February 2014

Noah and the Son of God

February 28 2014 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – By now I’m sure you’ve heard the uproar over the $125 million Paramount Studios production of “Noah.” The controversy appears to stem from one source, an organization known as Faith Driven Consumer, which raised concern about the film’s commercial viability if Christians don’t support it.
Faith Driven Consumer polled Christians, asking whether they would reject the film due to a reported inclusion of an environmental message and other emphases not seen in the true biblical account. The controversy has traveled the Internet and stirred curiosity.
A lesser controversy concerns the “Son of God” film. An extended episode from “The Bible,” a 10-segment special on the History Channel in 2013, Son of God will run in multiplexes in at least 10 cities, with all their screens showing the religious film this evening (Feb. 27). The film opens nationwide Feb. 28 on 3000 screens.
The Bible series drew ratings that caused even studio heads to marvel. So cynics are asking, “Is this a case of producers using a strategic marketing plan merely to fill their own coffers?”
I’m not for certain what has motivated the makers of Noah or those of Son of God. But who cares?
Whatever the makers’ incentives, the fact remains that we have a production dealing with an Old Testament man of God and another theatrical release built around the Savior of the world. Seldom do we see biblical tales playing in cinema complexes otherwise occupied by crude comedies, voyeuristic romances and senseless actioneers. These two films will do something other movies in the theaters won’t ... spread the Word of God.
On a press junket last year for the TV miniseries The Bible, I spoke with Roma Downey. She was nearly giddy concerning the production.
“Just think about all the people who don’t know the Bible,” said the former star of “Touched By An Angel.” “We pray they will become interested in God’s Word and that believers will be reminded to make Bible study a part of their daily lives.”
After the segment from The Bible featuring the life of Jesus aired on the History Channel, another controversy arose:
“Someone made a comment that the actor who played the devil vaguely resembled our president, and suddenly the media went nuts,” Downey told The Hollywood Reporter. “The next day, when I was sure everyone would only be talking about Jesus, they were talking about Satan instead.
“It gives me great pleasure to tell you that the devil is on the cutting-room floor.... For our movie, Son of God, I wanted all of the focus to be on Jesus. I want His name to be on the lips of everyone who sees this movie, so we cast Satan out.”
Does that sound like someone who just wants to make money off this project? No. From those I’ve met who know Downey and her producer/husband Mark Burnett, the consensus is they are both devout in their faith and truly burdened for the lost.
As for the film Noah, when I first heard about the environmental theme, and knowing Tinseltown’s penchant for style over substance, I reread the account of the flood in Genesis 6-10. The knowledge of this soon-to-be released motion picture (March 28, 2014) had me reading the Bible in order to separate Hollywood fiction from biblical fact.
Will this movie get others to study God’s Word? Yes. Films such as Son of God and Noah can be stimuli for spiritual exploration to those who never studied Scripture. And these movies may renew in churchgoers an interest in Scripture.
I suspect most of my readers have seen several films about Christ, perhaps “King of Kings,” “Jesus of Nazareth,” “The Greatest Story Ever ToldJesus,” or “The Passion of the Christ.” Since The Passion of the Christ was released in 2004, a new cinematic presentation of Jesus’ earthly mission will be a first for the youngest generation of moviegoers.
While I’m careful about telling readers which films to support, let’s remember that in the entertainment business, the success of a production is weighed in measures of gold. If these films do well at the box office, it sends a message to media moguls that there may be further audience interest in biblical principals and perhaps biblical principles.
My advice: If you plan to see Noah or Son of God, read the stories in Scripture and study their significance. These films will cause conversation; be prepared to converse.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org and is a regular contributor to “The World and Everything In It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.)
2/28/2014 9:33:56 AM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Hospitality & your heart

February 27 2014 by Melissa Deming, Baptist Press

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – It was through a shared meal that God first spoke to our hearts about helping plant a church in the heart of Pittsburgh.
The first time we visited our church, it wasn’t even a church yet. The pastor invited us to share a meal immediately following the service, and the entire congregation could fit around one long conference table.
The food was simple but the intimate community it afforded was not. I still remember what was prepared – potato soup, fat chunks of crunchy bacon, leafy greens and the best homemade croutons I’ve ever tasted. And the individuals weren’t just sharing bread; they were sharing life.
Shortly after joining the core group of this new plant, we began to open our small apartment for a weekly Bible study. Sometimes we shared a meal, other times I just served cookies and coffee.
On one occasion, I looked around the room at the people who had become our new family. They were sitting on stained carpet, eating from paper plates and happy as larks! No one complained about the lack of seating or the crayon swirls on the wall.
And in that moment, I realized the significance of the scriptural command to practice hospitality.
In Romans 12:10-13, Paul says: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”
The word Paul uses for “practicing” hospitality is a Greek word that means “to strive for” or “pursue.” It has an active sense – and points to great “vigorous effort,” as noted by Alexander Strauch in The Hospitality Commands.
To give you an idea of the importance Paul attaches to the pursuit of hospitality, we are also told to “pursue”:
  • Righteousness (1 Timothy 6:11)
  • Good (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
  • Peace (1 Peter 3:11)
  • Love (1 Corinthians 14:1)
We are to strive for hospitality in the same way that we strive for righteousness. We are to “think about it, plan for it, prepare for it, pray about it, and seek opportunities to do it,” as Strauch puts it.
My husband and I entertained at our previous church. We hosted the occasional meal for our pastor. I volunteered my home for a few women’s events. But it wasn’t until I saw the connections between the gospel and the dinner table in our new church plant that I realized what a hospitable heart truly looked like.
It’s about opening your heart to others by opening your home to them. It’s about serving without grumbling. It’s about consistently putting others’ needs before your own.
God is still using hospitality to clean out my heart like a packed closet – making room for others and, most importantly, for Him. I have 5-year-old twin BOYS! If you come to my house, I can guarantee you there will be fingerprint smudges and smashed food on something. Honestly, there are times when my front doormat better reads Do Not Disturb rather than Welcome.
And I still fight the temptation to wield hospitality as an excuse to buy those new dishes I saw at Target or the lighting fixture I added to my Pinterest board the other week.
But hospitality is not about throwing the best parties or crafting the perfect tablescape; it’s a battle for the heart. God calls us to open our homes and hearts as a measure of the hospitality He has demonstrated toward us in Christ (Isaiah 25:6-9; Luke 14:16-24; Revelation 19:9).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Melissa Deming is the founder of HiveResources.com, a missions and ministry resource site for women, and the author of “Daughters of the King: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Story.” The Deming family serves in a North American Mission Board church plant in Pittsburgh.)
2/27/2014 1:07:46 PM by Melissa Deming, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Toward a picture of meekness

February 26 2014 by Michael Kelley, Guest Column

There are certain attributes of Christian character that get more press than others. While we might emphasize things like purity or peace, we might neglect others like self-control or patience.
Meekness is one of those characteristics that falls into the second category. So neglected is this attribute that many newer translations don’t even translate the beatitude “Blessed are the meek” any more.

Instead, they translate it as “humble” or “patient.” But I think there is something essential about the word meek that isn’t included in those other terms.
In Greek, the word “meek” is also used to describe animals on occasion, but animals that have been tamed.
So meekness isn’t weakness; it isn’t loss of strength. A tame animal retains all of the strength that it’s ever had, but it has learned to harness that strength. To keep it under control.
Maybe “meekness” has fallen on hard times because we have equated it with weakness.
“Meek” is synonymous with mousy; it’s someone who won’t stand up for their own rights and privileges not because of anything virtuous, but because of cowardice.
Biblical meekness, however, is nothing of the sort. It isn’t a loss of power; it’s the harnessing of power. And there is nothing weak about harnessed power.
While the Bible might not offer us a strict definition, it does offer us a picture.
There’s a story about the meekness of Abram in Genesis 13.
For a while, Abram and Lot had been traveling together, but because of the size of both of their households (many goats, wives, servants and such), the land couldn’t support them. So they came to a fork in the road.
Now in my imagination, this moment looks like a cartoon.
The road forks, and to the right the sun is shining, there’s dew on the ground, little bunnies and deer are scampering together, the grapes are as big as beachballs – you get the idea.
To the left – well, to the left there are holes in the ground, smoldering embers, dead trees and growling wolves.
That’s probably a little extreme, but there was clearly a difference in the two roads.
One road appeared to be better than the other. And Abram does something unthinkable – he gives Lot the choice:
Then Abram said to Lot, ‘Please, let’s not have quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, since we are relatives. Isn’t the whole land before you? Separate from me: If you go to the left, I will go to the right; if you go to the right I will go to the left’” (Genesis 13:8-9).
Lot chose the good road. The well-watered road. The easy road.
And Abram let him do it, surprisingly, since Abram, as not only the older man but also the leader of the family, had every right to take what appeared to be the better road.
The very fact that Abram asked the question must have been shocking to someone like Lot, since it should have been assumed that Abram would simply take what he wanted and leave anyone else to deal with the leftovers.
What does this have to do with meekness? I think it goes back to what we said earlier, that meekness involves harnessed power, taming emotion, and humility.
Abram voluntarily put aside his rights and preferences; he didn’t lose them – he harnessed them. In a 21st century context, one in which you have to look out for number one or nobody else will, Abram stands in stark contrast. In meekness, Abram did not worry about advancing His own cause.
Maybe that’s meekness, especially today.
It is the confidence that God is our advocate, that He will provide and care for us, and so there is no need for us to advance our own cause.
Lot advanced himself, and that effort got him right in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abram was meek, and he became the intercessor for Sodom and Gomorrah.
The meek can put aside their rights, privileges and power because they believe that if God is for them, none can be against them.
The meek have been robbed of the need to advance their own cause and status and had it replace it with confidence in the will and fatherhood of God.
They have this confidence that allows the harnessing of power because of what we find in Christ. He was described as meek.
But His meekness wasn’t from lack of power. Jesus was meek not because He was incapable, but because He voluntarily harnessed His power.
No one was taking His life from Him; out of His meekness He was allowing it to be taken.
That’s why we can give away our rights.
That’s why we can willingly take the backseat to others. That’s why we can take the cost into ourselves. It’s because we know that we don’t have to advocate for ourselves any more; we have a better advocate on our behalf.
We become meek, then as we move more deeply into the meekness of Jesus.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Kelley is director of discipleship with LifeWay Church Resources. Visit michaelkelleyministries.com where this column originally appeared; follow him on Twitter: @_MichaelKelley.)
2/26/2014 12:24:48 PM by Michael Kelley, Guest Column | with 0 comments

Where are all the godly men?

February 24 2014 by Jason K. Allen, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Where have all the godly men gone? These days I ponder that question with increased frequency and concern.
If the lack of godly men were only a matter of personality or ministerial preference, then little would be lost. Such is not the case, though. The church is in great need of awakening and renewal and, in the spirit of English Puritan leader Richard Baxter, its greatest need might well be godly men.
Not that long ago, “man of God” was a common and honored descriptor in the church. The phrase ranked alongside “great preacher,” “brilliant theologian” or “gifted writer” in frequency and surpassed them in value. Now, it seems as though the designation “man of God” is a largely passe referent to a bygone era of church life.
We have increased the mundane and ancillary aspects of Christian ministry, all the while cheapening its true virtues and values. In God’s economy, though, character is valued over talent, and holiness over giftedness.
Why is there a dearth of godly men? Admittedly, godliness is nearly impossible to measure, and godly men are nearly impossible to quantify. Yet, three factors seem especially to contribute to the paucity of godly men:
Many churches don’t seek men of God.
Given the complexity of modern ministry, many churches prioritize giftedness and experience above godliness in their candidates for ministry. Churches often look for competent administrators, capable speakers, polished people skills, a cute family and other secondary concerns before assessing the heart. Like ancient Israel, we have the propensity to look on the outward; all the while God looks on the heart.
Many ministries no longer necessitate godliness.
There may now be more distance between the minister and the congregation than ever before in the history of the church. Through the years, pastors have lived among their people (as seen in the New Testament) and by their people (parsonage). Now, everything from the size of the church to the expansion of auxiliary campuses has created distance between the pastor and his people. Moreover, video-screen pastors often have no relationship at all with their people.
An overcommitted laity does not desire personal interaction with their ministers, and overcommitted ministers have less time for personal interaction anyway. Though social media grants the appearance of personal engagement, the truth can be altogether different. The distance between the pastor and his people means there is less life-on-life engagement and less moral accountability one with another.
Ministry “peer pressure” is not toward godliness.
The “peer pressure” of ministry is oriented toward events, products, conferences and materials. It is as though the paraphernalia and garnishes of ministry have displaced the more biblical and eternal aspects, like godliness. Perhaps this is why Matthew Henry lamented some preachers who, “when in the pulpit, preaching so well that it is a pity they should ever come out; but, when out of the pulpit, living so ill that it is a pity they should ever come in.”
“Man of God” is a biblical designation granted to Old Testament giants like Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah and Elisha. In the New Testament, Timothy is the singular designee. The title was not merely honorific. It was a lofty and noble designation granted to men with lives that merited it. In the context of 1 Timothy 6, the title “man of God” is associated with action. It is found in a list of admonitions, commands and encouragements that flow both descriptively and prescriptively. Paul instructs Timothy that the man of God is known for fleeing from immorality, fighting for the faith and for following after Christlikeness. Moreover, 2 Timothy 3:15-17 links the adequacy of the man of God with the power and authority of holy Scripture.
Clearly, the New Testament prioritizes godliness in the life of the minister. The qualifications for ministry found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 deal almost exclusively with character, with little reference to giftedness beyond the ability to teach. Thus the timeless ministerial admonition, “Beware of letting your talent gain you a ministry position that your character cannot keep you in.”
In the main, the modern church has most everything it needs – save revival. We have more conferences than ever, but fewer conversions. We have more books and blogs than ever, but fewer baptisms. We have more products and paraphernalia than ever, but little power. Indeed, we have a surplus of resources, but a deficit of revival.
Of course, revival is a work of the Holy Spirit, initiated and carried forth by God. At the same time, we cannot expect God to bless our shallowness, staleness and carnality. Perhaps revival will not arrive in the pew until it first arrives in the pulpit. It may well be that the greatest need of the church is godly men who shepherd the flock of God with holiness and grace.
Where have all the godly men gone? I am not exactly sure, but I pray God will call forth a new generation of men consecrated in heart and devoted to His glory. As the hymn of old begs, “Rise up, O men of God! The church for you doth wait, her strength unequal to her task; rise up, and make her great!”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jason K. Allen is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.)
2/24/2014 10:51:57 AM by Jason K. Allen, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

A tragic neglect

February 21 2014 by Eric Geiger, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – One of my mentors, Brad Waggoner*, noticed a major shift in church ministry in the early ‘90s when “senior pastors of churches broke up with their discipleship pastors/ministers of education and ran off with the worship pastor.”
Of course, a senior pastor does not need to choose between the two. Both the worship ministry and the discipleship ministry of a church are vitally important to the health of the church and the maturation of believers.
In many contexts, however, love for the discipleship ministries of the church has grown cold. The big gathering, with her flashing lights and carefully designed stage, has been a seductress to some.
This is tragic, because God matures His people in biblical community. The ministry of a church must be much more than a gathering on Sunday.
How do you know if your heart has left the discipleship ministries of your church? Perhaps the following questions will help.
  • Do you spend disproportionately more time in conversations about the weekend worship service than about the discipleship process at your church?
  • Do you know what is being taught in your groups or classes?
  • Do you treat the teaching your people receive outside of Sunday – teaching done by others – with the same concern you view “the weekend”?
  • Is it enough to “have groups” or do you want your groups built on the solid foundation of the Word?
A church exists to make disciples. Clearly this mission includes the worship gatherings, and it definitely goes beyond them.
Please note I am not suggesting that the weekend gatherings are not important or advocating senior pastors break up with their worship leaders. Nor am I saying discipleship does not occur in worship gatherings as the Word is taught and people are brought into the presence of Jesus.
I am, however, saying it is tragically unhealthy when the discipleship ministries of a church are minimized and neglected.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Eric Geiger is a vice president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, leading the church division. This column first appeared on his blog at EricGeiger.com. *Brad Waggoner is executive vice president of LifeWay.)
2/21/2014 10:22:14 AM by Eric Geiger, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

A lesson from the Puritans

February 20 2014 by Zach Crook, Baptist Press

WEATHERFORD, Texas – A cursory glance at the state of cultural morality here in America can be somewhat disheartening.
The Defense of Marriage Act has been labeled unconstitutional. A health care reform act has been passed requiring all businesses, no matter the religious beliefs of the owners, to offer employees drugs that could cause abortions. Same-sex marriage is being legalized in states all over the nation.
If we can be honest for a few moments, we can realize that we now live in a post-Christian culture. The 1950s have come and gone and they aren’t coming back. For someone like me, the pastor of a Baptist church in the Bible Belt in Texas, I hear the alarmists sound the end of Christian influence and the demise of our country.
Culturally, it seems as though Christians have “lost” the battle. What was once considered taboo is now considered normal. There is no absolute truth. One’s gender is no longer determined by physiological make-up but by choice and feeling. God’s Word doesn’t seem to have much place in the public square. Now that we stand on the other side of a failed “moral majority,” there is one question everyone is asking: “What now?”
As is often the case, we can find direction for moving forward by studying the history of those who came before us. In many ways, the English Puritans of the late 16th century were undergoing the same sense of political failure that the Religious Right is experiencing now. They had tried for decades to influence the politics of Elizabeth I and reform the Church of England and the religious state of their country.
They, much like our efforts in the 1980s and 1990s, were galvanized for a time in believing they could influence Elizabeth and the national church, only to realize that their efforts were ultimately futile. It was their response to their political shortcomings that sheds light on how a religious minority can still influence the future of a nation.
By the 1590s, the Puritans realized that they weren’t going to influence the monarchy or the leadership of the Church of England to reform. They had lost the political battle and “retreated” from London to Cambridge.
While the political scene in Washington might make it uncomfortable for a Christian to express belief in the authority and inerrancy of the Bible, it was illegal for the Puritans to separate from the Church of England and even gather for worship.
If anyone could have held a defeatist attitude toward the state of their country, it would have been them. However, while they had to admit their failure to influence the government the way they had wanted, they didn’t give up or sound the alarm. They didn’t lament the future of their nation. They simply changed their strategy.
Rather than continually trying (and failing) to influence the monarchy to bring about reform in the Church of England, they focused on educating and influencing the next generation of leaders who were studying in Cambridge.
The Puritans embraced their minority status and changed their aim. They realized that a top-down approach wasn’t working, so they switched to bottom-up. No longer focusing solely on those in power, they went about teaching biblical truth to the next generation of leaders. While presenting the power of the Gospel to university students, many were saved and developed a biblical worldview.
Many Puritans eventually separated from the Church of England and started churches that influenced theologians like John Smyth, who in turn pastored Thomas Helwys, who began the first Baptist church on English soil.
Additionally, Helwys wrote a ground-breaking work on religious liberty, “A Short Declaration on the Mystery of Iniquity,” which had lasting influence on generations of believers. He influenced greatly those who eventually helped get the Act of Toleration passed, which made it legal to worship any way you wanted in England.
It can be argued that God worked mightily among these Puritans when they stopped trying to change the government and started simply sharing biblical truth with the masses.
Like the Puritans, who is in political power shouldn’t be our greatest concern. Our greatest concern should be the sharing and spreading of God’s truth. If we do that, I believe that God can work through our prophetic minority in the same way He worked through the Puritans.
As believers, we need to continue to fight to ensure that our nation embraces religious liberty. With the freedom to share God’s Word, we should trust in its power to change.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Zach Crook is pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Weatherford, Texas, and a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
2/20/2014 12:59:43 PM by Zach Crook, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Lies & truth

February 19 2014 by Allen Raynor, Baptist Press

ROGERS, Texas – There is an old Hindu law which says lying is justified in only two cases: in saving a person’s life and in paying a compliment to a lady. It gives us cause to chuckle, but most often lying takes on a more ominous nature.
Lying is one of the most fascinating of sins. It is denounced and often despised by those on the receiving end, whereas it is commonly brushed off as no big deal by those on the giving end. Lies are easy to justify in the human mind. There is always someone to protect, someone to avoid disappointing or some reason to try to achieve what one believes is “the greater good” in a given situation.
Christians historically have believed it sinful to lie and that it somehow simultaneously displeases God while actually pleasing Satan, who is identified in Scripture as the “father of lies.” Longtime Southern Baptist pastor Adrian Rogers said, “A man is never more like the devil than when he lies.”
Throughout Scripture the concepts of “truth” and “lies” are contrasted. It begins as early as Genesis 3 when sin first entered the world. It was God’s “truth” which was “lied” about by Satan who then helped lead Adam and Eve astray. Sadly, mankind has been lying ever since.
In order for there to be a lie, there must first be truth. A lie is nothing more than a distortion or denial of the truth. Truth is the objective standard and the lie always falls short, conceals or attempts to change/pervert truth.
Most often, lies are about self-preservation or self-promotion. Perhaps the worst lies of all are those we tell ourselves and actually believe. People will not be honest with God unless or until they become honest with themselves. Many lies have been contrived to protect one’s self from the harm of consequences, whether it be shame or anything else. Quite often it seems another purpose, another agenda is in view.
The Lord Jesus stated He is the Way, Truth and Life in John 14:6. We are actually most like Jesus when we stretch ourselves to be as truthful as possible and hold “truth” in high regard. Lies demand tolerance, understanding and creative interpretation of facts, whereas truth calls for as close and as thorough examination as can be given. Truth never has fear of having the brightest of lights turned on it. It is always able to stand the test.
The problem is that the “looked to” standard has changed. God’s Word was once the standard in American and European culture, but no more. Now, it seems, serving other interests is the primary objective. That makes it easy for the standards of truth to change. Truth essentially now is seen as whatever someone says is the truth. No longer are people “servants” of the truth, they have instead found ways by which to make the truth subservient to them.
But it simply never works. It always blows up somehow if given enough time.
When a person makes the declarative statement “this is true,” what does it mean? One must determine what standard is being used. Is it the biblical standard or another standard? The Bible was given as a foundation to mankind. Scripture asks us quite pointedly, “If the foundations be destroyed, what will the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3).
The good news for Christians is that we do not have to live enslaved to lies. God has promised, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). The truth is incredibly liberating and unencumbering, whereas lies constrain, entangle and ultimately control. Believers need not wander around in the darkness and constraints of lies. There is the light of God’s truth to illumine our path. In John 17:17, the Lord Jesus appealed to the heavenly Father on behalf of His disciples, “Sanctify them by your truth. Your Word is truth.” Jesus desires for all people to identify themselves with Him by identifying with all that is true.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Allen Raynor is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Rogers, Texas.)
2/19/2014 11:42:42 AM by Allen Raynor, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The 3 most important words - God loves you

February 18 2014 by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press

EL CAJON, Calif. – “I apologize for the length of this letter but I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” That seemingly contradictory statement has been attributed to a number of great writers, but as far as I can tell, Blaise Pascal gets the earliest reference.
Regardless of who said it first, it’s one of the most intriguing statements you’ll ever read. The implication is that it is harder to write a short sentence than a long one. Why? Because it takes effort to eliminate all extraneous words diluting the meaning.
The Bible uses the shorter-is-better idea as well. The shortest verse I know of is one of the most profound: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) over Lazarus. Packed in those two words is the heartbreak and grief over the death of a friend. John, the writer, could have gone on and on about “why” Jesus wept. But he didn’t need to. Two words said it all.
As powerful as many short phrases are, I don’t know of a more important three-word phrase than “God loves you.”
I checked a handful of modern Bible translations and the phrase “God loves you” occurs only once in scripture: Deuteronomy 23:5. And there, it is not a simple three-word sentence. It is offered as an explanation for why God protected Israel from the curses of the false prophet Balaam: “…the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you.”
“God loves you” is such an accurate summary of the entire redemptive message of the Bible that we can think of it as a biblically accurate statement. Jesus told His disciples, “for the Father Himself loves you. ...” (John 16:27), and said that those who love Him (Jesus) “will be loved by My Father” (John 14:21). Yes, those “God loves you” statements are referring to believers in Christ, which I hope includes you.
Before considering who else is included in that short statement, let’s consider what “God loves you” means.
  • First: “God.” Depending on your understanding of love, let me go out on a limb and say that this first word is a game changer. Why? Because God’s love is like no other love you (or I) have ever experienced. The Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16). You can’t say that about anyone else in your life – your spouse, your Grandpa Bill, your favorite Aunt Minnie. No matter how much they love(d) you, their love is not the same as God’s love. On a given day, it might have been unconditional, even sacrificial. But every moment of every day of every month of every year? No way. Nobody loves like God. Right now, at this very moment, whether anyone else in this world does or not, GOD loves you.
  • Second: “loves.” The Bible doesn’t use this image, but I like to imagine God’s love as being like Niagara Falls – with me standing right at the base, completely surrounded and engulfed by the never-ending flow of love all around me. The apostle Paul says in Romans 8:35-39 that nothing can separate me from that love. Nothing can stop the flow of that love upstream, and nothing can remove me from being engulfed in it. And the same is true for you. Right now, at this very moment, whether you realize it or not, God LOVES you.
  • Third: “you.” We are so used to thinking in the world’s terms about love – whether we have earned love or deserve to be loved – that we have a hard time believing that God loves us. Right now, at this very moment, in spite of the fact that you feel unworthy of His love, God loves YOU.
The most well-known verse in the Bible affirms this love, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” To say “God loves you” is like saying “Here’s a gift.” You must reach out with hand and heart and accept the gift of His love in order for the power of that short statement to become a reality in your life. My prayer is that you will receive His love today.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. For more information on Turning Point, visit www.DavidJeremiah.org. This column has been approved by Turning Point for redistribution in Baptist state newspapers; for other reprint requests, contact Myrna Davis at mdavis@turningpointonline.org.)
2/18/2014 12:08:21 PM by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Praying for collegians

February 17 2014 by Jeff Jones, Baptist Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Evan was involved in a small youth group at his home church until he went away to college. While at college his faith was tested, but eventually strengthened to the point that he felt compelled to return to his home church and share his passion for Christ with his youth group. He shared one night with 17 students who all were transformed as a result of hearing the simple 4-point message:
  1. You must confess any known sin to God, and put right any wrong done to man.
  2. You must put away any doubtful habit out of your life.
  3. You must obey the Spirit’s promptings immediately.
  4. You must confess your faith in Christ publicly.
This simple meeting began a movement of God which we now know as the Welsh Revival of 1904-05. Evan Roberts was a young college student who saw God’s Spirit work powerfully resulting in a “nation sweeping” movement. In five months, more than 100,000 people were saved. The country was changed so much that courts had no cases to try, police had no crimes to solve, the birth rate for unwed mothers dropped by almost half in two counties, and the churches were filled in every town. All this began with one college student fully surrendered to the Lord.

College Students

Most people today associate college students with some very dangerous and destructive behaviors such as drugs, alcohol, sex, parties and irresponsibility. Based on experience and encounters I’ve had with students on the college campus, some of these characterizations can be true. More than any other time in our history, the opportunities for sin and worldliness are available and acceptable in the culture in which we find ourselves. Collegians are surrounded not only by sinfulness, but increasingly they are practically expected to adhere to godlessness, which is advocated on almost every university campus in our nation.
But, if we are praying and believing God for spiritual awakening and revival, then more than anything, based on our understanding of how God has worked in all of history, we should beg God for the hearts and lives of college students. Almost every great movement of God has been sparked by the brokenness and desperation of college-aged individuals who long for God’s Spirit to bring revival. As a matter of fact, many revivals began on secular college campuses after Christian students came face-to-face with God in prayer. One campus would affect another campus, and then it would spread to churches and even to public arenas. The conviction of the Holy Spirit would wash over students, and they would become contagious as they boldly shared the gospel as the basis of their transformed lives.

How can we pray for college students?

  1. Pray that college students would understand the urgency to be submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ every day. Ask God to protect them from a consumer approach to Christianity and the church so that they would see everything else as insignificant in comparison to knowing Christ and being found in Him.
  2. Pray that college students would understand the demand of holiness on their lives that comes from Jesus. Pray that they take seriously the relationship of purity they have with the Father and seek to “be holy because I am holy.” Pray that repentance and forsaking of sin would be a habit that defines their walk with God.
  3. Pray that college students would join together in prayer groups and seek God while calling out the names of students who are lost. Pray that the Spirit of God would open their eyes to the conditions around them, and burden them for their campuses.
  4. Pray that college students would take responsibility and ownership of their faith, investing themselves in the lives of others who will come to Christ, share the gospel and live holy lives as well. Paul’s charge to Timothy was, “No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
  5. Pray that God’s Spirit and His Word would become the standards from which students make life decisions such as whom to date, whom to marry, what occupation they will enter, what friendships they will value. The college years in our culture are when most adults make major decisions that shape the rest of their lives. Pray that they will follow Jesus in these choices.
College students are not the future of our church; they are the church. Take some time today to love, invest in and pray for the college students in your life.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Jones is the Baptist Collegiate Ministry campus minister at the University of Memphis in Memphis, Tenn. He and his wife, Jan, have four children, and love seeing college students become passionate about following and sharing Jesus.)
2/17/2014 9:49:08 AM by Jeff Jones, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Singer shares story behind ‘Set Her Free’

February 14 2014 by Anissa Haney, Baptist Press

JOHANNESBURG – “She is wonderful and beautiful, treasured and unique. She is heaven’s child, full of hopes and dreams, valued and esteemed. Set her free!”
These were the thoughts running through my head as I heard the story of a young human trafficking victim from South Africa. I was moved to tears as I read this girl’s story and watched a video clip of the work that is being done to help trafficking victims in Johannesburg at meetjoburg.com. My heart was stirred to write the song “Set Her Free.”
Human trafficking is the practice of deceiving someone or taking them against their will, then selling, buying and transporting them into slavery. According to stopthetraffick.org, it is second to drug trafficking as the largest crime in the world. It is hard to imagine that this type of slavery is taking place right in front of us and on such a large scale.
God began to remind me how much He loves all of us, and these girls who are victims of trafficking are no different. They are beautiful and loved by God.
As Romans 8:35-38 says, “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? ... No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us ... and I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.”
Those who are trafficked are not only God’s beloved children but were children that an earthly mother once tenderly cared for. I began to think of my own children and all of the hopes and dreams we, as mothers, have for them as we rock them.
My heart broke for these children, these young women who have been tricked, taken and sold. Their hearts are full of hopes and dreams, and God has a special purpose for their lives.
This particular Johannesburg girl’s dream was to become a social worker, but that dream was snatched away as she tried to survive another day as a sex slave and sought to escape the life that she had been tricked into and trapped in.
She had survived unimaginable acts of violence and then was forced back to work the next day. After unsuccessful attempts to run away, she had been severely beaten and left to die. This was not the life she chose for herself. She desperately longed for freedom and hope of leaving this life.
How can it be that this form of human slavery is taking place? What can we do to help stop it and bring healing to those who have been victims of human trafficking? This can seem overwhelming, but don’t be discouraged from getting involved if God has spoken to you.
We, as the church, can make a difference through Christ. I encourage you to ask God what you can do to get involved locally or globally. There is much needed: prayer, financial support of organizations such as the one in Johannesburg that are on the front lines, volunteers, medical care, counselors and much more.
“You can be the one who could stop to make the difference. You could set her free from her prison she’s been given. You can bring her hope in the nightmare she’s been living. Show her God’s love unconditionally given. Set her free.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Anissa Haney is a singer and songwriter.)
2/14/2014 10:49:28 AM by Anissa Haney, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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