July 2013

Anyone’s son, anyone’s father

July 23 2013 by Page Brooks, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – George Zimmerman is acquitted. Trayvon Martin is dead. A mother is without her son. Cities are in uproar. Racial comments have flown in the media.

Nearly 50 years after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, our nation still feels that pain of racial tension when trials like Zimmerman’s take center stage on our nation’s media outlets. Our minds fill with questions: Were racial motivations a part of the killing? What are we to make of a mostly white jury, a Hispanic defendant and an African American victim?

Reactions from churches and religious personalities have filled the media from across the spectrum. The New Era Baptist Church, located in Birmingham, Ala., posted the following reactions on its church sign: “George Zimmerman jury supported white racism.” Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, questioned the goodness of God in situations like the Trayvon Martin case. In an interview with the Daily Caller, Butler stated, “God ain’t good all the time. In fact, sometimes God is not for us. As a black woman in an [sic] nation that has taken too many pains to remind me that I am not a white man, and am not capable of taking care of my reproductive rights, or my voting rights, I know that this American god ain’t my god.”

We need to acknowledge we do not know all the details. We do not know exactly what happened the night that Zimmerman shot Martin. We will never know exactly what was said and the motivations of persons’ hearts. Ultimately, we may never know the spiritual status of Zimmerman or Martin. But, in the midst of the crises, the church cannot be silent.

For too long local churches have been scared to give a public voice in the midst of such tragedy. It is one thing for the leadership of denominations to speak for the churches on a national scale, but it is time for local pastors and churches to take a stand of courage and publicly address from the Sunday pulpits the issues of race, crime and hate.

In the book of Amos, God judged the nation of Israel for being a nation that enjoyed political and economic prosperity while tolerating idolatry, extravagance, corruption, and social injustice. God reproached them for their hypocrisy and instead admonished them to let “justice roll down like waters” (Amos 5:24). Local pastors and clergy need to be brave enough to stand up on a Sunday morning and speak truth into the lives of local parishioners, for it is in the local church and the local community where the rubber meets the road for true social change that is Gospel-centered.

What can churches and pastors say and do? First, pastors need to address the faulty theology of teachers such as Dr. Butler to show a biblical view of God. The God of the Bible is the God of all nations and peoples, welcoming whoever will believe in Jesus Christ. He is as much “for us” when we are weak, helpless and struggling with injustices in life as He is when things are going well for us. Likewise, just because we face real problems does not mean we need to impugn the character and attributes of God. God is still good in the midst of tragedy. Vengeance belongs to Him alone, for only He knows the true motivations of the human heart.

Second, local churches and pastors need to take a stand in their community through paths and avenues available to them. I live, pastor, and teach in the great city of New Orleans, but it is a city that continues to deal with racial tension. We have many local organizations that partner with churches to find solutions for problems arising from crime, race, and gang violence. Pastors and churches can work with local organizations and city governments to address the concerns that might be of particular concern to their local context.

Third, pastors and churches need to preach the gospel. As cliché as it may sound, the gospel is the only and ultimate solution to societal problems. Why? As much as Christians want to ensure that our nation’s laws are in accord with biblical revelation (which I believe we should do), we cannot legislate a change of heart. A change of heart can only come through the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit.

We need to remember that any of us could be in the situation of Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman. How can we change our society with the gospel for the better? Trayvon Martin could have been anyone’s son. George Zimmerman could have been anyone’s father. This tragedy is not just their tragedy. It is a tragedy representative of us all.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Page Brooks is pastor of Canal Street Church: A Mosaic Community in New Orleans and assistant professor of theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He also is the founder and president of The Restoration Initiative, an inner-city community development organization.)
7/23/2013 2:37:36 PM by Page Brooks, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

A wave of prayer

July 23 2013 by Rick Shepherd, Baptist Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fl. – In a meeting with Bob Greene, associational director of missions in Pensacola, Fla., I posed an idea: What about getting several churches in the city to join in a “prayer wave”?

What’s that? Several churches agree to pray for 24 hours, one after another, for as many days as there are churches participating. Each prays for church ministries, other churches, the community, schools and local government. Each prays for whatever needs exist in the community, whatever prayer burdens the Lord gives.

That fall, Pensacola Bay Baptist Association prayed for 40 days, one church after another.

Thomas Bush, coordinator for the San Diego Regional Prayer Network, saw God unite hearts and give ministry creativity and fruit during and after 40-day prayer waves in 2009 and 2010. These times sparked prayer lives and gave new vision to many individuals and churches.

Todd Unzicker, former associational missionary for Holmes Association in Florida encouraged churches to join in prayer waves each February, citing this time as “the key for us as an association of churches.” The Holmes Association covered every minute of the month in prayer.

“Any ‘success’ that our churches saw was because of God and many of us believe that prayer is the conduit by which His power comes into one’s life,” Unzicker said. “It’s the way anyone lays hold of the promises and blessings of God. I’m more convinced as a result of our prayer wave that the absolute highest value in ministry, evangelism and missions is staying attuned to and cooperative with the Holy Spirit. This is prayer. Why not do it together?”

Among associations in Florida that experienced a wave of prayer, three clear results surfaced: 1) a greater unity among pastors and churches, 2) more creativity in ministry and reaching communities and 3) greater receptivity to the gospel and more fruitfulness in ministry.
  • In the Brevard Association on Florida’s Space Coast, one creative ministry was an interactive “garden of prayer,” in which several participated. The “garden” led people into confession, praise, intercession, and seeking the Lord. The Seafarer’s Ministry there added a prayer garden to their location and saw several staff from cruise ships come and pray. Many came to faith in Christ.
  • In the Harmony Association in central Florida, the Lord gave pastor Travis Hudson an idea adopted in several churches –”777” – to pray for seven lost people seven minutes a day for seven weeks. The association saw many profess faith in Christ.
  • In Pensacola, soon after their 40-day prayer wave, several churches had an idea for reaching their communities called “Meet the Church.” On a Sunday afternoon several churches joined together for ministry outside the church walls in the local community and made a significant impact.
A prayer wave is not a silver bullet to answer all needs in ministry, but it is certainly a good tool in the hands of churches. It is a no-budget item that draws people together in the local church and in the community. God uses this to realign their focus on prayer and more specifically on Himself, encouraging people to cry out at new levels. A prayer wave can occur in any location, with many or few.

Like the people of God in Jeremiah 29:7 or the churches in Acts 2, Colossians 4 or 1 Thessalonians 3:1-3, praying together makes a difference. Where people pray, God moves in hearts, homes, churches and communities. A wave of prayer for the works of God, that is the need of the hour.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rick Shepherd is team strategist, for the Prayer and Spiritual Awakening Team of the Florida Baptist Convention.)
7/23/2013 2:28:56 PM by Rick Shepherd, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The court system isn't 'American Idol'

July 22 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

LEXANDRIA, La. – Those upset with the acquittal of George Zimmerman on the charge of second-degree murder in the death of teenager Trayvon Martin contend Florida’s court system somehow failed.
Emotion and, perhaps, some measure of ignorance seem to be driving many who make that contention. Ignorance of the purpose of the court system certainly hasn't helped those who struggle with the not guilty verdict on July 13.
“This a court of law, young man, not a court of justice,” Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once observed. What exactly did one of America's best-known Supreme Court justices mean?
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, justice is “the fair and proper administration of laws.” Law, according to the same reference, is “the body of rules, standards, and principles that the courts of a particular jurisdiction apply in deciding controversies brought before them.”
What is Florida's procedure for deciding controversies like someone being charge with second-degree murder?
A dispute that involves a second-degree murder charge begins by amassing a pool of citizens from which jurors are selected to weigh evidence and then render a verdict.
Potential jurors in the Sunshine State must possess a Florida driver’s license or an identification card issued by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Some of those who are randomly selected to be considered for jury duty are disqualified for various reasons, such as a felony conviction. Of those who are qualified, they are then questioned by both the prosecution and the defense, who in concert select those who will hear the case.
At the beginning of the trial, and at times during trial, the jury will receive specific instructions from the judge related to evidence and procedure. The most critical instruction in any and all cases is the principle of innocent until proven guilty. In other words, the jury is to assume the defendant’s innocence and that the charges are, in essence, false. The burden of proof lies with the prosecutor.
The prosecution must prove, in the case of second-degree murder, guilt beyond reasonable doubt that, according to Florida law, the accused has committed the “unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual.”
A juror can only find in favor for the government at the end of the trial if the prosecution has erased all reasonable doubts about the defendant’s innocence from the juror’s mind.
As the process was applied to the Zimmerman case in Florida, six women (five Caucasian and one Hispanic) were selected to hear the case. In the end they did not believe the prosecution had met the burden of proof to find Zimmerman guilty of murder. They still had a reasonable doubt.
“Law is not justice and a trial is not a scientific inquiry into truth,” someone once said. “A trial is the resolution of a dispute.” As such, I have yet to hear anyone specifically point put exactly where the system broke down or failed.
One reason why it was difficult for the prosecution to overcome the hurdle of reasonable doubt was the absence of eyewitnesses. The best they could offer was an “ear witness” in the form of Martin’s girlfriend who had been talking to him via cell phone just prior to his death. The Bible, as an example, stipulates that there be testimony from at least two eyewitnesses in order to find someone guilty of murder.
Don West, one of Zimmerman's attorneys, summed up the situation well when he said, “The jury kept a tragedy from becoming a travesty.”
The fact that a teenager who was walking home from a convenience store was shot to death is an unspeakable tragedy. His family and friends will be forever affected.
However, it would have been a travesty if the Florida system had been circumvented just to appease the emotional reaction over a very unfortunate tragedy. The jurors, who did not ask to be put into an emotionally charged situation, did their duty.
The criminal court system throughout the United States is governed by rules and procedure in large measure to protect the rights of the accused. It is not “American Idol” where anyone and everyone helps decide the outcome.
No court system is perfect. However, if you are ever accused of any crime, especially a serious crime like murder, you had better pray it happens in America where you are presumed innocent and your guilt must be proved beyond any reasonable doubt.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention's office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.) 
7/22/2013 2:48:44 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The proof is in the giving

July 19 2013 by Judy Woodward Bates, Baptist Press

DORA, Ala. – It’s easy to tell how committed a person is when it comes to just about anything. A wife who’s committed to her husband is going to love him, respect him and be faithful to him. Likewise a husband who loves his wife. A person who’s committed to building a relationship will happily put in all the necessary time and effort. 

Hezekiah, king of Judah, exemplified a deep commitment to the Lord, and the people responded by returning to faithful worship of Jehovah. The people’s sincere devotion opened up what Malachi called many years later “the floodgates of heaven” (Malachi 3:10b); word spread in Hezekiah’s day about the joy, peace and abundance that the Lord was bestowing upon His faithful followers.

The giving of their material wealth and finances proved the sincerity of their commitment. “The people of Israel ... brought in the tithes” (2 Chronicles 31:5a, 6b). And the result? Azariah the high priest told Hezekiah, “Since the people began bringing their gifts to the Lord’s temple, we have had enough to eat and plenty to spare. The Lord has blessed His people, and all this is left over” (2 Chronicles 31:10b). The heaps of goods Azariah showed Hezekiah were merely the leftovers of what hadn’t already been distributed.

Sadly, today’s average professing Christian’s giving is little or nothing. If churches were filled with committed, tithing believers, I can only begin to imagine the great things churches could accomplish for the glory of God.

Let’s say a church has 100 adult members, each of whom has an average annual income of only $30,000. The tithes coming into that church would be $300,000 each year, not to mention any other gifts the members wished to contribute. 

Reality, though, paints a much gloomier picture. Only about 5 percent of adult church members tithe, according to a study by The Barna Group, while, according to another study, more than one out of four Protestant Christians gives nothing whatsoever. And that means, in all likelihood, the church mentioned above would be operating on more like $15,000 to $60,000 in annual contributions.

The church Jesus Christ gave His life for is operating at 5 to 10 percent of its potential. No, everything isn’t about dollar figures, but as Jesus summed it up, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Luke 12:34). And the fact is most churchgoers aren’t so concerned with the survival of – let alone the expansion of – the Kingdom of God. If they cared, their pocketbooks would show it.

Hezekiah’s people were dead serious about honoring the Lord – so much so that “Hezekiah ordered that storerooms be prepared in the temple of the Lord. When this was done, the people faithfully brought all the tithes and gifts to the temple” (2 Chronicles 31:11-12a).

The temple had run out of places to put the people’s tithes and offerings and had to have storerooms added on. Apparently even with all that generosity, the people were holding back until the priests and Levites could figure out where to put everything because as soon as the storerooms were built, the people were at it again – giving, giving, giving.

Azariah told Hezekiah, “The Lord has blessed His people, and all this is left over.” Because “the people faithfully brought all the tithes and gifts to the temple,” God blessed them with abundance. 

Like the widow at Zerephath whose flour and oil miraculously were replenished by the Lord, the faithful tither is provided for in ways he or she has never even imagined.

Think about a farmer who’s down to his last cup of corn kernels. He can hold onto it or take it out and plant it. Hoarding it may give him enough to grind into a little bit of meal, but sowing it into the field will give him enough to eat and much left over to share with others. Not immediately, but in due time.

Give generously, then trust God to multiply not only what you’ve held onto but also that which you’ve sown, “that He may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6b). 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Judy Woodward Bates, an author, speaker and media personality, is on the Web at www.Bargainomics.com.) 
7/19/2013 2:51:56 PM by Judy Woodward Bates, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

How is evil compatible with the gospel?

July 19 2013 by Dan DeWitt, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – “There are man-eating sharks in every ocean. But we still swim. Every second somewhere in the world lightning strikes. But we still play in the rain. Poisonous snakes can be found in 49 of the 50 states. But we still go looking for adventure. A car can crash. A house can crumble. But we still drive. And love coming home.

“Because I think deep down we know all the bad things that can happen in life they can’t stop us from making our lives good.”

The preceding words are from an All State Insurance commercial. The line “People live for good” appears on the screen at the end.

Believers and unbelievers face the fatal force of a cruel and uncaring cosmos every day. Atheist author Alex Rosenberg makes this point: “Reality is rough. But it could have been worse. We could have been faced with reality in all its roughness plus a God who made it that way.”

He’s right. It could have been worse, especially if God really did make it this way. For Rosenberg, the universe was born from chance headed toward certain doom that doesn’t care about what happens on the frail surface of one of its planets.

Rosenberg admits that from a naturalistic perspective there is no objective category of evil. But a critique often leveled against the Christian faith is that the existence of evil is incompatible with belief in a loving and all-powerful God.

I believe God is sovereign. I totally get it when we say that God does all things for His glory. But how does this jive with our day-to-day encounters with evil?

I’m not sure that I will ever be able to exhaust all of what that means and how all it all works out. I believe God is all-loving and all-powerful. I believe He could stop evil. And everyday reality reminds me that He hasn’t. Yet. I believe there is a timeline, that the Father alone knows, when evil will be extinguished.

But there are some foundational truths that frame the way I think about evil in our world that keep me from despair and actually enable human suffering to point to the goodness of God.

I know that God created the universe as good (Genesis 1). I believe what the psalmist said that to be near to God is our good (Psalm 73:28). And I also know that from the very beginning of time humanity has chosen to go the opposite direction.

We have to see Adam’s fall (and ours) against the backdrop of God’s providence. An all-wise Creator made a creature who possessed the ability to make meaningful decisions. Adam chose unwisely, and so do we.

As John Lennox has pointed out, parents take the same risk when they choose to have children. Kids can choose to reject their parents or to love them. God reveals Himself as Father, and even when Jesus told a story of God’s great love He packed it in a parable about a rebellious son who received astounding grace from his father upon returning home.

So here we are in a fallen and cursed world facing natural and moral evil as we serve a Heavenly Father we can’t see. God never promised it would be easy. But we can experience His goodness even in the midst of the bitterness of this life.

God has promised to bring an end to evil and to reverse the curse. God promised Adam and Eve that one of their descendants would crush the head of the serpent. This was inaugurated by Jesus’ life and ministry but it will not be fully realized until His return.

So we live in the “already – not yet” of this reality.

We should be careful not to too quickly appropriate certain promises that belong to the “not yet” of the Christian faith. A passage we often quote at funerals is that Jesus has removed the sting from death (1 Corinthians 15). In context, this is part of the culmination of history when Jesus destroys all of His enemies, including His final enemy, which is death.

So for now death does sting. For now the grave feels victorious. Consequently, we grieve. But we don’t grieve as those without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). This is the power of the gospel at work in the life of the Christian.

Dark times may tempt us to doubt the reality of God’s power and goodness. But God expressed His love for us by entering our suffering. In the incarnation Christ took on the form of a servant to be mocked, whipped and nailed to a tree.

And Christ’s resurrection was God’s validation stamp on the expiration date of the grave. Death is not final. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).

I’m not sure how the problem of evil could be considered incompatible with Christian faith if it is viewed through a biblical framework of creation, separation, incarnation and regeneration. 

We rebelled against our Creator, He responded in love when He entered our despair, died in our place and defeated the grave so that we might have new life. This is the gospel.

Like the commercial, I believe people live for good. I believe this is the image of God stamped on every individual, and I believe it is, in part, a result of the common grace bestowed upon all of humanity.

But I don’t think we can muster the kind of confidence we need to face a shark and snake infested world by placing ourselves in the good hands of an insurance company. I believe our good will be found in the hands of a loving God who will one day crush the snake and kill death itself.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dan DeWitt is dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
7/19/2013 2:49:47 PM by Dan DeWitt, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The God of ups & downs

July 18 2013 by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press

EL CAJON, Calif. – There’s an old joke about a man who jumped out of an airplane only to discover that his parachute was jammed. As the wind rushed by him, he took the thing off and desperately tried to untangle it. 

Suddenly a man shot past him, flying upward at tremendous speed. The man with the chute looked up and yelled, “Hey, do you know anything about parachutes?”

The other man called down, “No. Do you know anything about gas stoves?”

Oh, the ups and downs of life! Seems like we’re always going up or down, doesn’t it? Every day has its high spots and low points, and every year has its peaks and its valleys. Sometimes we’re on the mountaintop; sometimes in the pits. Sometimes we’re high on life, and then we’re down in the dumps. 

Christians aren’t immune to life’s alternating patterns, nor were the heroes of the scripture. Think of any biblical character you want to, from Adam to Zacharias. As you read about God’s people in His Word, each had good days and bad ones. 

Take Elijah, for example. In one chapter, we see him calling down fire from heaven on the ridge of Mount Carmel. Turn a few pages and he’s hiding under a juniper tree wishing he were dead. 

In the first chapter of Job’s book, we see him rich and respected, on top of the world. Happy home. Happy wife. Good health. Great wealth. A few verses later, he’s sitting in the ashes, mourning his family, reduced to poverty and scraping his sores with pottery shards.

Consider the patriarch Joseph. He’s pictured in Genesis 40 rotting in prison; turn the page and he’s the prime minster of Egypt. 

When John the Baptist started preaching, he instantly became the most successful and renowned evangelist in four centuries. But when we next see him, he’s sending word to Jesus from prison, asking, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3).

In Matthew 16, Peter heard Jesus saying to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah.” Five verses later, he heard the same voice say, “Get behind Me, Satan!”

In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul talked about being caught up into the third heaven; a paragraph later he’s burdened with his thorn in the flesh.

In Revelation 1, the aged Apostle John was banished from church and country, sentenced to lonely exile on a penal island; but by verse 10 he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, caught up in heavenly visions to see the splendor of the enthroned Christ.

Perhaps no one except Christ Himself experienced a greater range of highs and lows than King David, the author of many of the Psalms. We love his writings because he seems to have known all the ups and downs of life as we do; and there’s a Psalm to match our every mood. Psalm 30 is an excellent example. It begins: “I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up.”

The Hebrew term David used for “lifted up” is the same word that was used for dipping a bucket down into a well and drawing up water. David was saying, “Lord, you reached into the grave and pulled me right out. I was almost gone.” Furthermore, notice the word “extol.” It means “to lift up.” The psalmist was saying, “I will lift You up in my praise, Lord, for You have lifted me up in Your mercy.”

David went on to describe how God had taken him from hurting to healing (verses 1-4); from weeping to joy (verse 5); from prosperity to poverty (verses 6-7); from mourning to dancing (verse 11), and from silence to singing (verse 12). He ended by saying, “You turned my wailing into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to You” (verses 11-12).

Psalm 30 simply reflects scriptural realism. Life isn’t ideal; troubles hit us hard; we can be cast down. But God is faithful; His compassions never fail, for great is His faithfulness. He is all we need, our All-Sufficient Savior, our All-in-All. Whether we’re up or whether we’re down, He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. For more information on Turning Point, visit www.DavidJeremiah.org. This column has been approved by Turning Point for redistribution in Baptist state newspapers and in Townhall.com. For permission to reprint it, contact Myrna Davis at mdavis@turningpointonline.org.)
7/18/2013 11:13:53 AM by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Alternatives to the summer lineup

July 18 2013 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Were you disappointed with the new, more conflicted Superman movie? Did you find the spiritual symbolism to be overshadowed, as promised by Christian reviewers, by the film’s bombastic and endless carnage? And did you further venture into the local Cineplex in June, seeking amusement from comedic entries such as “The Internship,” only to find that once again Hollywood writers mined much of their material from various degrees of crudity? Are you expecting the same let-down from the rest of the summer offerings?

It continues to frustrate this Christian movie reviewer that most of Hollywood’s productions aren’t just devoid of spiritual relevance, but that those making them seem determined to deliver just the opposite.

For instance, “The Bling Ring” reminds us that the culture surrounding our youth is straying further and further from the spiritual element that completes our mental and physical makeup. It’s an important message, but how do I recommend this justly R-rated film? If it were the exception rather than the rule, I could perhaps defend the film’s profundity over its profanity. Sadly, most films contain abusive elements. We are bombarded by such content.

How about “Much Ado About Nothing?” This romantic comedy, set in current times yet dialogued by William Shakespeare’s original words, points out that despite all the modes of media available, there are few communicators willing to reintroduce wit and substantive discourse back into our way of talking. With all the strides modern man has made in the world of communication notwithstanding, there seems to be little desire by those who entertain us to emulate the eloquence of the “Bard’s” thoughtful and whimsical language. But, dare I recommend a PG-13 film that, along with the “Bard’s” wry way with words, also contains three rather graphic sexual situations. You may be willing to overlook the sensuality in order to hear the august articulation, but more than a few of my readers will declare that I have gone over to the dark side should I promote such a film. So, what’s our movie-viewing alternative?

Like any of you who purchase a ticket, I go into a movie hoping it will surprise me. Will it entertain? Will it edify? Will it do both? Certainly, there is a plethora of films containing little or no redeeming value, but every once in a while a cinematic treasure comes along, overflowing with spiritually rewarding messages. Allow me to suggest three on DVD that might do for you what the summer’s theatrical releases will not.

“Space Warriors”: This made-for-TV movie concerns a 15-year-old who is invited to Space Camp in order to compete with a team of kids (the Warriors) against other teams for seats on the next space shuttle. Just when the Warriors are feeling defeated, an urgent crises aboard the International Space Station opens a door for them. It’s now up to the kids to solve a problem even NASA can’t handle. Using their skills to work together as a team, the Warriors hatch a brilliant plan that may save the day. A clean film with life lessons, this as yet unrated adolescent-aimed actioneer is now available on DVD and suitable for preteens and their family.

“This Is Our Time”: From Pure Flix Entertainment, this youth drama concerns five friends who have just graduated from college and are heading out into the world, believing they will make a difference. The opening sequence with the friends in their graduation garb reminded me of “St. Elmo’s Fire” in that comfortable kids were going out into an uncomfortable world. But there is a difference; the protagonists in This is Our Time have a devout faith, one that will be tested. With good production values, despite an apparent limited budget, the movie is a satisfying, spiritually uplifting drama that has something in common with “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The newer release reminds us that while we can sometimes feel overshadowed by others, we can affect the lives of those around us. This movie is not rated, but I found nothing objectionable and consider this movie suitable for ages 12 and up. 

“The Confession”: From the press notes: “Based on the novel by New York Times best-selling author Beverly Lewis, ‘The Confession’ is the continuing story of Katie Lapp, a young Amish woman who goes on a journey in search of her identity – only to find herself embroiled in a mystery that must be solved before she can be reunited with the ‘Englisher’ mother who gave her up to adoption 20 years earlier.”

Like his dad before him, director Michael Landon Jr. has a definitive storytelling style. Though the younger Landon is hampered by a limited budget, and the Amish novels from which the main character came have become a cottage industry aimed at Harlequin-loving audiences, there’s still a charm about this production. One might call it a sophisticated banality, as it inspires but never challenges. We know from scene one that everything is going to work out and the evildoers will get their just desserts. Sometimes that’s all we want from a movie.

Michael Landon Jr. is a Christian and delights in bringing gentle tales to the small screen. Proficient and prolific, he has been successful in delivering homespun optimism to his fans. (My fav of his productions: “The Last Sin Eater.”) With The Confession, the midsection of a TV-made trilogy, Landon also delivers. This movie is not rated, but I found nothing objectionable and consider it suitable for teens and above.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org. He is also a regular contributor to “The World and Everything in It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.) 
7/18/2013 11:05:47 AM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The central tragedy remains

July 17 2013 by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – As the father of a young man, I know the talks parents have with their sons – or should have. I have had plenty of those talks, and I know them from both sides. But there is one talk I never had to have with my son, and my father never had to have with me. That is the talk about what to do when the police pull you over and you are a young black man. The talk about what to do when you are eyed suspiciously by people just because you are a young black male. The talk about how to act and how to respond when people watch just to see if you are trouble.

America is divided once again in the aftermath of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. The decision of the Florida jury to acquit Zimmerman on charges of murder and manslaughter in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has reverberated around the world. Americans are divided along some very tragic and recognizable lines in the wake of the verdict. But the line that I find most important is this – the line between those parents who have to have that talk with their boys and those who do not.

The trial in a Florida criminal court was laden with moral meaning, outrage and controversy. These are elements that criminal trials are incapable of resolving. The jurors in the Zimmerman trial were asked to determine very limited questions of fact. Even without the complications of race and political scrutiny, this was going to be a difficult prosecution. The fact is that George Zimmerman was the only witness to what happened on Feb. 26, 2012. Trayvon Martin was dead, and there were no other witnesses to the event. Given the fact that the initial investigation found George Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense to be plausible and the fact that the prosecution’s key witnesses faltered on the stand, the jurors were left with the question of finding Zimmerman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. They did not find him guilty.

The New York Times editorial board rightly lamented the fact that the prosecutors faced a case “weak on evidence and long on outrage.” But the editors of The Washington Post got it exactly right when they declared that “the central tragedy of this case – the death of a 17-year-old boy who had been on a simple errand to get snacks – remains.”

So many Americans, from so many different vantage points, wanted the trial to be about racial profiling, Florida’s “stand your ground” law, gun control or some other urgent issue. Criminal trials are not where such issues, legitimate and pressing though they may be, are to be adjudicated. Show trials are the hallmarks of tyranny, not democracy. But the angst after the verdict is ample proof of the work that remains to be done. The U.S. Department of Justice may consider other criminal charges, but the criminal trial in Florida is where the death of Trayvon Martin was considered as a homicide. Civil lawsuits may follow, but the satisfaction of a criminal conviction cannot emerge from a civil trial.

There are pundits on all sides taking advantage of this case and controversy. I do not want to become one of them. This nation needs a deep and intensive conversation about racial profiling, self-defense laws and a range of issues related to this tragic case. It is dangerous to be a young black male in America. It is true that a young black man is far more likely to be killed by another young black man in this country. Trayvon Martin was killed, however, not by another African American young male, but by a man who in a 911 call declared Trayvon was suspicious and out of place and then rejected the police dispatcher’s order to stop following him.

The photos of Trayvon Martin shown to the world show a normal, happy, 17-year-old boy. A boy who had been living with his mother but had been sent to be with his father after an incident in school. In other words, a 17-year-old boy who not only was in the right place, but for a very right reason – so that he could be watched over by his father. There isn’t a father of a 17-year-old boy in America (or any man who was once a 17-year-old boy) who doesn’t know exactly what that is about.

The central tragedy remains. A smiling 17-year-old boy who had gone to a convenience store to buy a soft drink and a snack was shot to death, and we will never know exactly how or why. We just know that it is an unspeakable tragedy. It is a moral tragedy that even the best system of justice cannot remedy, much less restore. It is a political tragedy, a cultural tragedy and a legal mess. But far more than these, it is the tragedy of a boy now dead, of parents and loved ones grieving, and of a nation further wounded, confused and tormented by the color line.

I think of the young black men on the seminary campus I am honored to lead. I think of the faithful black parents whose families I know, love and admire. I think of what they have to worry about that I never have to think about. I think of the conversations that must come for our nation and for our churches.

But most of all I am thinking of those parents who have to have that talk I never had to have with my son. I pray and yearn for that day when those conversations will not be necessary. May God watch over every single one of them, for they, starting with Trayvon Martin, belong to all of us.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)
7/17/2013 3:48:24 PM by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Praying for inner-city ministry

July 17 2013 by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has targeted reaching the urban centers of the United States and Canada with a two-pronged initiative – a massive church planting initiative called Send North America and a parallel LoveLoud evangelistic ministry emphasis. 

These two initiatives address what Donald McGavran, the father of the modern church growth movement, observed as “redemption and lift” – the transformation that takes place when communities are reached with the gospel.

Every community has needs. The sheer number of people in the inner cities amplifies the brokenness of our sin-infected and impoverished world. If we are to reclaim our nation with the gospel, there is a tremendous need for healthy churches to reach out to these teeming masses.

NAMB’s LoveLoud emphasis has a threefold strategy: mobilize your church to love neglected neighbors, to love neglected communities and to love neglected children. 

Overlooked and often neglected neighbors include those struggling with substance abuse, homelessness, hunger, incarceration and/or physical or emotional disabilities. Other neglected neighbors include victims of human trafficking, people from other nations who have moved to the neighborhood and widows.

Neglected sectors of the community can be served through innovative ministries such as literacy missions, medical and dental clinics, sports outreach ministries, adopt-a-school initiatives, and community transformation through economic and community development.

Neglected children can be served through such ministries as pregnancy care, foster care, adoption and mentoring programs. 

NAMB recommends three learning steps for churches willing to embark on the LoveLoud journey.

Community Prayerwalk – seeing people and communities “through the eyes of Jesus.” Prayerwalking among the people and visiting the places where they live, work and shop will allow God to speak to you about His love for them and their great need for Him.

Community Exploration Experience (CEE) – a CEE is a natural next step following a community prayerwalk. This is an opportunity for personal interactions and an intentional focus on gathering information.

Community Strengths and Needs Survey – this step moves a church deeper in the learning process and requires developing relationships with community leaders. It is very important to show respect and appreciation for these community leaders. Remember, you are entering their community as learners and as servants.

“Community” will look different for each congregation based on context, setting, vision and mission. It may be a focus on a certain radius around the church, a specific section of town, a group of schools, an entire inner city or an unreached people group. Churches will be able to define their specific community focus as they walk the LoveLoud journey.

In his classic book, “Understanding Church Growth,” McGavran noted that church members who have experienced genuine redemption through Christ’s saving activity will demonstrate certain things:
  • They repent and turn from their sins, becoming new creations.
  • They gain victory over pride, greed, laziness, drink, hate and envy.
  • They cease quarreling with their neighbors and committing adultery.
  • They turn from litigation to constructive activity.
  • They educate their children.
  • They learn what God requires of them and worship regularly.
  • In short, they become more effective human beings.
Communities that have a healthy church in their midst (what McGavran called a “true church”) are communities that experience a “lift” that accompanies redemption. Fellowship buoys the members. Concerned friends gather at bedsides to pray during sickness. Reading and hearing the Bible reminds the church family that God is for them and is available to them. Realizing they are sons and daughters of the King, members of the church act as such and begin living for others. In short, he wrote, a community “in which many others have accepted Christ, becomes a better and better place to live.”

“All these redemptions occur in imperfect measure, to be sure, but they occur,” McGavran wrote. This kind of redemption is “indefinitely reproducible,” he added. “Wherever men trust Christ, read His Word, obey Him, and gather round His table they are redeemed in this way.”

In preparation for LoveLoud Sunday, set for July 21 on the SBC calendar, ask the Lord to let you see the community where you live with the eyes of Jesus. Then ask Him to lift your eyes to the wider fields of harvest. While all effective ministry begins in our own Jerusalem, it must not stop there. Where in your Judea and your Samaria do you need to establish new pockets of ministry? What part of the “uttermost” is the Lord leading your church to engage with the gospel?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger S. “Sing” Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. For more information about the LoveLoud emphasis, visit NAMB’s LoveLoud page.) 
7/17/2013 3:45:30 PM by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Reaching people in their cultural/ethnic context

July 16 2013 by Antonio Santos & Mark Gray, Guest Column

Do you have a favorite restaurant for you and your family, or an automobile you like to drive? On television, what’s your favorite program? At church, do you prefer the wonderful, traditional hymns that teach great theology, or do you prefer contemporary music with the drums, guitars and the band lifting hearts toward God? Relative to sermons communicating God’s Word, do you prefer the preacher reading the message from a well-thought-out manuscript, or do you anticipate a challenging sermon without the use of notes or outline? What’s the point? We all have preferences. It’s not that our preferences are either right or wrong; it’s just that we are different.
God has been bringing the world to our state, and it has become incredibly diverse. The 2010 census indicates that of North Carolina’s population of 9,535,483, a total of 3,006,533 are non-Anglo. The growth rate among non-white ethnicities in the state is 33.94 percent, a rate nearly double that of the total population growth. Many of these new residents are coming from places like Mexico, El Salvador, India and Vietnam. N.C. Baptists have been given the opportunity and responsibility to reach everyone with the gospel. The Bible says we are to be “fishers of men,” and a smart fisherman knows the fish he is fishing for.
Language is a major consideration in reaching people with the gospel. Presently, there are over 235 languages spoken in the state. People are most responsive to receiving the gospel and growing as disciples in their own “heart language.”[1] When first generation immigrants come into the country, they may be able to speak limited English, but their desire is to improve their English skills. For Christians this means purposely attending an English-speaking congregation. However, that is precisely when the lack of cultural context becomes very obvious. Even though they can understand most of the words coming from the pastor’s mouth, they do not seem to understand why the people around them are laughing. They do not get the jokes, the idiomatic expressions, and the nuances of the language. Why is this true when they understand most of the words coming from the pastor’s mouth? Those words are void of appropriate cultural context and, therefore, no true communication is taking place. We sometimes forget that language is not simply the expression of thoughts. In reality, it is fundamentally a social instrument and therefore should not be void of context.
Another significant issue in “fishing for men” is an understanding of culture. This state is blessed from the Appalachian culture in the rolling mountains, to the quaint fishing villages of our shorefront coastal waters. We have the quiet life of farmers in the rural areas and the high-density urban centers of our busy and growing cities. There are motorcycle riders who rev their engines as new believers are resurrected from the baptismal waters and cowboys where the arena may be dusty and hot, but the gospel is proclaimed and people are regularly coming to Christ. Is there anything wrong with these cultures and the churches designed to reach them with the gospel? Probably not! And the gospel that reaches and transforms their hearts remains the same.
What about worship styles? Some prefer churches where, at the conclusion of the message, the pastor’s shirttail is hanging out and he is sweating just a bit. Otherwise, “the pastor wasn’t too with it today.”
Some North Carolinians prefer a worship style that is more instructional with less emotion, where the Greek and the Hebrew are articulated, and where lives are quietly changed and communities are significantly impacted with the gospel. Interestingly, most choose a church worship style which best fit themselves, and sometimes wonder why everyone doesn’t “get it” just like they do.
Bottom line, this state is overwhelmingly filled with people who are unchurched and far from God.
On any given weekend, only 21 percent of people will be found in any church. Studies indicate that 75 percent of these unreached people live within the greater eight urban centers of N.C. Only 40 percent understand the meaning of “the gospel,” while 60 percent may have no relevant understanding of the meaning of the term “saved.” Unfortunately, this 60 percent is the growing group in the state.
What shall we do? It takes different kinds of churches to reach different kinds of people.
If we are to reach the growing diverse population of our state, we must communicate God’s Word in a variety of styles, languages, and approaches in order to reach the numerous cultural groups in our communities. If we are to be effective fishers of men, we must know the fish we are fishing for and utilize the most effective tools available to reach them. The key is to catch the fish you are best at catching. But, one thing we must do is “Go fish!”
[1] http://www.ncpublicschools.org/quickfacts/students/, “Student Information - Demographics”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Antonio Santos is a consultant for Hispanic ministry for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), and Mark Gray is a team leader for church planting with BSC.)
7/16/2013 10:45:54 AM by Antonio Santos & Mark Gray, Guest Column | with 0 comments

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