July 2013

America again is a ‘House Divided’

July 16 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – Of all of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, perhaps the most significant was delivered on the evening of June 16, 1858. Likely one of the least known of Lincoln’s oratories, his “House Divided” address is believed by many historians to be a speech that changed the course of history.

More than a thousand Republican delegates had gathered in Springfield, Ill., for the Prairie State’s Republican state convention on June 16. That afternoon, those in attendance chose Lincoln to be their party’s candidate for U.S. Senate against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas.

That evening, just over 155 years ago, Lincoln delivered an address to his Republican colleagues that remains as pertinent today as it was when first uttered. The title reflects part of the speech’s introduction, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” a concept familiar to Lincoln’s audience as a statement by Jesus recorded in all three synoptic Gospels.

For those who study the historical context of the life and times of Lincoln and the United States, the entire speech is worth examination. However, for those of us living in the current reality of America, the following few lines of Lincoln’s address are most apropos:

“‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’

“I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

“I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. 

“It will become all one thing or all the other. 

“Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new – North as well as South.”

Simply put and easy to understand, Lincoln made it clear that he believed America was approaching a moment of truth when it would decide what direction it would go. It would either embrace freedom for all citizens or it would allow for some to be enslaved.

It was Lincoln’s understanding that America could not be divided. If the U.S. were to cease to be unified, she would cease to exist. The truth articulated by Jesus, Lincoln believed, was universal, immutable and eternal: Divided houses cannot and will not stand. 

It took a bloody civil war, but America emerged and united around a consensus belief that slavery was immoral. It has taken time, but the United States has matured further and the consensus now agrees with the sentiment famously expressed by Martin Luther King Jr. that a person should be judged by the content of his or her character and not the color of his or her skin. 

While America has made great strides in the area of race equality, it has shown significant division in recent years over other issues like abortion, homosexuality, illegal immigration, religious freedom, the economy and the nature of government, among others.

With every election – state and federal – America inches closer and closer to a moment of truth. Many U.S. citizens do not believe elections matter. They are quite simply wrong.

Elections have consequences. Those we elect are the thermostats for our society. For good or for ill, they are leaders. They set the standard for what will be the moral criterion for the culture.

Division is currently the legislative order of the day. Eventually, however, division will no longer be an option. Not on the most significant issues. Divided houses, as Jesus observed, do not stand. 

The current consensus in America seems to leaning toward a nation that finds it acceptable to kill a pre-born baby at any point of its development in its mother’s womb, and perhaps even after it is born.

Additionally, the consensus in the United States also seems to be carte blanche when it comes to issues of sexuality. Anything goes: homosexuality, bisexuality, trans-sexuality, ad nauseam. If anything goes, then what will be the next behavior deemed acceptable?

There is a debate over what will be the consensus concerning illegal immigration. Make no mistake, the debate is not over people coming to America through legal means; it is over how to approach those who are in our country as a result of breaking the law.

Also being debated is the future consensus concerning the First Amendment and its protections of the freedom of speech and religion. Will they be as long held, or will consensus alter both? Will what’s in the best interest of the masses or special groups trump individual liberty?

The consensus concerning America’s economy has long been that free-market capitalism afforded the most people the best opportunity for financial progress. What many have accepted as self-evident is now a subject for debate. 

And, of course, the nature of government also is regulated by consensus. For much of America’s history, a government that restrained itself was preferred. Now, it seems, the consensus appears to be listing toward a bigger government being a better government.

America will likely not stay divided but will move toward embracing a consensus on the significant issues that face society. As we do, consequences will emerge for future generations. 

During the onset of the Civil War, Confederate forces were victorious in many of the battles. During this time, a man wrote President Lincoln and asked whether God was on the side of the Union. Lincoln replied in part, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Sharp division over the salient aspects of society cannot go on forever. Debates must eventually be resolved one way or another; divided houses don’t stand. America will be blessed if, and only if, she embraces a consensus that places her on God’s side on the significant issues of the day. 

(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.)
7/16/2013 10:41:38 AM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Kids’ magazine stirs the pot on homosexuality

July 15 2013 by Amy Henry, World News Service

You know something’s wrong when your 10-year-old won’t let her 9-year-old brother read her latest copy of Stone Soup.
 
Touted as a magazine for children ages 8-13, Stone Soup features stories, poems, artwork, and book reviews by children. I bought my budding writer a subscription when she was 8, in hopes she might submit her own work.
 
Normally, both children enjoy the magazine, and, until this issue, I have had no qualms with it. But when my daughter yanked it out of her brother’s hands, I knew something was up.
 
That something was an 11-year-old girl’s review of My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari.
 
The book’s protagonist is a girl whose mother is planning a wedding with her future wife. The backward townspeople object, but in the end achieve enlightenment and embrace the lesbian couple who then marry and live, apparently, happily ever after.
 
The young writer of this review lets us know her own views on the issue: “Just like in the book when Eva says, ‘We won’t keep quiet about homophobia,’ I think that people shouldn’t be afraid of homosexuality, and if they are they should talk about it so they aren’t so uncomfortable with it. I think homosexuals should get the same rights as everyone else, the right to be in the military, the right to get married, and the right to have children.”
 
While I was appalled to find such overt propaganda in a children’s magazine, given today’s heated debate over homosexual marriage, I certainly wasn’t surprised.
 
Our children are exposed to homosexuality in some form nearly every day – no longer is it a forbidden topic. To wit: TV Guide reports that a future episode of Disney’s “Good Luck Charlie” features a homosexual drama. Seeing two men kiss may shock parents today, but after seeing it a few hundred times, our children may not so much as glance up from their smartphones for such things.
 
Although I was disappointed with Stone Soup (and planning a strongly worded letter to the editor), this book review gave me just what the reviewer hoped it would: the opportunity to talk with my little ones (but far sooner than I would have liked) about homosexuality. They know the Bible says it is wrong, but how then do we treat a family member or friend (both of which we have and love) who is homosexual? Do we shun or shame, or is there a better, more effective and loving way to approach them?
 
With the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, such questions are more apropos than ever.
 
As much as we’d like to, no longer can we act like homosexuality is an issue we can hide from our children, even within the supposed “safety” of a children’s magazine. As much as I disagree with Stone Soup for their political correctness on the issue of homosexuality, I agree with the reviewer that indeed we need to have more conversations with our children about it.
 
But the end result of these conversations may not be quite what she had in mind.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Amy Henry writes for WORLD Magazine. A married mother of six, Henry lives in Kansas and is the author of Humpty Dumpty Just Needed a Nap: What Children’s Stories Teach Us About Life, Love, and Mothering. She blogs at wholemama.com.)
7/15/2013 2:20:30 PM by Amy Henry, World News Service | with 1 comments



Without self-government, liberty perishes

July 15 2013 by Mark Creech, Guest Column

When most people think of government, they think of civil government with its various laws and controls. But in the most basic of terms, there are essentially two kinds of government – internal and external. Internal government, or self-government, is the most important and always shapes the nature of external government.
 
Self-government comes from the heart and the conscience, one’s character, motives, affections and convictions of life. Self-government affects everything in a person’s life: the way one relates to his fellow man, his speech, his aspirations, his conduct, his hopes, his future. And every sphere of civil government is just a reflection of this internal sphere.
 
No government can be good or just unless its rulers and citizenry have learned to govern themselves. In fact, the more self-government the people possess, the less external forms of government are actually needed. The book of Proverbs in the Bible states this principle, arguing, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Proverbs 16:32).
 
America’s fourth President, James Madison stated the concept well when he declared: “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
 
Whenever people in a nation are not given to the principle of self-government, this inevitably precipitates the need for more laws, more rules, greater exertions of power, more government – much of which begins to reach far beyond its jurisdiction and role – the spending of more money, greater centralizations of power that threaten and even destroy both individual and corporate liberties.
 
No person argued this principle more passionately than Samuel Adams, also known as the “Father of the American Revolution.” Adams advocated that freedom could not be maintained outside of virtue and morality – the nuts and bolts of internal government. In a letter to James Wren in 1779, he wrote: “A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when they lose their virtue they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader. … If virtue and knowledge are diffused among the people, they will never be enslaved. This will be their great security.”
 
Adams further contended: “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.”
 
America’s Constitution is the greatest compact of government ever written in human history. Our nation’s laws have served its people, providing more liberty and prosperity for its citizens than any other, making us the envy of the world. Yet, we have never seen a time when there was more lawlessness in our streets, our economy in greater peril, more corruption in government, and the shredding of our constitutional freedoms.
 
The Democrats have blamed the Republicans. The Republicans have blamed the Democrats. One presidential administration blames a previous one for all the current woes, while it demonstrates no policy initiatives superior in its own right. The people have blamed their leaders. Nevertheless, the primary source of our trials and tribulations is the darkness of our own hearts. We are, without question, a wayward and sinful people.
 
What commandment of God is not so spurned by our culture that it does not appear that we have sought to generally abolish its supremacy over us?
 
Idolatry? Secularism and Humanism supplant the God of heaven with a new authority that says that every man should be his own god and each should do that which is right in his own eyes.
 
Taking the Lord’s name in vain? Not only is His precious name used constantly as a profanity, but worse still even clerics put untrue words in the mouth of the Almighty and attribute those falsehoods to Him.
 
Observance of the Lord’s Day as a holy day – the one day we make His business our primary business – the one day we desperately need for worship, rest, and family? Sunday in our culture is basically now like any other day of the week.
 
Honor your father and mother? Gay marriage thumbs its nose at this command by making one or the other irrelevant.
 
Don’t murder? Over 50 million babies have been destroyed before they could see the light of day.
 
Don’t commit sexual immorality? It’s so much a part of the fabric of our society, we even teach our kids in school how it supposedly might be done safely.
 
You shall not steal? Gambling, which is swallowing up every state in the nation, is nothing more than a sucker’s game of mutual theft – a fleecing of the most vulnerable among us.
 
Don’t bear false witness – don’t lie? We’ve lied to one another so long the truth has become an insult, a joke, or an offense – the victim of political correctness.
 
Don’t covet? This is the mother of all sins among us. The greatest of our affections, our pursuits, is for more money, more materialism, more, more, more. Many might seek to deny it, but we certainly judge most of life by the things we possess.
 
It’s most unfortunate that these descriptions fall enormously short in describing the severity of our decline. But any current newspaper today will reveal headlines that the majority of us who have lived for 50 years or more never dreamed we would see.
 
What about the role of our churches in the nation’s moral delinquency?
 
Unfortunately, our churches have contributed significantly, either by our own various forms of unbelief, corruptions of Christian doctrine, or neglect to make disciples – our failure to faithfully address the educational, economic, social and political institutions of our time with the Word of God.
 
In 1799, the Father of American Geography, Dr. Jedediah Morse, who was also a minister, eloquently expressed in a sermon the responsibility of the church, coupled with a solemn warning: “To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys. In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation … in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom, and approximate the miseries of complete despotism. I hold this to be a truth confirmed by experience. If so, it follows, that all efforts made to destroy the foundations of our holy religion, ultimately tend to the subversion also of our political freedom and happiness. Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.”
 
A return to the great principles of self-government is the only hope of saving America from the ever creeping advancements of tyranny and despotism. This cannot – this will not happen unless the churches are clean and the nation turns to God in Christ. Without a revival in the churches, without a spiritual awakening throughout the land – self-government – the foundation of a civil government that protects the unalienable rights of the people shall perish from the earth.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark H. Creech is executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. This column originally appeared on The Christian Post website.)
7/15/2013 2:16:12 PM by Mark Creech, Guest Column | with 0 comments



Preserving a priceless legacy

July 11 2013 by Kay Wheeler Moore, Baptist Press

GARLAND, Texas – Many of us invest much time and expense to preserve a treasured antique or an heirloom quilt so that future generations might know its significance – who owned it, who made it, why it was important to the family.

But do we make the same effort to see our spiritual genealogies preserved? Some of us may be proficient in tracing family trees back many generations. But will those who follow us know which ancestors helped pave the way for us to know about the Lord? 

I decided to look back at the spiritual pilgrimages of my forebears and write down for my children and grandchildren the stories of long-ago kin whose godly lives helped point me to Christ. Granted, the old saying is true: “God has no spiritual grandchildren.” We do not inherit salvation just because we had a righteous great-grandparent or a devout uncle. 

Nevertheless, I could study who created a fertile ground that helped me eventually be open to the gospel. My own parents, who taught me about Jesus and reared me in a Christian home, headed the list, of course. But before them I identified:
  • a great-grandmother who nightly was seen turning to God in prayer, even though she had been left a widow at age 46 with nine children, including a 2 1/2-year-old, still in the home.
  • another great-grandmother who leaned on God although her family home had been desecrated during the Civil War and who later lost five babies plus a teenaged son.
  • a grandfather who preached his last sermon at age 98 and who until his passing at 99 faithfully visited shut-ins, some two decades younger than he.
  • a grandmother, orphaned early on, who became a lifelong Bible student and trusted in her heavenly Father though deprived of her own dad’s presence.
I became determined that generations even unborn would know about these to whom we in our family owe much. I preserved these tales in a book titled Way Back in the Gardenia Rows: Everyday God-Moments and the Recipes that Accompany Them. I included recipes because many of us like to remember what food was served at a significant event – such as after a baptism – or when milestone moments are celebrated – such as the births of our grandchildren.

Some may contend that they didn’t grow up around Christians and have no “way-back” faith story to tell. Then make sure your family knows who stood in that gap – a coach, pastor, Sunday School teacher, neighbor or co-worker who pointed you to Christ. Remember what song the church was singing when you made your profession of faith? Write that down, too, as well as verses that have helped you through challenging times or choruses or the titles of other Christian numbers that uplift you. 

Online photo books, self-published volumes and even videos recorded on your cell phone are but a few ways you can lock in this information for a time when you’re no longer on this earth to share it personally. In so doing, you’ll leave behind a priceless legacy. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kay Wheeler Moore of Garland, Texas, is the author of eight books, the co-author of 14 others and a former editor at LifeWay Christian Resources. Her newest title, Way Back in the Gardenia Rows, is available from local and online bookstores.)
7/11/2013 1:29:06 PM by Kay Wheeler Moore, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Egypt & beyond

July 10 2013 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Millions of protesters have brought down a government for the second time in little more than two years in Egypt, a land where change once flowed as slowly as the Nile at its drowsiest.

Now comes the dangerous time.

The huge June 30 demonstrations that marked a year in office for President Mohamed Morsi – and sparked his downfall a few days later – were the biggest since the 2011 Arab Spring protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president for three decades. Many Egyptians, particularly students and the urban middle class, vented their anti-Morsi rage and despair over the ongoing lawlessness, economic stagnation and repressive Islamism that have characterized Egypt during his brief rule. 

As the Egyptian military that deposed Morsi moves to consolidate power, furious Morsi supporters from the still-potent Muslim Brotherhood have clashed with opponents across the country. An interim president has been appointed, parliament has been dissolved and the constitution suspended, but bloody street battles have raged alongside more peaceful demonstrations in Cairo and other Egyptian cities. Dozens of people have died and hundreds have been injured.

The conflict took an even uglier turn July 8 with the killing of at least 51 Islamist protesters by security forces at an early-morning rally for Morsi. The military said Morsi supporters attacked them first with rocks and gunfire, but the protesters angrily insisted the shootings were unprovoked.

The Muslim Brotherhood has rejected the military takeover and vows not to recognize a new government, claiming a fairly elected president (Morsi) and Egypt’s infant democracy have been overthrown. Brotherhood leaders have called for a national “uprising,” deepening fears of civil war. Meanwhile, Al Nour, an Islamist party that initially supported the military takeover, suspended its role in the interim government. 

What comes next?

A more inclusive and secular government, the current victors hope. But Egypt is deeply divided between urban and rural, secularists and religionists, between the Muslim majority and large Coptic (traditional Christian) minority, between moderates and fiery Islamists.

Egypt’s Christians, already reeling from increasing persecution, feel especially vulnerable. A Coptic priest was shot dead in the northern Sinai July 6. Christian homes near Luxor were burned by a mob, sending their residents fleeing for police protection. The Muslim Brotherhood has bitterly denounced Coptic Pope Tawadros, leader of the nation’s 8 million Copts, for supporting the removal of Morsi.

“We were worried that Morsi and the Brotherhood would not allow us to build churches or have freedom of religion because they were persecuting so many Christians,” one Egyptian believer said. “Now we hope and pray that the next president is more neutral and not an extreme Muslim, or Christian even, so it will prevent the protests and constant disagreement and all the chaos.”

A Coptic university professor who participated in the Cairo protests that helped topple Morsi told World Watch Monitor: “I am here at Tahrir [Square] because first, I am Egyptian. I am a part of this people. Second, as a Copt I present my Christian love of my country. I care about my people’s worries. 

“I have compassion for all Egyptian people. I reject all kinds of unfairness to all the people, not only the Christians,” she said. “We will keep at our revolution until we achieve the three values of social justice, freedom and human dignity. The situation has become worse, but we will keep on until the end.”

She was talking about Egypt, but her words are being echoed in many other places from Turkey, to India, to Brazil. Hundreds of millions of young people with hopes of a better life are expressing their utter weariness not only with government and social corruption but a host of unmet expectations.

“We saw early versions of it in China in 1989, Venezuela in 2002,” observed New York Times columnist Bill Keller, writing from still-unsettled Turkey just before the latest Egyptian explosion. “We saw it in Iran in 2009, when the cosmopolitan crowds thronged in protest against theocratic hard-liners. We saw it in Russia in 2011, when legions of 30-somethings spilled out of their office cubicles, chanting their scorn for the highhanded rule of Vladimir Putin. While Turkey was still percolating, the discontent bubbled up in Brazil, where yet another ruling party seems to be a victim of its own success.

“The vanguard in each case is mostly young, students or relative newcomers to the white-collar work force who have outgrown the fearful conformity of their parents’ generation,” Keller wrote. “With their economic wants more or less satisfied [definitely less in Egypt], they now crave a voice, and respect. ... The igniting grievances vary. Here in Istanbul it was a plan to build a mosque and other developments on a patch of the city’s diminishing green space. In Brazil it was bus fares. By the time the protests hit critical mass, they are about something bigger and more inchoate: dignity, the perquisites of citizenship, the obligations of power.”

The protesters may be put down or temporarily appeased, Keller acknowledged, but “morale does not improve. There is a new alienation, a new yearning, and eventually this energy will find an outlet. In some way, different in each country, the social contract will be adjusted.”

This is a dangerous moment. But it is also a moment of opportunity for the global church to respond to a vast generation of searchers. They yearn not only for political freedom, social justice and material opportunity, but for something far deeper and more lasting. Now is a time for them to hear Truth and have the chance to grasp it.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board’s global correspondent.)
7/10/2013 2:39:44 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The true phoenix maker

July 10 2013 by Jeremy Roberts, Baptist Press

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Greek mythology teaches that a phoenix is a bird that obtains new life by emerging from the ashes of its predecessor. God, however, is the phoenix maker. He takes what other people thought was hopeless and makes it hopeful. He takes what was dead and makes it thrive with a fresh breath of life.

That’s what He did at Church of the Highlands, formerly known as Highland Park Baptist Church.

Highland Park is located in downtown Chattanooga, Tenn., and once was among America’s most thriving churches. When Elmer Towns wrote “The Ten Largest Sunday Schools” in 1969, he listed it as the country’s second-largest church. Dr. Lee Roberson became the church’s pastor in the 1940s and led it from a few hundred to 10,000 people primarily through conversion growth with bus ministry and media. He established major ministries: a homeless shelter, Tennessee Temple University, a radio station and a 65-acre children’s camp in what was a rural area outside of town.

Over time, however, the shimmer wore off. Attendance declined. The four worship centers on the church campus, totaling 8,200 seats, were only filled by about 180 people by the time I became pastor 16 months ago. The community changed but the church’s methodology didn’t. There was no outreach strategy and $3 million of debt. Everyone talked about what happened during the church’s heyday decades ago, before I was born.

Then, all of a sudden, God decided to make a phoenix out of Highland Park Baptist Church. A few months into my pastorate, I felt the leading of the Lord to re-plant our church, one of the most historic congregations in Tennessee, to a northern suburb; to change our name to “Church of the Highlands”; to become a philosophically–progressive church; and to sell our downtown property to get out of debt and jump-start our new chapter. It was scary making that decision alongside the wisdom of our lay-leadership, but I had confidence it was what we were supposed to do.

The location of our new church is at the camp where, 67 years prior, Dr. Roberson led the church to buy the property for just $3,000. Now, that location (the Harrison Bay/Ooltewah region) of Chattanooga is the fastest-growing area in Chattanooga due to the explosion of jobs provided by Volkswagen’s plant near that site.

Our biggest concern when we decided to re-plant our church was how we were going to sell our downtown buildings. It’s hard enough to sell one mega-church sanctuary, but even harder to sell two, plus our other six buildings. We met with a church real estate specialist who told us the average church in the southeastern U.S. sells for 20 percent of its appraised value. It was no big deal to God. He sold seven of our eight buildings within just a few months, and we got more than 50 percent of the appraised value for each of the buildings. Our church is now debt-free with money in the bank, and we are spending $360,000 less per year on mortgage, utility and upkeep costs. Only God could have done this. Another church will thrive at our former location.

Our church has more than doubled in size since January, we remodeled the campus from a rugged camp into a cutting-edge church, and we are in the early stages of planning to build our new worship center. We even got to baptize 11 people on a recent Sunday.

You may be reading this with the thought in the back of your mind that your church also needs to be revitalized, but others are saying it is beyond repair. They said that to me.

Some of my friends thought I was crazy for coming to this church because it was “beyond the tipping point” and “dead as a doornail.”

Jesus Himself was dead and He came back to life. He has revitalized our church and He can revitalize yours. Unleash the church of which you are a part to move beyond the impossibilities of this world and watch our God, once again, prove that He is the phoenix maker!
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Jeremy Roberts has been the lead pastor at Church of the Highlands since April 2012.)
7/10/2013 2:25:05 PM by Jeremy Roberts, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Islam’s great challenge to Christian evangelism

July 9 2013 by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The issue of Islam is never far from our headlines. Early in his administration, President Barack Obama put the issue of Islam front and center on the international stage. His visits to Islamic-dominated lands and his public statements to the Muslim world have raised a host of questions at home and abroad.

In a 2009 speech to the Turkish parliament, President Obama declared: “The United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam.” He went on to say that “our partnership with the Muslim world is critical not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject, but also to strengthen opportunity for all its people.”

But the president also spoke of his “deep appreciation for the Islamic faith.” Here is the statement in context:

“I also want to be clear that America’s relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world – including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country – I know, because I am one of them.”

At a press conference in Turkey, the president made yet another statement:

“One of the great strengths of the United States is ... we have a very large Christian population – we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”

Asked to respond to President Obama, I told CNN host Roland Martin: “I think President Obama rightly said that the United States is not at war with Islam. I think that’s a very helpful clarification. But you can’t take Islam out of the whole civilizational struggle we are in, not only in the war on terror but, frankly, going back for centuries, coming up with a definition of what a good civilization would look like and how a society ought to be arranged.”

President Obama’s statement that the United States is not at war with Islam is not only important in terms of international diplomacy, but also in terms of constitutional authority. The government of the United States has no right or authority to declare war on any religion.

We can understand the political context, especially as the president was in Turkey. Given the confusion rampant in the Muslim world, that is a crucial clarification. Of course, a quick review of the statements of President George W. Bush will reveal that he said much the same thing, over and over again.

The fact that President Obama made these comments in Turkey is very important. Throughout the Muslim world, most Muslims do see the United States as, in effect, at war with Islam. Classical Islam understands no real distinction between religion and the state, but instead establishes a unitary society. Thus, when a foreign power like the United States invades a Muslim nation like Iraq, most Muslims see this as a war against Islam.

While specific forms of government vary in the Islamic world, this general understanding holds true. Unlike New Testament Christianity, Islam is essentially a territorial religion that seeks to bring all lands under submission to the rule of the Quran. The president was in Turkey when he made these statements, and Turkey is usually defined in the media as having a secular government; indeed, the Turkish constitution even requires a secular government. But, as anyone who has visited Turkey knows, this requires a very unusual definition of what it means to be secular.

Being Muslim is part of what the Turkish people and government call “Turkishness,” a unifying concept that goes all the way back to Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Offending “Turkishness” is a criminal act in Turkey. The Turkish government is the steward of every one of the seemingly countless mosques within the nation, and it pays the imams. Thus, Turkey is a Muslim nation with a secular government, but its secular character would not be seen as anything close to secular on an American model.

In this light, President Obama’s statement that America is not a Christian country is also both accurate and helpful, though he is being criticized by many conservative Christians for making the claim. His clarification, offered in Muslim Turkey, recognizes as a matter of public fact the reality that our American constitutional system is very different from what is found in the Muslim world.

The controversy over the president’s remarks in this context was misplaced. There is indeed a controversy over whether it is appropriate to call America a Christian nation in the sense that Americans would even make such a claim – but the context in Turkey and the Muslim world is very different.

Do American Christians really believe that Christianity benefits by being associated with all that America represents in the Muslim world? To many Muslims, America appears as the great fountain of pornography, debased entertainments, abortion and sexual revolution. Does it help our witness to Christ that all this would be associated in the Muslim mind with “Christian” America?

Beyond any historical doubt, the United States was established by founders whose worldview was shaped, in most cases quite self-consciously, by the Christian faith. The founding principles of this nation flow from a biblical logic and have been sustained by the fact that most Americans have considered themselves to be Christians and have operated out of a basically Christian frame of moral reference. The American experiment is inconceivable without the foundation established by Christian moral assumptions.

But America is not, by definition, a Christian nation in any helpful sense. The secularists and enemies of the faith make this argument for any number of hostile and antagonistic reasons, and they offer many false arguments as well. But this should not prompt American Christians to make bad arguments of our own.

I criticize President Obama not for stating that America is not at war with Islam but for failing to be honest in clarifying that we do face a great civilizational challenge in Islam. Islam is, in effect, the single most vital competitor to Western ideals of civilization on the world scene. The logic of Islam is to bring every square inch of this planet under submission to the rule of the Quran. Classical Islam divides the world into the “World of Islam” and the “World of War.” In this latter world the struggle to bring society under submission to the Quran is still ongoing.

This ambition drives the Muslim world – and each faithful Muslim – to hope, pray and work for the submission of the whole world to the Quran. Clearly, most Muslims are not willing to employ terrorism in order to achieve this goal. Nevertheless, it remains the goal.

As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and a minister of the gospel, my primary concern about Islam is not civilizational or geopolitical, but theological. I believe that Jesus Christ is indeed “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and that no one comes to the Father but by Him (John 14:6). Salvation is found only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the gospel of Christ is the only message that saves.

I can agree with President Obama that Islam has produced cultural wonders, but I have to see it more fundamentally as a belief system that is taking millions upon millions of persons spiritually captive – leaving them under the curse of sin and without hope of salvation.

For Christians, regardless of nationality, this is the great challenge that should be our urgent concern. Our concern is not mainly political, but theological and spiritual. And, all things considered, Islam almost surely represents the greatest challenge to Christian evangelism of our times.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This article was first published in the Summer 2013 edition of The Southern Seminary Magazine, which takes up the theme “A Christian Understanding of Islam” and is the mission of the seminary’s Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam. To view the entire issue, click here.)
7/9/2013 1:51:32 PM by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments



5 summer prayer action steps

July 8 2013 by Phil Miglioratti, Baptist Press

PALATINE, Ill. – We’ve entered the dog-days of summer (July and August) – this often oppressive and sweltering time of year that coincides with traditional summer slumps in church attendance as families scatter for summer vacations and other summertime activities.

But our need for prayer is never greater. Here are five suggestions to make your dog days of summer sparkle with spiritual freshness:

Family table time – Ask each church family to use at least one family meal each week to pray for their neighbors, whether those who live nearby, people they work with or fellow students. Keep a log of the names and needs of those the Lord leads toward in prayer. During a Sunday morning service in August, ask families to come prepared to share their prayers and God’s responses.

Schedule a church picnic – Before the festivities begin, ask every family to form a circle and to pray (facing inward) for the church, its spiritual health, its ministry vision and its evangelistic effectiveness. Reverse positions to face outward and pray for the community, its needs, its leaders and the church’s influence on it.

Weeknight prayer meeting – Take the midweek prayer service outside. Those who cannot handle the walk or the heat may stay inside and pray using this as a template. Ask everyone to pray with their eyes open, looking at and praying for:
  • God’s good creation
  • The church facilities
  • Residential areas, schools, recreational, medical or business districts to the north, to the east, to the south and to the west
Secret saint – Ask everyone in the congregation to become a secret intercessor. Prepare cards with the names of your church family for distribution on a Sunday morning – perhaps a reverse offering where everyone picks a name as a basket is passed. Ask the church family, including youth and older children, to pray each day for a week for the person whose name they drew. The following Sunday simply ask for testimonies of what it was like to pray once a day for their person or if anyone sensed a special blessing from the Lord because someone was praying for them.

Pastoral prayer – Recruit volunteers to pray aloud for the pastor each Sunday during the summer. Encourage them to pray from their deepest passion.

So, rather than succumb to the slow-down, casual atmosphere of summer, put those dog-days to good use. Prayer – encourage every member and family to invite the Holy Spirit to alert them every day to special summertime opportunities to pray for people they may only see in July or August. Care – show the love of Christ to them through practical and appreciated acts of service or mercy. Share – invite them to investigate the often misunderstood message of the Gospel. Let’s love our communities to Christ!

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phil Miglioratti is state prayer consultant for the Illinois Baptist State Association and serves on the Mission America Coalition facilitation committee’s LOVE 2020, a “prayer-care-share” ministry initiative.)
7/8/2013 3:14:07 PM by Phil Miglioratti, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Hold a newborn

July 8 2013 by Waylan Owens, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – I first held my first grandson about three hours after he was born.

Adrian was a full-term baby. At three hours, he was alert and followed sound, especially his mother’s voice. His eyes were clear, and his mind already appeared to be working feverishly to receive and to sort “data,” as we call it in these tech-dominated days.

I have many arguments in support of God’s creation and activity in this world, of the uniqueness and sanctity of human life, and of the way man’s view of it all is distorted by sin.

I remain unconvinced by the claims of those who say that man’s theories about things we cannot test are to be trusted, that God does not exist, and that a baby is a commodity for a parent or a doctor to choose to keep or to dispose of at will.

But none of that great wisdom and logic is even half as effective as the power of a newborn baby.

So let me ask the skeptics and doubters and atheists only to do this: Hold a newborn in your arms. Then look that baby in the eyes and tell him that impersonal matter plus time plus the laws of physics alone produced him by random chance.

Tell him that some adult, any adult, parent, doctor, whoever, would have been justified in ending his life as it grew in the womb.

Are you still holding that newborn? Tell her that sin does not exist, that your life and decisions and the results of them all are as untainted as that bundle you hold. Then tell her that a man or a woman can make a just decision to take the life of a baby, one even seven months younger than the one you hold, that it is right and good and pure to do so. Tell her that, had the death decision been made for her, it would have been best.

Be sure you are holding the baby close to you. Feel its heartbeat. Know its being. Tell her now that no God is required to explain this world, to produce her humanity, to show us righteousness, to forgive us, even to die for us.

Jesus came to earth as a baby, a newborn baby. He presents us all with a great dilemma. We might reject Jesus the man, but on what basis do we reject Jesus the baby? Yet the newborn in the manger was the same Jesus, the same God, the same sacrifice, the same redeemer, the same yesterday, today and forever.

Christmas leads inexorably to Easter.

If in doubt, hold a newborn.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Waylan Owens is dean of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Jack D. Terry Jr. School of Church and Family Ministries and associate professor of church and family ministries.) 
7/8/2013 3:10:06 PM by Waylan Owens, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Explaining the marriage debate to children

July 3 2013 by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – With the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decisions all over the news, some Christian parents wonder how they ought to explain all of this to their small children. I’ve faced the same question as my children have asked, “What is the Supreme Court doing that’s keeping you so busy?” So how does one teach the controversy, without exposing one’s children to more than they can handle?

First of all, you should, I think, talk to your children about this. No matter how you shelter your family, keeping your children from knowing about the contested questions about marriage would take a “Truman Show”-level choreography of their lives. That’s not realistic, nor is it particularly Christian.

The Bible isn’t nearly as antiseptic as Christians sometimes pretend to be, and it certainly doesn’t shrink back from addressing all the complexities of human life. If we are discipling our children, let’s apply the scriptures to all of life. If we refuse to talk to our children about some issue that is clearly before them, our children will assume we are unequipped to speak to it, and they’ll eventually search out a worldview that will.

This doesn’t mean that we rattle our children with information they aren’t developmentally ready to process. We already know how to navigate that; we talk, for instance, about marriage itself, and we give age-appropriate answers to the “Where do babies come from?” query. The same is true here. There is no need to inform small children about all the sexual possibilities in graphic detail in order to get across that Jesus calls us to live as husbands and wives with fidelity and permanence and complementarity.

Some parents believe that teaching their children the controversies about same-sex marriage will promote homosexuality. Christians and non-Christians can agree that sexual orientation doesn’t work that way. Moreover, the exact opposite is true. If you don’t teach your children about a Christian way of viewing the challenges to a Christian sexual ethic, the ambient culture will fill in your silence with answers of its own.

You can tell your children that people in American culture disagree about what marriage is. You can explain to them what the Bible teaches, from Genesis to Jesus to the apostles, about a man and a woman becoming one flesh. You can explain that as Christians we believe this marital relationship is different than other relationships we have. You can then tell them that some people have relationships they want to be seen as marriages, and that the Supreme Court is addressing that.

You can then explain that you love your neighbors who disagree with you on this. You agree that they ought to be free from mistreatment or harassment. But the church believes government can’t define or redefine marriage, but can only recognize what God created and placed in creation. Explain why you think mothers and fathers are different, and why those differences are good. Find examples in your own family of how those differences work together for the common good of the household, and point to examples in scripture of the same.

Don’t ridicule or express hostility toward those who disagree. You might have gay or lesbian family members; be sure to express your love for them to your children, even as you say that you disagree about God’s design for marriage. You probably have already had to do that with family members or friends who are divorced or cohabiting or some other situation that falls short of a Christian sexual ethic. If your children see outrage in you, rather than a measured and Christlike biblical conviction, they eventually will classify your convictions here in the same category as your clueless opinions about “kids these days and their loud music.”

The issues at stake are more important than that. Marriage isn’t ultimately about living arrangements or political structures, but about the gospel. When your children ask about the Supreme Court, be loving, winsome, honest, convictional and kind.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell D. Moore is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Reprinted from his Moore to the Point website, www.russellmoore.com.)
7/3/2013 11:06:52 AM by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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