July 2012

The tide turning on global warming ‘alarmism’?

July 18 2012 by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press

DALLAS – Most people didn’t notice the United Nations convened down in Rio de Janeiro June 20. But we should be paying attention. Lots of mischief is attempted at these U.N. conferences.

British Lord Christopher Monkton was a guest in June on the Point of View radio program, calling in from the Rio Plus 20 conference. He told us that at last year’s climate conference in Durban, South Africa, the U.N. was about to grant Mother Earth the right to sue any Western nation in a new International Climate Court (no kidding), and to cut allowable carbon dioxide emissions by half (thereby killing most economies).

CO2 is what people exhale, so it’s not surprising that Lord Monkton described a poster he noticed at the conference which “showed the sun dressed as a doctor diagnosing the Earth’s disease: ‘I’m afraid you’ve got it: humans.’” He spoke of the overarching goal of U.N. planners, which is to enact some kind of a global tax, perhaps on financial transactions, and to assess developed nations billions in order to help developing nations fight global warming.

Cooler heads prevailed. But climate change – with us since the earth began – continues to be the boogeyman of choice for the U.N. To them, the way we live, with things like cars – and air conditioning – is simply not sustainable.

Global warming hawks have been fairly successful in creating an aura of scientific consensus around global warming. But that’s changing. Sixteen prominent climate scientists have signed a document to try to dispel the myth that something needs to be done about global warming. One of them, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ivar Giaever publicly resigned last September from the American Physical Society. He declared he could not live with the group’s policy statement that the evidence for global warming is “incontrovertible” and its alarmist warnings about what will happen if “no mitigating actions” are taken.

The Wall Street Journal recently published the 16 scientists’ statement in an article entitled, “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” The article highlights this defection from global warming orthodoxy and states that, despite institutional persecution and the fact that there’s more money in the climate alarmist camp, the number of scientists joining the ranks of “heretics” is large and growing.

The scientists’ statement emphasizes that there’s been a “lack of global warming for well over 10 years.” Plus, over the last 22 years, the planet has not warmed as much as computer models predicted. These models have also greatly exaggerated the amount of warming carbon dioxide could possibly cause. We hear less lately about CO2 causing warming because there isn’t the evidence. Instead, the alarmists are now claiming we have to cut greenhouse gasses because they cause “weather extremes” – events like hurricanes and storms.

As stewards of the earth, man should do his best to protect the environment. But when nations get together to figure out how to do that, they ought to drop the presumptuous idea that man can control the climate. While they’re at it they should stop trying to penalize the wealthier nations for their success. When economies grow, they can better afford policies that protect the environment.

The statement by the 16 scientists cites a recent study of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus that showed one of the best growth scenarios for less-developed nations could be achieved with “50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls.” Someone ought to propose that to the United Nations.

(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.)
7/18/2012 2:32:37 PM by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Why poor tipping compromises the gospel

July 17 2012 by Raymond Johnson, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – “So that was a friendly Christian person?”

After making that statement, one of my restaurant coworkers – a divorced, agnostic man working two jobs to pay child support – tossed a receipt with a circle around the subpar tip he had received from a Christian individual sitting at his table. In fact, the tip was less than subpar – barely 10 percent on a $90 bill. I thought about ignoring him, but I have been attempting to share the gospel with this coworker for a while. “Not all Christian people treat others that way,” I said softly.

I have been serving tables at a restaurant for several years in order to support my wife and children and to pay my way through graduate school. Repeatedly, I have observed Christian people – or people who identify themselves as Christians by wearing Christian T-shirts/apparel or their Christian conference name tag, etc. – come into the restaurant at which I work, pray for their food after acting rudely toward their server, leave a 10 percent tip (give or take a few percent) and a gospel tract, and then leave.

Whether Christians are aware of it or not, a subpar tip is a stumbling block in communicating the gospel. It causes unbelieving servers to think that we, as Christians, value money over everything and everyone else (1 Timothy 6:10). So, my coworker, like many other servers, interprets such actions (poor tips from alleged Christian people) as stingy. Tragically, the result – though it may be unfair – is that many servers have identified the majority of Christians as a contingent of people who care little for others. They hear Christians promise them that God is just and fair and that He is a generous King who is lavish with His mercy and kind toward others. Christians promise them that the gospel they preach is for all people right before they metaphorically clinch their money in their fist and tip poorly; refusing money to laborers who are worthy of their wages (1 Timothy 5:18; Matthew 10:10).

Now, to be sure, both believers and unbelievers can leave poor tips and fair tips. But, the scripture teaches that Christians, more than all people, should be characterized by generosity and love, not simply by “fairness,” because they were first loved even though they were most undeserving (1 John 4:19). It seems that the deeper issue is not a knowledge of what is culturally fair or economically acceptable when it comes to tipping servers. Rather, the issue is a lack of recognition by Christians that we have received out of God's fullness (John 1:16); that we have received because God generously provided His Son for us and for our salvation (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9).

What Christians may not realize is that, by tipping servers poorly, they are in danger of living inconsistently with the gospel they preach. Indeed, poor tips are an example of what Moses teaches in Deuteronomy 25 – muzzling an ox when it is treading out grain (Deuteronomy 25:4). It relinquishes responsibility to the Great Commission, because the gospel is about grace. Of all the people in the world, Christians should understand that they are unworthy to be recipients of the great mercy, grace and generosity shown them in Christ. Even an unbelieving person can tip fairly, but Christians should be more than “fair” tippers, they should be generous because God has generously provided redemption for them through His Son, Jesus Christ (Luke 7:47). For the Christian, tipping shouldn't be contingent upon the dining experience.

When a Christian determines the tip percentage of the bill based on quality of service or uniqueness of the dining experience, he or she contradicts grace and flirts dangerously with greed. It is flirting with greed because it forgets, at least momentarily, that underserved grace is shown to us every day.

Recently, I have dialogued with many Christian people whose argument for tipping poorly – or less than generously fair – goes something like this: “Servers understand that their job is to sell themselves to me so that I tip them well. So, if they fail to meet my dining expectations then I am not obligated to reciprocate with a fair tip after paying for the meal.” Though this may seem reasonable, it is precisely this desire to prefer the self (in this case, by preferring the dining experience) that must be crucified when it comes to tipping generously. When the patron, especially the Christian patron, prefers himself by preferring the dining experience, he fails to communicate that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of grace, that because of the gospel of Jesus Christ there are things that are far more significant than a pleasurable dining experience. The real heart issue when it comes to poor tipping is a lack of awareness of how great and vast the debt was that God generously and graciously forgave because he loves us.

Now, the reader should understand that I am not saying that patrons do not have the right to communicate that their dining experience was poor. I am saying, however, that leaving a subpar tip does not communicate that the dining experience was poor (unfortunately, it often happens, as in the account mentioned above, when service was superb and when the patron had no complaint). Rather, the Christian patron should tip generously and then notify a manager or supervisor of the lack of service. Regardless of the dining experience, all persons created in the likeness of God deserve a fair wage (Gen 1:27). For the server, tips are wages, not donations.

Sadly, a large portion of the people that I work with have received less than generous tips from many customers who have identified themselves with the gospel. As a result, a significant portion of non-Christians working as servers have distanced themselves from the gospel preached to them by Christians. It seems the only way to rectify this is for Christians to recognize our position in Christ – we are the recipients of unmerited grace by a generous God – and give generously so that others may know that their treasure is indeed found in Someone else, Jesus Christ (Matthew 6:19-21).

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Raymond Johnson and his wife, Meghan, live in Louisville with their two daughters, Abigail and Charlotte. He is a PhD student in New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is on the ministerial staff at Ninth & O Baptist Church, and is a server at Mitchell's Fish Market.)
7/17/2012 2:40:52 PM by Raymond Johnson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

NAMB making good choices for leadership, ministry efforts

July 16 2012 by Alvin Reid, Guest Column

In 1989 my wife, Michelle, and our infant son embarked on a journey from Texas to Indiana, from living in the Bible Belt all our lives to the Midwest. We had been called to Indiana to serve as missionaries for the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board/NAMB) for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). We served there for three wonderful years.
I was pretty much ignorance on fire. From then until now God has graciously allowed me an active role [with NAMB]. I love NAMB. So many who have and still do work there I count as dear friends. So much good has been done through the ministry of our domestic mission board. But like many others, I have believed for some time fundamental changes had to be made to share the timeless gospel in a timely manner.
I love the strategy called “Send North America.” I love the leadership more than the strategy, for strategy works in relation to the leaders who implement it. I count Aaron Coe [NAMB vice president for mobilization] as a dear friend from his Manhattan days at Gallery Church. I took our daughter Hannah to New York City for her 16th birthday. While there we met with Aaron and key leaders. Our son Josh has been on a mission trip with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to partner with Aaron and with Gallery Church pastor, Freddy Wyatt. When I spoke at the Pastors Conference in Louisville in 2009 I invited Aaron and Freddy to join me on the platform as examples of the future leaders of our time. I love the focus on “evangelistic” church planting. I like the respect for local churches to become involved in planting. In 1900 there were 27 churches per 10,000 people in the U.S., but only 11 per 10,000 in 2000. We need more evangelistic churches.
NAMB President Kevin Ezell wisely noted he is tying vital ministries like disaster relief more closely to church planting. The local church is God’s plan. From Acts through historic awakenings we see the church involved in gospel witness and social justice. NAMB can do some things individual churches cannot, like disaster relief. This has been and can be a fantastic way not only to provide immediate relief in times of crisis but also to display the gospel well in so doing. True mercy ministry involves relief, rehabilitation and development. But the local churches in a given area (and new plants) can step in to lead the vital rehab and development that should follow.
As for evangelism, I rejoice in Larry Wynn’s call to lead that area of NAMB [vice president of evangelism]. Larry is a man I have respected for decades. My close friend and colleague George Robinson came from Larry’s pastoral ministry. Aaron Coe is the young gun ready to push us forward, while Larry Wynn is the seasoned veteran bringing wisdom to the field. Larry will oversee the evangelistic revitalization of established churches, a desperate need given that so many of our churches range from unhealthy to being on life support. Renewal and replanting of existing churches and the planting of new churches remains the need of the hour. I love the focus on cities. Reach the cities, reach the nation, and reach all the nations for that matter. I rejoice at the focus on reaching urban areas. The U.S. was 80 percent rural in 1870 but is over 80 percent urban now. I love the starfish-like shift from a more centralized Atlanta-based NAMB (read the book The Starfish and the Spider for more on this).

While SBC founders envisioned wisely a decentralized convention with autonomy given to churches, associations, states and the SBC, we have been functioning in a far more centralized manner in recent decades. From Southeastern’s desire to partner with local churches in ministry training to NAMB’s move to be more field-based, I am personally pleased at the move to get more local in ministry. It will take a while to get our convention refocused on the gospel and God’s Word and less focused on ourselves and our opinions.
But in the short term there are good signs:
• New church plants were 27 percent ahead of projections in 2011;
• The Send North America Conference July 30-31 this year has greatly exceeded projections and has been moved to a larger venue;
• Annie Armstrong was 3 percent ahead of budget in 2011, encouraging in a season of recession;
• NAMB will lead a massive scripture distribution in 2013 to help get the Word to the unchurched.
I commend leaders who get that change must happen but who also understand our great heritage. There are many today who realize things must change. They also recognize that if you are one step ahead you are a leader, but if you are 10 steps ahead you are an idiot. Lead on men, and I for one, will follow.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Alvin Reid is professor of evangelism and student ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. His website is alvinreid.com.)
7/16/2012 2:04:23 PM by Alvin Reid, Guest Column | with 0 comments

How to make your marriage soar

July 13 2012 by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press

EL CAJON, Calif. – Shooting bald eagles – with cameras – is now a popular sport in America. Spotting their high-flying, sharp-sighted majesty is a national pastime. They soar and glide 10,000 feet above earth by catching updrafts. At 50-plus mph, they snatch leaping salmon. “The eagle ... spies her prey, from a very great distance” (Job 39:26-29).

Eagles teach us about God. “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself” (Exodus 19:4). “Like an eagle teaching its young to fly ... the LORD kept Israel from falling” (Deuteronomy 32:11). “Those who wait on the Lord ... shall mount up with wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31).

Eagles are God’s object lessons. Within the nature of eagles, He placed certain homing instincts that can teach us profound lessons about our marriages.

Male and female eaglets are committed. They pair up for life by age five and raise eaglets each season for 20-30 years. Only after one dies will the other seek a new mate.

Such fidelity is rare in “human” marriages today. Emphasis on permanence is lacking. Repeat, review, and remind yourself of your vows. We’re warned: “Pay what you have vowed – better not to vow than to vow and not pay” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5).

Take wedding vows seriously – God does. Loving vows are happily kept. Cultivate friendship. Spend time together. Talk, listen, date, develop joint habits/hobbies. Stick together in sickness and health. Temper and temptation arise, but the sanctity of our vows safeguards with a failsafe boundary.

God expects us to keep our promises. Have eyes only for each other. Reassure your spouse and cherish the vows you made at the altar.

Watching for infiltrators, eagles guard the exclusiveness of their relationship.

Moral failure may begin with personal conversations with the opposite sex. When unfulfilled needs are met, you might drift unwittingly into hazardous waters. Beware of talking about personal things you aren’t discussing with your spouse.

A 2003 USA Today article quoted psychologist and marital researcher Shirley Glass as saying there was a “crisis of infidelity” breeding in the workplace. “The new infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing that they’ve crossed the line from platonic friendship into romantic love,” Glass said.

Keep an eagle eye on your home. Be territorial, jealously guarding your exclusive marriage relationship. Men, avoid traveling or dining alone with another woman (and vice versa).

Keep relationships with co-workers professional. Never flirt, even in jest. The strongest marriages are in danger without the proper hedges. Practice vigilance. Seemingly small indiscretions can become major traps.

Work on things together
Mr. and Mrs. Eagle work hard building their nest and raising their family. The first years are the hardest. One nest that was found was 34 years old. Another 22 foot-deep nest weighed more than two tons. Nests provide soft beds for eggs.

Egg-sitting and “child”-rearing involves both parents. Marriage/home-building requires work from both partners. A divorce court judge once said, “In 25 years of presiding over thousands of divorces ... I can say that all of them had one thing in common – one or both partners forgot to work on the marriage.”

Work at communicating, loving, making time for each other, maintaining a cheerful attitude. Share chores. Keeping a marriage humming and a home running takes two. “Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do [marriage and parenting], as though you were working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:22).

Build your nest high
Eagles build their nests high and well, providing a spectacular view and protection from predators.

How can couples build homes on high ground? Commit to walk with Jesus Christ every day. Go to church and worship together as a couple. Read your Bible together regularly and pray together. It isn’t always easy, but it makes all the difference.

Turn a “sore” marriage into one that soars. Learn the lesson of the eagles – be committed for life, practice fidelity, work together and build high. Catch the updrafts of God’s love, and your nest will be secure.

(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 www.DavidJeremiah.org.)
7/13/2012 1:22:24 PM by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Fear not – God commands it

July 12 2012 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was known as “the republic of fear” among opponents – those who were still alive, that is.

The deposed dictator, who was hanged in 2006, so effectively instilled dread among Iraqis during his decades in power that the mere rumor of a visit from his henchmen was enough to make most citizens tremble and submit.

It’s an old tactic in the tyrant playbook: Rule by fear. Spill plenty of blood early on. Pit various social, ethnic and religious groups against each other. Crush any hint of resistance. Later, you can make a bloody example of the odd rebel here and there – or even a random victim plucked off the street – to keep the rest of your subjects anxious. They must believe that you have eyes, ears and knives everywhere. If you’re a good tyrant, you probably do.

Arab strongmen who have fallen from power more recently used the same methods to greater or lesser degrees, until their populations had enough.

“[T]he Arab awakenings happened because the Arab peoples stopped fearing their leaders,” writes New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman of the Arab Spring revolutions. “But they stalled because the Arab peoples have not stopped fearing each other.”

The dictators carefully nurtured the culture of fear and ran their countries like Mafia dons, Friedman observes, “doling out patronage and protection, while ruling with an iron fist. But it will take more than just decapitating these regimes to overcome that legacy. It will take a culture of pluralism and citizenship. Until then, tribes will still fear tribes in Libya and Yemen, sects will still fear sects in Syria and Bahrain, the secular and the Christians will still fear the Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia and the philosophy of ‘rule or die’ will remain a potent competitor to ‘one man, one vote.’“

Fear runs deep in human hearts and minds – and not just in tough neighborhoods like the Middle East.

A few years ago I wrote about the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina’s glittering capital, economic hub, cultural center and home to a third of the nation’s 40 million people. If you look beneath Buenos Aires’ frenetic pace, wide avenues, trendy bars, tango cafes and European atmosphere, you find deep undercurrents of isolation and fear.

“In a big city, the spiritual strongholds are loneliness and fear,” said a missionary based there. “People live their lives scared. They’re afraid to go out at night. They’re afraid someone is going to take something from them. People who don’t have anything are afraid they’re not going to eat the next day. Fear drives people to do irrational and immoral things. It makes the wealthy become reclusive. It makes the poor get involved in crime or drugs to find an escape.”

The crime rate in Buenos Aires is no higher than in other major world cities. The metal bars guarding doors and windows there represent something deeper than simple fear of crime. Waves of political violence, economic chaos and social turmoil experienced by Argentines since the 1970s have left a legacy of suspicion, disillusionment and cynicism.

“People just don’t trust anyone anymore,” explained the missionary. “They don’t trust their government. They don’t trust the police. They don’t trust the mechanic they take their car to. … It’s a huge barrier to the gospel, because it makes it very difficult to approach people and share. You’ve got this priceless gift you’d like to give everybody, but fear keeps them from being open to even talking about it.”

What if fear paralyzes not the person you want to tell about Christ, but you? Another missionary believes that’s one reason many Christians don’t reach out to the spiritually hungry immigrants and refugees who come to America.

“God is … bringing the nations to us,” he says. “But the thing that is driving the church is fear. Until we get over our fear, we will not welcome the lost in our midst. We’re afraid of Muslims, and we’re afraid of foreigners. … We’re in a free country, and yet we’re not exercising our freedom to witness to the nations in our midst.”

Fear poisons relationships or prevents them from ever beginning. It sabotages families and nations, motivates murders and sparks wars. It infects whole cultures. Believers should be immune, but we are not.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt told a nation mired in the Great Depression that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he put his finger on a spiritual reality rarely acknowledged by political leaders. Roosevelt urged Americans not to succumb to the “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” He challenged the country to keep its face turned outward, meeting the needs of others also caught in the global economic crisis: “These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.”

The devil loves fear. He is a master at using it to manipulate, hurt and destroy. But he cannot succeed unless you submit. That’s why the Lord tells His children again and again throughout Scripture to “fear not,” to trust Him, to be strong and of good courage. It’s not simply a reassurance; it’s an order.

“Jesus said, ‘Let not your heart be troubled,’“ Oswald Chambers writes, referring to Christ’s words in John 14:1. But it’s up to you. “God will not keep your heart from being troubled. It is a command – ‘Let not …’ Haul yourself up a hundred and one times a day in order to do it, until you get into the habit of putting God first and calculating with Him in view.”

Fearing not is a crucial part of obeying God, which means loving Him. And love casts out fear.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com. Listen to an audio version at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/156/15646/15646-86331.mp3.)
7/12/2012 2:32:49 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Warning: Photoshopped women can harm your self-image

July 11 2012 by Mary Kassian, Baptist Press

EDMONTON, Alberta – The 116-pound Israeli model, Danielle Segal, was told she was too fat for the runway. After losing 29 pounds and being hospitalized twice for malnutrition, she was finally able to work successfully ... until Israel recently passed a new law prohibiting the hiring of underweight models. Now Danielle has to gain weight so she can work.

The new Israeli law requires models to get physicals every three months and produce those reports at each modeling job before being hired, to ensure they have a healthy Body Mass Index, based on World Health Organization standards. So a model who is 5-foot-8 must weigh at least 119 pounds – still super skinny, but at least her organs will have the minimum body fat needed to function properly. But that’s not the only part of the new Israeli law.
Politicians argued that regulating the skinniness of models wasn’t enough when photo editors have this magic wand called Photoshop that can erase blemishes, lengthen a neckline, slim a waistline or remove half a thigh. So the second part of Israel’s new law places strict limitations on how much models can be edited in advertisements. Any ad that makes the models look thinner is now required to be clearly labeled as “photoshopped” or “enhanced.” Similar to the warning labels on cigarettes, the labels on photoshopped ads imply that ingesting these images might be bad for a girl’s self image and emotional health.

“We want to break the illusion that the model we see is real,” Liad Gil-Har, one of the people who worked on the Israeli bill, was quoted as saying in the Associated Press. Many countries recognize this as a positive first step to regulate the fashion industry exalting putting extreme thinness on a pedestal.

It’s shocking to see how radically the appearance of models are routinely digitally altered for magazine ads.

In most magazines, girls and women are inundated with images of ultra-thin, perfectly made-up women whose bodies have been digitally altered to have the body fat of a pre-pubescent teen. These images set an unrealistic standard for females. Altered, “enhanced,” images pass off an unrealistic fantasy as reality.

What are these fantasy images doing to our daughters? Are they dabbling in anorexic or bulimic behavior to look like their teen idols in Hollywood?

What are they doing to our view of ourselves? Are we consumed with yet another diet, sacrificing time with family for time in the gym or wasting our “fat days” daydreaming about fitting into those skinny jeans?

According to the Journal of Research on Adolescence, “A study of 136 U.K. girls aged 11-16, experimental exposure to ultra-thin models lowered body satisfaction and self-esteem,” wrote Researchers Daniel Clay, Vivian L. Vignoles and Helga Dittmar.

In February 2012, the Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology published an experimental investigation on the addition of warning labels to fashion magazine images for undergraduate woman aged 18 to 35. The results were positive. It “provides the first evidence that the use of warning labels may help to ameliorate some of the known negative effects of viewing media images that feature the thin ideal.”

The root of the problem
Skinny models and photoshopped images are symptoms of an underlying problem. Why is our society obsessed with female perfection? Why do we hold ourselves and the women around us to a ridiculous standard? What’s the real reason?

Actress Ashley Judd blames patriarchy. Recently she was harassed by the press when she appeared on a talk show with her face looking puffy and swollen. They surmised it was from plastic surgery. She explained it was from allergies and a sinus infection. She chewed out the press, accusing them of “promoting patriarchy” with their unfounded accusations. “We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth [reduced] to simple physical objectification ... that objectification is what this conversation about my face is really about,” Judd said. “... It privileges ... the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women.”

Is she right? Is “patriarchy” – men having greater status than women – really the root of the problem? Is it the guys that are to blame?

The Bible talks about people who have an obsession with physical perfection. But it doesn’t identify the problem as patriarchy, it calls it idolatry. Throughout scripture, we read over and over what happens when people turn from God and chase after “idols.” Social chaos and destruction ensue:

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him ... they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:21-23).

In modern society, we worship the idol of the perfect human body – perfected, Photoshopped, ripped, unattainable versions of the human form. Men worship it. And women worship it too.

As women, we choose to fashion our appearance after a fantasy ideal. Who we worship is found in our checkbook, our priorities and our daily schedule. If a girl compares herself to the models in magazines, in TV commercials and pinned on her Pinterest page, then changes her eating habits, exercise schedule and buying preferences in an effort to look like those models ... that standard of beauty is her idol.

Changing the object of her worship
So, what’s the answer? Is it “Photoshopped” warning labels on magazine ads? Or is it enforcing a minimum weight for fashion models?

The Bible tells us that we are created in the image of God. Our physical appearance was handcrafted by Him. It also instructs us that outward beauty is fleeting. True beauty, the lasting, inner beauty of the heart, is what matters the most to the Lord – and what He wants us to focus on the most.

While warning labels and legislation are a step in the right direction, the best way to counteract this obsession with the fantasy of physical “perfection” is for us to live in the truth of Scripture. We need to stop worshiping the ideal of the perfect human body, and start worshiping the God who created us in all colors, shapes and sizes.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mary Kassian is an author, speaker and professor of women’s studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared on her website, GirlsGoneWISE.com. Born and raised in Canada, she lives with her husband in Edmonton, Alberta.)

7/11/2012 2:27:20 PM by Mary Kassian, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Launch a 1st day-of-school tradition at your church

July 10 2012 by Diana Davis, Baptist Press

INDIANAPOLIS – Begin a new first-day-of-school tradition at your church this year.

Plan a community-wide coffee for moms after they drop kids off at school. It could begin right after the school bell, so if your district’s elementary, middle and high schools start at different times, plan three coffees. There’s no formal program – simply fellowship and a sincere, encouraging time of prayer for the children.

Here’s a few tips:

– Advertise the community-wide coffee with an exterior sign, and create Facebook and email invitations for members to forward to friends. State a half-hour schedule, such as 8-8:30 a.m., so working moms may be enticed to come, too.

– Your planning team – a mom from each grade level, a minister’s or deacon’s wife, and a senior adult woman – could plan advertising and schedule, and could delegate responsibilities for the details. Since moms will be wildly busy getting kids ready for the first day of school, a senior adult ladies’ class could prepare and serve drinks and light snacks.

– Create a celebrative mood as guests arrive, and use the first 15 minutes for snacks, informal conversation and friend-making. Ensure a welcoming atmosphere by assigning friendly moms to intentionally meet and include newcomers and members. Invite the pastor’s wife, if she’s available.

– Divide moms by grade levels or schools for prayer groups. The pre-selected leader can invite ladies to introduce themselves and tell their child’s name and grade level. She then could lead a time of prayer, assuring that each mother and child is mentioned by name, and praying for their teachers, friends and school leaders.

– Conclude by inviting those who don’t have a church to worship with you on Sunday, and give printed invitations to upcoming events and Bible classes for parents and school age kids. Then serve more coffee for those who’d like to fellowship longer.

One more idea: Offer a similar event for schoolteachers and administrators. They could stop by the church right after school for a “pray for your new students” cookie fellowship.

As this new school year begins, “make the most of every opportunity!” (Colossians 4:5)

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Davis (www.keeponshining.com) is an author, speaker and wife of the North American Mission Board’s vice president for the Midwest region, Steve Davis.)
7/10/2012 1:33:33 PM by Diana Davis, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

What guests see when they visit your church

July 9 2012 by Thom S. Rainer, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In the context of serious theological discussions, it may seem trivial to write about first impressions of guests when they visit your church. But if we could understand that a returning guest has more opportunities to hear the gospel and experience Christian love and fellowship, we might take the issue a bit more seriously.

Prior to assuming the presidency of LifeWay Christian Resources, I led a church consulting company. One of our first steps in the consultation was to send one or more first-time guests to the church. Those individuals would then report back to us on their experiences. Many times those we enlisted were unchurched non-Christians.

As I write this, I am working at home because a handyman is working on several small items around my house. I love his approach. When he first enters our home, he asks for permission to take a quick tour. Within minutes, he commented on several items that might need his attention, items that weren’t on the list I gave him. I appreciated his thoroughness, and it was good for his business as well.

The handyman did something very basic and very simple. He looked at my house through outside eyes. I am in my house every day, so I don’t notice those things that may not be just right. The same is true for church members and church leaders. They see their church on an ongoing basis, so they don’t have the benefit of outside eyes.

What they see
After two decades of church consultation, a clear pattern emerged. These were the areas that engendered more comments and concerns from first-time guests. These areas are listed in order of frequency of response, and they deal only with physical facilities.

– The women’s restrooms. Almost 100 percent of the female guests we retained addressed this issue. They noticed first and foremost the cleanliness of the restrooms. Then they noticed the convenience of getting to the restrooms. Finally, they noticed the capacity of the restrooms. Did they have to wait in line?

– The preschool and nursery area. This area was a focus of near unanimity of young families. Is the area secure? Is it clean? How do I know someone else won’t pick up my child? Do the workers appear concerned and qualified?

– Parking. Guests often commented on the difficulty or ease of finding a parking spot. Was there a covered drop off if the weather was bad? Were there guest parking spots? Were there reserved places for young mothers and expectant mothers? Were there sufficient handicapped parking places?

– Signage and information. Recently my wife and I were in a mall we had never visited. The first thing we did was go to a sign that had all the stores and their locations on it. Even small churches can be intimidating to first-time guests. Do you have adequate signage throughout the facilities? Is there an obvious information booth or table? Members know where to go; guests don’t.

– Worship seating. First-time guests desire to find a place to sit as quickly as possible. They feel awkward otherwise. Is your worship center more than 80 percent full? If so, the guests perceive it is completely full. Are your members trained to move to the middle of pews or seat rows so guests don’t have to climb over them? Are their ushers or greeters available to lead guests to seats?

It is important
When a guest has a good experience, he or she is more likely to return. When they return they are more likely to hear about and experience the love of Christ.

When I was a pastor of a church with 70 in worship attendance, we decided to do something about our deplorable restrooms. We had a workday and almost half the church showed up. People donated materials, labor and even toilets. At the end of the day, we had some of the nicest and cleanest restrooms in town.

I don’t know how closely it’s related, but our attendance bumped up to 90 immediately and never went back in my tenure. Maybe it was the church working together. Maybe it was the community observing the unity of the church. Or maybe we just had clean restrooms.
It is that important.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared on his website, www.ThomRainer.com.)
7/9/2012 2:57:27 PM by Thom S. Rainer, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The power of revival & repentance

July 6 2012 by Fred Luter Jr., Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – As a kid growing up in my home church, one of the most exciting times of the year was our annual revival. Oh what a time that was!

It was a time that everyone was anticipating. I can vividly remember the choir singing songs that had everyone on their feet. When the deacons prayed during devotion, everyone seemed to be in one accord. However, the highlight of the worship service was when the guest revivalist got up to preach. It appeared that everyone was eagerly waiting to hear what God was saying to us through His Word and through His messenger.

The sermons during revival were always challenging and most times convicting. This was always evident when the “doors of the church” or “invitation” was extended at the end of the sermon. People were getting out of the pews and coming down the aisle responding to the Spirit of God. Some came for salvation, others were coming to rededicate their lives. Yes, the power of revival and repentance was evident in that church!

Since those early experiences in my home church, I have always been a fan of revivals. I have seen how lives, marriages, families and churches can be transformed when revival takes place. I now see the same things happening in the church that I pastor. I truly believe that God is still using revival to touch, transform and change lives.

That is why I am so excited to be a part of the 40/40 Prayer Vigil for Spiritual Revival and National Renewal. I truly believe that this prayer vigil can make a difference in our nation. That’s why I would like to challenge and encourage Southern Baptists from across our great country to embrace and participate in this prayer vigil.

Brothers and sisters, I am convinced that the downward moral decline in America will not change because of who is in the White House. I truly believe the moral decline will only change because of who is in God’s House! For the Word of God says, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

If true change is going to happen in America, it will only happen when the body of Christ is obedient to the Word of God. In other words, we as believers must do the four things that God requires of us in 2 Chronicles 7:14: (1) humble ourselves, (2) pray, (3) seek God’s face and (4) repent of our sins. If we as believers do our part, then rest assured, God will certainly do His part. God promised to forgive our sins and to heal our land.

Brothers and sisters, if there was ever a time for revival and repentance it is now. When you look at how this nation has taken God out of every part of our lives, we should not be surprised by the horrific events that we hear in our daily news. It is time for true revival. It is time for true repentance. It is time for the church to stand up and be the church by being light in a dark world and being salt in a low-sodium, saltless society! We can start by taking part in this 40/40 Prayer Vigil for Spiritual Revival and National Renewal.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Fred Luter Jr. is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. This column is part of a series in anticipation of the 40/40 Prayer Vigil for Spiritual Revival and National Renewal, an initiative of the North American Mission Board and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission to encourage Southern Baptists and other evangelicals to pray for 40 days from September 26 to November 4.)
7/6/2012 1:02:21 PM by Fred Luter Jr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments

His choice: Denounce Jesus or face torture

July 6 2012 by Lin Sung* with Susie Rain, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lin Sung* had just completed evangelism training. As part of the final assignment, the class dispersed to surrounding villages to practice sharing the gospel. Sung sent a text message to tell a friend where he would be. When government officials intercepted that message, his homework assignment changed from sharing Bible stories to a fight for survival.)

EAST ASIA – One day, I was out sharing the gospel in some small Chinese villages when, suddenly, the police surrounded me. They grabbed me and threw me in the back of a van.

“We know that you have been trained for Christian evangelism, and we are taking you in,” they told me.

There was not much I, a simple farmer, could do. I had the evidence (class notes from the training course) with me, so I just leaned back onto the seat and prayed. That’s when God gave me an idea. I took the training notes out of my book and stuffed them into the cracks and crevices of the van.

When we arrived at the station, they tried processing me, but they couldn’t find the evidence. They kept going through my things, swearing they knew I had the formula for spreading Christianity written down. I told them truthfully that I did not have it on me.

Even without proper evidence, they threw me in jail. The officials told me that all I had to do to get my freedom was to recant my beliefs. I refused. So, they tried torturing me into submission.

They chained me to a pole. For the first few days, they did not give me water or food. Finally, they brought me food – but there was nothing to drink. This went on for another day or so – I can’t remember. Always they bring me food but nothing to drink.

I seriously thought I would die chained to that pole, so I prayed to God and He gave me another idea.

When the guard came with my food that night, I asked if I could clean the kitchen. They were surprised by the offer and granted my wish. They took me into a room where dirty dishes were piled high. Flies swarmed the overflowing trash bins and around the dishes with dried food. The stench was overwhelming. As soon as the officers left and locked the door behind them, I lunged for the sink.

I put my face into the dirty dishwater and took a long drink. I did not care about the pieces of food floating in the water. I did not care that the water was dirty and gray in color. This is how I survived – drinking dirty dishwater, and I was thankful that God provided for my needs.

The persecution and torture continued. I was interrogated day after day. Each time, they tried to get me to recant my faith. I refused to denounce Jesus as my Lord. They realized their current methods of persecution would not make me change my mind, so they changed tactics. They chained me outside the jail to a tree.

During the day, the hot sun scorched me. At night, mosquitoes feasted on me. When I slapped them away, the noise and movement caused the motion-censored spotlights to light up. There was no way to get sleep. I was miserable and my body was weak.

Finally, they sent two officers to finish me off. They were big and muscular. They beat up my fragile body without even breaking a sweat. One of the officers put his heavy, metal-tipped boot on my neck and pulled my arms and shoulders in different directions. It felt as if he were going to snap my neck like a chicken’s.

“This is your last chance,” the big officer said. “Denounce Jesus and gain your freedom.”

I looked straight into his eyes and replied, “Your methods will not work on me. I decided to die for Jesus the day I decided to follow Him.”

I immediately felt the tension around my neck loosen. The guards were shocked at my outburst. They looked at each other and shook their heads in disbelief. The big, burly officer took his foot off my neck and pulled me upright.

“This guy has no fear of death,” the officer said to his partner. “Let’s let him go. No amount of persecution is going to change him. It is useless.”

They unlocked the chains and let me go home.

Brothers and Sisters, I share my story to encourage all believers to stand firm in the faith. God is victorious!

*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Susie Rain is an International Mission Board writer living in Asia. UPDATE –  After being released from jail, Sung went back to complete his “homework assignment.” As a result, his team baptized more than 100 new believers and planted seven house churches in the same area where he was persecuted. For more stories about persecution in Asia, go to http://www.asiastories.com.)

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7/6/2012 1:00:42 PM by Lin Sung* with Susie Rain, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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