January 2017

Spiritual growth is no accident

January 31 2017 by David Frasure

I have never heard a Christian say, “I love living a stagnated Christian life.” No one says, “What I really want to do is stay right where I am spiritually. I don’t want to get any closer to God than I am right now.”
 
While we never say such things with our words, we often say them with our actions. The poet, Robert Browning, said, “Why stay we on earth, except to grow?” 2 Peter ends with a simple command to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

David Frasure


We all want to keep growing in the Lord. Here are some thoughts that can help:
 
First, spiritual growth is never by accident.
 
Spiritual growth comes from God, but it always requires effort on our part. Growth is based on a decision we all are responsible to make. God holds us accountable for our own spiritual growth. Our real priorities show up in the routines of our lives and, if growth is a priority, there will be evidence of that priority in our daily and weekly schedules. I may say I want to learn the Bible, but if I do not set aside time to read the Bible regularly, I’m just fooling myself.
 
Second, spiritual growth comes to those who see themselves as lifelong learners.
 
That means that we need a plan for spiritual growth. Hope is not a strategy for maturity. We can hope we are closer to Jesus 12 months from now, but without a plan, it is doubtful.
 
Third, spiritual growth is a byproduct of good habits.
 
We must be willing to pay the price for spiritual growth in the daily grind of life. If you see someone who is consistently demonstrating Christian character, it is because they have developed certain habits. If you know someone who really knows their Bible, it is because they have disciplined themselves to regularly read, study and memorize God’s Word. We all have habits. The real question is, are they good habits that lead to maturity?
 
With that in mind, here are a few habits we all can develop:
 
Habit #1. Prayer/time in the Word
 
Spending time daily in the Word and in prayer likely is the most important discipline in the Christian life. God can challenge us and grow us if we are willing to spend time with Him each day in this way. He can speak things into our lives that no preacher ever could. Intimacy requires times of isolation – it is true in marriage and parenting and it is true in our relationship with God. When Jesus wanted to speak to His Father, He found a place of quiet solitude to spend time with Him as recorded in Mark 1:35. If Jesus needed such a time, we do even more.
 
Habit #2: Serve
 
Another important habit for a growing Christian is to worship and serve with other believers. We all know the command of Hebrews 10:25 to not forsake our assembly together with the people of God. We can worship alone, but God chooses to bless the corporate worship of His people in special ways. God has designed us to do life together with other believers. In addition, we are given several “one another” commands in the Bible which are done best in the context of small groups working together in a local church setting.
 
Habit #3: Witness
 
A third habit to develop is sharing your faith. Not only does this give the opportunity for people to be saved, it gives you the opportunity to grow in the Lord. The longer we are saved, the easier it is to surround ourselves with saved people. That means we have to be more deliberate about staying in contact with lost people. If we don’t plan to witness, we may never get around to it.
 
Spiritual growth, like any kind of growth, is not automatic. It requires discipline and reliance on Christ. He is the only one to have lived the Christian life without fault, and it is Christ in us who will enable us to mature in our faith as we teach others to mature in their faith.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Frasure is pastor of First Baptist Church in South Lebanon, Ohio, and disciple-making catalyst for the Cincinnati Area Baptist Association.)
 

1/31/2017 10:29:41 AM by David Frasure | with 0 comments



Siri-ously?

January 30 2017 by Brian Hobbs

“Hey Dad, can I use your iPhone,” my son asked while we were in the car recently.
 
“Sure, but why do you need it?” I replied.
 
“I need to ask Siri something,” he said.
 
“What do you need to know?” I said.
 
“How soon will we get there [to our destination]?” he said.
 
With a laugh and smile, I then said, “Son, we’ll be there in 15 minutes. And you know, you can ask Dad things too, not just Siri.”

Brian Hobbs


In case you are not familiar, Siri is “a computer program that works as an intelligent personal assistant and knowledge locator,” as Wikipedia describes it. It is native to all Apple devices, though other devices have similar software.
 
From questions like “Hey Siri, where can I get a good steak?” to “Hey Siri, who was U.S. President in 1917?” users have immediate access to information.
 
This is, of course, a tremendous blessing in many ways, because it saves time and disseminates knowledge. It can quickly become a curse in other ways, including the following:
 
– We become too technology-dependent.
 
Many of us sleep with our cell phones within arm’s length, get online before getting out of bed and spend hours each day staring at screens. If you are spending more time staring at a screen than you are sleeping, you might be too technology dependent.
 
– We lose our resourcefulness.
 
Whereas people once had to navigate using printed maps or stopping and asking directions, now we can navigate using digital GPS. If the GPS takes us to the wrong place, or if we rely on it exclusively, we can lose our ability to be resourceful. Similarly, when it comes time to remembering trivia, or needing to look up information, technology allows our brains to get out of practice. When we don’t use it, we lose it.
 
– We become distracted.
 
Many of us check our phones quite frequently, which turns our focus from what’s going on immediately around us to the digital world. We can quickly be sucked into temptations and turmoil going on online, without being present. As a source of endless entertainment, it can cause us to be endlessly distracted.
 
For these reasons and more, we need to become more aware of our technology tendencies. Sometimes it’s easier to see the problems in others than we do ourselves. Perhaps you might do one of the following:

  1. Ask someone close to you to keep you accountable. Ask them to call you on it if you become excessively distracted by your smartphone or other device.
  2. Set aside time away from your phones. This could be meal times or for a quiet time. These breaks will give your brain a break and allow you to connect with God and others.
  3. Put good things on your smartphone. Whether it’s a Bible App or a state paper like ours in Oklahoma, the Baptist Messenger Go App, if you’re going to be glued to your device some of the time, make sure you have edifying content available.
  4. Skip Siri. The next time you forget information, don’t immediately Google it. Stop and try to use your brain or ask someone around you.

 
These are just a few ideas that might help lead to a more balanced life. If we don’t get our technology habits in check, at the end of our days, we just might be teary about how much time we gave to Siri.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Hobbs is editor of The Baptist Messenger, baptistmessenger.com, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and communications director of the BGCO.)
 

1/30/2017 9:48:33 AM by Brian Hobbs | with 0 comments



Don’t waste a youthful faith

January 27 2017 by Dean Sieberhagen

When I lived in Central Asia, it was very interesting to see how many of the young Muslims viewed their religion. They said that, at their age, they could enjoy life and wait until an older age to get serious about religion.
 
Their thinking was that God is more interested in the afterlife, and that only becomes an issue when you are close to the afterlife, which is where old people find themselves. Once you are of a grandparent-type age, they thought, you then need to prepare for the afterlife by doing religious activities. This is a very convenient way of seeing religion where God is able to fit into our way of thinking rather than us needing to fit into His way of thinking.

Dean Sieberhagen


Is this religious worldview unique to the young people of Central Asia and to Islam, or is it also present in many of the young people of the U.S. who call themselves Christians?
 
At the heart of this worldview is the idea that this earthly life belongs to me, and I get to decide how I live it. As long as I believe in Jesus and have my ticket to heaven, I can check the religion box and then live life as I see it. “Sure, God is around and interested in me,” this line of thinking goes, “but the way this looks is that He is there to bless me and make my life successful. In this life, I am not there for God, but God is there for me.”
 
It is interesting that in Matthew 6:9-13, as Jesus is teaching His disciples to pray, He does tell them to ask the Father for their daily provisions (bread). The context of this, however, is that He has just told them to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
 
Jesus is teaching that we pray and ask the Father to provide for us, even bless us, for the clear purpose of building His Kingdom according to His will. There is no way to interpret this prayer to mean that we ask Him for blessings so that we can build our kingdom our way in this life and then jump over to His Kingdom in the afterlife.
 
In American Christianity, we run the risk of lowering the bar for our young people, and whether intentionally or not, we end up offering a therapeutic Christianity that is careful not to offend or challenge them too much. We hope that as they get older they will mature into the right type of Christians, and so we reinforce the idea that “religion is for old people.”
 
But our young people can change the world now! I try to consistently extend this challenge to my four sons: “You can change the world or the world can change you – which will it be?”
 
If the answer is that young Christian people can change the world, then the Bible comes alive with meaning. Here are just two examples:
 
“And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me’” (Luke 9:23). This verse has no meaning for young Christians who have developed a worldview that God is there for them. But for young Christians who understand that they are there for God and His Kingdom, this verse is full of meaning and becomes a measuring rod for living out their faith.
 
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). For young people who live for themselves, this verse makes no sense and needs to be rephrased as follows: “For to me, to live is me and to die is religion.” But for young Christians who embrace God’s priority in their lives, this verse becomes a life focus. Jesus becomes the measure of success. Each day without a focus on Jesus is a day wasted.
 
Let’s raise the bar for our young people and live out a daily commitment to Jesus and His Kingdom.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dean Sieberhagen is assistant professor of missions and Islamic studies in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions. This column first appeared at the seminary’s Theological Matters website, theologicalmatters.com. Used with permission.)
 

1/27/2017 10:32:06 AM by Dean Sieberhagen | with 0 comments



Using your gifts

January 26 2017 by Cody Glen Barnhart

When I look at the Bible, I see a God who loves words.
 
We live in a spoken creation (Genesis 1), we are sealed with a spoken victory (John 19:30) and we anticipate a spoken renewal (Revelation 21:5). In a sense, the whole of the Christian life is growing in the understanding of God’s words – both His spoken word and the inspired words of scripture.

Cody Glen Barnhart


As a student, I have watched my seminary’s faculty and staff members model how we Christians can use our gifts to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” – including a love for writing and storytelling. For the last year or two, a three-question test has helped me find the best ways to take my vocational and creative gifts captive and obey Christ. There are no hard and fast answers to each of these questions, but I believe they can yield a more Christ-like posture of service.
 

How can my gifts meet the needs of the church where I am a member?

This question helps us think about the names and faces affected by our work. Most often, our gifts ought to be used to help brothers and sisters in our own local church body. As fellow church members, we have been given an obligation to care for each other – to use our gift set for others’ edification or refreshment and, ultimately, for others’ soul care.
 
In my church, I can offer my writing gifts to help draft or edit any documents, articles or curriculum that my church needs and I can offer my guitar-playing gifts to help lead worship.
 
There are often unseen ways we can use our gifts to serve our fellow church members, but we must first ask where our church’s needs lie.
 

How can my gifts meet the needs of those to whom I have been given?

Beyond the local church body, there is a long list of people to whom we have been given. A helpful evangelistic tool is to use your gifts to serve those who are not part of your local church but are still part of your everyday life. Ask yourself how your specific gifts can yield opportunities for fruitful, gospel-focused conversation.
 
Much of my writing is done in the same coffee shop, smack dab in the middle of my small town. Between study time for school and writing, I have become a regular. It’s a soil ripe for planting seeds of the gospel, and I’ve grown observant about the kinds of conversations I’m having with others. Though most of the workers and customers will never read my writing, it is precisely because of my gift set that God has put me in a place where I get to overhear their stories – stories of hurt and happiness for which the gospel is always a talking point.
 
Our gifts are almost always tied to a specific place, and oftentimes we can leverage where we have been placed for the Kingdom.
 

How can my gifts meet the needs of the church at large?

While this may not seem apparent (and might even sound redundant), serving your fellow church members and those to whom you have been given outside the church is the primary way you can meet the needs of the global church. We may not need more people trying to be top-level culture changers, yet we always need people on the ground willing to create a culture shaped by the gospel.
 
That said, there are some smaller ways you can intentionally try to meet the needs of the global church. Find outlets where you can use your gifts to uniquely benefit the church abroad. There are a plethora of organizations all around the world seeking volunteers or resourcing.
 
As an example, I tend to be fairly particular about which outlets I allow to publish my writing. This isn’t because I want to be uptight, difficult, or feel only certain organizations are “good enough”; instead, I want to be sure they make the gospel central and be sure I agree with their mission. In doing so, I typically try to find additional ways to serve them and hope to reflect Christlikeness when collaborating with others.
 
All in all, I’m learning that the best way to use our gifts is to use them faithfully. We don’t need to try to build platforms or tackle the biggest projects we can dream up. We leave the building up to God and remain obedient wherever He places us. It is faithfulness in all realms that can truly be called “growing in the understanding of God’s words.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Cody Glen Barnhart of Maryville, Tenn., writes at counterculturing.com and is a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is pursuing his M.Div.)
 

1/26/2017 10:52:47 AM by Cody Glen Barnhart | with 0 comments



Domestic violence: imparting empathy & hope

January 25 2017 by Carrie Olander

I left my medical practice in the States and moved to Central Asia 16 years ago, where I now serve in medical ministry for women. I live in a beautiful country full of towering mountains and pristine lakes. Its hospitable people are beautiful as well. But underneath many smiling faces, there are often deep hurts.
 
One of my roommates, a Central Asian woman named Gulmira*, was married for 20 years to an abusive man who kidnapped her when she was a teenager. He often got drunk, beat her and behaved in a sexually threatening way toward their daughter. Four years ago, Gulmira’s husband was murdered during a fight with a neighbor. Gulmira, now a single mother, is a vital part of our ministry team and shows the Lord’s love to those we encounter.
 
Her story is not uncommon. We have had frequent encounters with abused women in our clinic. One of our patients was a young woman who became pregnant soon after being kidnapped to become a bride. She ended up losing the baby because of an STD received from her husband. She miscarried their second baby after her husband beat her into unconsciousness.
 
Anyone working with abused women understands that the issues we have faced in our clinic are difficult. Some of us can identify with abuse, but many simply can’t. Does that mean that those who have never been mistreated have nothing to offer? The answer is a resounding “no.” We have everything to offer because we have Jesus. Even if we have not been abused, we know a Savior who was. He was mocked, ridiculed, scorned, beaten and publicly humiliated. We may not know what it feels like to experience that type of abuse, but Jesus does.
 
I recently listened to a Tim Keller sermon from John 11 about the death of Lazarus. Keller spoke of how Jesus didn’t try to downplay Martha and Mary’s grief over Lazarus’ death. He knew He would raise Lazarus. He knew that joy was coming, yet He cried. Jesus fully entered into life here on earth. He was all in. Following Christ’s example, we should not withdraw from those who are suffering. Rather, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can draw near with empathy and true love.
 

Step into suffering with empathy & hope

There are so many questions surrounding the issue of abuse and how we should interact with women who are victims of domestic violence. I think the following recommendations – fruit from years of knowing and learning from Gulmira – embody the kind of love that Christ showed:
 
– Uphold the importance of prayer.
 
Cry out to God, the rescuer and deliverer. If the abused woman is a believer, help her learn how to pray about her circumstances. If she is not, ask her how you can pray for her and pray with her when possible.
 
– Help her find a safe place.
 
If an abused woman needs a house, help her find a place to live. Keep in mind that many women often return to their abusive situations after a temporary reprieve. She needs to decide for herself what to do.
 
– Encourage with eternal hope.
 
Remind her that the brokenness of this life is not the end. Tell her to look to Christ, who secured an eternal hope that is an anchor for our lives. Explain the peace and life that come by faith in Jesus as her Savior.
 
– Be a friend.
 
Make yourself available and meet with her frequently. Listen patiently. If she appears distant or agitated, remember that she is under a lot of stress.
 
– Speak of God’s tender love for her.
 
Many abused women see themselves as unworthy of love. They believe that they deserve the abuse. Remind them that they are precious in God’s eyes and yours.
 
John Stott said that God is the “lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross. ... He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering.”
 
We hope to make our center in Central Asia a place where we can listen to women, tell them about Jesus, encourage them in their faith, teach them to pray for their situation and offer physical help if they want it. May we, with Jesus’s help, fully enter into these women’s lives and walk alongside them as we share His overwhelming love and proclaim that His redemptive suffering gives us life.
 
Resources for learning how to serve abused women:
 
– The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, ccef.org.
 
– Healing the Wounds of Trauma (2013), a resource of the American Bible Society’s Healing Trauma Institute, by Harriet Hill, Margaret Hill, Richard Baggé and Pat Miersma.
 
– Truth, Tears, Anger and Grace, a sermon by Timothy J. Keller, online at gospelinlife.com/truth-tears-anger-and-grace-5247.
 
For more information or to see more stories, please go to imb.org.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carrie Olander serves in Central Asia. She and her roommate Gulmira, *name changed, are part of a team of women ministering to Central Asian women through a community clinic. They recently moved the location of their clinic and hope to reopen in early 2017. This article was first posted by the International Mission Board at imb.org. Used with permission.)
 

1/25/2017 10:28:24 AM by Carrie Olander | with 0 comments



Keys to Dabo Swinney’s success

January 23 2017 by Ginny Dent Brant

There’s so much more to the cliffhanger national championship college football game that captured the attention of millions on Jan. 9. The Clemson Tigers entered the game as the underdog and defeated the most dominant college football program in a decade, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
 
The victory began years ago in the towns of Pelham, Ala., and Gainesville, Ga., with two young boys whose lives would feature significant trials and adversity.

Ginny Dent Brant


In a chapel sermon delivered by former NFL player C.L. “Shep” Shepherd earlier this season, Clemson players and coaches who chose to attend heard a message about adversity.
 
“The best teacher in life is not success, “ he proclaimed. “It’s adversity.”
 
That message rang loud and clear when Clemson was unexpectedly beaten by the unranked Pittsburgh Panthers. What should have been an easy win for the Tigers became an obstacle that proved to make them stronger.
 
Coach Dabo Swinney was born to a mother, Carol, who at an early age overcame polio. Her dreams of a family and a stable home quickly diminished when her husband, Ervil Swinney, turned to alcohol to cope with his problems.
 
Swinney, his mom and brothers were left to fend for themselves. At times they were homeless. Those experiences instilled fierce determination in Swinney to provide for his mother, and to win back his father by making him proud.
 
Determination is what compelled Swinney to walk on at The University of Alabama and become a first-string wide receiver who played a role in their 1992 national championship victory.
 
After becoming a coach at Alabama, then losing his position in a leadership turnover, Swinney landed a job under Tommy Bowden as the assistant wide receiver’s coach for Clemson in 2003.
 
Bowden resigned mid-season five years later, and much to the surprise of Clemson fans, Swinney was named interim head coach. After winning the program’s respect, he was offered the full-time position and began rebuilding a program with great potential.
 
Swinney eventually reunited with his father. He calls forgiveness “One of the greatest gifts we have from God.”
 
Swinney’s father came to faith later and turned his life around before his death to cancer in 2015. He even lived with Swinney during cancer treatments – a time of healing for both.
 
Swinney’s wife of 23 years, Kathleen, also felt the sting of loss when her sister lost a nine-year battle to cancer.
 
After her sister’s breast cancer diagnosis, Kathleen and her younger sister underwent genetic testing and discovered they also had the gene with links to the disease. Realizing this gave her a 90 percent chance of developing breast cancer, Kathleen made the difficult decision to endure a hysterectomy and double mastectomy.
 
Adversity was not only limited to the coach and his family, but also Clemson’s five-star quarterback, Deshaun Watson.
 
Born the eldest son of a single mom, Watson took on many responsibilities. It was Habitat for Humanity and his mother’s hard work that provided a home for the family of five. It also provided escape from crime and drugs.
 
Responsibilities increased for Watson when his mother was diagnosed with tongue cancer during his sophomore year in high school.
 
“I was scared,” Watson recalls.
 
His mother’s fight inspired Watson to do the same in his football career. Known for being calm under fire, Watson’s motivation made him a finalist for the Heisman Trophy two times, winner of the Davey O’Brien Quarterback Award twice and the recipient of the 2016 Bobby Bowden Award.
 
What Swinney lacked in childhood, he was determined to provide for his family. As a devoted husband and father, his family usually travels with the team, and he involves his sons as game score trackers. But that family atmosphere also extends to how he treats coaching staff and players.
 
The team is infused with a family-focus making everyone feel part of the team, treated with respect and given high expectations. The team usually watches an inspiring movie together the night before a game.
Swinney expects players to attend class, make an effort and be good citizens. Each staff member has a picture of their family outside their door.
 
Through family focus, Swinney provides players with the support and role models many never had.
Even still, expectations are high. And don’t be late for any meeting or team meal or you’d better have a good excuse. Former players are welcomed back to visit the family they established while there. It’s just a part of Swinney’s “all in” philosophy.
 
In a press conference after the National Championship victory, Dabo said, “It’s been an unbelievable night. All of our teams get a piece of this trophy.”
 
He makes it a priority to train players to be successful in all aspects of their lives – work, community service and their families.
 
Swinney, a committed local church member, is unashamed of his commitment to Christ, which he made through the influence of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in high school.
 
In 2014, Swinney’s faith was challenged by the Freedom From Religion foundation, but he held firm. As a man of conviction he said, “I try to be a good example to others and to live my life according to my faith.”

“Coaching,” he said, “was God’s calling for me.”
 
Watson came to faith in Christ in the ninth grade – a decision that changed his path. Both coach and quarterback gave credit where credit is due on national television in the first moments after winning the title.
 
Speechless at first, Watson said, “It was what God wanted. It’s far bigger than us.”
 
Swinney’s words echoed that sentiment, “Only God,” he said, “Can take a guy like me … I’m thankful to the good Lord.”
 
Alabama’s tenacious defense tried everything in their power to stop Watson, but his words in the huddle will never be forgotten.
 
“Don’t panic,” he said, “We were built for moments like these. … Let’s be legendary.”
 
Clemson scored 21 points in the last quarter as part of a memorable comeback.
 
The winning touchdown was scored by the five-star quarterback’s pass to a walk-on wide receiver, Hunter Renfrow, who had overcome his own obstacles. Renfrow entered Clemson’s program at 5’11” and 155 pounds, making him vulnerable to a “runt” mentality.
 
That play gained Renfrow hero status in the eyes of fans, not to mention the cover of Sports Illustrated. He also acknowledged God in his comments after the game.
 
After thanking God, Swinney thanked his mom, calling her “a special lady,” his wife –  “My rock who has stood by me even when I didn’t have a car or was living at a friend’s house” – and his three sons.
Swinney even mentioned his late father: “I know he is here.”
 
Shep’s inspiring message earlier in the season was God’s way of preparing this team for a greater ultimate victory – one in which He would be glorified.
 
My father, Harry Dent, who was transformed from a politician to God’s kingdom strategist always gave this example in encouraging Christians to be salt and light in this world:
 
“Your pastor is the coach and you are the team. As you play the game of life, remember that folks around you in the stadium are watching every play you make. In this way, you will be His salt and His light in a darkening world.”
 
Never has that been truer than Jan. 9. And the Freedom From Religion Foundation is eating crow as God’s message through His messengers is reaching out to a world enamored by sports. It’s a message of hope for all who face adversity.
 
God can make a difference in our lives, and His creation of the family is an important building block. Adversity is a powerful teacher that can develop you into what God created you to be.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ginny Dent Brant is a writer and speaker. Her book about her spiritual journey with her father, Harry S. Dent Sr., Finding True Freedom: From the White House to the World, was released in 2010. She is a former trustee of the International Mission Board. She and her husband, Alton, live in Clemson/Seneca, S.C. More info at ginnybrant.com.)
 

1/23/2017 1:26:18 PM by Ginny Dent Brant | with 3 comments



Abortion debate is about to heat up

January 20 2017 by Daryl C. Cornett

A full pendulum swing back to the right has put the Republican Party in a position here in Kentucky that has led quickly to the passing of abortion-curbing legislation that in previous decades had absolutely no chance.
 
At least for the moment, abortion providers are not allowed to perform abortions on unborn babies over 20 weeks, and women seeking an abortion must be given an ultrasound before an abortion procedure can take place.
 
This success of conservative, pro-life politicians and their constituents will most definitely be challenged in the courts. It took only one day for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to bring suit! It is conceivable that such legislation may move the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ultimately to revisit Roe v. Wade. Of course, we are still waiting to see what nominee to the court President-elect Trump will put forward. Furthermore, we may see additional nominations to SCOTUS during the next four years.
 
A tide that favors the pro-life cause has without a doubt arisen. The question remains as to how high it may carry legislation in statehouses until it begins to recede because of federal courts.
 
The abortion issue has been and always will be a moral and ethical debate. Unfortunately, like other moral issues, it has become politicized. But for the pro-life person like me, the conversation has always been about the human rights of the unborn and about helping women who feel, for whatever reason, that abortion is the right choice for them.
 
The push to make abortion legal in our country happened on the heels of the feminist movement, which was by and large part of the so-called sexual revolution. As the society moved to more open liberal views in regard to sexuality in the ’60s and ’70s, unwanted pregnancies began to be rethought as well. Why should a woman who found herself pregnant necessarily have to carry and give birth? Some were getting illegal and dangerous abortions anyway. So, the arguments for legalized abortion began to emerge in force.
 
In these arguments the pregnant woman’s rights and the issue of safety took center stage. What people had intuitively known – that an unborn baby is a human life – was to be suppressed and take a backseat to a woman’s choice. The argument that ultimately won the day, resulting in legalized abortion, concerned a woman’s right to privacy in regard to her pregnancy. The Supreme Court applied the 14th Amendment to the debate in Roe v. Wade. No serious discussion took place about the nature of the unborn themselves.
 
These old arguments are going to resurface for a new generation. However, there will be one difference – technology. Ultrasound technology was new, of poor quality and not widely used in the United States in 1973. The in utero detail we can see now of a baby is amazing! The equipment and skill we now possess to help premature babies survive has also complicated the issue. It seems much more likely that when the lawyers and judges begin to argue and rule on this in the days ahead, there will be a lot of new material to work with that was unavailable the first time around in the ’60s and ’70s.
 
We might actually be forced to have the discussion that never took place from the first. Yes, we must talk about women’s health in regard to pregnancy. But we must also talk about the reality of this new life. We must talk about whether this new life has human rights, just like the mother.
 
Our country, through its legislative and judicial processes, will have to rethink our understanding of life and freedom. We will have to sift out the weightier ethical elements and prioritize. In the end, maybe we will come to our senses and finally admit what I believe we all really know – that an unborn baby is a human life. Then we will have to decide if that unborn human life has just as much the right to life as a newborn human life.
 
I believe we are now on a trajectory in which these discussions will be taking place at the family dinner table, at the coffee shops, on social media (God help us!), in churches, on the cable news networks and among our leaders.
 
In the end, decisions will have to be made. Will we continue to hide behind the rhetoric of choice and become even more callous and selfish? Or will we repent, admit our error and begin to reshape a culture that will uphold the dignity of every person and protect the most vulnerable, while being serious about helping women who find themselves with unplanned and unwanted pregnancies? I have a feeling that we may get some answers to these questions in 2017.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Daryl C. Cornett is pastor of First Baptist Church in Hazard, Ky., a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and former associate professor of church history at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn. Jan. 22 is Sanctity of Life Sunday on the Southern Baptist Convention calendar.)
 

1/20/2017 11:19:49 AM by Daryl C. Cornett | with 0 comments



5 tips to evangelize superstitious religious groups

January 19 2017 by Randy and Kathy Arnett

Terror gripped Simon and his family. Their neighborhood mutt had howled and barked incessantly the previous night at the front door of their one-room home. Simon explained that the dog’s behavior signaled an impending death in their household.
 
While many may simply dismiss Simon as foolishly superstitious, others would not. In fact, millions of people see the world as Simon does. Traditional Religion, as it is called, is common in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and yes, North America. Vestiges of it can be found among many followers of the major religions, including Christianity.
 
Christians find it difficult to imagine a world filled with spirits, ancestors, deities, powers, magic, and the specialists who interpret and manipulate these forces. Moreover, our perspectives strongly affect the way we share the gospel with Simon and those like him. Ignoring or disparaging his traditional religion views, concerns, explanations and questions limits the effectiveness of our disciple making.
 
African Traditional Religion (ATR) has many similarities with other variations of traditional religion worldwide. Consider three aspects of ATR followers when sharing the gospel among them.
 

Three aspects of ATR

Personal well-being holds the highest value for ATR followers. Health, wealth and long life are ultimate concerns. Their world has many spiritual dangers that prevent well-being, so they seek protection and deliverance from spiritual forces they believe are problematic. Only then can they have peace.
 
Secondly, ATR followers are pragmatic. They focus on spiritual power as a way to achieve and maintain personal well-being. Accordingly, they are manifestly concrete – not abstract – in their thinking. Rather than philosophizing about personal problems, ATR adherents address problems through such tangible means as amulets, formulas, rituals and specialists.
 
Thirdly, ATR followers are pluralistic. Pragmatism leads them to employ whatever means they can to solve personal problems. They mix practices from other religions, including Christianity, with traditional religion. They will say a prayer or “get saved” if they think it will provide another advantage in the fight for well-being. They don’t become true believers, but remain staunchly ATR in their belief and practice. Similarly, they are likely to show interest in the gospel in hopes of enhancing their personal well-being.
 

5 ways to share gospel

The good news is that an ATR person easily engages in spiritual conversations. He understands and views the world through spiritual eyes. Here are five avenues for sharing the gospel in ways that will profoundly touch their core beliefs:
 
1. Connect well-being to God’s provision.
 
Listen for ATR practitioners to express their heartfelt needs, and recount a biblical story of how God met a similar need. If the need is food, you might tell the story of God’s provision for Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. If a woman is barren, share how God gave a son to Sarah after years of infertility. If evil spirits afflict the person, tell how Jesus set free the Gerasene demoniac. But be careful not to make promises that the same will occur for them. Then, share the gospel message and pray with them.
 
2. Emphasize significance of sin nature.
 
In ATR, sin is primarily social, not moral. Sin is considered an act that breaks relationships in the seen or unseen world. Consequently, the ATR follower needs to see the double side of sin – that sin is not merely an act but also one’s nature. Help adherents understand that obedience to God’s commandments is insufficient to remedy one’s sin nature. Emphasize the fact that Adam and Eve rejected God’s law, and God cursed them. That curse passed from generation to generation. Today, all of humanity lives under the curse. Our relationship with God is broken, and we are enslaved to sin and Satan. In ATR, generational curses are broken by sacrifice. Jesus is the sacrifice who breaks humanity’s (generational) curse and enslavement to Satan.
 
3. Present salvation as a new relationship made possible by God’s grace.
 
ATR views salvation primarily as physical well-being. We can correct the ATR view by tracing the salvation story from the fall to the resurrection. Two elements deserve much attention: the sin nature and God’s provision in Christ. By emphasizing grace, we lead adherents to rely on what God did in Christ, rather than thinking he can manipulate God for physical blessings, protection and deliverance.
 
4. Use concrete, rather than abstract, images of the atonement.
 
Convey redemption and deliverance from the powers of evil by using the images of Passover, the Old Testament sacrificial system, and Christ’s substitutionary death. Other possibilities include analogies of slaves redeemed from the auction block and estranged parties who are now reconciled. Reemphasize that Christ alone removes the curse from humanity. Finally, highlight the victory of the cross over evil powers, spirits and fear of death.
 
5. Use biblical stories of deliverance that portray persons freed from spiritual powers.
 
Examples from the ministry of Jesus include the woman bent over for 18 years by a spirit and the demonized daughter of the Canaanite woman. Share concrete examples of how Christ delivers and protects His own from evil spirits.
 
The ATR follower holds a worldview that has commonalities with the biblical worldview. He believes in God, spirits, miracles and God’s intervention in the world. We need not convince him of these things. He needs to meet Christ, who will transform his worldview and provide him power to live in the midst of his spiritual battles.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Randy and Kathy Arnett serve in Africa as International Mission Board theological education strategists.)

1/19/2017 10:24:18 AM by Randy and Kathy Arnett | with 0 comments



Our differences & our mission

January 18 2017 by Edgar Aponte

“Jesus: to the Neighborhood and the Nations” was the cry during the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in New Orleans. That cry for missions and cooperation encapsulates the heart of Southern Baptists since the days of men like Jesse Mercer and women like Lottie Moon.
 
It was during that SBC when I heard seminary president Danny Akin say to a group of pastors: Within Southern Baptist life we have different theological ideas. We disagree on different issues but we agree on the gospel and the urgency of missions.

Edgar Aponte


I remember saying to a friend, that’s the kind of spirit and leadership we need in our churches. We want to bring people together rather than divide ourselves over non-gospel issues. The gospel makes us one, and that gospel compels us to go to reach our neighborhood and the nations for King Jesus.
 
But the reality is, even for redeemed sinners like us, this work of cooperation is challenging.
 
It requires personal sacrifices and humility; it requires a heart that is slow to be offended and quick to forgive. Cooperation toward missions is like love; it demands intentionality and patience. It can be difficult but we can do it. We love because we have been loved by God. We go because He came. And that saving love compels us to tell others about that divine love.
 
That’s why we seek to work with those who may disagree with us on non-gospel and non-ecclesiological issues. Together we can accomplish far more than what we can accomplish by ourselves. It can be messy, but it is glorious. It can be painful, but it is rewarding.
 
We Southern Baptists must keep in mind that the Christian life is a life of repentance. And a spirit of repentance should mark our interactions within our local churches and denominational activities. Let’s love one another because we can. We cooperate for something that is greater than ourselves, the glory of the Triune God among the nations.
 
Let’s work together knowing that our ministry is not only impacting the next 10 years, but the next 10,000 years and more.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Edgar Aponte, @EdgarRAponte, is the International Mission Board’s vice president of mobilization.)
 

1/18/2017 7:30:09 AM by Edgar Aponte | with 0 comments



There’s a pill for that

January 17 2017 by Judy Bates

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we see references to witchcraft – Galatians 5:20 and Revelation 21:8 are a couple of examples.
 
The shock for most folks is to learn that the word witchcraft (or sorcery in some translations) is actually the Greek word pharmakeia. Sound a little familiar? That’s because it’s the same word from which we get our word pharmacy.

Judy Bates


Why bring this up? Because nowadays, there seems to be a pill for everything and plenty of encouragement to try them all. And because of this attitude of “a pill will fix it,” senior adults, including well-intended Christians, are being overmedicated with painkillers, antidepressants and other mind- and behavior-altering drugs at an increasing rate. We think of drug addiction as a problem among young people. While most senior adults aren’t out on the street trying to get a hit from their local dealer, what they are doing is getting a slew of prescription drugs from their doctors.
 
Here are just a few eye-opening statistics:
 
DrugAbuse.gov says that while people age 65 and older make up only 13 percent of the population, they account for more than one-third of the money spent on outpatient prescriptions in the U.S. Meanwhile, AgingCare.com notes that 40 percent of all the prescription medications sold in the U.S. is for senior adults.
 
– According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, up to 17 percent of senior adults abuse prescription drugs.
 
– A USAToday.com article quotes Betty Van Amburgh, a 68-year-old who had become drug-addicted, as saying, “The doctors just kept prescribing them. … I was a zombie.” Betty went through several back surgeries 20 years earlier and, all these years later, doctors were still keeping her stocked with painkillers.
 
The same article went on to warn that older patients are being loaded with opioid painkillers and benzodiazepine anxiety drugs, with a 20 percent increase in opioid prescriptions in the last five years – more than double the growth rate of the senior adult population.
 
So what are we to make of all this?
 
If you need a pill to go to sleep, a pill to wake up and a pill to keep you going in between, you may be overmedicating, or if you’re experiencing fuzzy thinking and difficulty keeping your balance. I realize that certain conditions require medication on a regular basis, so please don’t think I’m being critical of those who truly need these drugs. My concern is for those who have been prescribed so much for so long that they’re simply not sure what they need or what they can do without.
 
Many seniors experience falls and dementia-like symptoms simply from being overmedicated. It’s so important to keep all your doctors aware of all your medications. Regardless of how many doctors you may have, make sure each of them is provided with a full list of your medications. One doctor unaware of the medication being prescribed by another doctor could easily put you on a drug that’s dangerous or even life-threatening when combined with certain other medications.
 
If you’re a caregiver, relative or close friend of a senior adult you believe is being overmedicated, encourage or even assist him in writing down all his medications – including over-the-counter meds and nutritional supplements his doctor may not be aware of – and scheduling an appointment to have his medications reevaluated and, hopefully, some dosages reduced or eliminated.
 
And, certainly, let’s pray for those who are dealing with this terrible problem – for those who are overmedicated and have become drug-addicted and for those who love them and are trying to help, remembering the instruction of scripture: “Therefore be clear-minded and sober, so you can pray” (1 Peter 4:7b, Berean Study Bible).
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Judy Woodward Bates is an author, speaker and TV personality. Visit her website, Bargainomics.com, and find her on Twitter and Facebook by searching for Bargainomics.)

 

1/17/2017 9:02:08 AM by Judy Bates | with 0 comments



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