January 2012

Time to give up on the GCR (part 2)

January 31 2012 by Chuck Lawless

RICHMOND, Va. – If you read my column yesterday, you know that I have decided to give up on the Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. In fact, I challenged all Southern Baptists to give up on the idea, as none of us can produce the resurgence we seek.

The bottom line is this: we face a real, evil, spiritual enemy who does not want us to experience a Great Commission resurgence, and victory will come only when we realize that the battle is God’s, not ours. He alone is the divine warrior when His people face an uncrossable sea (Exodus 14:13-14), a domineering giant (1 Samuel 17:1), or an invading enemy force (2 Chronicles 20:1-23). It is in His strength, His might, and His armor that we ever experience victory (Ephesians 6:10-11); His Spirit can accomplish what our might and power cannot (Zechariah 4:6).

Giving up, though, does not mean that we do nothing. It means we passionately, corporately seek the only one who can bring about the resurgence. Consider these practical ways to lead your church to give up and turn to God. First, preach a sermon series on “impossibility passages” to illustrate our great need for God’s help. Apart from His presence, we cannot love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), forgive those who sin against us (Ephesians 4:32), give thanks in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18), love our wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25), or make disciples of all people groups of the world (Matthew 28:18-20). From the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3) to the worship of the nations in heaven (Revelation 7:9-10), the Bible calls God’s people to do what we cannot do in our own power: follow God with all of our being. Preach that Word – and let the challenges in that Word drive your church to prayer.

Second, study great awakenings in the Scriptures and in American history, and use those stories to illustrate what God does when broken people seek Him. Teach about God’s work in the First Great Awakening in response to the prayers of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. Speak of five Williams College students whose prayer beneath a haystack contributed to America’s Second Great Awakening. Tell the story of Jacob Lamphier, the man God used to ignite the Prayer Revival of 1857-58. Help your church see what God has often done through just a few believers who prayerfully want Him to work.

Third, ask God to raise up a group of church members who long for renewal in your church – and who understand that renewal will come only through prayer. Meet weekly with them to pray for a Great Commission resurgence in your congregation. Be willing to start small, knowing that a few faithful, obedient prayer warriors can accomplish much. Lead them to repent of any known sin. Study passages on the power of prayer. Fast together. Patiently and persistently, ask God to touch your congregation in a way that cannot be explained apart from his power. Pray, and then pray some more.

Fourth, partner with other congregations to pray corporately for one another. God alone knows what miracles He might work if every Southern Baptist church were praying for a resurgence in two or three other churches. Build that prayer time into your church’s Sunday morning service. Pray for the churches by name. Occasionally use technology to join the other congregations live as you pray for each other. In God’s economy, two needy, weak churches that admit their need and look to Him together are more potent than the “strong” church that seeks Him little. Indeed, it will likely be a church that is desperate for God that will be the center of any Great Commission resurgence.

In 1981, I became the pastor of a small church in southwestern Ohio. I had little formal education and no pastoral experience. I had never baptized a person, officiated a wedding, or led a funeral. What I did have, though, was a church family that knew how to pray. I think of Sonney and Christie, Paul and Edna, and others – all who understood that God alone could grow their church. They knew their little group of 19 people was powerless without Him. In fact, I am convinced they trusted me as a 20-year old pastor simply because they knew that Great Commission growth was not dependent on me in the first place.

God so stirred that little congregation to evangelize that we grieved on the few Sundays when no new believer professed faith in Christ. More than 30 years later, I long for those days when we simply expected God to move among us. I long for more Southern Baptists who give up . . . and pray.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Lawless is the International Mission Board’s vice president of global theological advance.)

Related story
Time to give up on the GCR (part 1)
1/31/2012 1:47:11 PM by Chuck Lawless | with 0 comments

Is there room for churches in marriage debate? Yes!

January 30 2012 by Brian K. Davis, BSC executive leader for administration and convention Relations

Much interest surrounds the upcoming vote on the proposed amendment to the Constitution of North Carolina defining marriage. The vote on May 8, 2012, will focus on adding the following 22 words to the state’s governing document:
“Marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.”
The churches comprising the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) are filled with individuals who are citizens of this state. As citizens, these individuals are free to engage in a process to support the passage, or the defeat, of this amendment. But what about the churches themselves – is there any place for the churches in the debate that is beginning to boil on this matter? The answer to that question is an emphatic “yes,” but requires a number of qualifications and explanations.
Churches are non-profit entities that qualify for tax exempt status under section 501 C. 3 of the Internal Revenue Code, and as such are prohibited from endorsing political candidates. And while not strictly prohibited, churches are greatly limited by the tax code in their efforts to influence legislation. The vote on the amendment before the citizens of North Carolina is viewed as legislation; therefore churches must understand that there are restrictions to the amount of time, effort, and resources that they may invest in such efforts. The problem is that the prohibition concerning political candidates is a “bright line” while the limitations concerning the influence of legislation is a “gray area.” While it is understandable that a significant investment of time, effort, and resources would be grounds for a potential challenge to a church’s tax exempt status, the ability to clearly identify what is to be understood as “substantial effort” is difficult at best. Churches are encouraged to consult their attorney or contact our offices for additional assistance as they consider these matters.
Two important issues
First, and most importantly, churches and the individuals who comprise them must recognize that two matters must be properly understood in this debate. The first is the question of the definition of marriage. For the church, the definition of marriage is significant. There is great biblical basis for the church to voice its position on the definition of marriage. It is my hope that pastors will preach and teach on the biblical expectations of marriage; however, I strongly discourage pastors from preaching and teaching on the marriage amendment. 
This leads to the second important issue in this debate: adding the definition of marriage in our state’s constitution. It is difficult to find a biblical basis that motivates the church to engage in this aspect of the debate. However, that point should not be construed as a discouragement to individuals within the church from expressing their position on this aspect of the debate outside the church. A distinction must be made between efforts of church members and efforts of the church as a corporate body on this matter. This statement deserves some additional explanation.
Mission of the church
The mission and purpose of the church, as a corporate body, is to glorify God and to fulfill the church’s divinely appointed mission. As Baptists, we hold very strongly to a doctrine of local church autonomy, meaning that each church is responsible to discern how God is leading them to uniquely fulfill their divinely appointed mission in their local community, across the nation, and around the world. While many Baptists hold to a clear doctrinal distinctive, we also defend the necessity to uniquely express those distinctions as the local body of believers senses God leading. 
With this said, individuals are free to vote and to encourage others to vote for specific issues in specific ways. Churches may encourage individuals to vote, but should not instruct individuals how to vote. Individuals may invest their time, efforts and resources in significant ways for the passage or defeat of legislation. However, churches may not invest their time, efforts and resources in significant ways for the passage or defeat of legislation.
Specifically, individual citizens of North Carolina who are also pastors and church leaders are free, separate from their positions in the local church, to invest their personal time, personal efforts and personal resources in the influence of legislation. However, pastors may neither leverage their position in the church nor church resources, such as facilities or membership for such purposes.
Some pastors will wonder if it is wise to say anything at all about the marriage referendum to their congregations. As stated earlier, preaching and teaching on the biblical definition of marriage is both encouraged and in order; preaching and teaching on the marriage referendum is discouraged. This brings us to a most important point in this debate: the opportunity that stands before the churches. 
Ministry opportunity
The debate brewing in communities across North Carolina about the marriage amendment must be viewed as an opportunity for ministry – ministry that expresses the mission of the church: to take the life-transforming message of the gospel to each member of the community, nation and world.
Churches are strongly encouraged to find ways that they might rise to the occasion and take the opportunity to preach and teach on the Bible’s position on marriage in the days preceding the May 8 referendum. However, our preaching and teaching must be true to God’s Word. Key point: Many fear that failure to pass the referendum will harm the “sanctity of marriage” in the future, but the truth is, the current views and expressions of marriage in our state, our communities, and our churches have already done so. Heterosexuals have already damaged the sanctity of marriage in significant ways, and the church has been very quiet on the matter.
At the risk of being misunderstood, I make the following observations:
I am of the opinion that if the churches rise to the occasion to preach and teach on the life-transforming – including marriage transforming – power of the gospel, then the church has made a wise investment of time and effort.
Regardless of the outcome of the marriage referendum, the church should view its efforts as a “win” only if the church rises to the occasion to fulfill its mission while the attention of so many North Carolinians is turned to the issue of marriage. However, if the church fails to rise to the opportunity to fulfill its mission, and worse yet, “sells its birthright,” then the church becomes a vassal of political forces on either side of the marriage debate. Then, passage of the referendum is a “loss” for the church, for our communities and for the great state of North Carolina.
How to get involved
Therefore, if churches may only involve themselves in an insubstantial way in the influence of legislation, where can its members turn? The churches cooperating with the BSC have enjoyed a long tenured relationship with the Christian Action League of North Carolina. Individuals, businesses and other groups are free to engage with the Christian Action League to support them in a myriad of causes, including but not limited to: gambling, alcohol issues and other matters of social concern. The executive director of the Christian Action League, Mark Creech, can be contacted via e-mail at office@christianactionleague.org or by calling (919) 787-0606. He will gladly share how individuals may choose to involve themselves in these matters. 
Contact Brian Davis at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5506, or email bdavis@ncbaptist.org. Visit clpablog.org.

1/30/2012 2:51:46 PM by Brian K. Davis, BSC executive leader for administration and convention Relations | with 1 comments

Time to give up on the GCR (part 1)

January 27 2012 by Chuck Lawless

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) – I’ve made up my mind – I’m giving up on the Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s not that I’ve been opposed to the concept of a GCR. In fact, I enthusiastically voted in favor of forming the GCR task force at the Southern Baptist Convention in 2009. I strongly supported the task force recommendations the following year. Now, though, I’m giving up.

I suppose the reasons not to give up are numerous. Local churches are taking the lead to send short-term mission teams around the world. Our SBC seminaries and Baptist universities are filled with young men and women committed to going where the gospel has not gone. Our new mission board presidents, Tom Elliff and Kevin Ezell, are passionate about evangelism and church planting. Still, I’m giving up.

Several state conventions have affirmed the reports of their own Great Commission task forces. Some have made intentional commitments to incrementally increase missions giving beyond their state. The employees of LifeWay Christian Resources completed their 100th mission trip in November 2011. Our SBC president, Bryant Wright, is a Great Commission pastor leading a globally minded church. None of this changes my mind, though – I’m still giving up.

Here’s why: we’re seeing every day that we cannot create a Great Commission Resurgence. We can cast a vote to form task forces, but whether God visits us with renewal is not determined by Baptist democracy. We can affirm recommendations for change, yet not consider that only God can transform apathetic hearts that led us to stagnation in the first place. We can, it appears, significantly increase our discussions about the Great Commission even while our baptism and membership trends hardly reflect God’s blessing. We simply cannot generate the resurgence that we need, so it is time to give up.

My motivation is a fear that Southern Baptists who prayed for a Great Commission task force three years ago – and I am one of those Baptists – are now praying too little for God to send us a heart-wrenching, world-reaching, devil-defeating Great Commission revival. Unless I am misreading Southern Baptists, we who passionately joined Ronnie Floyd in praying for the GCR task force settled into prayer mediocrity once the task force recommendations were adopted. Some continued to pray as their state conventions tackled the same Great Commission issues, but I suspect that praying, too, has since diminished. That happens when a denomination is generally more focused on human effort than divine blessing, more on corrected structures than broken hearts, more on programs than prayer. That happens when your Christian life is more about trying hard than giving up.

At the same time, more than 3,600 unengaged people groups in the world show us that our efforts have not yet dislodged the prince of darkness. Millions of lost people in North America are constant face-to-face reminders that we are doing church without threatening the enemy’s kingdom. We are an army that prayerfully voted to go to war and then returned to our own strength to fight the battle.

Too few are the church leaders who would cry with the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon:

“Oh! men and brethren, what would this heart feel if I could but believe that there were some among you who would go home and pray for a revival of religion – men whose faith is large enough, and their love fiery enough to lead them from this moment to exercise unceasing intercessions that God would appear among us and do wondrous things here.”

Here, our SBC leaders who have called us to prayer this month are right on target (www.namb.net/sbccalltoprayer/). While critics might argue that this is just another programmatic approach, it is surely much more than that. It is a call to repent of our prayerlessness, which is, at its core, nothing less than idolatry of the self. It is an admission that the tasks assigned to us are daunting – impossible, in fact. Our leaders know there will be no Great Commitment Resurgence unless the God who gave us the Great Commission also grants us the resurgence.

A call to prayer is, in fact, an admission of powerlessness. We can only wave the white flag of surrender in this task called the Great Commission. Not one of our 16 million Southern Baptists can penetrate the darkness in his own power. No church can move heaven without first longing for the God of heaven. No denomination will ever be large enough to make hell shake simply because of its numbers.

The God of the Scriptures seeks a humble, desperate, repentant people to do the Great Commission. We get there not by growing strong, but by being weak. And, in a strange but biblical twist, we will have no Great Commission victory unless we give up first – that is, unless we surrender to God and seek his face in prayer.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Lawless is the International Mission Board’s vice president of global theological advance. This column is the first in a two-part series. The second will deal with practical ways to lead a church to “give up.”)
1/27/2012 3:41:58 PM by Chuck Lawless | with 0 comments

An Oscar surprise – only one R-rated nomination

January 26 2012 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The nominations for the 84th Motion Picture Academy Awards – the Oscars – were announced Tuesday. With nine nominees in the Best Picture category, “Hugo” garnered the most nominations with 11, “The Artist” following closely with 10.

This year’s nominated selections for best film are a potpourri of genres and themes, with each of the films containing moments of insight, instruction or just uplifting entertainment. But this year’s lineup reverses itself from recent tradition. In years past, R-rated movies have dominated this list. The 84th Academy Award nominations, however, only contain one R-rated movie. That said, the content of each film should be examined before viewing. I’ve included a link to the review of each of these contenders. The critiques contain the reason for the rating so you can decide if they are suitable for your family’s viewing.

Best picture
– “The Artist” (PG-13). Hollywood 1927: George Valentin is a very successful silent movie star; the arrival of talking pictures will mark the end of his career; Peppy Miller, a young woman extra, becomes a major movie star; their lives intertwine and both find meaning. Rated PG-13 for a crude gesture and a disturbing image. http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3739

– “The Descendents” (R). Matt King (George Clooney) finds his life suddenly dysfunctional. His adulterous wife is in a coma, he’s lost that Papa connection to his two troubled daughters, 10 and 17, and his relatives want him to sell the land that has been in their family ever since the days of Hawaiian royalty. But how can I recommend a movie to you wherein the 10-year-old gives the finger to people on two occasions, the older girl uses the f-word throughout and Clooney once again profanes God’s name? Rated R for violence, disturbing images, and language. http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3729

– “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (PG-13). Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis are featured in this tale about a boy who tries to solve a mystery left by his father after he is killed on 9/11. I wanted to like this film. But unlike, for an example, To Kill a Mockingbird, which dealt with a child discovering the realities of life, the emotional drive of Extremely Loud and Incredibly is forced and too eccentric for its own good. Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, thematic material and language. http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3738

– “The Help” (PG-13). This is an empowering story about very different and extraordinary women in the 1960s South who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project. The Help is funny, poignant and inspiring; one of the best films of the year. Rated PG-13 for thematic material and language. http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3702

– “Hugo” (PG). A young orphan lives in a Paris train station, having taken over his drunken uncle’s profession as the caretaker of the station’s giant clock. Rated PG for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking. A clean film, here language is lifted up rather than molested, and tragedy, while incorporated to reveal the darker side of man’s nature, is never allowed to bombard viewers. http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3730

– “Midnight in Paris” (PG-13). Coming to terms with the fact that he has little in common with his fiancée, a frustrated writer (Owen Wilson) begins roaming the streets of Paris at night, whimsically thinking of a better life in a better time. His illusions suddenly become a reality. It’s mostly a clean film. There’s little if any crudity in conversation or action, and with the exception of two misuses of Christ’s name, there’s no other profanity or obscenity. Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and smoking. http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3683

– “Moneyball” (PG-13). This sports biopic is based on the true story of Billy Beane – once a would-be baseball superstar who turned his fiercely competitive nature to management. Fascinating, funny, and moving. Rated PG-13 for some strong language. http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3710

– “The Tree of Life” (PG-13). Director Terrence Malick (“Badlands,” “Days of Heaven,” “The Thin Red Line,” “The New World”) offers up his fifth film, an impressionistic story of a Midwestern family coping with a death, embittered relationships, and haunting questions concerning God and the afterlife. IN this film, the director uses language; he doesn’t abuse it. Rated PG-13 for some thematic material and brief language. http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3679

– “War Horse” (PG-13). A boy-and-his-horse story progresses into a World War I epic tale, with the animal affecting the lives of several people. Not enough can be said about the look of War Horse. The cinematography, the lighting, the set and art direction are as good as any film I’ve ever seen. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of war action. http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3737

The awards presentation will be held Feb. 26 and will be broadcast live on ABC at 7 p.m. ET. It will be hosted by actor/comedian and veteran host, Billy Crystal.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective for Baptist Press and is the author of “Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad,” available on Amazon.com. He also writes about Hollywood for previewonline.org and moviereporter.com.)
1/26/2012 1:24:18 PM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

After the Arab Spring, a ‘window of opportunity’

January 25 2012 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Some revolutions play out for all the world to see. Others unfold behind the scenes.

Both types of change are rippling through the Arab world. It’s been a year since massive demonstrations began Jan. 25, 2011, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, ultimately toppling longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. In the days before and after that turning point, nearly every country in the region experienced social and political shifts of greater or lesser magnitude.

It started in Tunisia, where the first uprising of what would become the “Arab Spring” began in December 2010 after a young protester burned himself to death. The old authoritarian regime there has been replaced by a democratically elected one, dominated by Islamic political parties promising moderation.

Things are a lot murkier in Egypt, but a similar result seems likely – if the military-backed caretaker government hands over power after elections are completed later this year. Parties representing Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the even more conservative Salafists won the majority of seats in the new parliament.

In Syria, the collision of a protest movement and a long-ruling regime determined to crush it is mutating into civil war. In Libya, the civil war is over and a dictator is dead. What happens next is unclear, but secularists and returning Libyan exiles hope to share power with Islamists as they build a new society from the ground up. Turmoil in Yemen rages on as the long rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh staggers to an end. Other movements for change continue in Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan and elsewhere.

“The political uprisings that have swept the Arab world over the past year represent the most significant challenge to authoritarian rule since the collapse of Soviet communism,” declared Freedom House, the human rights monitoring group, in an introduction to its just-released annual survey of global political freedom. “Yet even as the Arab Spring triggered unprecedented progress in some countries, it also provoked a harsh and sometimes murderous reaction, with many leaders scrambling to suppress real or potential threats to their rule.”

It’s a mixed bag, in other words. Discouragement, anger and fear have descended on many protesters, particularly in Egypt, who believe their revolution has been hijacked by forces hostile to real reform. Even so, Freedom House President David J. Kramer insists “the past year’s trends give reason for hope. ... We are at a historic moment.”

Veteran foreign correspondent Robin Wright, who has covered the region for more than 30 years, is even more optimistic. Her 2011 book, “Rock the Casbah,” explores changes brewing not just in Arab lands but throughout the Muslim world.

“The most important story of the early 21st century is the epic convulsion across the Islamic world,” she asserts. “Rage against geriatric autocrats is only one part of it. Most of the region ... is also actively rebelling against radical ideologies. ... (F)rom mighty Egypt to Islamic Iran, tiny Tunisia to quirky Libya, new players are shattering the old order. Uprisings in the Middle East – breathtaking in their scope and speed, if unnerving in their uncertain futures – represent the greatest wave of empowerment” currently breaking across the world.

Some might call that view naïve or premature. But the thirst for change across the Arab world is real, and it transcends politics alone. The “unseen” revolution is unfolding in different arenas: the hearts and minds of people. Especially young people, who want the freedom to think for themselves.

“There’s a large number of people who, in their heart and mind, have seen a glimpse of what they want,” says an American Christian worker with extensive experience in the Middle East. “They do not want to go back. You have a group of young people who are empowered. We see this across the region – whole countries where young people, 24 or younger, make up a large percentage of the population. And they are saying, ‘We’re not going back.’”

To the worker, that new mindset represents an answer to prayer – and a window of opportunity.

“We [U.S. Christians] often want to back off because it is working with Muslims,” he says. “We want to back off because these are difficult areas to go to. And yet right now the opportunity is so great. We’ve never seen an opportunity like this. Across Northern Africa and the Middle East, we’ve seen a sweeping of these revolutions where we have been able to go in and do things now that we’ve never been able to do. We’ve been able to pass out materials door to door. We’re able now to go into communities and have a clinic when before the government said we couldn’t do that.

“It is a window of opportunity that could close so quickly. We need to walk alongside our partners and help them so that if and when we have to leave, we have partners on the ground who can pick up the baton and continue on. This is an opportunity that we weren’t expecting, and yet we should have been. We have been praying for revival in the ‘10/40 Window’ [the region containing most of the globe’s unreached peoples]. God has opened up the window. This may not have been the response we were thinking of in that prayer, but right now we have the opportunity and we need to respond to it.”

Conditions for Christians in the region are difficult and may get worse, he acknowledges. Some believers are leaving for friendlier, safer nations. Those who remain are facing new challenges and uncertainties or the return of pressure and persecution. Many fear what may happen if Islamists consolidate political power. Yet churches are stepping forward to minister and proclaim the gospel in ways he has never before witnessed.

“It is critical that we know that God is at work, that this is His,” the worker says. “He raises up rulers and kings and He takes them down. This is not happening in a vacuum. If it doesn’t go the way we think it should, that doesn’t mean God has stepped away from it. We need to stay with it. It’s going to get hard for believers in some of these churches. We need to be praying specifically for these countries and these peoples daily. God sent his Son to die for these people and we cannot lose the eternal big picture. We just have to see what door He is going to open because of this, and then walk through it.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at worldviewconversation.blogspot.com/. Listen to an audio version here.)

Related story

1/25/2012 3:58:21 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

How will you be remembered?

January 24 2012 by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press

EL CAJON, Calif. – Ever thought about writing your autobiography? Just jot down key dates and events in your life. Beside each date write something. It’ll be a treasure to your grandchildren later.

Our words and deeds are actually writing our autobiography every day, creating a legacy for good or ill. Our decisions are blazing a trail for others, setting the course, determining the future of those we love. What kind of legacy are you creating?

It’s time to begin “righting” the story of your life. Writing and living your autobiography requires the same handful of crucial elements.

Keep the end in view
Good writers think through their plots, mapping them out, beginning with the end in view.
Are you an immediate-thinker instead of an ultimate-thinker? As long as everything is status quo in the here-and-now, you don’t think much about where you’re headed.

Travis, 37, no longer liked his job, his prospects. A friend recommended a counselor who said: “Write the epitaph you would like engraved on your tombstone.” That rattled Travis. How would he want to be remembered? What did he want to accomplish?

What would you like your epitaph to read? What do you want to accomplish? What is God’s purpose for you on earth? An important question when you want to “right” your story.

Our writing and living also need streamlining. “The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components” (William Zinsser).

Too much “clutter” can choke the Word, making us unfruitful (“the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches” – Matthew 13:22). Do you have too many things – debt, distractions, obligations – for the really important things in life? Remember the “one thing” passages in the Bible:

– “One thing you lack: ... sell whatever you have ... and follow Me (Mark 10:21).
– “One thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that (Luke 10:41-42).
– “One thing ... I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God (Philippians 3:13-14).

Are you doing the one thing needed to fulfill God’s will for your life, or is your life cluttered with so many trivial pursuits and urgent trifles that you can’t get around to doing that “one thing”?

“Righting” your autobiography also requires perseverance. Writers set aside daily time to work – writing one word at a time.

Do you want to change this world by creating a legacy for those who follow? We live a chapter at a time, day by day, and every moment is an opportunity to persevere in godliness.

If God has called you to do something for Him, don’t grow discouraged. Keep at it. Whatever sin God wants you to overcome, whatever project He wants you to pursue, whatever prayer He wants you to offer, whatever ministry He gives you – don’t quit.

Know your ‘editor’
The great secret of our living Christian autobiographies is that good writers have good editors. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

Writing in the original Greek, Paul used the word “poiema” (made, crafted, or composed). It means, “We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago” (New Living Translation).

We are God’s productions, His compositions. Your life is really the story of God’s life in and through you. It’s the story of the grace of the Lord Jesus exhibited daily in your heart. As you remain close to the “Editor-in-Chief,” He will form and fashion you. As His Masterpiece, He intends your life to inspire those who follow.

Writing the story of your life requires careful attention to the end of the story, deliberate “clutter”-cutting, a spirit of stick-to-itiveness, and a growing intimacy with your Editor-in-Chief. Keeping these principles in perspective will help you not only write, but also right, the story of your life in a way you will surely want to be remembered.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. For more information on Turning Point, visit DavidJeremiah.org.)
1/24/2012 7:26:20 PM by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The ugly American history of eugenics is exposed

January 20 2012 by Evan Lenow

FORT WORTH, Texas – Most Americans live with the belief that we are the greatest society in the world. Our roots stem from proclamations “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We confidently assert that we always take the moral high ground on the world stage. We swell with pride over the idea that the American Dream is for everyone.

However, deep down we know that there is an ugly side to American history. We are not a perfect people, and we have made egregious errors in our brief history as a nation. Many of those errors have been swept under the rug of American pride, but on Jan. 10 the rug was pulled up to expose a terrible reality from the not-too-distant past.

A task force in North Carolina recommended that the state should pay $50,000 to each living sterilization victim of the state’s eugenics program. Eugenics? Forced sterilization? This has the ring of Nazi Germany, not the United States. Unfortunately, it is true.

For those unfamiliar with the term, what exactly is eugenics? Authors Stanley J. Grenz and Jay T. Smith define it this way:

“A movement that encourages the study of heredity or the transference of genetically based traits from one generation of living beings to the next, generally with the goal of improving the hereditary endowment of humankind.” [1]

Eugenics generally has two sides. “Positive” eugenics encourages (or even rewards) healthy, intelligent individuals to reproduce. The idea is that they improve the human gene pool by passing along their desirable traits. Negative eugenics discourages reproduction by those exhibiting inferior traits. While this may seem to be a noble idea on the surface, it played out in ugly ways in American history.

Paul Lombardo describes the ugly side as follows:

“In the 20th century, application of eugenical theory as a solution to social problems in America led to such ethically problematic practices as wide-scale sexual sterilization of epileptics, the mentally ill, and the retarded, restrictions on the immigration of some ethnic groups, and prohibition of marriages between people of differing racial backgrounds.” [2]

That brings us back to North Carolina. Between 1929 and 1974, the North Carolina Eugenics Board authorized the sterilization of 7,600 people. The Charlotte Observer reports:

“Some cases approved by the Eugenics Board were people who were mentally ill and sexually aggressive, and families who wanted to stop having children. But the board also authorized sterilizing people who were poor, or part of large families, or whose parents worried that men might take advantage of them. Some victims were as young as 10.”

North Carolina is the first state to propose reparations for the victims. It is by no means the only state that implemented such horrendous practices. Some reports estimate that 33 different states had eugenics laws that allowed for forced sterilization and that more than 60,000 American were sterilized in the process.

How did our country get to this point? From an ethical standpoint, it involved the use of a consequentialist ethic. Consequentialism is the idea that ethical decisions are made based on projected outcomes. There are several different theories that implement this process, but the basic idea is that the ends justify the means. In the case of eugenics, the desired end was a society full of healthy, productive, intelligent people. The logic of consequentialism said that any means necessary to produce that desired result is acceptable. This included forcibly prohibiting those deemed “unacceptable” from reproducing.

From a scientific angle, the impetus for eugenics came from the fledgling field of genetics. While the exact nature of genetic study was still a long way off, animal breeders had long known that breeding “superior” animals together generally resulted in better offspring. The process of selective breeding in animals was transferred to humans in the eugenics movement of the late-19th and 20th centuries.

From a political perspective, the value of the society over the individual spurred on the acceptance of eugenics. Social problems involving care for the poor and ill, immigration of those viewed as “undesirable,” and the desire for a progressive society led to the implementation of such laws.

Thankfully, our society has moved past this ugly history. Or have we? While the practice of forced sterilization and eugenics laws have crept back into the darkness of history, the idea still exists and is often promoted.

Many in our society now raise the question of whether parents should be limited in the number of children they can have (e.g., population control policies). Advances in medical technology allowing doctors to diagnose diseases in utero raise the question of selective abortion to ensure that a “less than normal” child does not enter the world. The desire for “well-born” children has brought a new branch of medicine to the forefront. Behind those concepts is the practice of eugenics.

What should be our response biblically? We must not lose sight of the value and dignity of the individual human being. We see from Scripture that we are all created with the purpose to glorify God (1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31; Revelation 4:11). We all have value to God (Matthew 12:11–12) and salvation is made available to all types of people regardless of perceived value by the culture (Galatians 3:28). Finally, from the womb to the grave, God sees us each as individuals of value and significance (Psalm 139:13–16).

North Carolina was right to acknowledge their responsibility in devaluing the dignity of the individual. Does $50,000 restore that dignity? No. Is the state right in offering some kind of reparations to the victims? Most likely, yes. Have we moved beyond this as a society? Certainly not. We need a biblical perspective of the value and dignity of the individual human being made in the image of God. Without this, we will probably walk down this road again, just in a different form.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Evan Lenow is assistant professor of ethics and director of the Riley Center at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This column first was posted at TheologicalMatters.com, a Southwestern Seminary website.)

[1] Stanley J. Grenz and Jay T. Smith, Pocket Dictionary of Ethics (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003).

[2] Paul A. Lombard, “Eugenics,” in The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics, eds., James F. Childress and John Macquarrie (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986), 209–10.
1/20/2012 3:35:55 PM by Evan Lenow | with 1 comments

A new challenge for pro-lifers

January 20 2012 by Penna Dexter

DALLAS – This is the time of year when pro-life Americans celebrate the sanctity of human life and commemorate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that brought abortion on demand, nationwide. It’s been 39 years since that decision and more than 52 million babies have been aborted.

Some pro-lifers “march for life.” This year, they’ll gather on Monday in Washington, D.C., and in cities across the nation on Saturday. A key theme for the D.C. March is the 2012 elections, and a group called Students for Life will register pro-lifers to vote, especially the thousands of young people who typically show up at the march.

The largest event outside D.C. is the Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco. There’s a huge march in Dallas. The experience is solemn, but hopeful. I have emceed the pre-march program for the Dallas march several times. But this year I’d planned to attend as a marcher, to raise my voice with the thousands asking for an end to Roe v. Wade and, short of that, for strong restrictions on abortion.

But a different opportunity surfaced, a way to celebrate and encourage another solution to abortion. I was invited to a baby shower, on the same day and at the same time as the march, for a young woman who, months ago, went into a nearby pregnancy center and wound up choosing life for her unplanned baby. She’s been embraced by members of my church. Those hosting the shower are not activists as I am. Most would never think of marching for life. But they care deeply about preventing abortions. So they honor this young woman’s decision and are thus doing something concrete for the cause.

Contrast the love being poured out upon this unmarried, expectant mom with the story of 32-year-old Jennie Linn McCormack. Instead of going to a pregnancy center, Jennie Linn, unemployed, with three other kids and a bare-subsistence income, couldn’t afford the trip to the nearest abortion clinic one state away. She didn’t have a computer. So she asked her sister to buy RU-486, the abortion pill, online and send it to her. The price was about $200. But the action cost Jennie Linn much more.

RU-486 was approved to be obtained only with a prescription. It was supposed to be used under the supervision of a doctor and only in early pregnancy. But, with Jennie Linn, these precautions failed. When the chemical abortion was complete, Jennie Linn, who thought she was about three months along, was surprised and scared by the size of her dead baby which was likely more like four to five months gestation. Jennie Linn put the baby in a box on her porch in the Idaho cold. Since Idaho has a law against self-induced abortion, police arrested her.

Her case was dropped for lack of evidence. But Jennie Linn is now the face of a class action challenging the constitutionality of Idaho’s tough abortion restrictions. Not wanting to touch a case where a woman was arrested for abortion, the pro-life community may shy away. But there is clearly a new front in the battle against abortion. The pro-life movement has succeeded in passing strong restrictions against abortion. Clinics are closing. But young women are now taking abortion into their own hands. That’s a new challenge in defending the sanctity of human life.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Penna Dexter is a conservative activist and frequent panelist on the “Point of View” syndicated radio program. Her weekly commentaries air on the Bott and Moody radio networks.)
1/20/2012 3:30:03 PM by Penna Dexter | with 0 comments

The gospel in an abortion culture

January 20 2012 by Russell D. Moore

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – As the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision approaches, most Christians recognize, and rightly so, the loss of millions of unborn human lives. What we often forget is the second casualty of an abortion culture: the consciences of countless men and women.

Too often, pastors and church leaders assume that, when talking about abortion, their invisible debating partner is the “pro-choice” television commentator or politician. Not so. Many of the people endangered by the abortion culture aren’t even pro-choice.

In your congregation this Sunday, and in the neighborhoods around you right now, there are women vulnerable to abortionist propaganda, not because they reject the church but because they’re afraid they’ll lose the church. Pregnant young women are scared they will scandalize church people when they start to show, so they keep it secret. Parents are fearful their pregnant daughter, or their son’s pregnant girlfriend, will prompt the rest of the congregation to see them as bad families.

As they keep all of this secret from the Body of Christ, many of them fall prey to the false gospel of the abortion clinic. “We can take care of this for you,” these people say. “And it will all go away.”

Moreover, there are thousands of men and women in our churches who have aborted their children, or urged the abortion of their grandchildren. Bearing the shame of this, they keep it secret. And in the concealment, the satanic powers accuse them: “We know who you are; you’re a murderer, like us.”

Every time pastors and church leaders speak, they are speaking, at least potentially, to these men and women, the aborting and the abortionists. Many of these people don’t argue that the “fetus” is a “person.” Their consciences testify to that, and they’re either tortured by this or violently trying to sear over that persistent internal message.

The answer, for the church, is to preach the gospel to the conscience.

For many evangelicals, to “preach the gospel” seems to be obvious and ineffective because they think this means to, by rote, prompt people to accept Jesus and go to heaven. But the gospel speaks right where the abortion culture is in slavery, to the conscience.

For one thing, those guilty of this silent atrocity often don’t think we’re talking to them. For some, the demonic structures have helped them to conceal this secret, and to convince them the safest thing to do is to try to forget it altogether. Others are so burdened down by guilt, they really don’t believe they are included in the “whosoever will” of our gospel invitations.

Speak directly to these people. To the woman who has had the abortion. To the man who has paid for an abortion. To the health care worker who has profited off of tearing apart the bodies of the young and the consciences of their parents.

Speak clearly of the horror of judgment to come. Confirm what every accusing conscience already knows: clinic privacy laws cannot keep all this from being exposed at the tribunal of Christ. When the Light shines, there’s not enough darkness in which to hide and cringe.

But don’t stop there.

Proclaim just as openly that judgment has fallen on the quivering body of a crucified Jesus -- accused by Satan, indicted by the Law, enveloped by the curse.

An abortion culture knows that hell exists, and they know judgment waits (Romans 2:14-16). Agree with them, but point them to the truth that God is not simply willing to forgive them. Show them how in Christ God is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:26).

The woman who has had the abortion needs to know that, if she is hidden in Christ, God does not see her as “that woman who had the abortion.” He hasn’t been subverted from sending her to hell because she found a gospel “loophole.” In Christ, she’s already been to hell.

And, in the resurrected Christ, God has already told her what He thinks of her: “You are my beloved child and in you I am well-pleased.”

The consciences around us don’t believe what they’re telling themselves. They’re scared and accused. Shine the light in the eyes of their consciences. Prophetically. All for justice, legally and culturally, for the unborn. But don’t stop there.

After all, the spirit of murder doesn’t start or end in the abortion clinic (Matthew 5:21, 15:19; John 8:44; Acts 9:1; Romans 1:29; John 3:15). And the blood of Christ has cleansed the consciences of rebels like all of us.

Warn of hell, but offer mercy. Offer that mercy not only at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but in the small groups and hallways of your church.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell D. Moore is dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at www.russellmoore.com.)
1/20/2012 3:25:46 PM by Russell D. Moore | with 0 comments

Super Bowl provides super outreach opportunity

January 19 2012 by Jason Ellerbrook, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Last year, more than 111 million people watched Super Bowl XLV to see the Green Bay Packers defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s a lot of people in one place at one time.

This year, the NFL has given its blessing for churches to broadcast the Super Bowl, relaxing a previously restrictive policy and allowing public showings of the big game on TVs larger than 55 inches. Churches can now legally have a Super Bowl party without violating the league’s copyright.

As believers and church leaders, we should be asking questions like, “What is God up to?” and, “How can we use this opportunity to share the gospel?”

Denver quarterback Tim Tebow, along with Focus on the Family’s John 3:16 commercial, have increased the national conversation regarding the intersection of faith and football. One magazine reporter even asked his Twitter followers to tell him the meaning of John 3:16.

Other athletes and sports celebrities are finding themselves on The New York Times bestseller lists with books about faith and values. It would be safe to say that the opportunity to springboard the conversation from sports to the gospel is at a zenith.

Many churches and groups will use their Super Bowl party as a launching pad for future men’s ministry. Let me make a few recommendations on how to use some of the biggest names in sports to be strategic and successful.

First, do some thorough preplanning. Look for proven resources that your church or small group can show before, during or after the game that will challenge people to know Christ and grow closer to Him.

If you are truly looking for a way to turn the Super Bowl into an event that will have an eternal impact, then high-quality resources are the way to go. Keeping the Super Bowl vibe and experience going are important.

One resource I’d recommend is from Sports Spectrum, the top Christian sports magazine in the country. They developed a Super Bowl halftime video every year called “Power to Win.” A long-time tradition, Power to Win helps the lost see Christ in a new way and provides great encouragement and hope to those who have been walking with Christ for decades.

For this year’s Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis, Power to Win will feature professional football players whose stories focus on character and grace. As always, the video will finish strong with the plan of salvation.

Here are some practical things to keep in mind for your church’s Super Bowl party:

– Test your TV, DVD, microphones and any other electronics you plan to use prior to gametime. We’ve all been in that awkward silence in a Sunday School class or small group when the DVD doesn’t play and the leader has to punt. It can kill momentum.

– Ensure you have a strong Wi-Fi connection. Guys like to use social media to trash talk and have fun with their old high school teammates, college friends and workplace acquaintances.

– Finally, announce a new small group, Sunday School class or off-campus meeting just for men. Use this event as a gateway to future men’s ministry – but know that you are not alone.

Three-time Super Bowl winning coaches Joe Gibbs and Tony Dungy can help. They have created impactful men’s ministry tools that are worth a closer look.

Gibbs was inspired to write a book called “Game Plan for Life” that challenges men to use the Bible as their playbook for the game of life. He also uses the Game Plan for Life message as a platform to speak at ministry events around the country and to lead men to join together in small groups Bible study and implement the discipline of daily devotions with the Lord. Find them on the web at www.GamePlanForLife.com.

Dungy is deeply invested in a program called All Pro Dad. His program challenges fathers to build relationships with their kids that will honor the Lord. Dungy has also written three best-selling books that challenge men to be uncommon leaders. Find out more at www.AllProDad.com.

Men like Gibbs and Dungy provide the creditability for believers and churches to use games like the Super Bowl to reach the lost and gather together to glorify God.

Don’t pass on this opportunity to host a creative men’s event, share the truth, hope and saving faith of Jesus Christ and “call men up” to greatness.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jason Ellerbrook is the director of LifeWay Men. For more information about the resources mentioned visit LifeWay.com/men or LifeWay.com/Article/mens-ministry-super-bowl-outreach.)
1/19/2012 2:15:28 PM by Jason Ellerbrook, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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