugs under their health plans. Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote of it: “Upon reflection, it seems less like the parting of the Red Sea than a parlor trick.” “Accounting gimmick” is what others are calling it.

Churches have been, and still are, fully exempt from the HHS mandate. Like the last accommodation for charities, colleges and hospitals run by religious organizations, this one exempts these institutions from having to pay directly for contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs. It says, instead, that the insurance company will do the providing of the coverage. The objection to the last accommodation was that if I as a religious organization provide my employees with insurance and that insurance provides abortion-inducing contraceptives, I am paying for something that violates my deeply held faith-based principles.

This new accommodation stipulates that a stand-alone insurance policy –- one that the religious organization will not pay for – will provide the contraception/abortion-inducing drugs for free. Free? Really? Columnist Cal Thomas warned that “only the naive can possibly think the cost won’t find its way back to the institution in the form of higher health premiums.” And this policy is still tied to the person’s employment.

Gerson says this latest accommodation “is a shell game useful only for those who want to deceive themselves.” The administration, he writes, “views access to contraception as an individual right to be guaranteed by the government, and institutional religious rights as an obstacle and an inconvenience.”

Religious liberty, purchased at such a dear cost and carefully enshrined in our First Amendment, is thus so easily traded for every woman’s right to have birth control/abortion-inducing drugs. If this is not evidence of the administration’s hostility toward faith, it at least shows that those in power simply don’t get loyalties that extend beyond government.

This accommodation does not even attempt to deal with Christian-owned businesses, like Hobby Lobby, the crafts chain. Hobby Lobby actually lost its challenge to the mandate at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and now faces penalties of over a million dollars a day for not providing abortifacients to employees through their health insurance. Religious organizations and businesses are fighting a now-or-never battle for religious freedom.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Penna Dexter is a conservative activist and frequent panelist on the “Point of View” syndicated radio program. Her weekly commentaries air on the Bott and Moody radio networks.)
2/28/2013 3:47:31 PM by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Fresh winds of prayer stirring the nation

February 27 2013 by Roger S. Oldman, Baptist Press

Leaves on the branches of Christendom are stirring. The gentle, freshening wind of God’s Spirit is moving. These breezes of the Spirit are raising the heads and quickening the steps of weary pilgrims, filling hearts with renewed hope that the Lord is doing something fresh and new in our midst.

In what may be called multiple pockets of revival fire igniting our nation and the world, a renewed passion for God in prayer is sweeping across the Christian landscape. I mention just a few here.

The Collegiate Day of Prayer, a combined effort of scores of evangelical churches and organizations, has set Feb. 28 as a day of focused prayer for 3,189 college campuses in the United States. Many of these campuses have been “adopted” by local Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCMs), a ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention, state Baptist conventions, and local associations.

The website of the Collegiate Day of Prayer urges parents to pray for their collegians. It relates the story of 19th-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody’s struggle at Cambridge University in 1882. After days of little response, Moody called for three hundred mothers to gather for prayer. What happened after their prayer meeting changed the face of the evangelistic meetings that week ... and of missions for the next century.

NAMB’s 10:2 Prayer Initiative is designed to be a movement of people praying at a set time each day, interceding for our current missionary force and asking the Lord to raise up a new generation of church planting missionaries. NAMB President Kevin Ezell is encouraging Southern Baptists to set their watches or phones to remind them to pray at 10:02 each day or on a set day each week.

IMB’s School of Prayer for All Nations, headquartered at IMB’s International Learning Center in Richmond, Va., recently was established as a gathering place for prayer warriors to meet and raise focused prayer for the nations. At its launch, IMB President Tom Elliff said Jesus gave His disciples a key command for missions – pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers – an element that can often be overlooked in trying to accomplish the task itself.

His hope is that Southern Baptists will flock to the School of Prayer to learn about the kind of fervent, effective, Great Commission-directed prayer that can change entire countries for the sake of the Gospel, adding that the School of Prayer serves to complement existing prayer emphases provided by both the Woman’s Missionary Union and state convention prayer leaders.

A thousand other points of light show up from a satellite view of the otherwise dark expanse of the North American continent. Four examples illustrate the point.

– Executive Committee President Frank Page’s call to prayer for revival and spiritual awakening, already stirring in his heart as a pastor, was reignited last fall as he prayed about his dominant message for 2013.

– SBC President Fred Luter, longing for revival, challenged the SBC committee on order of business to elevate prayer for revival and spiritual unity to be the dominant item of business at this year’s SBC annual meeting.

– Numerous groups of pastors and Convention leaders have been meeting together in different locations to fast and pray for revival and spiritual awakening on the first Friday of each month.

– A local pastor in West Virginia routinely emails and calls convention leaders, urging them to pray for revival and spiritual awakening, and was one of the first to call for focused, fervent prayer for the U.S. Supreme Court as it considers the issue of traditional marriage next month.

God is igniting “pockets of revival fire” across the landscape. What an awesome thing it will be when the wind of the Holy Spirit so fans the flames of spiritual awakening that one pocket merges with another, and another, and another ... until the land is aflame with spiritual fervor and the whole earth is filled with the glory of God!

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger S. Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee.)

2/27/2013 4:06:19 PM by Roger S. Oldman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Cut Tebow some slack

February 26 2013 by Jimmy Scroggins, Guest Column

Tim Tebow is an evangelical icon. Christian young people read his books, buy his jersey and flock to his games. It is the evangelical sports fans that cause ratings and readership to rise every time he is featured in a game or a story. Countless churches, Christian gatherings and evangelical leaders have traded on his name and presence in order to draw crowds and media attention. Our sons want to be like him and our daughters want to marry him. But now Tebow is under serious attack.
Last week a sports firestorm erupted when the secular press became aware of Tebow’s impending speaking engagement at the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Pastor Robert Jeffress is known for being outspoken on prominent social issues, and his church had engaged Tebow and other Christian celebrities to help them open a new church building in downtown Dallas. Because Jeffress has been clear and vocal about his position on homosexuality and Islam, President Barack Obama and Mormonism, sportswriters such as Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com and Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel decided to take Tebow to task for agreeing to speak at Jeffress’ church. Unfairly casting Jeffress as a gay-bashing bigot, those men and others called for Tebow to withdraw from the event.
Tebow, on the other hand, was laying low in Arizona, working out and trying to make himself more attractive to NFL teams by staying out of the public limelight. He withdrew from the speaking engagement in Dallas when he saw the wave of national attention his connection with Jeffress was generating. But instead of avoiding unwanted attention and tamping out the smoldering controversy, his withdrawal seems to have created even more heat.
Evangelicals and secularists alike have churned out numerous articles to define what the latest Tebow episode means in the context of the culture wars. Albert Mohler, writing for Christianity Today, says the Tebow incident signals the shrinking of the public space that religious people will be allowed to occupy. At CBSSports.com, Doyel considers Tebow's brand of Christianity to be despicable. Over at Slate.com, Paul Raushenbush suggests that Tebow's decision means the permanent cultural marginalization of the evangelical right. The American Family Association published an article under the headline, “Tebow Caves to Gay Activists.” The public commented on Twitter under the hashtag #tebowcaves.
Evangelical leaders have loved sharing the platform and the spotlight with Tebow when he was riding high. But a precious few evangelical leaders have come publicly to his defense in this current media skirmish. Add me to their meager number.
Speaking up for Tebow is easy for me – I just look at his track record. In 2009, Tebow did a press conference as a Florida Gator as a part of media day for the Southeastern Conference. He was asked the question: “Are you saving yourself for marriage?” He quickly and gladly answered, “Yes I am.” Most men reading this article would have been too embarrassed to say that in front of seven guys in their high school locker room. Tebow said it on a national stage. Still don’t think he is willing to take tough stands? And how much more “pro-traditional marriage” can he get?
Tebow and his mom starred in a pro-life commercial during the Super Bowl in 2010. Although the National Organization for Women viciously castigated him, he cheerfully made the ad and took a principled stand on a biblical issue. Sound like a coward to you?
Over the years Tim has spoken countless times in prisons and comforted scores of Make-A-Wish families before and after his games as a pro. His under-the-radar calls, notes and personal visits to sick children go unreported but brighten the day of hurting people. His charitable work is widely known, even though he has never sought out attention for his good deeds. Not sincere enough for you?
Here is what Tim Tebow has done with his public life – he has used it as a platform to do good works in the name of Jesus, to explain that all people have a need for Jesus, to tell all people that Jesus loves them, and to invite all people to trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And now he has decided not to speak at FBC Dallas.
Many Christians have been critical of Tim’s decision. Others have been critical of his explanation for his withdrawal. I’m sorry if Tebow can’t meet your standard for speaking in public. This young man stands up for Christ, tries to do what is right, and proves with his actions that his faith is more than words.
We should remember that Tim is a football player. He is not a trained theologian, philosopher, apologist or public policy expert. It is unfair to expect Tebow to speak competently and comprehensively to the complex and nuanced set of issues surrounding homosexuality. Certainly he has an opinion about God’s design for sex and marriage. I am confident that he will share his view at a time of his choosing.
I know Tim Tebow. I’ve been friends with his family since I was 8 years old. I was his friend before he got famous, and I'll be his friend after the media machine gets through with him. I am proud to hold him up as a role model for my sons. Because here is what I know about him – he isn’t a coward and he has not “caved” under pressure. Feel free to agree or disagree with his decisions about where he speaks. But for Pete's sake – cut the guy some slack.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Scroggins is pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach. This column first appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness, online at gofbw.com.)
2/26/2013 1:21:14 PM by Jimmy Scroggins, Guest Column | with 1 comments

A Baptist perspective on ‘re-baptism’

February 25 2013 by Nathan A. Finn, Guest Column

As both a pastor and a professor who teaches Baptist history and thought, hardly a month goes by that I do not have at least one person ask me if they need to be “re-baptized.” From time to time, this question comes from someone who was sprinkled as an infant and is now wrestling with the practice of exclusive believer’s baptism. My answer in this case is simple: infant baptism is a practice that is alien to the New Testament and absent from church history until likely the middle of the second century. Biblical baptism is the full immersion of a presumably regenerate individual following his or her conversion. Since infant baptism is not biblical baptism, one who was sprinkled in infancy needs to follow the Lord’s command by receiving believer’s baptism by immersion.
Far more often, however, the person asking the question grew up attending a Baptist (or at least baptistic) church and now, in adulthood, struggles with whether or not he or she was actually converted prior to his or her immersion. I am very sensitive to this question, since I was immersed at age nine in a mainline Disciples of Christ church following a confirmation class, but never heard the gospel clearly proclaimed until I was around fourteen. I was subsequently converted around the time I graduated from high school and later baptized at the age of twenty-four, after years of struggling with this very question. Many folks have a baptismal testimony similar to mine, likely for a variety of reasons (that is a topic for another day). When I ask my Baptist History class how many of them have been dunked more than once, it is common for between one-third and half of them to raise their hands.
Bobby Jamieson of 9 Marks Ministries recently weighed in on this very issue in an article written for The Gospel Coalition’s website. I was pleased to see that Jamieson answers this question exactly like I do. If you are absolutely convinced that you were not a Christian when you were immersed, as with my own testimony, then you have never been baptized – you have merely been dunked. So you do need to be dunked again, but it is definitely not a “re-baptism,” but rather your actual baptism, since this second dunking conforms to the biblical practice.

But if you simply struggle with the question of when you were converted, which is especially common among those who profess faith during childhood and/or in more revivalistic contexts, then you should not be immersed again. Baptism is not some repeatable sacrament that infuses sustaining grace into us or grants us ongoing assurance of salvation. As Jamieson argues in his fine essay, “It’s easy to mistake childlike faith for no faith at all, and to impose an adult standard of spiritual fruit on a child or even a teenager. In such cases, I’d encourage someone to get baptized only if she came to be absolutely convinced that she was not converted at the time of baptism.” Amen.
If you know that you have never followed the Lord’s command to be baptized as a follower of Jesus Christ according to the New Testament pattern, then I would urge you to submit to biblical baptism. If you simply struggle a bit with certainty about the exact timing of your salvation, or if you are haunted by the guilt of a season of rebellion or staleness, then I would urge you not to rush back into the waters of baptism. Instead, look to Christ and remind yourself of the gospel. Jesus lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and was raised from the dead for you. Repent of any un-confessed sin, but be assured that as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ you will forever belong to the living God who has adopted you as his spiritual child. Baptism testifies clearly to this gospel, but it is not a substitute for the good news.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nathan A. Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. He serves on the Biblical Recorder’s Board of Directors.)
2/25/2013 2:24:44 PM by Nathan A. Finn, Guest Column | with 0 comments

The ‘controversial’ beliefs of First Baptist Dallas

February 25 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – Subscribing to biblical values has for some time been frowned upon by the purveyors of political correctness in America. But in recent months a movement seems to have emerged to vilify and denounce anyone who dares to believe homosexuality is a sin or that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation.

The most recent targets for the wrath of the self-proclaimed tolerance police are Tim Tebow and the pastor of a well-known Baptist church. The former college football star and now professional football player was scheduled to speak April 28 as part of a celebration of First Baptist Church of Dallas’ new $130 million expansion and renovation of its downtown buildings.

However, once the Dallas church and its pastor were labeled by some as hateful, Tebow reconsidered the speaking engagement. Via a series of updates on Twitter, Tebow announced: “While I was looking forward to sharing a message of hope and Christ’s unconditional love with the faithful members of the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas in April, due to new information that has been brought to my attention, I have decided to cancel my upcoming appearance. I will continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring Faith, Hope and Love to all those needing a brighter day. Thank you for all of your love and support. God Bless!”

Leading up to Tebow’s withdrawal, the Huffington Post had posted a story with the headline, “Tim Tebow, Jets Quarterback, To Speak At Virulently Anti-Gay, Anti-Semitic Church First Baptist Dallas.”

Gregg Doyel, sports columnist for CBSSports.com, was even more pointed. He described First Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress as “an evangelical cretin ... who does the work of the Lord sort of like Westboro Baptist in Topeka, Kan., does the work of the Lord. Not at all.”

Doyel ripped Tebow for agreeing to speak at the church. “I’m ashamed to like Tim Tebow now. More specifically, I don’t like Tim Tebow now. I can’t. Liking him means liking someone who wouldn’t just agree with, but would support, Robert Jeffress. And I despise Robert Jeffress.”

Jeffress responded to the Tebow situation and attacks upon himself and First Dallas by saying: “To me, the real issue here is the controversy this has generated. It’s amazing that a church that believes faith alone in Christ is what saves a person and that sex should be between a man and a woman in a marriage relationship – that somehow those beliefs are considered hate speech? That is historic Christian doctrine for the past 2,000 years.”

First Baptist Dallas was once considered the flagship church among Southern Baptists. As far as doctrine goes it would espouse the exact same beliefs as the vast majority of Baptist churches in America – for that matter in the world.

The charges concerning FBC Dallas being anti-Semitic are simply ridiculous. If Jeffress is an anti-Semite, then so was Jesus Christ. The pastor of First Baptist Dallas proclaims the same message first articulated by the “author and finisher” of the Christian faith.

Jesus’ message was and is, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He also said, “For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son [Jesus], that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Jesus made it crystal clear that eternal life was an exclusive reality and only available to those who would embrace Him as the Lord of salvation.

Believers who preach the exclusivity of Christ are not anti-Jewish, anti-Arab or anti any other race or ethnicity; they are pro-Jesus. I am quite certain Jeffress would say that he believes some Jews, Arabs and Catholics will be in heaven in the same way some Baptists will be absent. The issue, according to the Bible, is what they believe about Jesus Christ.

The Bible also labels all sex outside of marriage as sinful. According to the Bible, homosexuality is among those sinful acts.

Dole compares Jeffress to Westboro because the pastor has said AIDS is a gay disease. Dole might be interested to know that a leader in the homosexual activist movement agrees with Jeffress.

During the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force national conference held in Detroit, Mich., in 2008, the then-executive director of the organization, Matt Foreman said, “Folks, with 70 percent of the people in this country living with HIV being gay or bi (sexual), we cannot deny that HIV is a gay disease, we have to own that and face up to that.”

What has happened in America? It seems that political correctness has become a religion – an idol – in America. Everyone who does not embrace all beliefs – including sexual and religious – as equal is to be vilified and shamed. And if a person does not repent of their intolerance, he or she is to be shunned and ostracized.

By canceling his appearance at First Dallas, Tim Tebow has, for now, appeased the priests and priestesses of political correctness.

It seems one movement’s “tolerance” is just an excuse to exercise its own intolerance.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
2/25/2013 2:05:30 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Don Rutledge: teacher & encourager

February 22 2013 by Joanna B. Pinneo, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joanna B. Pinneo, one of the most distinguished of the many photographers influenced by Don Rutledge, describes the influence of the veteran photographer who died Feb. 19. See links to related stories and a photo gallery at the end of the story.)
LONGMONT, Colo. – I was fortunate to meet Don Rutledge in my early days as a photographer when I was working for the Southern Baptist Foreign (now International) Mission Board.

I had just started to receive assignments photographing mission work overseas. After an assignment, Don would spend hours going over photo contact sheets with me. He was a gentle teacher, patiently explaining why one photograph “worked” and another didn’t. He would point to a particular photograph and say, “Now, this is the ‘old Joanna,’ but this one” – pointing to another picture he thought was more successful – “is the ‘new Joanna.’ Can you see the difference?”

He’d explain about depth and layers. He would often say that many times the difference between a good picture and a great picture can be just one millimeter. He was never too busy to help and answer endless questions. He always looked for the positive and guided you to see in a new way.

Don would always encourage me to try new things, to stop, to really look, to test boundaries and push past my fear of stretching into new areas. When I’d achieve a breakthrough in one area, he’d applaud my accomplishment. When I got stuck in a rut, he’d tell me, “OK, you’ve got that. Now you need to try something new.”

There are so many things I try to do today that “mirror” Don and his approach to photographing people. Here are three:
  • Always enter with a warm smile and quiet manner.
  • Treat everyone with respect.
  • See the world through your subject’s eyes and know they are a child of God.
Don treated his subjects with dignity. He always said it is important to photograph people in their normal way – that is, not to accentuate something just because it might seem different to you but is typical for them. He often used the example of a picture he took of a motorcycle parked inside a family’s house. He photographed it as a part of the normal scene without exaggerating it. In this way he helped us understand something about the family and their lives. Because Don photographed it normally, we accept it as such.

Joanna Pinneo

One of my favorite pictures of Don’s was of an Eskimo family at their home above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. It hangs on my wall, so I see it every day I am at home. In it, each family member has a different expression and body language. A Native American woman dressed in a patterned summer dress stands on the porch of her clapboard house holding a little boy while another child pokes her head out of the door, her fingers stuck in her mouth. Another young girl stands on the porch, leaning out and holding on to the doorframe. A slightly older girl stands just beside her, bending to her right almost as if she is holding on against the wind. In the far left of the photograph, still another girl peers out of a window, her mouth slightly open in a sort of greeting. The house has tarpaper tacked in places. A mop leans in a corner where the house line bends. The right side of the image is framed by a lake and grassland.

Your eye moves easily through the photograph, starting with the woman on the porch. She is smiling and everyone seems to be gathered to welcome visitors. The way Don framed the photograph and captured each expression draws us in; we, too, feel welcomed by this family. I never tire of examining this picture and wondering about the lives of the people there. They live on through Don’s eye. See the photograph.

Don’s images bring you into a scene as if you are there. Usually you are not aware of his presence; the people in the picture are going about their day, working, interacting with others or perhaps at rest. A smile, a tilt of the head, a body position tells you a lot about the subject’s demeanor and personality, revealing a mood. His framing was deliberate. In many scenes the people are very much in their own world and you are getting a glimpse into their lives. He captures relationships between people as well as their quiet moments. His acute attention to body language and the fleeting moment reveals so much. He knew how to be in the right place at the right time.

Don was a great storyteller; he helped me to understand how to build a story visually, image by image.

He always had a twinkle in his eye – especially when he was about to tell a good story about his travels or the writers he worked with. He also had a convincing way of looking innocent when the “incriminating” stories were about him. I never had the opportunity to travel with Don since I’m also a photographer, but when he and a writer would get back from a trip, I loved to hear about what new pranks Don had been up to.

What meant so much to me besides Don’s practical advice and guidance: He believed in me as a person and as a photographer. He encouraged and truly mentored me. He believed I could become a good photographer and visual storyteller.

So I did, too.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joanna Pinneo, now based in Longmont, Colo., has photographed stories in more than 60 countries for numerous magazines and books. Assignments have taken her to Egypt, Sudan, India, Northern Ireland, Latin America, China, Africa and the Middle East. Her photograph of a child sleeping with its mother in Mali, West Africa, is included in the iPad App “The 50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic.” Pinneo was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, won an Alfred Eisenstadt award and is featured in National Geographic’s “100 Best Photographs.” Her work has appeared in the New York Times, TIME, Geo, Stern, U.S. News & World Report, Mother Jones and American Photographer, among other publications. Pinneo is the founder of “Grrlstories,” a project dedicated to giving girls a voice through photography. She is working on a long-term project about kids connecting to nature and the outdoors.)

Related links

Don Rutledge, global missions pioneer, dies
Don Rutledge, missions photographer, dies
Photo gallery
2/22/2013 2:37:09 PM by Joanna B. Pinneo, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Hindus seek forgiveness at Ganges & Yamuyna rivers

February 22 2013 by Maggie Hardison,* Baptist Press

ALLAHABAD, India – It’s hard to fathom that people from all over India and the world come to bathe where the Ganges and Yamuna meet. The confluence of the two rivers is muddy and gray, laden with diseases and parasites.

Yet, this spot is considered holy – or at least it is during the Kumbh Mela festival in the city of Allahabad.

Hindus believe that bathing in the water cleanses their sins.

According to Hindu myths, the gods and the demons once fought over the nectar of life, spilling several drops on the earth. The largest drop fell where the Ganges and Yamuna meet. When the moon and Jupiter align, Hindus believe that the flow is joined by a mystical river, the Saraswati, bearing the divine nectar of immortality.

Some believe that if they can bathe in these rivers at exactly the right time, it can stop the cycle of reincarnation.

Watching people bathe and even drink the river water is difficult – physically, emotionally and spiritually – as they place their faith in gods and idols toward achieving the Hindu experience of “nothingness.”

For me, this stirs prayer that the “Light of the world” will shine into this 55-day festival. It will take a miracle as only God can do. It’s illegal to share Christ on the banks or around the grounds of the festival.

Hindu holy men pray on the banks of the Ganges River in India, preparing their minds and body for a ritual dip in the water as part of the Kumbh Mela festival.

Pilgrims will continue streaming into Allahabad by plane, train and bus (some even walk) until March 9. This particular Kumbh Mela, called Maha Kumbh Mela, is a special one that happens only once every 144 years. Parades of different Hindu sects roam through the streets. Dreadlocked sadhus (Hindu holy men) cover their bodies in ashes and sit teaching and blessing the hordes of people.

The riverbanks are jammed with tents and mats where the pilgrims camp. Luxurious tents of the rich sprawl in one area while the frayed tarps of the poor cram onto another section of land.

Allahabad will go from a population of 1.2 million people to an estimated 100 million during Maha Kumbh Mela’s 55 days. On the “holiest” days, Feb. 10-11, city officials estimated more than 30 million people camped on the banks of our river. To put that in perspective, that’s like the entire population of Texas, 26 million, visiting Savannah, Ga., on the same weekend.

This Maha Kumbh Mela is being called the largest human gathering on earth. (By comparison, 3.1 million people visited Mecca in Saudi Arabia during last year’s annual hajj pilgrimage.)

It is surprising how many foreigners have come to bathe alongside the national Hindu population. I and others with me keep getting asked if we have also come for this “holy time.” We quickly inform them that we are followers of Jesus. One Christian worker was able to talk about Jesus being “the Way, the Truth and the Light” but he was met with ridicule.

Please join us in praying:
  • for followers of Christ in India who are risking imprisonment (and even their lives) for sharing the Good News of Jesus with pilgrims.
  • that Allahabad one day will be known by the true meaning of the city’s name, “the abode of God.” Pray that Jehovah will be the God of this city.
  • that the pilgrims searching for forgiveness will find it in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice.
  • for believers in this city. Pray that the Father will allow us to feel His presence even more during this time. Pray that His light shines.
*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Maggie Hardison is a Christian worker in southern Asia. Susie Rain contributed to this article. For Kumbh Mela prayer guides, visit here.)
2/22/2013 2:28:48 PM by Maggie Hardison,* Baptist Press | with 0 comments

When it comes to planning, learn from the ants

February 21 2013 by Chuck Bentley, Baptist Press

GAINESVILLE, Ga. – Ants aren’t known for having big brains and yet sometimes they act smarter than people. The Bible actually calls ants “wise” because they store up food for the winter.

“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest” (Proverbs 6:7-8).

So what is it that ants have figured out – that some people just don’t get?

It’s called short-term planning. True, ants operate more out of instinct than intellect, but they still manage to put food aside during good times. Too often, people fail to take the same precaution.

For example, do you have cash “shortages” that force you to use credit cards? Short-term planning helps you avoid that problem and keeps you from going into debt.

Take utility bills, for example. Check with your gas or electric company to see if you’re allowed to pay an average, constant amount each month. That way, huge bills won’t overwhelm you in peak usage months.

You also can plan for clothing, medical and dental costs. If you set aside a monthly average for these needs, you won’t get caught off guard, having to use a credit card to pay for a doctor visit or new shoes for the kids.

You can plan your vacations the same way. Set up a vacation category in your budget and make monthly contributions so that when it’s time to hit the road, you can pay for your annual getaway with cash.

Also, set aside a little each month to replace appliances like the dishwasher or clothes dryer. It’s not a matter of “if” something will break down, but “when.” 

And, of course, there’s your automobile. Set aside something each month for repairs and maintenance and when you know something’s starting to go, like the brakes, replace them right away.

With just a little bit of planning, we can all be as wise as ants.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries. His latest book, “The S.A.L.T. Plan, How to Prepare for an Economic Crisis of Biblical Proportions,” is available now. To sign up for Chuck’s free weekly e-newsletter, “Handwriting on the Wall,” visit Crown.org/handwriting or call 1-800-722-1976.)
2/21/2013 1:37:04 PM by Chuck Bentley, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

4 reasons to remember the Sabbath

February 20 2013 by Mark Dance, Baptist Press

CONWAY, Texas – I had run through my adrenaline and serotonin. I was simply going through the motions. I was bone tired and worn out. My physical, mental and spiritual gas tanks were empty. 

I had been called as pastor of Second Baptist Church of Conway, Ark., in 2001. We began a period of rapid – and unexpected – growth. We bought 50 acres of property to expand our footprint. I was busy!

For an extended season, I was meeting with planning teams, consultants, potential donors, small groups, staff, etc. I justified my schedule – and my ambition – to myself, my family and the church staff as a temporary seasonal burst. “Like a sprint,” I said. I rationalized that CPAs do it every year during tax season, athletes do it before offseason, politicians do it before an election ... blah, blah, blah.

But, just like when my car gets low on gas, my warning light came on. 

So I did what most terminally driven people do when they get close to running out of gas. I began to go faster! While I thought I could leap (or build) tall buildings in a single bound, I came to realize I was a man of flesh, not steel. I paid the price for that stupidity. So did my family, staff and church. 

I had nothing left to give. There were no scandalous train wrecks, no suicidal thoughts or immoral actions, but the erosion had clearly crept into my relationships.

I reached out to my doctor and learned I was clinically depressed. A week later a licensed psychotherapist confirmed it. They helped me understand how to get out of it with the help of God and other people on my “Dance Team.” 

Fortunately my depression was temporary and treatable since it was diagnosed early. But, I also believe it could have been avoided. 

I am healthy now and want to use my experience to help other people. A good plan for staying healthy is to apply the Sabbath to your life.

1. The Sabbath is a gift.

Humans have been hard-wired to both work and rest. If we stop doing either, we stop living full and abundant lives. Each of God’s commands was given to be a blessing, not a burden.

The Sabbath originally was a gift to freshly emancipated slaves. Slaves don’t usually get gifts, much less days off. Yahweh wanted them to know that they were no longer slaves, but His sons and daughters.

He not only provided deliverance, but rest and food, as well. God provided twice the amount of daily manna they needed on the day before Sabbath, so they would not have to collect it during their only day of rest. What a generous God! He enjoys blessing us, if only we will let Him.

“If you keep from desecrating the Sabbath, from doing whatever you want on My holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it not going your own ways, seeking your own pleasure, or talking too much; then you will delight yourself in the Lord” (Isaiah 58:13).

You would expect high-fives all around, but the Israelites were awkward with the new normal.

The people of God were not yet used to life without their Egyptian taskmasters. Some even wanted to go back to that awful life of slavery. Embracing a new lifestyle on God’s terms took a considerable amount of courage. Many resisted and rejected His gift, which also was a significant sign of their new covenant with Yahweh.

We still resist and reject His Sabbath gift, don’t we? I sometimes marvel at how quickly I slip back into my chains of slavery. A terminally driven life has the lure of Egyptian bondage, yet the pressure to succeed still draws me back there. But there is a better way to live.

I personally have experienced the pleasures of this wonderful gift and passionately want you to, also. I’m not saying I have perfected the art of Sabbath keeping, because I still struggle every single week. But I am not going back to Egypt without a fight! I have found the rest of God right where He left it for us, in the open pages of His Word.

God not only blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy, He blesses those who courageously and consistently observe it. He wants to bless you as you explore and apply Sabbath principles to your busy life. You will find those closest to you also will be blessed when you consistently receive God’s gift of rest. At first, you may want to resist these practical Sabbath principles, as the Israelites did. Your courage will be tested, but the payoff is worth the effort, I assure you.

The Sabbath is a practical gift, as well. It stops you for short periods for rest and refueling. Work six days, then take the seventh day off. Rest is refueling for another week to accelerate.

2. The Sabbath is a command to obey.

Rejecting or neglecting this gift is nothing short of open rebellion. It wasn’t optional and initially was enforced with a death penalty. While those desert rules were intense (and fortunately temporary), they do give us glimpse into the seriousness of the Sabbath to God. 

No. 4 on God’s top 10 list is a 24-hour cease and desist order! Sabbath rest is not a punishment, just a reminder that we were created to work hard and then rest easy. We do not need to choose between the two.

We pastors are among the worst at ignoring the Sabbath command. Motivated people like us don’t comply because we don’t want to, don’t think we need to or, frankly, don’t know how to stop. Many of us are conservative in what we believe about the Sabbath, but are liberal in our practice of it. 

As a pastor, I work hard on Sundays, so it is not even close to a Sabbath rest for me. But does that get me off the hook? 

Like others who work on Sundays, I must find a way to disengage from my occupation for a full day every week. God won’t let your job and family and ministry fall apart because you obeyed Him and unplugged for a day.

3. The Sabbath is an example to follow.

“So the heavens, the earth and everything in them were completed. By the seventh day God completed His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it He rested from His work of creation” (Genesis 2:1-3).

Balance is an illusion for driven people. Life is too unpredictable to balance. A better biblical goal is to live a life in rhythm. Athletes understand the need for a pre-season, season and off-season. So do accountants and politicians. Even nature’s seasons and cycles remind us of God’s rhythm.

Jesus demonstrated how our lives can be in a healthy rhythm between life and vocation. We see Him oscillating between work and rest. Sometimes He would encourage the crowds to stay and eat, heal one more person or pray all night. Other times He would retreat to the lakes, mountains or wilderness for rest and renewal. One time Jesus even slept through a life-threatening storm. Why? Because He was tired! 

A healthy Sabbath lifestyle includes seasons of intense work, followed by periods of intentional rest. Rhythm is a series of sprints and recoveries. A life of work and rest and worship is an abundant life. Jesus wants and expects us to live abundantly and fully.

4. The Sabbath is a person to love.

“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

In Matthew 12 we see a Sabbath showdown between Jesus and the Pharisees. These Sabbath saboteurs tried unsuccessfully six times to place their rabbinic restrictive yoke of man-made rules on Him. Telling the Lord of the Sabbath how to observe it was almost laughable. But we do the same thing; we make up our own rules and ignore His. 

The application is flexible, but the command is not. One day a week, disconnect from work and connect through worship and rest. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Dance is the pastor of Second Baptist Church, Conway, Ark. This article first appeared in Facts and Trends, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources.)
2/20/2013 1:41:37 PM by Mark Dance, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Daily gospel conversations

February 20 2013 by Chuck Lawless, Baptist Press

WAKE FOREST – “Brother Jack” was my pastoral hero, yet I heard him preach no more than 20 times. I met him after he retired from decades of ministry. He had no obligation to do so, but he invested in me as a young “preacher boy.” Every major decision I made in ministry I made at his feet until he passed away several years ago.

There is so much that made him a leader in my life. Availability. Wisdom. Experience. Knowledge. Commitment. Prayerfulness. Faith. Perseverance. Discipline. Ability. Humor. Respect. Love. This list could go on and on, but what I recall most about Brother Jack might surprise you. I remember what he said and what he did not say.

Brother Jack liked to go out to eat when we met. I did, too, but not because I wanted a meal. More than that, I wanted to watch a saintly older man interact with people. Jack had a unique ability to connect with anybody, and I knew we would have several conversations during our outing. People in a waiting line, the server at the table, the employee behind the cash register, guests at the next table – all were potential conversation partners with Brother Jack. He not only naturally engaged them in dialogue, but he also somehow worked conversations into a word about God and His goodness.

I watched it many times. I can hear it now, in fact.

“How are you doing today?” Brother Jack would ask. In response to the same question politely returned, he would say something like, “Doing well for a sawed-off, bald-headed Baptist preacher. God’s been good to me.” His sweet demeanor and gentle voice almost dared even the most ardent atheist not to want to talk more. It was not uncommon that we quickly knew another person’s spiritual background, current church attendance, and prayer needs.

In just a few minutes of conversation, Jack could offer attention and respect to another human being, gain his/her hearing, and introduce a brief Christian witness. I don’t think I ever saw him miss an opportunity to speak about God.

But I also remember Jack because of what he did not say – and this point is even more amazing to me. You see, I never heard him say anything I thought would be displeasing to God. For example, I never heard him speak a negative word about another person.


Even when he disagreed with others.

Even when others criticized him unfairly.

Even when I lapsed into negativity during our conversations.

Instead of criticism, Brother Jack always turned to prayer. “We just need to pray for him,” he would say. He had learned that praying for others helps guard your heart against a critical spirit. He had lived long enough to know that except for the grace of God, all of us could make dumb decisions.

Moreover, I never heard Brother Jack speak an off-color word. He modeled for me obedience to Ephesians 4:29 and 5:4 – “No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up of someone in need.... And coarse and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable.” I looked forward to my time with Brother Jack, knowing that our conversation would be fully God honoring.

I think much about Brother Jack these days, as God has now placed in my life another man with similar traits. He always evangelizes and never criticizes. His words are measured, pure and edifying. He, like Brother Jack, is careful in speech because he knows his words are central to his ministry.

That’s the way it is for all Christian leaders. Leadership is obviously more than words, but Christian leadership cannot be separated from our words. Gospel leadership is leadership through proclamation of the Word. We speak the gospel to individuals, teaching them of their need for a Savior who loves them. We announce that message to congregations that gather to hear a word from God.

Ours is a leadership by verbal example. When we keep the gospel to ourselves, we fail in that area of our leadership. Using ungodly words on Monday makes it difficult to trust our words on Sunday. Because words are our ministry, that cost is a heavy one.

We need more leaders like Brother Jack who understand these truths. Our conversation – both what we say and what we don’t say – really does matter.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Lawless serves as professor of evangelism and missions and dean of graduate studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake, Forest, N.C. This column first appeared at ThomRainer.com.)
2/20/2013 1:39:07 PM by Chuck Lawless, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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