February 2015

How ‘50 Shades of Grey’ harms women & Jesus saves them

February 12 2015 by Owen Strachan, Baptist Press

We commonly hear today from a secular culture and from many voices of progressive Christianity (so-called) that the Bible is oppressive to women. Men are called to be heads of their home, goes the line, and women are called to submit, and that makes the Bible hugely problematic.
 
Let me make four points to guide a possible response to this common objection and to “50 Shades of Grey” in particular, which opens in theaters Feb. 13.
 
1. This is a sham accusation, of course. Men are called to be heads, but in the image of Christ. They’re called to lay their lives down for their wives (see Ephesians 5:22-33). The Bible never enfranchises men treating women anything less than purely and lovingly (1 Peter 3:7). The man a godly woman submits to is not some goofball with a title he didn’t earn. To the fullest possible extent, with every fiber of his being, he’s supposed to love his wife like Jesus loves His bride. Nothing less than perfection is the standard for masculine conduct and manly headship. High stakes, these.
 
Not so with secular culture. There is no extant moral code for men and women. Christianity is outmoded, bygone and repressive. In its place, the postmodern West has adopted, well, not much of any ethical standard, really. Into the vacuum come cultural fodder like 50 Shades of Grey, based on the best-selling book. In this film and book, a playboy named Christian Grey enters into a relationship with Anastasia Steele. Grey sexually uses and abuses Anastasia, who finds herself drawn to the man despite his roughness.
 
In the Bible, an abusive male sexual predator is an abomination. In secular culture, an abusive male sexual predator is a celebrity. The difference could not be more stark.
 
2. Christianity disciplines abusive men. A man who sexually uses and abuses women will be excommunicated from the church, reported to the police, and opposed with the full force of biblical righteousness. Not so with the culture that promotes 50 Shades of Grey. A man who sexually uses and abuses women is cool, mysterious and compelling.
 
Let me speak as strongly as I should here: 50 Shades of Grey is disgusting, despicable and unerringly awful for women. Don’t view this film as just a film. Know that it is much more. It is representative of the new sexual progressivism and its amoral worldview. 50 Shades of Grey speaks to where things are headed in our culture. We should not expect that postmodernism will protect women. It will do no such thing. We should not expect that it will ennoble men and call them to self-sacrificial responsibility. It will do no such thing. We should not expect that postmodernism will bless children and strengthen the family. It will do no such thing.
 
Those who work against biblical manhood and womanhood, who fight the scripture’s teaching as marginalizing are in fact undermining the last cultural defense that still stands against male predation and sexual suffering.
 
3. 50 Shades of Grey may seem exciting, enticing and alluring. It is in truth nihilistic, degrading and devastating. Any woman who has been sexually abused will be very clear that there is nothing romantic, fun and satisfying in the experience. It’s unthinkable – but true – that this is the vision of the good life being offered to and received by many, many women today. Abuse of women is evil to the very core of what evil represents. Yet our double-minded culture decries “rape culture” and then – in a spasm of confusion – turns around and extols what it just condemned.
 
Think about how confusing sexual mores are today for young men and women. There is effectively no standard of sexual conduct on many secular college campuses, for example, outside of mutual consent. But media like 50 Shades of Grey entice young men to sexually abuse women while exhorting young women to engage in harmful sexual practices. Honestly, what kind of twisted, deviant culture is this?
 
The church must be clear against the backdrop of such confusion. No system of thought more dignifies women than biblical Christianity. Our culture and our world desperately need it. But in a world turned upside down by the fall, many people – including professing Christians – make gospel faith out to be the problem. They try to present biblical complementarianism as evil. This is a lie. We must not believe it.
 
There is evil in every human heart; no church is perfect. Abuse can and does happen even in Christian homes and churches, but we must remember that when it does, no gospel-loving church celebrates it. No movie is made to sell it. Such sin is condemned and opposed and reported to authorities and then dealt with in the household of God. No, it is not the scripture that harms women and subjugates them. It is a sexualized culture that has loosed men from their role as Christ-like heads and encouraged them to gratify their lusts with women without recourse.
 
4. There is one, and exactly one, source of ultimate hope for man-woman relationships today. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel, the message of Christ crucified and raised for sinners like us, takes predatory men and fallen women and turns them into trophies of grace. This is not a limited redemption. The worst of the worst can be saved. The abusive, the predatory, the abused, the hopeless – all alike find everlasting salvation in the cross of Jesus as they turn from this world and run into the strong and safe arms of Christ.
 
Remember these words when 50 Shades of Grey is lauded in coming days. You’re not witnessing something beautiful and hopeful. You’re seeing something diabolical and twisted, a force so strong that only one man can undo it: Jesus Christ, the self-sacrificing Savior of His wandering, unfaithful bride, the church.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Owen Strachan is president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; at Boyce College he is the director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. This column first appeared at the Patheos.com blog site.)

2/12/2015 12:05:28 PM by Owen Strachan, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Four threats and a promise

February 11 2015 by Erich Bridges, WorldView Conversation

Will a new Cold War begin over the hot war in Ukraine? Will the European Union crumble, sparking another global recession? Will Iran go nuclear? Will the tottering Arab world collapse?
 
Tyranny is cruel, but anarchy may be worse. Ask anyone living in one of the increasing number of failed or failing states around the world as 2015 stumbles toward ... what?
 
“Our age is insistently, at times almost desperately, in pursuit of a concept of world order,” writes Henry Kissinger, chief architect of U.S. foreign policy for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, in his recent book “World Order.” During tumultuous times, Kissinger engineered Nixon’s historic 1972 opening to China. He also helped craft the détente that eased decades of nuclear-armed tensions with the Soviet Union.
 
Today, however, order and agreement are becoming hard to find.
 
“Chaos threatens side by side with ... the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the disintegration of states, the impact of environmental depredation, the persistence of genocidal practices, and the spread of new technologies threatening to drive conflict beyond human control or comprehension,” Kissinger warns. “Are we facing a period in which forces beyond the restraints of any order determine the future?”
 
If Kissinger can’t answer that question regarding world affairs, I certainly won’t try. But here are four key threats to monitor this year, according to risk assessments from the Eurasia Group, the World Economic Forum, Stratfor Global Intelligence and other globe watchers:
 
1. Russia and Ukraine – As conflict in eastern Ukraine intensifies between government forces and Russian-backed rebels, peace prospects seem to be fading. Western economic sanctions and lower oil prices have crippled the Russian economy, and the United States is now considering sending arms to Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin frames the struggle as a new assault by the West, and more specifically the United States, on Russia and its essential interests, and threatens a return to Cold War footing. But will Putin stay in power long enough to act on his warnings? He’s popular at home, for now. But the longer the Ukraine crisis goes on, some observers say, the more likely it is that Putin’s regime will eventually collapse under the weight of economic trouble. “And if Russia destabilizes, it is the destabilization of a nation with massive nuclear capability,” reminds Stratfor chief George Friedman.
 
2. Europe on the edge – National economies in Europe continue to stall or decline. Unemployment continues to rise, threatening the still-fragile global recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Fear of social and political chaos grows as angry populist movements on the left and the right blame the continent’s ills on the European Union, economic austerity measures, immigrants, Muslims, and Europe’s age-old target, Jews. Ugly anti-Semitism is on the rise in the continent that has promised “never again” since World War II.
 
3. State collapse – ISIS isn’t the only “non-state actor” with the potential to overwhelm whole governments. Rebels, terrorists and international criminal cartels have been able to do that for a long time. But this bloodthirsty band of Islamists has morphed from one faction in the Syrian civil war into an army that aims to conquer multiple countries. And they’re not alone. Kissinger: “In the Middle East, jihadists on both sides of the Sunni-Shia divide tear at societies and dismantle states in quest of visions of global revolution based on the fundamentalist version of their religion. The state itself – as well as the regional system based on it – is in jeopardy, assaulted by ideologies rejecting its constraints as illegitimate, and by terrorist militias that in several countries are stronger than the armed forces of the government.”
 
4. Iran versus Saudi Arabia – These two states, though challenged from multiple sides, will continue to struggle for effective control of the Middle East, influencing regional conflicts, the Sunni-Shia feud, the security of Israel, the price of oil and other flashpoints. If Iran develops nuclear weapons, the competition could escalate beyond control.
 
As followers of Christ, what are we to do in chaotic times? Fear not (the most frequent command in scripture). Trust God. Pray hard. Act in obedience. And keep going to the nations.
 
Major gospel advances almost always come during periods of struggle and change.
 
Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth,” the Lord declares (Psalm 46:10, NASB).
 
That is a promise, a guarantee – regardless of the historical moment. The church has flourished in harder times than these.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent.)

2/11/2015 12:07:54 PM by Erich Bridges, WorldView Conversation | with 0 comments



The most frequent burdens church staff face

February 10 2015 by Chuck Lawless, Guest Column

Senior leaders are not the only people that bear significant burdens in the local church. Associate and support staff members also grapple with their own unique troubles. Some of these issues were revealed to The Lawless Group; here are topics of pain often voiced by staff. Please use this post as a catalyst to pray for your church’s staff members.
 
• Lacking time with senior leadership – Given the size of some churches, it may be difficult for staff to spend significant time with the senior leader – but that reality seldom lessens the desire of staff to have face-to-face conversations. Staff often struggle when they have no more time with the senior leader than does the typical layperson.
 
• Lacking clear role expectations – Sometimes leaders know in their mind exactly what they expect from staff, but the church has provided no written job descriptions. In other cases, a job description is provided, but expectations are different than the written narrative. In either case, staff members are then held accountable to unstated expectations.
 
• Longing for a God-sized vision – Too often, staff cannot answer our question, “What is the vision of this church and its leadership?” When this happens, we usually learn that senior leaders have lost their vision as well. Staff members yearn to serve with a leader whose vision compels them each day.
 
• Having few friends, especially among other staff – I am an introvert, but even I am surprised by how many staff members are lonely. Church members become acquaintances, not friends. Staff families seldom spend time together. Staff members themselves are sometimes at odds with each other, especially in struggling churches.
 
• Living in a ministry silo – Staff members love their sphere of ministry (e.g., students, music), but few others share their level of passion. Others make decisions that affect their ministry without discussion or dialogue. Calendaring events becomes competition rather than cooperation. The silo gets lonely.
 
• Ministering with few funds – Many churches find salary money by decreasing ministry funds. Thus, they hire personnel but provide little money for them to do the work they are called to do. A vision without resources can bring frustration and fatigue.
 
• Perceiving they have no voice – Some staff believe no one in authority listens to their ideas or concerns. In some cases, that perception is based in the church’s history: the staff’s previous attempts to voice their opinion went unheard.
 
• Having no “safe” place to be honest – This burden is obviously connected to the previous one. Our consultant team often hears these concerns simply because staff believe they have no other place to go with their concerns.
 
• Receiving poor salary and/or benefits – Our team has not heard from staff who are ungrateful for their positions, but we have heard from staff who are struggling with their bills. Our salary and benefit evaluations often do show some staff members are underpaid when compared with averages for similar positions.
 
• Longing for affirmation – All leaders operate differently, but most staff appreciate a “pat on the back” once in awhile. Even little gestures – a public “thank you,” a lunch invitation, a drop by visit, or a small bonus – can go a long way toward building a strong team.
 
• Competing for volunteers – Every ministry needs workers, but willing volunteers are limited. Because most churches do not have a strategy to enlist and train workers, staff members often compete for the same workers. Recruitment thus becomes organizational rivalry.
 
• Seeing and hearing too much – I wish I could ignore this burden, but integrity demands I include it. Too many staff members wrestle internally because they have listened to leader and staff language, overheard jokes and watched actions that are less than Christian. Typically, they express this burden to us with a heavy heart and deep grief.
 
To be frank, I wish I had appreciated my staff members more when I served as a full-time pastor. Take time right now to pray for your church staff. If you are a pastor or staff member, direct your folks to this post and ask them to pray for your team. Nobody on the team should carry burdens alone.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Lawless currently serves as professor of evangelism and missions, dean of graduate studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and as president of The Lawless Group, a consulting group for church leaders. This article originally appeared at thomrainer.com and is used by permission.)

2/10/2015 10:36:49 AM by Chuck Lawless, Guest Column | with 0 comments



America needs heroic leadership for religious liberty

February 9 2015 by Ronnie Floyd, SBC president

Christianity is alive and well in Washington, D.C. in spite of what you may read on your smart phones or watch on television.
 
This past week, I spent two days in our nation’s capitol, where I joined thousands of our fellow countrymen at the National Prayer Breakfast. I also saw first-hand the work of Southern Baptist lawmakers in Congress.
 
There are 31 Southern Baptists serving in the House of Representatives and eight serving in the Senate. I was able to meet with many of them, and they asked me to share this message with the Convention: Christianity is alive in our nation’s capitol.
 
Many of these elected officials attend weekly Bible studies and prayer meetings with their colleagues and local churches.
 
And for the first time in more than 100 years, senators and representatives are gathering for a weekly worship service that is held in the Capitol. It is also open to the public.
 
Their assignment is tough. At times, it can be exhausting and discouraging. But they have a deep belief that God has them in this place at this time for a specific purpose.
 
Each Southern Baptist lawmaker that I met loves the Lord passionately and serves our nation humbly and sacrificially. It was a true joy to be with them.
 
I am so grateful for the doors the Lord opened for me to share our deep concern for what is happening nationally and globally with some of our nation’s leaders.
 
I appealed to them passionately to stand firm against the evil of The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other groups that are brutalizing and killing innocent people around the world. I pleaded with them to do all they can to bring about an end to religious persecution.
 
I was able to share our concern for our own mission force, the largest in the world, serving our Lord in some of the toughest places on this planet. I was able to humbly communicate our deep desire for leaders to champion religious liberty nationally and globally.
 
I was also compelled to share our deep belief that the greatest need in America is a Great Awakening. As I shared the need for a mighty spiritual awakening in our nation, there was a common agreement among us.
 
They were very encouraged when I shared that on Tuesday night of this year’s Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Columbus, Ohio, we are dedicating the entire session to a prayer gathering of Southern Baptists to pray for our nation and her needs spiritually as well as the great need to reach the world for Christ.
 
Be prayerful, my friends. God has His people representing Him everywhere, including in our nation’s capitol, for such a time as this.
 
One of the most poignant moments of my visit came during the National Prayer Breakfast. NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip gave one of the most powerful testimonies of the life-changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ I have heard in a long time.
 
There were 3,600 people in the auditorium – some of the most powerful people in the world. And yet, God raised up a race car driver to tell people they needed to give their life to Christ or they would spend eternity without God.
 
But there was also a disturbing moment that occurred at the National Prayer Breakfast, during remarks delivered by President Obama.
 
First, let me say that I pray for President Obama every day. I also pray for the First Family. That being said, I must acknowledge that some of his remarks last week deeply concerned me.
 
He compared the Crusades to the Islamic State – a flawed comparison. And in making the comparison, he seemed to minimize the severity of ISIS and other groups that are brutalizing and killing innocent people.
 
It is true that atrocities have been committed in the name of Christ. However, neither Jesus nor His true followers would have ever condoned such wrongdoing. Jesus stood for love, grace, and forgiveness.
 
Instead of focusing on the past, America needs heroic leadership in the present—leadership that champions religious liberty for all people.
 
As reported in the past few days, ISIS is crucifying children, burying Iraqi children alive, using mentally challenged children as suicide bombers, and taking religious minority children, brutalizing them to death, even by beheading and crucifixion. Many of these children who are not killed are sold into sex slavery, while others die of starvation.
 
All of this must come to an end. We cannot sit this one out, but must rise up and declare this as unacceptable and barbaric behavior that must come to an end immediately.
 
We must stand now and stand together. In Jesus’ name, we need to stand for those who cannot stand for themselves. We need to stand for children, women, and men who are being brutalized, abused, and murdered globally, all in the name of religion. We need to call upon our nation’s leaders, including our President, to rise up and champion religious liberty globally.
 
We must rise and stand up in our churches, unashamedly and courageously calling upon our people to join in this valiant effort.
 
Enough is enough. It has gone way too far and existed way too long. The time is now for all of us to stand.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ronnie Floyd is currently serving as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/9/2015 11:53:16 AM by Ronnie Floyd, SBC president | with 0 comments



Small is the ‘new big’

February 9 2015 by Chuck Kelley, Guest Column

This may seem like a silly question, but do you know who Southern Baptists are?
 
When asked that question, many people will think in terms of our theology and doctrine. We believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture. We are a people of the Book and, therefore, we read it, preach it and seek to follow its teaching as we live our lives. We are theologically conservative and hold to a distinctive Baptist theology.
 
Another way to address the question is to look at our mission. Who are we in terms of what we do? We answered that question at the first meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 1845. After voting to create the SBC, messengers also voted to create a Foreign Mission Board and a Board for Domestic Missions.
 
The glue that has always held us together is a common passion to call all the peoples of the world to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. The Great Commission is our DNA, literally. The glue that has always held us together and formed the basis of unprecedented levels of cooperation between completely autonomous churches is a common passion to call all the peoples of the world to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
 
More money is given to our mission enterprises by Southern Baptists than any other aspect of our work as a convention. We are a people determined to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
 
Most of us know what we believe and most of us know what we do, but how many of us know who our churches are? We have 46,000-plus churches. What are those churches like? If you imagine that the typical Southern Baptist church is a large church with extensive ministries, you would be incorrect. One of the most amazing truths about Southern Baptists is that we are a convention of smaller churches who work together to fund and operate large, extensive ministries on a state, national and global scale.
 
For instance, approximately 90 percent of all Southern Baptist churches have 250 people or less attending worship on any given Sunday. Nearly 70 percent of all our cooperating churches have 100 or fewer in attendance each week. Less than 2 percent have more than 1,000 people present for Sunday worship. Clearly the Southern Baptist Convention is composed of far more smaller churches than larger churches.
 
There are many important implications flowing from this truth about Southern Baptist churches. Many of our pastors are bivocational pastors.
 
They have both a secular career and a church ministry, often because the church they serve cannot afford to pay a full-time salary. If students are serving a church during seminary, it is nearly always a small church. When students go to serve a church after seminary, that church is often a smaller church, not a large or megachurch. When we start new churches, they typically begin as small churches.
 
Research indicates churches with less than 1,000 people present on a Sunday morning give a higher percentage of their budget to the Cooperative Program than churches with more than 1,000 people. In other words, smaller churches are the backbone of the Southern Baptist Convention.
 
These churches are the source of our ministers, our missionaries and much of our funding for the Cooperative Program.
 
Small is the new big. Our future will be determined by how well we nurture our small churches and enhance their fruitfulness.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Kelley is president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, La.)

2/9/2015 11:41:39 AM by Chuck Kelley, Guest Column | with 0 comments



Are you lying?

February 6 2015 by Trillia Newbell

I don’t think of myself as a liar. I would say that I’m a truth-teller, honest, forthright, and even often blunt. I think I can be honest to a fault, actually. And then I realized I’m not as honest as I think I am. There are ways that I have been tempted to lie and hide, not even realizing that I’m doing it. I began to think about how God views our “little white lies.” But before I get into the solution, I thought I’d highlight areas where I see or have heard lies.
 
Common lies.
 

I’m fine

I lived in Albany, N.Y. for a season. It was a wonderful adventure, mostly because this southern girl finally got to experience a real winter. There was one conversation, however, that I’ll never forget. During an elevator ride, I was waiting to go to the next floor when the doors opened and a lady carrying some paper walked in. I asked the courteous question: “Hi, how are you?” Her response surprised me. She was having an awful day and she told me so. It took me by surprise. I expected the obligatory answer, “I’m fine,” but she was honest. I chalked it up as a difference between southerners and northerners, but it’s never left me. I don’t think we need to go around sharing all our woes but I do think our answers deserve thought. Otherwise, we are lying almost every day.
 

How are you?

Now what was most disheartening about my elevator incident wasn’t that I realized how often I say “I’m fine,” but that as she answered I realized I didn’t actually care. Perhaps it was my age. I was young and simply moving from one thing to the next. But really the problem was within my heart. I didn’t truly love her and my question wasn’t sincere. So, perhaps another way we can lie is by asking questions to appear caring or loving and yet not having a heart that follows it. If you’re going to ask the question, desire to know the real answer.
 

I’ll pray for you

This is such a common lie. No you won’t … unless you do. Don’t throw around the phrase unless you intend to pray. One way I’ve combated this lie in my own life is by praying immediately. I’ve also had a prayer sheet, but often the best way is to pray for that person as they’ve requested it.

 
Hyper (or maybe hyped-up) spirituality

Bottom line – don’t be someone you aren’t and don’t feel pressure to be a super-Christian if you are struggling. This is one dangerous. If we can’t be weak then we’re in trouble. Find a friend or pastor and be honest about your struggles. Here’s some encouragement, we are all weak. There isn’t one of us who can be sustained in our own strength. And if you’ve presented yourself as something you are not, ask God to help you.
 

Slandering

A few years ago, I was convicted of publicly joining in on a Facebook post that slammed someone. I realized that my “like” and laughter were slander. It was subtle but it was most definitely slanderous and I was ashamed. Slander is one of those hard things to identify but easy to do. Slander is the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual person. The tricky part of slander is we often think that what we are saying is actually true. What makes slander insidious (besides the lie) is that it is often done while also pretending to care or like someone. This topic really deserves its own post, which I hope to do one day, but here are two ways we can hide slander: (1) by sharing our troubles with a friend or spouse and (2) through prayer requests (yep).
 
And then there’s social media. 
 

Fake pictures

Social media makes it easy to present oneself one way and live another. I’m thankful to have real friends who know me and would know if I were faking it. Accountability is a blessing in this social-media world. But I think with all the pictures there’s simply a temptation to lie. If you are always presenting life as sunshine and lilies, there’s probably an instance when you’ve lied. Now, don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying we need to expose our children’s errors online nor do we need to be gloomy constantly, I’m simply challenging us to think about what we are presenting and ask, is this true?

 
Everything is awesome

I posted a tweet about a really tough morning and a time when my husband corrected me. Later that month, a new friend and leader thanked me for my transparency because in his view, “leaders don’t often share vulnerability.” I was surprised, to be honest. Could it be possible that people who serve publicly feel a pressure to be perfect? Could it be possible to forget that we are all so very normal?  This goes hand-in-hand with the fake pictures and social media. We are in no way obligated to share anything – ever. But if we do share often, perhaps we should ask if we are being honest about our life.
 

Everything stinks

I’ve also seen an onslaught of pictures and posts that take it to the opposite extreme. In an attempt to move against the culture of “everything is awesome,” people post about their misery or their dirty kitchen or their crying kids. I get it. But, that’s not always the reality of life either and you, too, could be lying in an attempt to “being real.” If there’s evidence of God’s grace and goodness in your life, you don’t have to pretend that there isn’t and then name it “being authentic.” Be who you are and ask whether it is simply being honest.
 
This only scratches the surface. There are probably numerous ways we can be tempted. So, I’d like to ask you, where are you tempted to lie? How might you exercise honesty?
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Trillia Newbell is the author of United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity (Moody Publishers, March 2014). She is also the Women’s Initiatives consultant for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention; the lead editor of Karis, the women’s channel for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; and she writes at trillianewbell.com.)

2/6/2015 2:00:03 PM by Trillia Newbell | with 0 comments



Six truths to encourage you during pastoral transition

February 5 2015 by Ben Simpson, 9Marks

Somewhere right now a church is losing its lead pastor. For whatever reason, this man is leaving, the church has moved into a time of transition, and the members feel like they’ve had the wind knocked out of them.
 
He has loved them, fed them, and protected them. He has doctored their wounds and rejoiced when they rejoiced. But now this man is moving away, and sadness and discouragement well up.
 
If your church is in this scenario, I simply want to hearten you with six biblical truths.
 
1. God will be with this church at all times.
 
You are not forsaken. God is with your congregation. “I will never leave your or forsake you,” (Hebrews 13:5). Pastors will come and go. Only God will never leave us. And the presence of God is more vital to the life of the church.
 
2. God is in control.
 
God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). Do you believe that? This pastoral transition is not happening outside of the will of God. God is working this according to the counsel of his will. So the question is not, “Who is in control?” God is in control. The question is, “Will you rest in him by trusting him?”
 
3. God plans good out of this transition.
 
It might not feel good right now, but God has promised that he works all things together for the good of his people (Romans 8:28). Is your church part of his people? If so, this transition is included in “all things”? Therefore, you can rest assured that good will come from it. That’s how awesome God is: even those things that don’t feel good are used for good. It might not be the good you have in mind, but it is good. Therefore, walk forward in faith.
 
4. It’s okay to weep.
 
While good will come out this pastoral transition, that doesn’t remove the deep sadness. Losing your pastor hurts. I’m reminded of how the Ephesian elders wept at Paul’s goodbye: “And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship” (Acts 20:36-38).
 
I believe the Ephesians knew that God would be with them, that he was in control, and that he was going to bring good out of this transition. Nevertheless, they wept. And it’s okay to weep. It’s actually a way of saying thank you to both God and your pastor.
 
5. Ministry must go on.
 
Notice what the Great Commission does not say, “Go therefore and make disciples … if you have a pastor.”
 
One church that I used to work with lost their pastor. When I’d call their lay leaders about a ministry opportunity, their answer was always, “Well, you see, we just don’t have a pastor right now.” They had forgotten that ministry must continue in the interim. The Great Commission doesn’t include any conditionals.
 
Does ministry become a bit harder without a pastor leading? Probably so, but if he was a good pastor, he will have obeyed Ephesians 4:11-12 by equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. In the interim, you and the lay leadership of the church must make sure ministry continues. Get to work!
 
6. The church must not scatter.
 
Jesus promised the flock would scatter at his crucifixion (Matthew 26:31). For a season, that’s exactly what happened. The same often happens in churches during pastoral transition. Because “their” pastor is no longer there or ministry begins to lag, folks trickle out. Some reasons for going might be legitimate, but this may also be the time in which the congregation should most strongly gather together for support and encouragement.
 
Recognize the temptation to scatter and work more diligently to stay bound together in unity and love. This will be a season of testing for you. I know you didn’t ask for it, but with God’s help, you’ll endure it.
 
For churches currently in this situation: May the interim bring blessings you never expected, and I pray that God provides a new pastor for your church soon.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article originally appeared at 9marks.org. Ben Simpson is a pastor of Eastwood Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. You can find him on Twitter at @JBenSimpson.)

2/5/2015 11:10:48 AM by Ben Simpson, 9Marks | with 0 comments



The singles multitude

February 4 2015 by Diana Davis, Baptist Press

A stunning fact you may not know: According to U.S. Census data, more than one-fourth of all adults have never been married (27 percent). Another six percent are widowed and 12 percent divorced or separated.
 
Most churches minister well to adults who are married. But, do we also acknowledge the great value and importance of that “invisible” multitude of unmarried adults?
 
In interviewing several unmarried Christian friends, I discovered 10 tips for loving and ministering to single adults who are members or guests at church.
 
1) See each single adult as a valued individual, ready to meet God and serve Him, with or without a boyfriend or girlfriend, fiancé, spouse or three kids in tow.
 
2) Train greeters at church. Comments such as “Are you here alone?” or “Is it just you?” may give the implication that he or she is incomplete.
 
3) Acknowledge single adults as full-fledged members, not just as sideline people. Plug them into leadership and ministry roles to fit their spiritual gifts. Encourage them to serve on important church committees, projects and men or women’s ministry teams.
 
4) Involve singles in small groups. Many singles enjoy a small group with similar marital status and life stage. Most singles I interviewed, however, are involved in a small group of both married and unmarried. Offer choices.
 
5) Encourage them to make the most of their singleness. Recognize the extra gifts they may bring to the church, such as more freedom to serve and travel, and sometimes more financial freedom, etc.
 
6) Unless he or she personally requests it, don’t set them up with your cousin or recommend online dating services. Avoid communicating, “It’s God’s will that you find a mate.” That’s not necessarily true.
 
In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul taught that singleness is a gift. Most singles aren’t coming to church to find a mate. They’re here to worship, to serve, to support.
 
7) Intentionally encourage single adults to participate in church events and ministries, such as Vacation Bible School and church dinners. Include them in your church traditions. For example, invite singles to light an advent candle.
 
8) A church may provide some quality, uniquely single events targeted to specific life circumstances. Examples: a single parents Bible study, singles mission trip, young singles retreat, single adult outreach event, mature singles’ Christmas project.
 
9) Connect with single adults personally as a friend. Encourage them. Invite them to dinner or dessert. True fellowship often happens across the dinner table.
 
10) Be constantly aware of single adults all around you at work, in the grocery line, at the ball game, in your neighborhood. Invite them to your church.
 
As an individual member and as a church, how are you doing at reaching and including adults who are unmarried? See them. Pray for them. Love them wholeheartedly. God does.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Davis, on the Web at www.dianadavis.org and Twitter @dianadavisideas, is an author, columnist and ministry wife in Pensacola, Fla.)

2/4/2015 11:26:42 AM by Diana Davis, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



My fear of living, and the hope of today

February 3 2015 by Chuck Lawless, SEBTS Professor of missions and evangelism

I remember it well, though it’s been more than 40 years since I first heard the gospel. The 12-year-old who shared Christ with me presented the gospel this way: he met me at the seventh-grade classroom door and said, “It’s a good thing you lived through the night . . . because if you hadn’t, you’d be in hell right now.” His approach seriously lacked tact, but truth he did not lack. I was destined for hell apart from the gracious move of God in my life.
 
Needless to say, you don’t sleep well when you hear the gospel in that manner. Every night, I tossed, so frightened about not waking up that I could not easily close my eyes. That pattern continued for more than eight months before I became a follower of Christ at age 13. Only then did I genuinely sleep again, and never since then has death been a fear.
 
That doesn’t mean I sleep well now, though. I still toss and turn like before, but fear of death is not what keeps me awake. No, my fear this time is life. Dying does not scare me, but living does.
 
I fear, for example, I am living well – teaching at a seminary, preaching regularly, leading conferences, traveling – without really caring that my neighbors are often living for nothing that amounts to anything eternal.
 
I am afraid my wife and I are so ingrained in our way of life that we would battle hard against God if He changed our plans. What would we do if God required of us what He demanded of Abraham – to leave all behind and seek His city (Genesis 12:1-3)?
 
I am concerned I’m so busy that I sometimes miss people who are hungry, hurting, homeless, and helpless. Yet, their needs are real, and Jesus’ expectation that we minister to them remains (Matthew 25: 31-46).
 
I am also afraid I sometimes work more for my glory than for God’s. I make no claim to be famous, but I would be lying to say my ego isn’t stroked when I see my name on a book cover or a conference brochure.
 
Having no children, I fear I will live my life “successfully,” but leave behind no next generation to carry on the work of the gospel. I know that little matters if the mark I leave is as fleeting as life itself, but the time needed to invest heavily in others seems so limited.
 
I read of almost two billion people who have little or no access to the gospel, and I worry my American lifestyle weakens my efforts to get the gospel to the ends of the earth. I am terrified that I can live so easily without grieving over thousands of unreached people groups around the world.
 
In fact, I fear that somewhere in the world is a non-believer seeking truth in the wrong place, a new believer longing for a mentor, or an entire congregation pleading with God to send them training – and I will be so occupied doing other “good things” that I miss the opportunities. The door is open, and I will have missed it.
 
No, it is not death that scares me. What scares me is the possibility of coming to the end of life, looking back, and seeing little but wood, hay, and stubble to be burned in the fire (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). It’s living in such a way that I could not face my own mortality with the confidence of Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
 
A dying world demands that we be willing to put our lives on the line to get the gospel to them. That kind of radical obedience likely means changing the way we live at some level – and that’s frightening.
 
At the same time, though, this truth I know: God has given me this day to serve Him with all of my being. What I do right now will determine whether my life will have made a difference when the Lord calls me home. Present-tense radical obedience must trump my future-tense fears – and in that hope I press on today.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Lawless is Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

2/3/2015 12:35:09 PM by Chuck Lawless, SEBTS Professor of missions and evangelism | with 0 comments



Equipping Baptist pastors, missionaries and scholars

February 2 2015 by Ronnie Floyd, SBC President

Over 18,000 students are currently enrolled in our six Southern Baptist seminaries. This is the largest number of pastors, missionaries and scholars we have ever equipped at one time and is a great praise to our God.
 

Conservative Theology Works

Due to the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) by courageous men and women of God, our six seminaries are now anchored in a deep belief in the infallibility and inerrancy of holy scripture. Our Southern Baptist Convention rose to the occasion to declare to the world, “We believe in the Bible!”    
 
In our Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BFM 2000), our convention of churches declared boldly:
 
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
 
The presidents of our six seminaries, their administrations and faculties adhere to these words unashamedly and courageously.
 
While the world is veering away from a deep belief in God’s Word, we stand upon it with our very lives. Reading through our BFM 2000 statement on the scriptures reminded me that our churches should utilize this resource to keep before our people what we believe and who we are as Southern Baptists.
 
Never again do we need to fall away from a deep, abiding belief in the infallibility and inerrancy of the holy scripture in our churches, seminaries and colleges. While some may believe that we limit ourselves due to our beliefs, the reality is our six Southern Baptist seminaries are educating more seminary students than ever before in our history. Yes, conservative theology works!
 

I Love Our Seminaries and Their Leaders

While I am a two-time graduate of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, I want you to know that I love all of our seminaries, their leaders and the value they bring to our entire convention of churches and our future together.
 
Last fall, I was on five of our six seminary campuses. Before the spring semester concludes, I will have been on all six of our campuses. It does not matter which of the six campuses I am on, I feel I am among family and friends. I love our seminaries and their leaders! Nothing excites me more than investing in the next generation of pastors, missionaries and scholars.
 
Our six presidents are men who are deeply passionate about their calling, their work, the seminary they lead and the value that our seminaries bring to Southern Baptists and beyond. I want to urge you to pray for them and encourage them when you can. The value they bring along with their teams who minister alongside them is great not only for today, but for the future of our churches and even into eternity.
 
For those who may not know the formal names and locations of our six seminaries and the year they were formulated, the following is from sbc.net:

  • The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky (1859)

  • The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (1908)

  • New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana (1917)

  • Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, California (1944)

  • The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina (1951)

  • Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri (1957)

Through these ministries, we are educating 18,000 seminary students who will become pastors, missionaries and scholars.
 

Our Cooperation Leads the Way in Equipping the Next Generation

Did you know that your church’s financial support through the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention helps educate these 18,000 students? Any church that has a passion to see our future pastors, missionaries and scholars equipped in the Word of God to reach the world for Christ needs to do all they can to increase their generosity through the Cooperative Program.
 
Do you realize that 22.16% of the monies that comes through our Cooperative Program nationally goes toward our theological educational ministries? Yes, you and your church play a huge part and can play an even bigger role in educating and equipping our next generation of pastors, missionaries and scholars.
 
A decade from now, whether a pastor is leading a church in Brooklyn, New York, Portland, Oregon, Phoenix, Arizona, New Orleans, Louisiana, Cherokee, Texas, Ogden, Utah, or Westerville, Ohio, you and your church have invested in his future and advancement of the gospel globally.
 
A decade from now, whether one of our missionaries is serving on the field in China, India, Jordan, Brazil, Spain or Nepal, you and your church have invested in their future and in the advancement of the gospel globally.
 
A decade from now, whether one of our scholars is equipping the next generation at one of our six seminaries or in one of our Baptist universities related to your state convention, you and your church have invested in their future and the advancement of the gospel.
 

A Final Word of Testimony

I am so grateful for the equipping I received at one of our seminaries. To this day, it impacts my life. Thank you, Southern Baptists, for making it possible. Every soul reached in the ministry entrusted to me, every mission field we have traveled to and invested in personally, every church we have planted globally and each time I stand to represent you nationally and internationally, it is because you invested in me personally and in my education.

2/2/2015 1:34:30 PM by Ronnie Floyd, SBC President | with 0 comments



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