February 2018

MOVIES: Samson, the first superhero

February 13 2018 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

“Samson,” a new film about an iconic Old Testament figure, reminds us that while man judges our deeds, God judges the heart.
The creators of “God’s Not Dead” (the leading faith film of 2014) are premiering the action-packed drama Samson in theaters nationwide Feb. 16. Starring Taylor James as Samson in a cast with Lindsay Wagner, Billy Zane, Rutger Hauer and Jackson Rathbone, the biblically themed tale contains a redemptive message that suggests our failures need not define our character.

“Most people know that Samson had long hair, Delilah cut it off, and that he lost his strength,” director Bruce Macdonald has said. “But there’s so much more. Samson was an unwilling hero, and his journey to regain his faith – the whole story – is relevant today.”
The story of Samson illustrates a champion chosen by God to deliver Israel from her tormentors, despite his failings. And the film reminds us that there is a time for peace, but also a time for war.
Using his God-given supernatural strength, Samson pits himself against the oppressive Philistine empire. Alas, the seduction of a beautiful temptress brings his downfall. Captured and blinded by his enemies, he is left to die, forgotten in a dungeon. But while Samson had made impulsive, often self-centered decisions, he ultimately realized that God was merciful and finally called out to Him, praying for one final victory.
“For anyone who ever wondered if they really could do what God called them to do, this film is for them,” said Pure Flix CEO Michael Scott.
As we learn from examples throughout the scriptures, God uses us, great and meek, in spite of our weaknesses and failings. Along with their accomplishments, the shortcomings of Abraham, Jacob, Jonah, Paul, Peter and, of course, Samson are recounted in the books of the Bible. What’s more, it is evident throughout God’s Word that the true greatness found in these men is their faith. Each eventually displayed a declarative trust that revealed their compliance to God’s will over their own.
Nowadays, a man’s past wrongdoings topple him no matter his accomplishments. Can you imagine how today’s social media would vivisect King David after learning he had seduced a married woman and had her husband killed so he could possess her? Would any of his victories stand up against his lust-charged crime?
The new Samson film, however, reminds us that our heavenly Father assesses more judiciously than man. Upon reflection of our relationship with the Creator, in both the Old and New Testaments it is apparent that God judges the intent of the heart.
Though missing the glamour and polish of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 “Samson and Delilah,” this new rendering features a lead actor who looks as if he could bench-press Conan the Barbarian. But moreover, the film caused me to consider: Will God reject my service to Him because I have been, and still am, a faulty man?
Thankfully, despite the occasional detour from my spiritual path, the film and steady scripture study remind me that I’m still one of His kids, loved and used for His glory. I believe the movie will help fellow worriers come to the same conclusion. After all, does a father turn his back on a repentant prodigal son? No. Nor does our heavenly Father. Chastisement and consequences – these cannot be escaped. But then, neither can our God’s merciful tenderness.
Samson was brought down by ego and an ill-placed passion for a deceitful woman. But the story does not end there. The warrior of the book of Judges saw the error of his ways, eventually asking for forgiveness and seeking redemption. In his physical blindness, he saw clearly the nature of his Creator.
I’d say that’s a potent cinematic message for all of us.
Produced by Pure Flix Entertainment and filmed on location in South Africa, Samson is rated PG-13 for violent imagery and some sensuality.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phil Boatwright is the author of MOVIES: The Good, the Bad, and the Really, Really Bad, available on Amazon.com.)

2/13/2018 9:24:02 AM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

South Korea’s missionary movement

February 12 2018 by Jae Kyeong Lee, Baptist Press

The message of the gospel first reached the Korean people in 1885 through the work of foreign missionaries. Less than 100 years later, 24 missionaries were officially sent out by the Korean churches in 1974. Their number grew exponentially, and 40 years after Korea sent out its first missionaries, 27,436 Korean missionaries from various denominations were serving in 170 countries.
This growth has caused Christians worldwide to marvel at how Korea so quickly went from a country void of the gospel to one of the biggest exporters of it. Although my country’s missions practice hasn’t been perfect, I think certain factors, by God’s grace, have helped Korean churches send so well.

IMB Photo


Persevering under persecution

Korea was under Japanese colonial rule until 1945, and Christian practice had been suppressed. Korean Baptist churches, in particular, were forcibly closed and their properties confiscated in 1944 because they refused to participate in Japanese shrine worship. This oppression diminished their numbers, but many remained faithful in the face of persecution.
By the time Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, there were around 350,000 Christians in Korea. The Christians who remained set out to share their faith and partnered with rooted Christian organizations, namely the Southern Baptist Convention. As a result, the church grew explosively, reaching 1.2 million Christians in 1965 and 10 million in 1985.

Prioritization of prayer, obedience

There is a Korean church tradition to go to the church at 5 a.m. to worship and pray before going to work. And it’s through those dawn prayers that God has called many Koreans into missionary service – a call which they often obey immediately.
Koreans are passionate people. If God leads, even if it seems irrational, they are willing to go without even knowing exactly where to go, as Abraham did. Korean missionaries believe God will take care of them, for it is He who has called and sent them.

Ban on overseas travel lifted

After successfully hosting the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the Korean government allowed Koreans to travel overseas freely. As long as they had no criminal record, any Korean could get a passport and go abroad at will.
This became a turning point, and from this time on, Korean missionaries expanded their engagement throughout the world.

God opened closed doors

Just as the Korean mission force was ramping up its efforts, God opened two mission fields to receive these ready missionaries. When Mikhail Gorbachev declared the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990, the door for missionary work opened wide to the countries in Central Asia that had become independent from the Soviet Union.
In God’s providence, there were already 500,000 ethnic Koreans who had been taken to various countries in Central Asia by Stalin in 1937. They made a good contact point for missionaries. These third-generation ethnic-Koreans were the people prepared by God through whom Korean missionaries could enjoy the revival of missionary work in the Islamic countries in Central Asia.
Two years later, Korea and China established diplomatic ties. But similar to the case in Central Asia, when Korean missionaries entered China, there were already 2.7 million ethnic Koreans ready to hear the gospel in the Korean language. Now we can see that God had been preparing the field long before Korean Christians felt called to go.

Churches emphasize short-term overseas service

Every year, Korean churches use the summer holiday season to take their congregations out of the country for vision trips, prayer walking and short-term service abroad. Young people who come back from these trips often commit to missionary service, and the church members begin to catch a vision for taking the gospel to the world.
Churches have taken initiative and encouraged their congregations to use vacation time not for personal pleasure, but for overseas mission service that is church centered and family oriented.

Ministers on the move

At one time, 50,000 churches had been planted in Korea with the country’s population hovering around 50 million. (For comparison, the Southern Baptist Convention has more than 47,000 churches in the U.S., which has a population of 373 million.) In addition, theological seminaries were producing 8,000 graduates each year.
There was a belief that the church had saturated the population. Eventually, job opportunities for ministers became limited. Naturally, it led many ministers to consider going abroad to preach the gospel to unengaged, unreached peoples rather than working in Korea. This served as momentum for more missionaries to go.

Sending churches own the task

A Korean proverb says, “A tiger dies and leaves his coat. A man dies and leaves his name.” This mentality is also applied in the local church. Some churches think if a church is healthy and strong, it has to send its own missionaries to the field so as to leave a missions mark on the world. Therefore, many missionaries have been sent, almost like a competition, by Korean churches.
Churches that have sent missionaries take pride in their sending, while churches that have not been able to send are perhaps ashamed that they’ve not been able to afford to send anyone. Furthermore, the sending church and the missionary have strong relational ties. Whenever the missionary is in need of help, it is the sending church that actively takes responsibility for the need rather than a sending organization.

Baby Boomers become “silver” missionaries

Finally, Koreans regularly send “silver” missionaries onto the mission field after they retire from their jobs. Korean baby boomers – born between 1955 and 1963 – make up nearly 15 percent of Korea’s total population of 71 million people. Every year, about 1 million people retire. Among them are many faithful Christians, and many of them want to live a second life after retirement by serving as missionaries.
By God’s plan and providence, the Korean church has been able to engage vigorously in mission work during the past 30 years. As a result, God has used Korea’s story of overcoming various hardships – severe poverty, lack of natural resources, dictatorship, civil war, national bankruptcy – to spur missions activity among Christians worldwide.
Our story is still fairly new, and it is likely we have many lessons to learn as we encounter secularization in our country and threats from others. But I am confident that God will continue to accomplish great things through the Korean church as we fix our eyes on Him.
For more information, go to imb.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jae Kyeong Lee is the president of the Foreign Baptist Mission Board, FMB, of the Korea Baptist Convention. He has been actively involved in missions since 1987 when he and his family moved to Fiji for mission work. He earned a doctor of ministry from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, started his work with FMB in 2000 as general secretary, and was appointed president in 2005. He lives in Seoul, Korea.)

2/12/2018 9:48:34 AM by Jae Kyeong Lee, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Character always matters

February 9 2018 by Jeff Iorg, Baptist Press

It seems like there is a new revelation or accusation about immoral conduct by a politician, media or entertainment leader almost every day. Among the many questions raised by all this is, “Does character count anymore in choosing a leader?”

Jeff Iorg

For many people, the answer is no. Their emphasis in leadership selection is on other issues – creative talent, engaging personality, business acumen and political expediency. They want someone who can “do the job,” which can be a short-term, selfish perspective.
The better answer is yes. Leadership selection in the church and in other realms of life should involve all the qualities listed above – after all, leaders by definition are pacesetters who must be able to do the job. But great leaders are also people who demonstrate strength of character. They are self-restrained people who make decisions for the common good. They treat other people with respect – both their followers and detractors. They are not perfect, but neither are they reckless in personal behavior. They have an internal compass set to true north, objective truth impervious to polling.
Why is this important? Because leaders deal with unprecedented situations for which there is no blueprint for solutions. When those decisions must be made, leaders (like every other person) revert to their basic convictions, guiding principles and core values for guidance. That’s why character matters. When the pressure mounts, what is squeezed out counts.
A good follow-up question is, “How much character?” In other words, how do we find leaders who demonstrate moral virtue while acknowledging that no one is perfect, that leaders make mistakes, and that some very flawed people have done some very remarkable things.
A good starting point is the unholy trinity of issues that are the most serious and most common tests of character – money, sex and power. Leaders must demonstrate self-control in these areas. Without it, a downfall is inevitable. That does not mean a misstep in these areas completely disqualifies them from leadership, but it will at least diminish their impact or taint their legacy. These temptations are so pervasive, wise leaders take extra precautions to protect themselves and ensure accountability regarding them.
Another significant issue is how a leader handles mistakes – which are inevitable. When a leader takes full responsibility for his/her mistakes, accepts the consequences (legal, financial or relational), really apologizes for their actions and makes restitution when required – recovery of leadership stature is possible. For sure, some mistakes and their consequences are so egregious that trust is forfeited and leadership roles are permanently lost. But those situations are rare. American history is replete with political, religious and corporate leaders who bounced back from serious mistakes and made significant leadership contributions.
Finally, the archaic-sounding quality of humility is another significant issue when considering the character of a leader. True leaders hold their position as a stewardship – not an entitlement. Humble leaders recognize their gifts and opportunities as blessings and privileges – increasing their burden for the well-being of others, not proving they are better than others. It’s easier to forgive a humble leader than an arrogant one.
Character counts, now more than ever in leadership. As Christian leaders, let’s set the pace in modeling the character required for leadership in today’s convoluted world.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Iorg is president of Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention and author of The Character of Leadership: Nine Qualities that Define Great Leaders.)

2/9/2018 10:18:32 AM by Jeff Iorg, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Must we choose preferences?

February 8 2018 by John Yeats, The Pathway

I was reading my half-folded Wall Street Journal. I got to the fold and subconsciously realized my index finger was attempting to scroll the rest of the article up the page. I suppose I am caught in a time warp, preferring to smell ink and read hard copy and at the same time live in an age of digital communications.
I can hear a purist for print and/or digital attempting to say, “Choose between the two.” I say not so fast. There is room for both. No need to create a hardline subculture for digital- and another for hard-copy enthusiasts. I can operate in the world of digital communications and still read books, newspapers and letters.

John Yeats

Just because someone prefers one or the other does not mean I have to choose between the two.
A recent Wall Street Journal article, “What Is the Perfect Age?” (Jan. 16, 2018), focused on researchers exploring certain preferences by certain age groups, and what is the “best” age to be alive.
One person wanted to be “in his 30s for 100 years,” saying he had yet to fall in love and establish a career. Researchers found that many people in their 50s don’t want to be 30. Seventy-year-olds are some of the most satisfied because they are the most “time affluent,” though no age group wants to look old. According to the research, the best time to make a financial decision is 50, while the best time to get a cellphone is 12. Best time to body build: 25.
As you can quickly ascertain, asking people to make a choice for the “best” age is ripe for forming divisions based on chronological age. Yet it is Jesus who teaches His followers to “Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34 CSB).
It is part of our human nature (one of the worst parts) for us to take our preferences and canonize them. Then we think, and too often verbalize, that if you are not also embracing my preferences, then shame on you!
Why are we always picking and choosing people based on our personal list of preferences? Doesn’t it sound rather juvenile to think, “I don’t like you because you don’t measure up to my preferences, or you aren’t the right age, or you don’t like to do the things I like to do”?
From a biblical perspective, let’s face the reality that we are all broken vessels and we all must come to God the same way: through the Lord Jesus. If we are to be His disciples, we must take our preferences to the altar and lay them down. We must live in the power of the Holy Spirit and with a perspective of truth based on the principles revealed in the Word of God.
Sounds simple. Yet it’s difficult because our preferences are often deeply ingrained within us from our childhood, where broken parents are attempting to train broken children in wisdom with God and man. However, part of our learning to be a disciple includes surrendering every area of our lives to the lordship of Christ, including our preferences.
Too often in our churches we place someone’s preferences over another. Such divisions have tragic spiritual and practical consequences. At a recent conference breakout, the leader made the statement that for years Baptists had a church planting strategy – church splits. And sadly, the split typically does not involve a biblical issue.
Most often the conflict rises from someone’s preferences clashing with another person’s preferences. The conflict takes such a toll on those involved that they are more focused on winners and losers than those who are lost and in desperate need of the Savior.
Furthermore, to make healthy progress in reaching a community with the gospel, it would be good for leaders in churches that have experienced a split to rediscover reconciliation. Imagine the power of conversations where surrendered preferences, forgiveness and reconciliation are the topics of the day.
The outcome of such conversations does not necessarily mean the churches merge back together, but that is not beyond possibility. It does mean that the people of God can rekindle the vision of God to reach people with the love of God demonstrated through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Yeats is executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention and recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared at The Pathway, mbcpathway.com, news journal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)

2/8/2018 9:29:49 AM by John Yeats, The Pathway | with 0 comments

How churchgoing builds community

February 7 2018 by John Stonestreet, Guest Column

The long-term decline in church attendance should trouble even those who are not personally religious. At this point, the benefits of regular church attendance (or any other kind of religious observance), both societal and personal, are virtually impossible to dispute.
For starters, it can literally add years to your life – two to three, to be exact. Though no one knows exactly why this is the case, it is well documented. At least part of the reason is that it promotes healthier lifestyles.

On average, regular churchgoers drink, smoke and use recreational drugs less than non-churchgoers do. They are also less likely to engage in sexual promiscuity.
That is what churchgoers don’t do. As important, if not more important, is what they do. A few years ago, Stanford anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann, the author of When God Talks Back, told a story about a Bible study she attended while researching evangelicals (specifically, members of Vineyard churches).
When a member of the study tearfully told the group that she lacked $1,500 for a necessary dental procedure, Luhrmann was amazed that the group paid for the procedure anonymously.
Luhrmann may have been amazed, but I suspect that regular churchgoers are not.
One of the characteristics of regular churchgoing is that it increases social ties and strengthens already existing ones. In other words, churchgoing creates communities that become the means by which people take care of another, as happened in the Bible study described by Luhrmann.
Then there is the effect of churchgoing on children.
In his book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, sociologist Robert Putnam writes, “Compared to their unchurched peers, youth who are involved in a religious organization take tougher courses, get higher grades and test scores and are less likely to drop out of high school.”
They also “have better relations with their parents and other adults, have more friendships with high-performing peers, are more involved in sports and other extracurricular activities.” In fact, family churchgoing is so beneficial to academic performance that “a child whose parents attend church regularly is 40 to 50 percent more likely to go on to college than a matched child of nonattenders.”
Moreover, this is true regardless of socioeconomic status. The problem is that regular church attendance is increasingly tied to socioeconomic status. According to Putnam, while “weekly church attendance” among college-educated families since the late 1970s has remained more or less the same, it has dropped by almost a third among those with a high school diploma or less.
The result is “a substantial class gap that did not exist” 50 years ago. It is yet another way that poorer children are falling behind their more affluent counterparts.
Churchgoing benefits those outside of the church as well. A recent study by Brian and Melissa Grim of Georgetown University and the Newseum Institute, respectively, found that the “value of the services provided by religious organizations and the impact religion has on a number of important American businesses” totals $1.2 trillion, roughly equivalent to the gross domestic product of Australia.
Thus, regular church attendance and religious observance are good both for individuals and for society as a whole. Unfortunately, this suggests that the opposite is also true: Fewer people going to church is not good news either for individuals or for their communities.
In a sad irony, this decline is most visible in vulnerable communities of the sort described by Charles Murray in his 2012 book Coming Apart. In the poorer, less-educated communities that he calls “Fishtown,” what Murray calls the “religiously disengaged” have become the majority. While the label “religiously disengaged” does not mean that they are not morally upright – many of them are – it does mean that as a group, they do not generate the same level of social capital (i.e., social relationships that produce benefits) that the churchgoing population generates.
Thus, whether they realize it or not, those who are vulnerable and whose personal “margin for error” is already very thin are making their already precarious situation even more precarious by not attending church.
If the goal of a good society is to produce people who can take advantage of opportunities for personal and familial advancement, then the decline in church attendance, which, as Murray notes, is most concentrated in poorer communities, will only make things worse.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and co-host of BreakPoint, a daily national commentary on faith and culture. This article first appeared in The Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of Culture and Opportunity. Used by permission.)


2/7/2018 8:59:58 AM by John Stonestreet, Guest Column | with 0 comments

What they won’t tell you about DACA

February 5 2018 by Alan Cross

DACA has been in the news a lot lately. On Sept. 5, 2017, President Donald Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that President Barack Obama initiated through executive action in 2012 and gave the program six months to sunset. DACA gave approximately 800,000 young immigrants, often called “Dreamers,” who were brought here illegally the opportunity to have work authorization, go to school and have a few other protections.
DACA did not provide legal status. It simply protected them from deportation and allowed them to work legally. To receive DACA, they had to pass background checks, meet other qualifications and renew every two years.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an undocumented immigrant may request consideration for DACA if they:

  1. Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
  2. Came to the U.S. before reaching their 16th birthday;
  3. Have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
  4. Were physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, and at the time of requesting consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
  5. Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012, meaning that: they never had a lawful immigration status on or before June 15, 2012, or any lawful immigration status or parole obtained prior to June 15, 2012, had expired as of June 15, 2012;
  6. Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a General Educational Development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
  7. Have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

But, DACA was ended last September and on March 5, the six month grace period that President Trump gave for Congress to work out a permanent solution will expire.
When that happens, approximately 1,700 young immigrant Dreamers will lose their status each day and will be subject to deportation like all other undocumented immigrants.  
President Trump has declared it is the job of Congress to solve this issue and that is what is now being debated.
With polls showing over 80 percent of Americans favoring an earned pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to America as children, there is a good amount of pressure on President Trump and Congress to come to an agreement.
Evangelical leaders have been very clear about the need to protect Dreamers from deportation by providing them legalization.
A recent statement prepared by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and signed by many evangelical pastors and leaders states, among other things:
“We believe it is unjust to punish children for offenses they did not commit. We recognize that Dreamers are a special category of immigrants because they broke no law and committed no offense.
“How we treat this category of immigrants is therefore not just a policy or political issue – it is a moral issue.
“Subjecting Dreamers to deportation or lives of perpetual insecurity in the shadows of our communities is an offense to the rule of law and to the purpose of government, which is for the good of people.”

Is DACA amnesty?

There are differing views on what should be done with young immigrant Dreamers. Some have said that anything short of deporting them all would constitute “amnesty,” a violation of the “rule of law,” and an acquiescence to “open borders.”
In reality, an earned pathway to citizenship for Dreamers that would take 10-12 years is, by definition, not amnesty.
Amnesty is a pardon for crimes committed. Dreamers were brought here or sent here as children. They have grown up here and many do not even have a memory of their home country. Providing them an earned, legal pathway is not “amnesty.” It gives them a chance to earn a way to stay in the only country they have ever known. Congress legally changing the law to create this earned pathway does not violate the rule of law. It actually upholds it.

Are Dreamers criminals?

I know many Dreamers who were brought here from 6 months to 3 years old. They have been educated in American schools, speak English perfectly, are working or going to college, have American born, U.S. citizen children, and are contributing in every way, even paying taxes.
Many of the ones I know are Christians. They have no memory of their home country. They do not want to be lawbreakers, but rather, they want to be right with the law and go on to live a productive life in the only country they know.

Why should Christians care?

As a Christian, I believe that vulnerable people should be treated well.
Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
No matter what is decided by Congress before March 5, a permanent fix and earned pathway for citizenship for Dreamers should be included. I believe it is the right and moral thing to do.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Alan Cross is a Southern Baptist minister serving as a missional strategist for the Montgomery (Ala.) Baptist Association and speaks on behalf of immigrants and refugees throughout the Southeast.)

2/5/2018 3:17:19 PM by Alan Cross | with 0 comments

Two sisters

February 2 2018 by Curt Iles, Baptist Press

Two bad sisters named Katrina and Rita brought destruction and hard times to Louisiana in 2005. However, there’s a story worth telling about two sisters in Dry Creek where I grew up and how the hurricanes brought about forgiveness and reconciliation.
Both sisters grew up in the Dry Creek community of Beauregard Parish. I don’t know why or when they fell out with each other. They hadn’t spoken in years. One still lived in Dry Creek while the other was in Lake Charles. That distance of 55 miles might as well as have been 5,000.

Curt Iles

Their estrangement broke my heart because they were the granddaughters of one of my childhood godly mentors. He was a man of forgiveness and integrity who likely wouldn’t have allowed this feud to continue.
The week of Hurricane Rita, things began to change for the sisters. The Lake Charles area faced a mandatory evacuation order. Even though the storm would also strike Beauregard Parish, the Dry Creek sister planned to stay. So, she picked up the phone and called her long-estranged sister. “Where are you going for the storm?”
Silence on the other end of the phone. “I really don’t know. I just plan to head north and find a motel.”
The Dry Creek Sister was emphatic. “No, that’s not what you’re going to do. You and your family are coming to Dry Creek and stay with us.”
The Lake Charles sister didn’t argue. I wonder if she’d been hoping for this very call, and I wonder if the Dry Creek sister had been looking for a reason to reconnect. I sense that God had been doing a Holy Spirit softening of their hearts.
You will never understand Rita and our reactions to it if you ignore her bad older sister Katrina. The aftermath of Katrina affected everything about how southwest Louisiana readied for, and reacted to, Rita.
So, these sister hurricanes, forever linked together in the hearts and minds of Louisianans, brought about a reunion of two families, two sisters, two hearts.
The sisters spent the two weeks after Rita visiting, catching up on a decade’s worth of stories, laughter and even sorrow. Like a ripple effect from a strong wave, the sisters’ reconciliation spread among cousins, nephews and nieces who’d taken sides in the feud.
I’d like to have been there to have watched it unfold in the days when Dry Creek had no electricity and precious little water or food. I have a feeling that the joy of being together again nullified the hardship they faced.
The two sisters got me thinking about forgiveness, such as the exhortation of Ephesians 4:32 to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.
Forgiveness is a gift we give others and, in the meantime, we receive so much back. Forgiveness brings freedom, and freedom brings peace.
Now, forgiveness isn’t about forgetting. Rather, forgiveness is saying, “It just doesn’t matter.” It is the heart-thought that, if possible, is even better than forgetting.
Rita in 2005 resulted in a reconciliation that was beautiful and lasting – a relationship where two sisters said, “What happened in the past doesn’t matter now. Now is when you need me, and I will be here for you.”
As I think about the two sisters, it’s a good time to do inventory in my own life. Who is there out there that I need to pick up the phone and reconnect with?
I often visit those two sisters who are now buried side by side in Dry Creek Cemetery. To my knowledge, they maintained a close and sweet connection until their deaths.
Now, the dead can no longer speak physically, but if they could, they’d say, Do whatever it takes to make it right.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Curt Iles, a Dry Creek native, now writes from Alexandria, La. The author of 13 books, he can be reached at creekbank.net. For a feature about Iles’ three years of work in central Africa with the International Mission Board, click here.)

2/2/2018 12:20:19 PM by Curt Iles, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Let us pray

February 1 2018 by Waylon Bailey, Baptist Press

No one on earth has a precise formula for prayer. It is so much more than a formula or a recitation.
It is coming into the presence of the Holy God. It is seeking Him with all your heart.
We need to pray to know God. We need to be in the presence and under the leadership of the God of the universe. If God created us, He also knows what is best in our lives. We were created to know Him and to enjoy His presence. Prayer opens the door for that wonderful reality. Often when I pray, I don’t do much talking but simply seek to meet with God and understand His will for my life.

Waylon Bailey

We need to pray to learn what pleases God. This too will involve much listening and seeking to understand Him. Ask God to teach you His ways. He wants to guide us through life. Ask God to show you who He is and what He does. We need to pray to seek His wisdom, guidance and leadership. Scripture will help to open the door to knowing what pleases God.
We need to pray to call the names of people before our Father in heaven. God tells us to intercede on behalf of others. We need to pray for them – and we need the meaning and blessing that comes from our intercession.
Many other actions accompany prayer that is pleasing to God.
We certainly need to confess our sin and selfishness. We can never fully enter into God’s presence until we have dealt with those areas which keep us from His presence. Repentance is hard, but it is also sweet. As we confess, we are showing that we truly need and want God in our lives.
Adoration and praise are important in prayer. Most of the prayers of the Bible begin with adoration. For example, when Daniel prayed, he began by addressing his prayer to “the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (Daniel 9:4). I like to begin my prayers by praying Psalm 8, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!” And we should praise God for His goodness. You will find this kind of prayer throughout the Psalms.
We often need to pray because we are desperate for God. Hannah, Samuel’s mother, cried out in anguish and grief to the Lord. She poured out for soul to God (1 Samuel 1:15-16). How many times have we desperately needed God? How many times have we needed to pour out our soul before the God who loves us?
Set a special time and place for prayer. Doing this helps you to remember to pray. It helps you do what you want to do in meeting with God.
You may be beginning to pray or you may be beginning again. Good for you. Don’t be afraid to get started even if you are unsure.
We need to pray because prayer matters to God. It is imperative that we obey Him. Remember the wonderful promise of Jeremiah 29:13: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” We need to pray because the Lord is God and besides Him there is no other.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Waylon Bailey, online at waylonbailey.com, is pastor of First Baptist Church in Covington, La., and a former president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

2/1/2018 9:34:14 AM by Waylon Bailey, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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