June 2014

CALL TO PRAYER: Sweet hour of prayer

June 30 2014 by Ralph Tone, Baptist Press

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is part of the call to prayer issued by Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, to pray for revival and spiritual awakening for our churches, our nation and our world.)
PHOENIX (BP) -- While ministering as a missionary in Argentina, I had the privilege of facilitating prayer vigils in the province of Buenos Aires.
These prayer vigils would sometimes last all night. But it's not necessary to pray all night to have a powerful prayer vigil. You can start with a one- or two-hour vigil in your Bible study, church or even better, in union with another local church.
Like no other book in the Bible, Acts provides a dynamic picture of what God can accomplish through His praying church.

  • In chapter 2, the church waited on God for power.

  • In chapter 4, the church prayed for boldness to proclaim the Gospel in the face of mounting political and religious opposition.

  • Acts 12 shows the church in constant prayer for the wellbeing of Peter, their imprisoned leader.

  • And chapter 13 reveals united prayer as the God-ordained context for launching new ministry initiatives.

Are any of these first century prayer concerns relevant to the church today? Does the 21st century church need heaven-sent power? Does the church need boldness to remain true to its calling against contrary social and political currents? Are church and denominational leaders in need of prayer? What about wisdom to undertake new ministry ventures; is there an urgent need to hear from God in that area?
The answers to these questions are obvious. The challenges that drove the church to its knees in prayer more than 2000 years ago have not gone away; if anything, they have become more urgent.
God marvelously answered the cries of His people in each of these prayer meetings in Acts.

  • Three thousand people came to Christ and were baptized as a result of God's promised gift of power sent on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41).

  • Those who fearfully prayed for God's intervention in the face of a political crackdown were "filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God's message with boldness" (Acts 4:31).

  • As the church prayed, God sent an angel to miraculously deliver Peter from prison just hours before the apostle's planned execution (Acts 12:5-15).

  • In another prayer meeting, Paul and Barnabas were "sent out by the Holy Spirit" (Acts 13:2-4) on a missionary trip that changed the world.

The following is a sample one-hour prayer vigil program based on these four prayer meetings in Acts. If you can pray longer than an hour, this outline can be modified to fit two hours of prayer by making each segment 20 minutes instead of 10. The focus of this particular prayer vigil is the health of the church, the bride of Christ.

  • 7 p.m.: Praise and worship;

  • 7:10 p.m.: Prayer for God to empower His church for revival (Acts 2);

  • 7:20 p.m.: Prayer in the face of political, religious and other threats to the church (Acts 4);

  • 7:30 p.m.: Prayer for the leadership of the church (Acts 12);

  • 7:40 p.m.: Prayer for release of God-ordained ministries in the church (Acts 13), and

  • 7:50 p.m.: 8:00 p.m.: Praise, thanksgiving, testimonies and benediction.

A final logistical word about this sample prayer program: you'll notice there is no message or devotional. One of the great hindrances to prayer is the propensity to talk about prayer without actually praying. Neither is there a coffee break, intermission or any other break that would distract from the main task of prayer. A 15-minute break often turns to 25, making it very difficult to regain a focused attitude of prayer.
If your heart is stirred to prayer by this sample prayer program, call one or two other likeminded believers and set a time and place to lift your voices to heaven. It will be an hour well spent. In fact, it may be an hour that changes your heart forever.
(Ralph Tone is a Phoenix-based church partner for LifeWay Christian Resources and blogs at RalphTone.com.)

6/30/2014 1:54:43 PM by Ralph Tone, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

How should we treat immigrants?

June 27 2014 by Terry Dorsett, Baptist Press

One of the joys of living in a more urban area is the cultural diversity. Connecticut, where I serve as a church planting catalyst for the North American Mission Board, is particularly diverse. In the state, 12.9 percent of the population is foreign born – and an additional 2.4 percent was born in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

Connecticut’s foreign-born population has grown by 61 percent since 1990, one of the nation’s highest growth rates. Though people have moved to Connecticut from all over the world, the three most common nations of origin are Poland, India and Jamaica. What an interesting mix of cultures this gives our state!
How should Christians deal with all these people from other places moving into homes down the street or apartments next door? Leviticus 19:33-34 reminds us that, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” That seems pretty clear. Christians are to treat people from other nations as if they are natives to our own land. But are Christians following this biblical principle?
Sunday morning remains one of the most segregated hours of the week across the land. Part of that is due to language barriers, and that is totally understandable. But since many immigrants from other countries have excellent English skills, the language barrier does not explain everything. Perhaps our Sunday morning worship remains segregated because in our hearts we are still not treating the foreign born as we would treat the person who has lived here all their lives.
Why is it important for Christians to treat those from other places like native-born Americans? When people go through hard times, they often turn to extended family or longtime friends for support. In times of sickness, childbirth, death, financial hardship and other personal tragedies, families and longtime friends become a safety net that sustains us until things get better.
People who move from other countries have no such safety net. Who better for them to turn to than followers of Christ? In some instances, their legal status may mean they are excluded from the social welfare system. I was recently blessed to be with a friend who purchased multiple baskets of groceries for an immigrant who cannot work because he only has a student visa. But the immigrant’s family was in need, and as a Christian, my friend could not just walk away from that need without taking action. It is what Christ would have us do.
But helping a person from another country in their time of need is not the only reason to treat them as equals. We must remember that God loves everyone, regardless of their country of origin or the color of their skin or the language of their heart. Acts 10:34-35 reminds us that “Peter opened his mouth and said: Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” If God has accepted those from other nations into His family, how can we do any less?

Think about the scene prophesied in Revelation 7:9-10. John’s vision of the future records that, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
One day we will all stand before the Lord together, regardless of our nationality, and give praise to Him together. We might as well get used to the neighbors down the street looking a little different than us, because eventually we will live together for eternity in service to our King. Celebrate a little of heaven now, and reach out to a person from another country. Invite them to into your home. Invite them to worship at your church. Open your heart to being a true friend. Celebrate the diversity God has given us and practice for what eternity will be like.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Terry Dorsett is a church planting catalyst with the North American Mission Board based in Hartford, Conn.)

6/27/2014 11:32:15 AM by Terry Dorsett, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

A panoramic summer challenge

June 26 2014 by Diana Davis, Baptist Press

Walk just outside your front door, and look slowly in every direction. You’re viewing a mission field. God chose it for you when you moved in. It’s easy to wave at neighbors as you drive by or say “hi” when you walk the dog, but will you make a plan to shine for Jesus with your actions and words this summer?

See each neighbor with the eyes of God – as people He loves, who need to know His love – even the neighbor who doesn’t mow his grass. Loving our neighbor is the second part of what we call the Great Commandment (Mark 12:30-31; Romans 13:9-10). Try this two-step panoramic summer challenge.

Prayer walk

Prayer walk your personal mission field – your block, subdivision, apartment building or dorm hallway. If you live in a rural setting, you may need to prayer drive! Prayer walking simply means you pray silently and specifically as you stroll and observe. Do it often. Make a list of addresses, and add names as you meet people. Learn pet names. Discover needs. Involve your entire family. Ask God to give you opportunities to show His love and share about Him.

Panoramic neighborhood grill out

Host a neighborhood grill out. Email or hand deliver an invitation to each home on your list. Ask them to bring something to grill, a side dish to share, and a lawn chair. Create a relaxed, fun atmosphere with great Christian music and toys for kids. Use nametags and enjoy getting to know each person. Whether it’s a small or large group, have a great time. In your conversation, invite each individual to your church if they don’t have one.

A panoramic grill-out project could be a great church-wide project, too. Select a weekend and challenge every church member to invite their neighbors over with the intention of getting to know them and inviting them to church.

Our Southern Baptist Convention has about 10,000 awesome vocational missionaries across North America and in countries around the world. But you’re the missionary that God called to your neighborhood. Now get out the grill!

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Davis is the author of Fresh Ideas and Deacon Wives [B&H Publishing] and wife of North American Mission Board vice president for the South Region Steve Davis.)

6/26/2014 10:19:46 AM by Diana Davis, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Pray for my friends,’ 8-year-old asks

June 25 2014 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

Jacob,* age 8, probably isn’t up to speed on the cultural and spiritual struggles going on in America.

He’s a kid, for one thing. He doesn’t live in the United States most of the time, for another. His parents are Southern Baptist workers in North Africa and the Middle East.

He doesn’t understand why far more violent conflicts are exploding around him and his family, either. He just knows that he misses his friends.

See, Jacob is sort of a refugee. His family had to leave the country where they were serving because of potential threats. They’re serving in another place for now, but leaving the home and people they love has been hard on all of them – especially Jacob.

“This past year I have had to move around a lot,” Jacob wrote in a recent prayer message to American kids. “I love playing sports and meet lots of friends by playing sports at clubs. I have lived in three different countries in [North Africa and the Middle East]. In each of those countries I have friends that I have made by playing sports.

“These friends are just like me,” Jacob said. “But they don’t know about Jesus. Please pray that these friends of mine would come to know Jesus. Also pray for them to be safe, as they all live in very unsafe countries where there are wars and bombs and really bad people. Pray that these bad people would come to know Jesus, too. Pray that it would be safer in these countries, so I can go back to them and see my friends.”

I could leave it there, since Jacob’s words are more powerful than anything I might add. But I read his simple plea for prayer as Southern Baptists, at their 2014 annual meeting in Baltimore June 10-11, were doing some soul-searching about struggling churches, declining baptism rates and the lack of evangelism in an increasingly secular culture.

“God, please forgive us for not being obedient and sharing the Good News of the gospel with those in our community,” outgoing Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter prayed during the meeting, after noting that 80 percent of Southern Baptist churches baptize only one person per year between the ages of 18 and 29.

“America is rapidly ... turning into a pagan nation,” Luter said, and the cure – the only cure – is the name of Jesus.

But do we really believe that?

Do we really believe that Jesus is the only way to reconciliation and personal relationship with God?

Beyond all the debate about the best evangelism tools and strategies and approaches to employ in a rapidly changing culture, that is the fundamental question: Do we still believe it ourselves?

In an aggressively “inclusive” environment, perhaps the most countercultural words in the Bible come from Jesus Himself, shortly before His death and resurrection:

“Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him’” (John 14:5-7, NASB).

This is the heart of the gospel of Christ, according to the New Testament. There are any number of ways to communicate it and demonstrate it effectively, lovingly and redemptively. You can accept it, reject it or ignore it. But there is no way around it. Jesus is the way to the Father.

Several years ago, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, observed that the American evangelical church was “losing its voice” just as the opportunity to declare the gospel worldwide is greater than ever. The issue, he said, is a “failure of theological nerve – a devastating loss of biblical and doctrinal conviction. Put bluntly, many who claim to be Christians simply do not believe that anyone is actually lost.”

The death of missions inevitably follows such a loss of nerve and conviction, since there is no reason to preach the gospel among all nations if preaching it and hearing it aren’t life-or-death matters.

That brings me back to young Jacob in North Africa and the Middle East. He might not have all the theological arguments and explanations worked out, but he loves his friends. He’s also concerned about the “bad people” who are setting off bombs and hurting others, even though he’s been forced to move because of the havoc they are causing in the region. He knows they are lost, friends and enemies alike, and that it is indeed a life-or-death matter.

He knows Jesus is Lord and wants them to know it, too. That’s all the theology Jacob needs to obey Christ’s command.

*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent.)

6/25/2014 11:05:21 AM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Southern Baptists and the Future of America

June 24 2014 by Ronnie Floyd, Baptist Press

Years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention was looked upon as having a significant influence on American life. When I was a very young pastor attending our annual meetings, I remember how our leaders would talk about the influence our Convention had upon American life, even in determining our nation’s future.

If this is true, what happened? I remain very concerned for the present state of America and for our nation’s future. At the same time, my confidence in the Lord, His Word, His gospel, His church, and His kingdom gives me overwhelming hope.

Can the 50,000 churches and missions that comprise the Southern Baptist Convention influence the future of America? The answer is a resounding YES!

Here are four ways I believe we can influence our nation and its future:

1. We will always be faithful to lift up the authority, truthfulness and infallibility of the Word of God.

While some denominations may be drifting away from the truth that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God on all matters, Southern Baptists will continue to stand on the scriptures. As stated in our Baptist Faith and Message 2000, we believe:

“The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.”

Read again what we agreed upon as our commitment to the scriptures. Yes, we will be there as a convention of churches, reminding ourselves personally, our churches, and our nation what God says about everything. He is our authority. When He speaks, He speaks the final Word.

2. We will always be faithful to proclaim that Jesus Christ is the only way to know God and to go to Heaven when we die.

While religions and cultures state there are many paths to God, we believe there is only one path to God. This authoritative Word proclaims clearly in John 14:6, Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Knowing this, when we believe in the gospel as defined by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, it changes everything:

“For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins  according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Unquestionably, we will proclaim the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that He is the only way to God and eternal life in Heaven. The greatest thing we can do to influence our nation is to present the gospel to every person and make disciples of all the nations. Gospel churches must be faithful to present the gospel and live out the gospel in every way possible.”

3. We will always be faithful to stand for the religious liberty of every person and every church.

This is our heritage and our conviction as Southern Baptists. While the government is challenging this conviction upon which our nation was founded, we will unashamedly live out what we confess through our Baptist
Faith and Message 2000:

“…The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others…The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind…”

As we know, this is being tested now as much as in any time since our nation’s founding. Yet, I know where Southern Baptists will be: always standing for religious liberty – not just for ourselves, but for all.

4. We will always be faithful to pray for the next spiritual awakening in America.

In my first article to Southern Baptists as your president, “The Call to Columbus: Envisioning a Great Awakening,” I wrote:

“We’ve had a great conservative resurgence in the SBC. We are in the midst of a Great Commission resurgence in the SBC. In order for the Great Commission resurgence to be elevated to the proper priority, we need a great spiritual movement and a mighty spiritual awakening, which this nation has not seen in a long time. Yes, we need to pray now in an extraordinary manner for the next Great Awakening.”

While we go through various highs and lows in our convention and in America, I am convinced and convicted that we are in a unique season when our desperation is rising in an unprecedented way. How should we respond?

In God’s time, in accordance with His will and purpose, I believe we should cry out to Him in extraordinary prayer, asking Him for the next Great Awakening. Join me in asking for the next Great Awakening.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ronnie Floyd is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of the multi-campus Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.)

6/24/2014 11:05:46 AM by Ronnie Floyd, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pray for one another

June 23 2014 by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press

I must confess surprise in a recent concordance search; the phrase “pray for one another” is found only one time in the Bible!

James 5:16 states, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (NKJV).

This singular biblical instance, however, is supplemented throughout Scripture with numerous expressions of prayer for others and requests for prayer from others.

In terms of praying for others, Jesus set the standard in His High Priestly prayer, recorded in John 17. He prayed for His disciples (John 17:9) and for those who would come to faith in Jesus as a result of their witness (John 17:20). He continues praying for us even now as the ever-living, heavenly intercessor (Hebrews 7:25).

Further, Paul’s letters are replete with specific prayer requests for Christ-followers in Rome (Romans: 1:9), for the Ephesian believers upon learning of their faith (Ephesians 1:15-21), for the saints in Philippi (Philippians 1:9-11), as well as for the churches in Colossae (Colossians 1:3-12) and Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:2-5).

In terms of requesting prayers from others, consider Jeroboam, who asked the unnamed prophet to pray for him that his hand would be healed (1 Kings 13:6). Esther appealed to Mordecai to gather the Jews in Shushan to fast for her for three days before she requested an audience with the king (Esther 4:15).

Paul earnestly besought the Romans to join him in prayers for himself that he would be delivered from Judean unbelievers and that his service for the Jerusalem saints would be well received (Romans 15:30-31). He also enjoined the church at Ephesus to pray for all people, especially for kings and those in authority, since God desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

During the June 2014 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Baltimore, Md., the Convention adopted a resolution on church revitalization. Its closing line urged “churches experiencing cycles of health to pray for and partner with both established and newly planted churches that are struggling so that together, experiencing His strength through our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:10), we can more effectively reach our neighbors and our nation with the gospel.”

I wonder what would happen if each Southern Baptist church wholeheartedly and intentionally prayed for other Baptist churches in their own communities? It seems that churches too often fear the success of neighboring churches rather than praying for the mutual effectiveness and growth of their respective congregations. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

A few years ago I attended an associational annual meeting in south central Kentucky. Ten of the association’s churches had not baptized a single new believer the previous year. The director of missions asked 10 churches that had experienced evangelistic effectiveness to covenant to pray specifically that those other 10 churches would experience the joy of seeing new believers born into the family of God and baptized as followers of Christ in the coming year.

The next year, at its 2009 annual meeting, the association reported that eight of those 10 churches with no baptisms the previous year had baptized 29 new believers in 2009! Using video images of baptisms in those churches as part of the associational report, the entire association celebrated what God had done in direct response to such focused prayer.

This renewed sense of associational community didn’t stop after that initial prayer partnership. The following year, 23 churches in the association reported an increase in baptisms. Building on that report, the association began to pray at every associational gathering for one thousand souls to be reached and baptized in 2011, a prayer goal that was exceeded.

Praying for one another is biblical. And it is powerful. James 5:16 closes with this stirring reminder, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

If one person’s prayer avails much, how much more can be accomplished when an entire church of Spirit-filled men and women intercede to the Father for their own church’s ministry ... and for the church down the block, around the corner, across town, or around the world!

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger S. Oldham is vice president for communications and convention relations with the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.)
6/23/2014 8:49:00 AM by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

SBC's wisdom & gender reassignment

June 20 2014 by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press

Southern Baptists passed a resolution June 10 opposing the administration’s efforts to “validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy.” Messengers at the annual meeting affirmed what the resolution describes as “God’s good design that gender identity is determined by one’s biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.”

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) resolution upholds the creation of “two distinct and complementary sexes” while opposing such procedures as gender reassignment surgery and cross-sex hormone therapies.

Just days earlier, the latest push to elevate transgenderism as some sort of civil right came in a May 30 ruling within the Department of Health and Human Services allowing Medicare to pay for so-called gender reassignment surgery. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, also in May, stated he is “open” to lifting the ban on transgender military service, including taxpayer-funded sex change operations for those who serve.

In a June 12 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins Hospital who holds the title of university distinguished service professor of psychiatry, argued that “policy makers and the media are doing no favors either to the public or to the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment, and prevention.”

McHugh, who was psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins from 1975-2001, noted that “the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken – it does not correspond with physical reality” and it “can lead to grim psychological outcomes.”

McHugh recounted that Johns Hopkins – the first U.S. medical center to do sex-change surgery in the 1960s – conducted a study during the 1970s of patients who had undergone the procedure there. Most were satisfied with the immediate results, but McHugh noted that “their subsequent psycho-social adjustments were no better than those who didn’t have the surgery.” The hospital discontinued the surgery.

In 2011, McHugh noted, a long-term Swedish study revealed that, beginning about 10 years after gender reassignment surgery, mental difficulties ensue. Transgendered people who have had this surgery are 20 times more likely to die from suicide than the non-transgendered.

“People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or visa versa,” McHugh wrote. “Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women.” Transgender surgery solves nothing. In fact, in Dr. McHugh’s view, it collaborates with and promotes a mental disorder.

Gender confusion has always been with us. McHugh cited studies by Vanderbilt University and London’s Portman Clinic that tracked children who reported such confusion and found that 70 to 80 percent of them later lost those feelings. There are strategies and therapies for those whose transgendered feelings persist; increasingly, however, our culture frowns on parental or professional attempts to encourage young people away from these proclivities.

The Bible affirms God’s creation of male and female and that both are created in God’s image. Biological gender cannot be reassigned; rendering “sex change” is biologically impossible. Studies demonstrate that attempts to do so promote mental and psychological confusion.

Southern Baptists, in their resolution, are correct to “extend love and compassion to those whose sexual self-understanding is shaped by a distressing conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity” and to “invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Penna Dexter is a regular panelist and frequent guest host of Point of View, a nationally syndicated issues-oriented talk radio program.)

6/20/2014 9:18:07 AM by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Social networking & the gospel

June 19 2014 by David Jeremiah

A century ago, the average person’s social network probably consisted of less than 50 family, neighbors, church members and co-workers.

Today, your social network can consist of hundreds, even thousands, of people. They can live anywhere in the world, speak a different native language, and be of a different religion. The only thread that ties you together is a similar interest in, well, anything – or nothing at all! Your network might consist of “friends” – a friend of a friend of a friend as well as people who actually are your close friends. You rarely communicate face-to-face; you do it all digitally via social networking sites.

The Need to Connect Socially

I believe online social networks were a phenomenon waiting to happen. In the first decade of widespread personal computer use (the 1990s), relationships suffered as people isolated themselves in front of a computer screen and surfed the Web. Just in time, social networking turned an inherently isolating tool, the computer, into a vehicle for reestablishing and widening our relationships – our social networks.

We’ve come out of our digital shells and are manifesting our God-given social capacities in a new, networking sort of way. To that end, networks are good things.

The Need to Communicate Seriously

Much of what gets shared on some social networking sites can be less than profound. With the wheat comes the chaff in any new endeavor. As Christians, our goal is to recognize the potential for good that social networking technology presents – new opportunities for serious communication about spiritually important matters.

The most important, of course, is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Think what a difference 2,000 years has made! Jesus and John the Baptist proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God by voice at first, and the early apostles and evangelists did the same, one sermon at a time. By the end of the first century, the four Gospels, Acts, Revelation and the Epistles had been written and were being copied and distributed by hand. By the fourth century, the Old and New Testaments had been codified and bound together as “Bibles”; they were hand-copied and painstakingly distributed for the next thousand years.

Then came a revolution as world-changing as the Internet. Around 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in Germany and produced copies of the Bible. For the last 500 years, the Bible has been the most printed and widely sold and distributed book in history. With modern media – radio, television, magazines, video and audio – ways of spreading the gospel and Bible teaching have multiplied. But the barrier to further expansion has always been the cost. Social networking has presented a new opportunity for organizations and individuals alike to inexpensively extend the Kingdom of God.

The Network for Communicating Spiritually

There are many ways for individuals to make an impact for Christ through social networking. Using sites like Facebook and Twitter, you can let your social network know about answers to prayer, Bible study insights or a book that has impacted your life. It’s like having a digital conversation with your closest friends!

And here’s the most amazing part of social networking: Through the Web’s search engines, your social network will grow and your impact will spread. Your words will find a listening ear somewhere in cyberspace.

A word of caution: The Internet is the world; you must be careful to protect your privacy – and especially that of your children – when networking. But with appropriate boundaries and screening, your social network can become a source of information, encouragement and spiritual discernment, a source of wheat in a world filled with chaff.

Social networking has exploded because people are longing for ways to connect. If your life is centered on Jesus Christ and the Word of God, every person you touch, whether in person or via a digital social network, will be changed for the better. We should be building the strongest social networks we can – both the traditional, face-to-face variety and the newfangled digital variety.

The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some.” Let’s use every means possible to share Jesus Christ in our needy world.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif.)

6/19/2014 9:35:27 AM by David Jeremiah | with 0 comments

Be wary of graduation speakers

June 18 2014 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

Graduation ceremonies are a time for pithy quotations. Here are three of my favorites:

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

“If at first you don’t succeed, do it like your mother told you.” – Author unknown

I especially like that last one. But doing it your way is better no matter what, many commencement speakers say.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life,” the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, told the 2005 graduating class at Stanford University. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

Be your own person, in other words. Blaze your own trail. Break all the rules.

Ironic, since “a graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that ‘individuality’ is the key to success,” humorist Robert Orben once observed.

If you really want to break the rules in our culture of hyper-individualism, surrender your future to the will of another – God’s will, to be specific.

“What is the Lord’s invitation?” International Mission Board (IMB) President Tom Elliff asked a group of recent “graduates” – 59 new missionaries appointed in May to serve around the world. “We read in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 11, beginning in verse 28, ‘Come to Me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’”

Of the three commands in the passage – come, take and learn – the second one might be the hardest for us, because it involves voluntary submission. For folks unfamiliar with farm life, a yoke is a wooden crosspiece laid over the necks of oxen or other work animals to haul a heavy load. God’s yoke is light, but it is still a yoke, and we must willingly submit to wearing it.

As modern free agents, we like options, choices, negotiating the best deal, haggling for the best salary or price. There is no negotiation with God. He is gentle, but He is Lord. You obey Him or reject Him.

Jesus’ offer is “an invitation to surrender,” Elliff said. “Sometimes we talk about the importance of the fear of God. It doesn’t mean to cower before Him as a slave would cower before a master. What does it mean? It means to have such a big idea of God that you just surrender. … Jesus is saying, ‘Surrender. Give up. My way is best. Just surrender to Me.’”

And it’s not a one-time thing. You must surrender daily to follow Him.

But joy comes in obedience. One of the new missionaries appointed in May, a physician, could barely contain his exuberance.

“When I was in high school, God instilled in me two desires: to preach His Word where it has never been heard and to pursue a career in medicine,” he said. “After many years of training and preparation, now is the time! I’m excited to be ‘His hands,’ bringing physical healing and spreading seeds of the gospel.”

When you surrender to God, others see Jesus in you. They begin to surrender to Him, too. Lives change. Communities change. The world changes.

Graduates, that’s an infinitely better way to live your life than doing it your way.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board’s global correspondent.)
6/18/2014 10:45:32 AM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Call to Columbus: Envisioning a Great Awakening

June 17 2014 by Ronnie Floyd

As the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), I want to call every pastor, every church leader and every layperson from a Southern Baptist church to join me in Columbus, Ohio, on June 16-17, 2015.

As I work with our Order of Business Committee as well as other leaders, I will respectfully request that we dedicate as much time as possible in next year’s convention to pray extraordinarily for the next Great Awakening. I want to call you to Columbus to what could be one of the most significant prayer gatherings in our history.

Yes, we have to conduct business at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, and we will do it with great diligence. But we will also bring to fruition a year-long emphasis of praying in an extraordinary manner for the next great spiritual awakening in America. For the next year, I want to humbly request from each church, each national SBC entity and each state convention that we begin to pray in an over-and-above way for God to move mightily in our lives, our churches and our nation.

Now is the time

Why is this important? Our convention has bemoaned our decline in baptisms, membership, attendance and giving far too long. Now is the time for us to take aggressive action by calling out to God together in prayer. At the same time, we must take the needed strategic actions to change our trajectory as a convention of churches. While we face these critical times, we know God is doing some amazing things right now through Southern Baptists. As we celebrate those to the glory of God in Columbus, we will also call out to God in urgent desperation.

Why is revival in the church and awakening in the nation so important? I have been greatly convicted that one of the reasons God has placed me as president, for such a time as this, is for the purpose to call His people to what Jonathan Edwards called “extraordinary prayer.” We need extraordinary prayer for the purpose of revival personally, revival in the church and spiritual awakening in America, so that we can see commitment to the Great Commission escalated, and accelerate it to its completion in our generation. I believe this should be our heart and our goal.

I have been privileged to catch a glimpse of extraordinary prayer in the Praying Pastors gatherings in recent months. We have led more than 1,500 pastors in these four gatherings, two of which have been national gatherings held in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta areas. God is doing something very unique right now, and I believe that extraordinary prayer is our number one need. In extraordinary prayer, we recognize that only God can do what is needed in us personally, congregationally, denominationally, nationally and internationally.

We’ve had a great Conservative Resurgence in the SBC. We are in the midst of a Great Commission resurgence in the SBC. In order for the Great Commission resurgence to be elevated to the proper priority, we need a great spiritual movement and a mighty spiritual awakening, which this nation has not seen in a long time. Yes, we need to pray now in an extraordinary manner for the next Great Awakening.

Mark your calendar

Make plans to join us in Columbus on June 16-17, 2015. Why should you come? This may be the moment, the time and God’s place to begin the next Great Awakening in the United States. And consider coming in early for Saturday, June 13, to join us in Crossover Columbus, the annual evangelistic outreach preceding each year’s SBC annual meeting.

Consider these facts about Columbus, Ohio:

  • 15th largest city in America

  • 139 languages spoken in Columbus

  • 111 Southern Baptist Churches in the Metro Columbus Baptist Association

  • One of the focus cities in our Send North America national church planting strategy

  • Home of the Ohio State University

Connecting together

Our team is right now beginning to work on various ways we can begin to connect together via technology. We will use email, Twitter and Instagram to help all of us be a part of a movement toward Columbus -- but greater than that, a movement of praying for the next Great Awakening in America, so that we can see commitment to the Great Commission escalated and accelerated to its completion in our generation.

Please call on your church and others to pray for me daily. I want to represent our Lord, our church and our Southern Baptist family in the highest manner. I cannot do that without you praying for me daily.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ronnie Floyd, on the Web at ronniefloyd.com/blog, is the author of Our Last Great Hope: Awakening the Great Commission (2011) and The Power of Prayer and Fasting (2010).)

6/17/2014 9:53:39 AM by Ronnie Floyd | with 0 comments

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