July 2019

Thankful for FUGE

July 18 2019 by Nathan A. Finn

Sitting in a rocking chair on a balcony at Ridgecrest Conference Center near Black Mountain, N.C., I listened to teenagers below sing the popular worship songs “What a Beautiful Name” and “No Longer Slaves.”
 

I love Ridgecrest because I find its beauty to be peaceful. But rarely quiet. I was moved as campers voiced praises to the Lord during a FUGE summer camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains that He created and crafted for His glory. It reminded me how thankful I am for FUGE.
 
I’ve stayed at Ridgecrest many times before, both by myself and with my whole family, but this is at least the third time I have stayed there while a FUGE summer camp was in session.
 
FUGE was launched 40 years ago in 1979 by what was then the Baptist Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention – now LifeWay Christian Resources.
 
The original version of the camp was Centrifuge, a youth discipleship camp that remains very popular (and is the source of the “FUGE” name). Over the decades, the FUGE family of camps has expanded to include CentriKid, for third- through sixth-graders, and MissionFuge, which emphasizes personal evangelism and service.
 
While one might expect Ridgecrest to host all the FUGE camps, most are hosted by Baptist-related colleges and universities. My own institution, North Greenville University, is hosting FUGE camps all summer.
 
I love watching campers bounce around our campus during the day, meeting some of them in our dining hall during meals, and occasionally worshiping with them in our chapel during the evening. I also love meeting the sleep-deprived chaperones who’ve taken time away from busy schedules to invest in their church’s young people.
 
My own life has been richly blessed by FUGE. It was at Centrifuge at Carson-Newman University that I first had extended conversations with a youth minister about whether God might be calling me into full-time vocational ministry.
 
It was at Centrifuge at Palm Beach Atlantic University where I first led another individual to saving faith in Jesus Christ. The following year I had my first summer camp experience as a leader when as a summer youth minister, I took a youth group to MissionFuge at University of Mobile.
 
Most important, it was at Centrifuge at North Greenville University – where I now serve as chief academic officer – that I prayed to accept Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I’m not just thankful for FUGE; I’m eternally grateful.
 
This summer, tens of thousands of FUGE campers will be served by hundreds of staffers at dozens of locations around the country. The theme for the summer is “Restored.” (You can watch the promotional video online.)
 
Join me in praying that the Lord would be at work through FUGE and other Christ-centered camps to bring a multitude of young people to faith in Christ, to strengthen the faith of many others, and to “call out the called” to vocational ministry and missions.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nathan A. Finn serves as provost and dean of the university faculty at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C.)

7/18/2019 12:25:31 PM by Nathan A. Finn | with 0 comments



Those who weep

July 17 2019 by Erich Bridges

Recently I spent time with two old friends. Both are grieving.
 
One just lost his mother to cancer. The other lost his wife – also to cancer – three years ago. His best friend died of a massive heart attack a few weeks ago.
 

I knew that mother, that wife and that best friend. So I grieve their passing as well.
 
How do I comfort my friends? By keeping my mouth shut. When Jesus, for example, learned of the death of his friend Lazarus and heard the wails of Lazarus’ sisters, He didn’t say much. He wept.
 
Words can wait. Tears come first. Then silence. Then listening – if the grieving one wants to talk. If they want to hear what words of comfort you have to offer, they’ll ask.
 
That’s hard to do – staying silent. You want to say something, especially if you have experienced your own loss. You want to salve the wound with words. Don’t. Follow Jesus’ lead. He knew when to cry, when to speak and when to be quiet. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
 
Experiencing grief can prepare you to bear the griefs of others, but only if you allow it to do its good work in you first.
 
Grief is the price you pay for love, the saying goes, but it can become too high a price. Some people let grief overwhelm them and never start on the road to recovery. Some spend the rest of their lives in despair, anger or bitterness.
 
“Sorrow removes a great deal of a person’s shallowness, but it does not always make that person better,” Oswald Chambers wrote in My Utmost for His Highest.
 
“Suffering either gives me to myself or it destroys me,” Oswald noted. “You cannot find or receive yourself through success, because you lose your head over pride. And you cannot receive yourself through the monotony of your daily life, because you give in to complaining. The only way to find yourself is in the fires of sorrow. Why it should be this way is immaterial. The fact is that it is true in the scriptures and in human experience.”
 
I have lost loved ones through the years, but I didn’t know grief – really know it – until my wife died in 2017. I soon discovered how shallow I was. My heart had to expand to contain the tears or drown. It’s an ongoing excavation project.
 
That doesn’t qualify me to comfort someone else, however. Everyone mourns differently. To enter into someone else’s grief, you don’t necessarily need to understand it, but you need an invitation. When the invitation comes, be ready. Be available. Be generous.
 
“You can always recognize who has been through the fires of sorrow and received himself, and you know that you can go to him in your moment of trouble and find that he has plenty of time for you,” Chambers promised. “If you will receive yourself in the fires of sorrow, God will make you nourishment for other people.”
 
Blessed are those who mourn, Christ says, for they shall be comforted. He might even use you to do the comforting.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is a writer based in Richmond, Va., with 30-plus years in Baptist journalism.)

7/17/2019 4:46:27 PM by Erich Bridges | with 0 comments



What War Did and Will Do for the Church in the Middle East

July 15 2019 by Nicole Leigh, IMB

In a small village in the Levant, ISIS is gone. The bombs have been silenced. The violence has passed. In its place is a stillness – a darkness that hovers, testifying to what happened here. Some call it terrorism, some call it religion, some call it politics. Villagers know it as a darkness whose far-reaching tendrils choked out life.
 

IMB Photo
Children in Kabul.

Here, ISIS had dragged men and women from their houses to be beaten, crucified, and beheaded. Children, forced to watch things too horrible to speak of, were trained to be warriors and zealots.
 
Now, where homes, churches, schools, and playgrounds used to be, there is only rubble. And below those piles of rubble are tunnels where men crawled beneath the skin of this once peaceful village, doing damage from within its very core, infiltrating the hearts of people with fear while celebrating violence, hatred, and death.
 
The air itself seems heavier after those days. Believers say they can physically feel this weight as they walk the streets marked by garish graffiti, bullet holes, and ash. But knowing One who is greater and stronger than any other gives them the courage to come and minister to those left behind, all while praying from Genesis 50, what had been intended for evil, God might use for good.
 

A Light in the Darkness

 
Many former residents don’t have the peace and comfort that comes through God’s Word. They can’t bear to see the places where loved ones were killed and tortured, and they choose instead to remain in exile forever. Others are slowly and cautiously returning, knowing past lives will never be reclaimed but hoping they can build something new. Christian workers want to help them build on a solid foundation.
 
When Luqa,* a local believer, and his family fled their village, it was with only the clothes on their backs, gunfire echoing in their ears, and tanks chasing them. The family was separated at the checkpoints, and he feared he would never see them again. Relief was palpable when his brother contacted him by phone. The family reunited and waited for the nightmare to end.  A year later, they returned to the shadow of what had been their home, and they began to rebuild. Luqa doesn’t feel despair at the hard work ahead because he sees it as an opportunity to be a light in the darkness. He feels hope and urgency as he engages people and shares the gospel.
 
Christian workers, Luqa, and other local ministry partners are working together to bring the hope of Christ into this once terrorized village and the surrounding camps that house many internally displaced peoples. Many of those in the camps have tried to get back home but were unsuccessful. One family the Chistian workers met in the camp returned to their liberated village only to find their home was booby-trapped by ISIS. The grandfather of the family came back to the camp with only one leg and a heart full of despair.
 
Hopelessness is the most common emotion shared by these survivors, and when they hear that the Christian God is the God who sees, knows, and wants to redeem, they are amazed and very receptive to the gospel, unlike in the years before ISIS came to power.
 
Christian workers say that’s the one positive thing that came from those years: many heavy hearts became open to hearing the truth of the gospel and willing to leave their former Muslim beliefs. Christian workers have seen several people trust Christ, and many, many more Muslims have heard the message of Christ with openness.
 
The overwhelming love of God is what compels this change. These former Muslims have never known a God who loves them, forgives them, helps them, and promises a future.
 

A Light from the Past

 
Christians in 2019 aren’t the first to reach this population. In the first years after Jesus’s death, Thomas the apostle may have traveled to this part of the world, bringing good news of a resurrected Savior. The Christian church has had a continuous presence since that time, but it has been a target of persecution for centuries.
 
More recently, before the war began in 2003, there were 1.5 million people who identified as Christians. Their presence was a good witness to the Muslim majority. In fact, the country’s top leader employed Christians as his advisor and cooks because he trusted them. Villagers knew Christians as upright in business practices, generous to help their neighbors out, and kind, as opposed to local Muslim culture that is very tribal in its allegiances and shrewd in business. Today, after the war and the work of ISIS, it is estimated that only 250,000 Christians remain.
 
But God in his sovereignty has broken down barriers through the years, both spiritually and physically. Whereas this area was closed to outsiders before 1990, now Westerners are a welcomed sight as they bring aid and comfort. Christian workers spend their afternoons in the tents of survivors, drinking tea and listening to stories. That seems to be therapeutic and a simple way to show love, though it takes a toll on these workers. They have found that it’s not possible to carry the weight of those stories alone, but they prayerfully entrust each one to God.
 
Graciously, God is a trustworthy custodian. He keeps track of our sorrows and collects our tears in his bottle (Psalm 56:8). He’s been doing it since the beginning of time, since Adam and Eve left their perfect home in Eden to struggle and strive in this same patch of land, since the nation of Israel was carried into captivity in Babylon, since three young Hebrew men stood in the fiery furnace. All of these things happened near where Christian workers live and work every day. The history is deep. God’s compassion is deeper still.
 
Christian workers in the region today aren’t the first to bring the gospel message; the Father has been at work in that place long before he ever called them to lived there. But now He’s equipping and using them to further explain this good news.
 
Let’s pray for Christian workers who work to rebuild homes and hearts after wars in the Middle East. ISIS isn’t gone for good. They still control the hearts and minds of many. They have been run out of towns and villages, but they’ve regrouped in the countryside. Pray for peace and for salvation for these ancient peoples who have discovered a new reason to hope.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nicole Leigh is a writer with IMB. She lives in Europe. This article was originally published at IMB.org. Used by permission.)

7/15/2019 5:07:44 PM by Nicole Leigh, IMB | with 0 comments



‘My heart’s primary focus’

July 15 2019 by Gary W. Hawkins

My Native American family of Creek and Cherokee descent was at best a nominal Christian family, but as a child I have fond memories of Vacation Bible School and going to church on rare occasions.
 
Although I wasn’t taught the Word of God during my formative years, at the age of 6 I made a profession of faith at the conclusion of a Vacation Bible School, but throughout my teen years I never felt secure in my relationship to Christ.
 

As a teen I fell victim to drugs and alcohol, which caused many heartaches. In spite of that, I graduated from high school and started college seeking a degree in education. In my second year of school, I married my high school sweetheart, Paula. I wanted to have a successful marriage, raise a family and just be happy, but I continued to be my own worst enemy.
 
Toward the end of that year, a pastor’s wife from a small Choctaw Indian church visited our home and shared John 3:16, inserting our names where it stated, “for God so loved the world,” to read, “for God so loved Gary and Paula Hawkins.” I didn’t know of God’s unconditional love; I thought that God only loved “good people” and I certainly wasn’t among them.
 
It was hard to believe that such a thing as “unconditional love” existed and that it could apply to me because all I could see about my life was hopelessness, helplessness and someone so undeserving of God’s love.
 
In attending a revival at Little Coweta Indian Baptist, I felt God’s Spirit speaking to me on the second night to receive Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. At the age of 21, my entire life changed; I felt the weight of the world lifted and true happiness became a reality for me and my wife, who also had placed her faith in Christ.
 
Pastor Ernest Best mentored me on how to grow daily in my walk with the Lord. Early in my Christian life, he taught me the importance of sharing my faith. I had few Christian friends so I shared Jesus to any who would listen, though many didn’t want to hear about my new life in Christ or their need of salvation.
 
After five years I became a minister of the gospel and served as a youth minister alongside Pastor Best for two years, until he felt the calling of God to enter full-time evangelism to Native Americans in North America traveling across the country and into Canada and Mexico sharing God’s Word. Bro. Ernest was very missional-minded in doing God’s Kingdom work, and he helped me understand the Great Commission.
 
When Little Coweta asked me to become their new pastor, I spent much time in prayer before accepting the duty of pastoring my home church. It was quite a learning curve, but I applied my life to the study of God’s Word, reliance on the Holy Spirit and prayer. I also learned the value of receiving coaching by some godly men and women of faith.
 
A few years later I sensed the call to missions among Native Americans. I became aware of needs in Montana through a challenging sermon by Russell Begaye who at that time served as the national Native American missionary for the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board). I agreed to view the mission field and shortly thereafter agreed to serve in Montana. It was a tremendous culture shock as I moved my family 1,700 miles to a tribe I had little knowledge of and a climate that took quite some adjusting to, but to God’s glory Glacier View Baptist Chapel was successfully restarted and the Lord added to the church.
 
Along with pastoring among the Blackfeet Indians in northwest Montana, I have pastored among the Central Plains tribes of Oklahoma at Shawnee First Indian and the Pueblo Indians in Espanola, N.M. I have been blessed to preach and teach God’s Word among indigenous people that I never would have thought possible in Mexico, Canada, Honduras and Australia.
 
I subsequently served as a church planting missionary jointly with the North American Mission Board and the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma for nearly 10 years and ministered among the 39 tribes of Oklahoma.
 
In January 2012, after much prayer I became the first executive director of the newly formed Fellowship of Native American Christians (FoNAC), a faith-based ministry whose primary focus group is Native Americans and First Nations of Canada.
 
I also serve as the church planting pastor of Native Stone Baptist Church near Tulsa, Okla. Our focus is the pan-Indians of greater Tulsa, which according to 2010 Census encompassed nearly 36,000 Native Americans.
 
And I serve as the church planting mobilizer with the North American Mission Board for Native Americans, which has become a great partnership. We have space at the Many Faces exhibit at the Southern Baptist Convention, which has provided a tremendous amount of exposure to people. FoNAC holds our annual meeting in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting and we’re always open to visitors desiring to attend.
 
The motivation for my life’s journey has been Christ’s love for me and for all mankind. All people need a personal relationship with Jesus. I share the gospel with whoever will listen, but my heart’s primary focus is and has been to the unreached and under-reached Native people of North America.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary W. Hawkins is executive director of FoNAC, the Fellowship of Native American Christians and pastor of Native Stone Baptist Church near Tulsa, Okla. This column is adapted from the FoNAC resource, “Jesus Made the Difference: Native men telling their personal story of how Jesus made the difference in their lives.”)

7/15/2019 5:00:23 PM by Gary W. Hawkins | with 0 comments



Surfer Bethany Hamilton faces new challenges in ‘Unstoppable’

July 11 2019 by Phil Boatwright

America first saw Bethany Hamilton as the 13-year-old surfer who lost her arm to a tiger shark.
 

ES Entertainment photo
Bethany Hamilton remains one of the surfing world's stars more than 15 years after losing her arm in a shark attack at age 13.

A new documentary, “Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable,” follows 2011’s “Soul Surfer” dramatization of Hamilton’s ascendency as a world-class surfer. This sequel captures the essence of this fearless Christian athlete and what her story offers the world.
 
Back in 2010 this reporter was invited to Hawaii by Tri-Star Pictures to see scenes filmed for Soul Surfer and interview those involved in the production. During an interview session, reporters were astounded by the then-19-year-old’s answer to the following question: “The Lord has used this incident in your life to help others, but if you could go back to that day, would you have stayed out of the water?”
 
“Umm ... no,” she thoughtfully began. “It was God’s will for it to happen. So much good has come out of what seems like a terrible thing, and it’s been an amazing journey. I’m still doing what I want to do. More than what I ever dreamed of. And I know that God’s in control, that this has been a part of His plan.”
 
For many, Soul Surfer lacked the intensity or depth that Hamilton’s story demanded. Her tale is one not so much of what was lost but what she found. Her faith increased rather than diminished after the shark’s onslaught, and various critics felt it didn’t transfer onto the screen.
 

ES Entertainment photo
Bethany Hamilton interacts with a crew member working on the new film about her life, “Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable,” which opens in theaters Friday.

In Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable, Hamilton, now a wife and mother, takes on her greatest sports challenge: the biggest wave of her career (ironically named “Jaws”).
 
Made in 2018, the PG-rated documentary from ES Entertainment, opening in theaters July 12, is beautifully shot and emotionally impactful. What’s more, care has been taken to give viewers a clean movie about wave-conquering athletes. And though the young women are always in swimwear, the camera never lewdly ogles them.
 
As with Soul Surfer, presumably in an attempt to garner a larger audience than just that of the faith-based community, this movie is more about Bethany’s determination to overcome the waves than about her spiritual growth.
 
The intent of the filmmakers is to reflect the true nature of athletes as they challenge nature, their bodies and their minds. But while it speaks to young women about self-empowerment, the documentary also offers a pronounced philosophy concerning overcoming and succeeding. It maintains that while people can direct you toward your goal, ultimately it’s up to you to fight for your success.
 
There are subtle messages about family and faith, but many who have heard Bethany proclaim her devotion to God through Jesus Christ may be somewhat disappointed that there isn’t a bit more biblical influence in the film.
 

ES Entertainment photo
In “Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable,” Hamilton, now a wife and mother, takes on her greatest sports challenge: the biggest wave of her career (ironically named “Jaws”).

With that in mind, the following suggested DVD companion may be spiritually rewarding.
 
Heart of a Soul Surfer,” a 2007 documentary available on Amazon, does present the Gospel message upfront and unapologetically. It contains dialogue between believers and those who don’t understand what people like Bethany Hamilton have found, despite what they’ve lost.
 
As with the new theatrical release, Heart of a Soul Surfer features exclusive footage of Bethany before and after the attack, including her first attempts at surfing with one arm as well as her winning the 2005 NSSA National Surfing Championship in the Explorer Women’s event just 19 months later, besting the reigning champion and a six-time champion.
 
Heart of a Soul Surfer raises the question: Why do these things happen? And young Bethany answers the question, then and now, based on a heartfelt faith in Jesus.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phil Boatwright is the author of MOVIES: The Good, the Bad, and the Really, Really Bad, available on Amazon.com.)

7/11/2019 1:45:49 PM by Phil Boatwright | with 0 comments



What women need

July 9 2019 by Kassie Prather

While working with a program that prepared couples for long-term missions, I began to notice a deeply troubling gap in the expectations and the definitions of spiritual excellence for males and females.
 

Husbands were loaded up with classes, mentoring, books and accountability groups – but a monthly meeting was too much to ask of their wives.
 
Both inside and outside the world of full-time ministry, studying the finer points of our faith is a mainly masculine enterprise.* Aren’t women busy enough without diving deep into the Word? (Let Pinterest catechize them, some seem to imply.)
 
But when half the church is spiritually deficient, the entire body walks with a limp.
 
This is not always a problem of men downplaying the importance of women’s spiritual growth.
 
We, as God’s daughters, often take our own personal development less seriously than our Christian brothers. There is no need for instruction in biblical languages or hermeneutics, it seems, when most of us are hard-pressed to find time for basic discipleship amid so many other things that take priority.
 
Yet we sell ourselves and one another short of the gloriously robust contribution we’re meant to make in the Kingdom by assuming that learning biblical doctrine is the responsibility of our male counterparts. Women have become spiritual wallflowers.
 
Despite culture and our own personal hang-ups, Jesus holds His little sisters in high regard, and this should be echoed by everyone who calls Him King. Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy, so believing rightly about the importance of women in the church should lead to behaving rightly in response. We don’t need another tea party. We need the hearty fare of scripture so that, alongside the heroine of Proverbs 31, we can make our arms strong for the task at hand.
 
In Word-Filled Women’s Ministry, Kathleen Nielson and Gloria Furman write, “Neither do we women participate in ministry to ‘have something to occupy our time.’ Contra the misconception that women’s ministry is simply a social venue, there is something profoundly theological and eschatologically oriented about ministry among women.”
 
In light of the approaching splendor, women need to grow in the gospel together with both intensity and intentionality. How I long for the day when we stop excusing ourselves from full engagement in Kingdom training based on our sex. The price Christ paid is too precious, the cunning of the enemy too great and the work left to be done too extensive.
 
God sovereignly designed women to show a distinct aspect of His image, and everyone suffers when we fail to take our place at the table. Heaven help us if we relegate one another to anything less than souls loaded with dignity, worth and purpose.
 
Ladies, it’s time to stop sidelining ourselves. For the sake of Jesus our Brother, make space for a sister today. Don’t imagine the 15 reasons she won’t have time; just ask her out for coffee and listen to her. Challenge her to spiritual growth. Comfort her. Pray with her. Champion her.
 
Invite her to partner in the gospel of a God so vibrant that He chooses to use two genders to express His heart to a broken world.
 
*This is not to say that there are no women taking seriously the call to discipleship. A tiny but robust segment of solid Christian teaching is heralded by sisters who have mightily invested in learning truth, and the Kingdom is better as a result.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kassie Prather, dwell.place, is a church planting pastor’s wife in Putnam, Conn.)

7/9/2019 11:02:36 AM by Kassie Prather | with 0 comments



A North Carolina path for affordable ministerial education

July 8 2019 by Steve Scoggins, BSC president

I recently was made aware of a change that will enable more students to pursue quality ministerial education in North Carolina. For years, the Charles B. Keesee Scholarship has helped pay tuition for North Carolina students when they pursued their master of divinity degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Now that same assistance will be offered to students who are in their junior and senior years at the College of Southeastern.
 

I teach at Fruitland and have written previously about the wonderful experience students have studying for the ministry at Fruitland Baptist Bible College. Our tuition is now $600 a quarter for 16 hours credit. Added to that are similarly affordable prices for room and board at the college.
 
Fruitland offers an associate’s degree. Because so many of our students go on to both a bachelor’s and master’s degrees, they often transfer to the College at Southeastern to finish their studies. They usually find at Southeastern an experience as spiritual and rewarding as they had at Fruitland.
 
The cost of going to the College at Southeastern is about half of what it would cost a student to go to a private Christian college. The reason for that price difference is that churches like yours and mine support Southeastern through our Cooperative Program gifts. Even though it is more affordable than most Christian colleges, because Fruitland is so inexpensive to attend, our students sometimes experience “sticker shock” when they transfer to Southeastern. By adding the Keesee scholarship to the already discounted tuition because of the Cooperative Program, both schools will be within reach to most students without having to take out college loans.
 
The camaraderie at Fruitland is one of the greatest parts of the Fruitland experience. Although it offers online classes, I do not believe there is anything that equals the experience of developing the friendships and interacting with professors in person. There is more to preparing for ministry than classroom information. The college at Southeastern will give students a continuation of the experience they had at Fruitland as they finish their bachelor’s degrees.
 
Why don’t you consider the North Carolina path for affordable ministerial education – Fruitland for the first two years, the College at Southeastern for the second two years, followed by a master of divinity program at Southeastern Seminary? Fruitland’s next quarter begins in October.
 
The deadline for Keesee scholarships for January classes at the College of SEBTS is Oct. 1. Both schools would love to hear from you soon!
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Steve Scoggins is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Hendersonville and president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)

7/8/2019 3:15:18 PM by Steve Scoggins, BSC president | with 0 comments



Painful, joyous confession

July 3 2019 by Veronica Greear

“I’m just sayin’.”
 

“I’m just being honest.”
 
“TBH” (To Be Honest)
 
“No offense, but ... (cue offensive statement).”
 
“Hot Mess Express”
 
“Lord, Bless this Mess”
 
Have you heard these phrases spoken to you or a friend? Have you seen them written in posts online or printed on T-shirts and hats? People today seem to value being honest and authentic above all else.
 
You will often hear people praise a speaker or preacher for how “real” he is. And let me be clear right away: I am all for honesty and authenticity in Christ’s followers. Inasmuch as people in the past may have focused on looking right on the outside at the expense of being honest in confession and repentance, this emphasis on “being real” is a good thing.
 
After all, James said it this way: “Confess your sins to one another ... that you may be healed” (James 5:16). John reminded us of God’s precious promise that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Even typing those words out makes me want to shout praise to our awesome Father!
 
I am concerned, however, for what I see as two unintended consequences. I see them in myself and others as well.
 
The first is a sort of race to the bottom, wherein we brag lightly – even proudly – about our more “acceptable” sins. The sort of “Fed the kids Cheetos for breakfast this morning #hotmessexpress” proclamations.
 
The second is possibly more insidious to a beautifully functioning body of Christ. We have allowed for “approved levels” of sin that are acceptable to share with your friends or small group, but beyond that level, no one is prepared to listen and help you work out what repentance and healing will look like. Sort of a “You can and should be real this way (e.g. talking about yelling at your kids), but not that real (e.g. admitting you are deeply jealous and it is ruining every important relationship you have).”
 
The truth is, there is such joy in repentance, but it is an uncomfortable, hard, even agonizing experience. And it takes time. David spoke of his bones that were being crushed. Paul seemed to cry out, practically in pain, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?!” C. S. Lewis’s picture in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Aslan “un-dragons” Eustace has him commenting that “it hurt worse than anything else I’d ever felt.” As I write these words, I think, when was the last time I faced my own sin so clearly in confession that it was painful? When was the last time you did?
 
As women in ministry positions, I think Satan uses a particular deception to keep us from real confessions: the fear that our sin will somehow bring down our and/or our husbands’ ministries. We are afraid that if people know how we struggle, they might assume that Christianity is useless.
 
I would argue the exact opposite is actually true. If people don’t know that you struggle, they will either conclude you are a hypocrite, because they know all human beings are sinners, or that Jesus came to help the well get even better, rather than to heal the sick.
 
I think this fear, and others, leads us to try to out-do one another with what a “mess” we are, but never actually talk about the real sins we have, such as pride or bitterness or coveting, so we never know the real healing Jesus brings.
 
That is what I want to leave you to consider: Do you know the healing and peace confession brings? God brought a couple of people into my life the last few years who have helped me realize that I had fallen out of the habit of regular confession, and I needed it back. These friends talk about confession all the time, not as an exceptional happening like I had begun to treat it, but as a regular habit.
 
And so, I’ve begun to say every day, akin to Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me oh God, and know my heart; see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” There is no other way to live this Christian life fully. As John Owen said in the 1600s, we will be “killing sin, or it will be killing [us].”
 
Confess your sins to one another, friends. Not the fake real ones, but the really real ones. It’s worth it.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Veronica Greear, a wife and mother of four, serves and worships at The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area where her husband, SBC President J.D. Greear, is pastor. This column first appeared in SBC LIFE, sbclife.net, journal of the SBC.)

7/3/2019 10:44:08 AM by Veronica Greear | with 0 comments



Explainer: What’s happening with children at the southern border?

July 1 2019 by Travis Wussow and Jeff Pickering, ERLC

Recent outcry over issues at the United States-Mexico border broke out after reporting from the Associated Press revealed unconscionable conditions for child migrants in government custody in a facility near El Paso, Texas. The AP story highlighted concerns from a group of attorneys who interviewed 60 children at the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) site. Their accounts revealed safety and sanitation concerns with the housing conditions and a lack of adequate adult supervision. Here is what you should know about this situation at the southern border.
 

Is there a surge in people crossing the southern border?

 

The number of people crossing the southern border in 2019 has increased dramatically, according to CBP data. The number of apprehensions year-to-date at 593,507 is more than double the number of apprehensions of any of the last five years. This current increase is even more significant because the trend was in the opposite direction for decades. Since the peak of 1.6 million apprehensions at the southern border in 2000, 2017 saw the lowest number of apprehensions since 1971.
 

In addition, the demographics of those crossing the border changed significantly. Over the last 10 years, the trend shifted from primarily single men from Mexico to overwhelmingly family units from Central America. This presents new challenges for processing asylum claims and managing the family units who have been detained. Further, as discussed below, Congress had not provided appropriate levels of funding to meet this crisis. CBP struggled with limited resources as the administration sought to manage this situation and impose new detention policies.  
 

Who is being held in these detention facilities?

 
While a majority of those detained are adult men, the number and treatment of children in these detention centers garnered national attention. When migrants make an asylum claim in the United States, according to U.S. immigration law, they have the right to a court hearing if they pass an initial screening to prove they meet the legal criteria to be granted asylum. Due to a longstanding backlog in asylum and immigration cases and partisan gridlock on resources for immigration courts, previous administrations released migrants waiting for their court dates, which in some cases can take several years. Even though 92% of migrants seeking asylum did appear in court for their hearings from 2013-2017, according to the Department of Justice, this practice has come under criticism. As a response, the Trump Administration sought to hold asylum seekers in detention facilities in a greater number of circumstances while waiting for their hearings.
 

Is immigration law different for children?

 
At the center of the government’s policies toward child migrants is a 1997 consent decree known as the Flores Settlement AgreementFlores directs that children who are unaccompanied or who have been removed from their parents during the process of immigrating are to be transferred to a licensed facility within three to five days of apprehension, and a max of 20 days during times of emergency influx, according to the nonprofit Human Rights First. This means, practically, that families cannot be detained together as a unit for longer than 20 days. After that time, children are to be transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The Flores Settlement also lays out housing condition standards, including the requirement of “safe and sanitary facilities” among many others, all while the government makes a “prompt and continuous effort toward family reunification and release” for children.
 

What sparked public and media attention about these facilities?


The Associated Press reported that children were held in overcrowded and undersupervised facilities for as many as 27 days. The scenes unfolding were of children sleeping on the floor, consoling one another, and some with health issues like the flu and lice. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, stated that the current migrant housing conditions are the “worst [he has] ever seen” and Vice President Mike Pence said the conditions were “totally unacceptable” for these children.
 

How long have these issues been going on?

 
During the early 2000s, much was done to deal with the high amount of southern border crossings including the Secure Fence Act of 2006 which authorized the construction of nearly 700 miles of physical barriers along the border. According to CPB staffing data reported by Politifact, the number of Border Patrol agents at the southwest border nearly doubled since 2005. While the number of detainees dramatically dipped between 2014 and 2015 when the Obama administration redirected its focus to removing serious offenders and recent border crossers in 2014, the picture over the last few years has changed. In 2019, there is thus far a 300% increase in the number of family units apprehended at the southern border, causing the overflow of detention facilities.

Due to the current massive surge in migrants crossing the southern border and making asylum claims, both CBP and ORR are experiencing significant resource shortfalls. The failure of Congress to provide appropriate levels of funding to manage the surge is due in part to the partisan debate between the House, Senate, and administration over related immigration policy issues.
 

What is the U.S. government doing about the issue?

 
On Tuesday, June 25, the AP followed up with news that most of the children at the Texas facility had been transferred to shelters run by HHS ORR. The story quotes ORR spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer who said that unaccompanied children, “are waiting too long in CBP facilities that are not designed to care for children. These children should now all be in HHS care as of Tuesday.”
 
Congress also responded this week with emergency supplemental spending bills aimed at meeting basic needs in these shelters and alleviating the immense pressure to the system under stress at the border. Both chambers authorized around $4.5 billion but differed in the ways in which and agencies to whom the money would be appropriated. When the House bill, passed by Democrats with a party-line vote of 230-195, came to the Republican-led Senate, it predictably failed. The Senate then took up its own bill, S. 811, which was developed by a bipartisan group of Senators on the Appropriations Committee. The Senate version passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 84-8. Late Thursday night, June 27, the House considered and passed the Senate bill in a bipartisan vote of 305-102, which means that a bill providing new funding is now headed to the president’s desk.
 
Assuming the legislation is signed into law by the president, this bill would provide additional funding for DHS and HHS for migrant processing facilities and refugee assistance programs. The bill also provides funding for the Department of Justice for immigration judges, the Department of Defense for military assistance, as well as overtime pay for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
 

How is ERLC engaged in this debate in Washington?

 
On Thursday morning, while Congress was considering these bills, the ERLC, along with the Evangelical Immigration Table, sent a letter to President Trump, Vice President Pence, Speaker Pelosi, and Leader McConnell expressing concern for the inhumane conditions in which children are being held at the southern border. The letter calls for multiple actions and policy changes including supplemental funding, additional personnel trained to care for children, respect for asylum laws and family unity, and restoration of foreign aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Russell Moore signed and commented on the letter, 
 
“As Christians, Jesus calls us to respond to the cries of those in need around us. The conditions at the border ought to prompt all of us to remember that these migrant children are not a mere problem to be solved. They bear the image of God, and are endowed by him with dignity and worth. Jesus loves them, and so should we. The problems at the border will require complex solutions and long-term strategies by our government - both Congress and the administration coming together. In the meantime, we should do everything we can do to help alleviate the suffering of those who are attempting to flee violence in their home countries.”
 

How can Christians help?

 
As Christians, we affirm that all people are made in the image of God and endowed with immeasurable dignity and worthy of respect and love. Because the Bible is clear that we are to love our immigrant neighbors, we must seek ways to alleviate unjust suffering for migrants wherever we can. Southern Baptists are on the frontlines serving immigrants through the Baptist Convention of New Mexico and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention as just two of many examples. Now is a great time to join them and serve immigrants in your community. Several organizations like World Relief and World Vision, as well as many local organizations like these identified by the Texas Tribune are serving at the southern border, providing legal aid and essential supplies. Christians can join in their efforts by offering their talents, partnership, and prayers.  
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Travis Wussow serves as the Vice President for Public Policy and General Counsel. Jeff Pickering serves as associate policy communications director in the Washington, D.C. office. ERLC policy interns Alyssa Koelemay and Nick Raineri contributed to this article. This article was originally published at ERLC.com. Used by permission.)

7/1/2019 10:28:25 AM by Travis Wussow and Jeff Pickering, ERLC | with 0 comments



Why my singleness matters

July 1 2019 by Anna Schaeffer

If my life played out according to the plan designed by my childhood dreams, I would be married by now with a couple of kids, a car big enough to transport everyone to the beach, and a mortgage on a cute little home.
 

Instead, I’m single. I have several plants, drive a little Hyundai and share an apartment with two friends.
 
I love the life God has given me, even though my circumstances are pretty much the opposite of what I thought they’d be.
 
But because our God is faithful and kind, He doesn’t lead us through seasons without teaching us lessons of eternal significance along the way. I don’t know all of the reasons behind His design, but I do know that He is using my singleness to direct my affections toward Him.
 
Here are five things He is teaching me through singleness:
 

Holy longing

 
My desire for companionship pushes me further into the arms of Jesus, the only One who brings lasting joy and contentment. I long to know His love more. Nothing will ever separate me from the love I have in Christ Jesus.
 

Relational intentionality

 
I don’t have a built-in teammate in a spouse, so I must be intentional in pursuing relationships and accountability with other believers. I have rich and deep friendships because I want to engage the relationships I do have and serve the people around me. I want to learn to love well.
 

Reverent submission

 
I may not have a husband, but I live under the leadership of my Lord. I learn to submit to His good plan for my life and to trust Him more. I learn to offer my single life as an offering of praise.
 

Abiding joy

 
Joy is not circumstantial. If I base my happiness in the things I don’t have, rather than celebrating the God who gives the good gifts I do have, I miss out. Singleness teaches me to live with a heart of thanksgiving.
 

Eager expectation

 
Not for the hypothetical day God brings a husband into my life, but for a day in the future when loneliness and wondering will exist no more. A day when I am face-to-face with the Lover of my soul, worshipping and adoring Him forever.
 
To be heart-level honest, I need the Lord to remind me of these often. I have in no way mastered it all, and some days it’s like I’m starting over.
 
But I trust that if God has ordained that I live the single life today, then that is what brings Him the most glory. We are loved by the King of all kings. Not because of who we are, but because of all that He is. And though some of us may be single, we are never alone.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Anna Schaeffer, author of the young adult Christian novel All of This, is an administrative assistant at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where she earned a master’s degree in ministry to women. She is online at annaschaefferwrites.com and @aschaewrites.)

7/1/2019 10:25:51 AM by Anna Schaeffer | with 0 comments