June 2014

Dad’s ever-present ‘scraps of wisdom’

June 13 2014 by Kelly Boggs

Eight years ago this month my father’s sojourn on earth came to an end. When life left the body of Ernest Winfred Boggs he was 82 years old.

Some say eight decades plus two years is a long life, and I suppose they are right. However, I wish my dad had lingered a little while longer on the planet. Not a day goes by that I do not miss him.

A quote attributed to Mark Twain in which the author explains the more he grew in maturity the wiser his father became aptly sums up the relationship I had with my dad. When I was young, he was ignorant, but with each passing year his wisdom increased.

Now I regard my father as one the wisest men I’ve ever known.

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments when they aren’t trying to teach us,” Italian author Umberto Eco reflected. “We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” The 82-year-old Eco’s observation certainly is true for me as I think about the relationship I had with my father.

One life lesson my father lived out was commitment. His mantra was, “Do what you said you would do.” If my father told someone he would do something, he would follow through no matter how he might be inconvenienced.

My dad’s church was involved in bus ministry in the 1970s. My father committed himself to being a part of the outreach effort. Saturday morning after Saturday morning he and my mother would travel to a mobile home park about seven miles from our home and visit.

Sunday mornings my parents would leave early in the morning, board a white bus trimmed in purple and would help gather a busload of children. They would faithfully sit with the youngsters during church and try to keep them quiet and somewhat focused.

I realized the value of commitment when tragedy struck the mobile home park and a trailer my father consistently visited caught fire. It burned quickly and two young boys in whom my dad had invested time died.

The family’s only contact with a church was through my dad, so they asked him to officiate the funeral of their children. My father’s consistency to do what he said he would do, to show up every Saturday and every Sunday, opened the door for him to comfort a grieving family and point them to the hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Whatever my father approached, he did so with intensity. He believed you should give your best, your all, to every task. The most vivid example of this principle was manifest in his latter years in his garden.

Every spring, as soon as the weather would permit, my father would arrange to have a significant section of his central Texas yard tilled. He would then dutifully plant and nurture a variety of vegetables.

My father worked diligently every day cultivating his crops. As his body began to wear out, some people thought he worked too hard on a garden that was too large. He gave away most of what he grew. My father could not go through the motions of some piddling garden; he had to go big and he had to do his best.

Another life principle my father embodied was love. He embraced everyone God brought into his path, especially those who seemed to be struggling with life. In attempting to help some people, my father often gave what he didn’t have to give.

When I suggested that he should be careful not to be taken advantage of by some person seeking to con him, my father would just say, “If someone takes advantage of me, the Lord will take care of things.” Only time and eternity will reveal the number of lives my father touched because he was not concerned about the motives of those he tried to help.

When it came to family, my father’s love knew no boundaries and no conditions. If you were family, he was going to lavish love upon you. It did not matter what condition your life happened to be in, he was going to accept you.

My dad’s acceptance in no way meant he condoned everything in someone’s life. Quite the contrary. He would always warn of the perils of eschewing virtuous living and point to the transforming power of Jesus Christ. But in so doing, you knew his “preaching” was motivated by love.

Perhaps the most significant lesson I caught from my father was not just how to live, but how to face death with dignity. Through most of my dad’s life he suffered from a bad heart. In his latter years he was in and out of the hospital.

Anytime he would have some sort of procedure he would tell the doctor, “Do your best, but don’t worry about me. If I wake up and see the faces of my family, that’s good and what I hope happens. But if I open my eyes and see Jesus, that’s great. You see, doctor, I just can’t lose.”

The “scraps” of wisdom I caught from watching my father live life are ever-present. They include embracing commitment, excellence, love and even the reality of death. To sum up, my dad lived out the lordship of Jesus.

This Father’s Day, though it has been eight years since my dad’s earthly pilgrimage came to its conclusion, I am more thankful than ever for his example and, because of Christ, I so look forward to being reunited with him in heaven.

(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 (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

6/13/2014 10:26:14 AM by Kelly Boggs | with 0 comments

Why a national denomination?

June 11 2014 by Jason G. Duesing

The question of whether denominations are really necessary often arises in my Baptist History and Heritage classes. Averse to what they perceive as staid institutionalism or red-tape bureaucracy, students tend to categorize denominations as a generational matter and thus look for something new for the present.

These motives are not entirely uninformed or born from ignorance as there are plenty of generational traditions that every new generation discards. We’ve done it and so did our parents and grandparents.

However, in this case it is always a delight to inform students of the primary reason Baptists in this country ever saw the need to form a national denomination. They were motivated by something they called their “one sacred effort” – churches of all sizes cooperating together for the purpose of global missions. And, I quickly argue, that is the foremost reason why we should have, support, build and be proud of a national denomination today.

This question especially comes to mind at this time of year when the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention gather for their annual meeting, happening right now (June 10) in Baltimore.

But it is also relevant because we are at the 200th anniversary of the start of the first Baptist denomination in America, the Triennial Convention. Formed in May 1814, the Triennial Convention would serve as the forerunner to the Southern Baptist Convention that would originate, sadly, in 1845 over a disagreement among Baptists in the North and South over the tragic and evil practice of slavery.

The Baptists of 1814 officially called their denomination “The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America, for Foreign Missions” clearly not yet arriving at the penchant future denominations have for simple and repeatable acronyms. In fact, as this early convention set out to meet once every three years, the more natural “Triennial Convention” rose as the agreed nomenclature instead of GMCBDUSAFM.

So, why did Baptists form a national denomination 200 years ago? Here are the words from the Triennial Convention’s first constitution:

“We the delegates from Missionary Societies, and other religious Bodies of the Baptist denomination, in various parts of the United States, met in Convention, in the City of Philadelphia, for the purpose of carrying into effect the benevolent Intentions of our Constituents, by organizing a plan for eliciting, combining, and directing the Energies of the whole Denomination in one sacred effort, for sending the glad tidings of Salvation to the Heathen, and to nations destitute of pure gospel-light.”

This shared idea of marshaling the energies of churches to take the gospel of Christ to “nations destitute of pure gospel-light” was echoed through the first meetings of the denomination, May 18-25, 1814. The first president, well-known and admired Baptist statesman Richard Furman, underscored in his address that the convention “has assembled in Philadelphia ... to devise a plan, and enter into measures, for combining the efforts of our whole denomination, in behalf of the millions upon whom the light of evangelic truth has never shone.”

Taking the light of the gospel to nations in darkness served as the primary motive for early American Baptists to organize and gather on a national level. As Southern Baptists meet in Baltimore, may the bicentennial anniversary of the beginnings of our forebears remind us that the Great Commission remains a good and primary reason around which churches should gather to do more together for the glory of God than we could ever do apart.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jason G. Duesing is vice president for strategic initiatives and assistant professor of historical theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)

6/11/2014 11:39:49 AM by Jason G. Duesing | with 0 comments

Measuring the Resurgence after 35 years

June 10 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

I remember traveling to Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings during key battleground years of the Conservative Resurgence. In New Orleans, I rode a riverboat. In San Antonio, I visited the Alamo. And in Houston, I went to a water park and an Astros game. It’s not that I was apathetic and skipped the sessions. I was just a child who knew nothing about Baptist life tagging along on a family trip.

With the beginning of the Resurgence now 35 years past, there are countless Southern Baptists like me who are too young to remember the struggle to make belief in the Bible’s inerrancy a bedrock conviction of all convention entities. On this anniversary, let’s recap some of the tangible differences that the Conservative Resurgence made, thankful for the courageous Baptists who struggled a generation ago:

  • Thanks to the Conservative Resurgence, the SBC defends unborn life. Not so before. A 1971 convention resolution advocated “legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” Following the Supreme Court’s infamous Roe v. Wade decision two years later, a Baptist Press article cheerfully announced, “The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision that overturned a Texas law which denied a woman the right of abortion except to save her life, has advanced the cause of religious liberty, human equality and justice.” You won’t find such celebrations of abortion in BP today, and SBC resolutions consistently decry the stamping out of unborn life.
  • Thanks to the Resurgence, we can trust the orthodoxy of books published by our denominational publishing house, LifeWay Christian Resources. But Southern Baptists have not always enjoyed such trust. For example, a 1969 commentary on Genesis published by the Baptist Sunday School Board (LifeWay’s predecessor organization) stated that factual errors in Genesis cause “occasional embarrassment.” Regarding Noah’s flood, the commentary argued, “To imagine the world covered by water to a depth of five miles, or that Noah could have gathered pairs of all the animals from all over the world in the time mentioned, or housed them in the ark, calls for belief beyond reason.”
  • Thanks to the Conservative Resurgence, ministry students at Southern Baptist seminaries study Greek and Hebrew in order to understand the Bible in its original languages. After Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary came under conservative control, a master of divinity track that required only a two-hour language appreciation course was abolished, replaced with a minimum requirement of one semester each of Greek and Hebrew. Today the minimum amount of language study for an M.Div. student at Southwestern is a full year of each language.

Similarly at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a student could earn the base pastoral degree in 1959 without completing any Greek or Hebrew classes. President Olin Binkley wrote that increasing the requirements “would add considerably to the strain upon at least a few of the students and upon the teachers of the Biblical languages.” After Paige Patterson became president of Southeastern, a note was added to the catalog that “students preparing for pastoral ministry, or for any Christian vocation that includes an emphasis upon the regular exposition of God’s Word” should “begin course work in the biblical languages during their first year.” Today Southeastern’s M.Div. curriculum includes a full year each of Hebrew and Greek. There may be exceptions, but in general the Resurgence seems to have increased Southern Baptist pastors’ conversance with biblical languages.

  • Thanks to the Resurgence, much Southern Baptist preaching is expository. I have attended enough SBC annual meetings and Pastors’ Conferences to know that most preachers there read a Bible passage, explain what it means and apply it to modern life. I have also attended enough moderate Baptist meetings as a correspondent for Baptist Press to know that many preachers there do not follow the same pattern, opting instead for narrative preaching or a series of meditations. Of course, there are exceptions. One of the best illustrations I’ve ever heard of a believer’s union with Christ was given by a preacher at a moderate Baptist meeting. But by and large, the difference is obvious between preaching at the SBC and preaching at meetings led by those who formerly controlled the convention.
  • Thanks to the Resurgence, the SBC has leaders who support traditional marriage. On the other hand, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship -- a group composed largely of those who opposed the conservative movement in the SBC -- refuses take a firm stand, maintaining a policy of not issuing "'official' positions on homosexuality," according to the CBF website. At times though, the CBF appears to accept gay marriage, as when it co-sponsored a 2012 conference on "Sexuality & Covenant," where some speakers spoke of homosexuality as normative. A CBF leader in Arkansas, Judge Wendell Griffen, performed same-sex weddings earlier this year when gay marriage was ruled legal in his state. Clearly, many moderate Baptists defend traditional sexual morality but their willingness to have in leadership those who deviate from the traditional view shows where the SBC might have ended up.
  • Thanks to the Resurgence, Southern Baptist seminary students study theology textbooks that teach the inerrancy of scripture and develop a system of doctrine based on the Bible – books like the systematic theologies of Millard Erickson and Wayne Grudem. In contrast, in the 1980s one Southern Baptist Theological Seminary theology professor assigned students to read Paul Tillich’s systematic theology – a book that dismisses a traditional Christian reading of the Bible and attempts to correlate Christian doctrines with existential philosophy. Some evangelicals regard Tillich’s theology as a form of pantheism or even atheism.

The monumental battles may be finished. But Southern Baptists like me, who weren’t around 35 years ago, can still measure the Conservative Resurgence’s effects. To do so makes us stop and say 'thank you' to all who worked to change the direction of our convention.

Updated 6/23/2014
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. Information on Southeastern Seminary drawn from Olin T. Binkley letter to J. Hardee Kennedy, 12/18/1959, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Institutional Records, Archives and Special Collections, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.; and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Course Catalog, 1994, Archives and Special Collections, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.)

6/10/2014 10:09:34 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

A Father’s Day message on power

June 6 2014 by Ken R. Canfield, Guest Column, LifeWay Christian Resources

A father has enormous power. For good or bad, by his presence or absence, action or inaction, whether abusive or nurturing, he has a profound influence on the lives of his children.
For example, take the power of a father’s words in these contrasting statements: “I believe in you, son.” “Why can’t you do anything right?” “I am so proud of you.” “Why could you not be more like your sister?” Words like these will stay with a child for the rest of his life.
Deuteronomy 5:9 and other Old Testament passages describe the three to four-generation influence of fathers. We have power and responsibility simply because we are fathers.
Though some dads today are careless with their father power –  or ignorant of it – there are many committed dads giving their best for their families, wanting to use their influence for good.
Some of those dads face a key roadblock: they have never had a healthy model of what a father is. What can a man know about effective fathering if his primary model walked out on him, abused him, or was physically present but emotionally distant?
Often, these men have a sense of emptiness in their lives and want to give their children something better. But if they fail to replace their father’s model with a better one, they likely will end up using him as their model by default.
Of course, all dads are imperfect to some degree. Thinking about our dads is like reading a compass. From most locations, a compass does not point to true north, but to “magnetic north,” somewhere in the Arctic Circle.
Detailed maps give compass declination – the degree of difference between magnetic north and true north – and wise explorers will make the necessary adjustments to find their way.
A father’s power is like “magnetic pull.” As a son, you cannot deny your father’s influence. He gave you identity and direction, and he is an important figure in your life. But he falls short of the original design for fathers, and if you try to take your bearings from him alone, you may wind up lost in the wilderness.
You ultimately should adjust your life’s compass to true north, your Heavenly Father, the ultimate reference point and source of truth.
For us as fathers, this takes the pressure off. Since we can never be perfect, the best thing we can do is help our children find true north in a relationship with God.
Still, we strive to be the best dads we can be. Speaking through Paul in Ephesians 6:4, God instructs fathers to bring children up “in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
That sounds like a big responsibility - and it is. But God does not give us a task and then not equip us to complete it.
Dad, you have God-given father power. You may not feel adequate to the task, but you are. Use that power for the future of your family.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ken Canfield is founder of the National Center for Fathering and served as president of the organization from 1990 to 2005. He is author of The 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers. This feature was originally published on LifeWay.com. Used with permission.)

6/6/2014 11:12:16 AM by Ken R. Canfield, Guest Column, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Good news! 2 years of Cooperative Program gains

June 6 2014 by Ashley Clayton

Are you ready for some good news? The most recent Annual Church Profile (ACP) data reveals a new and positive direction in Southern Baptist missions and ministries funding through the Cooperative Program.

Over the past three decades, the average Cooperative Program gift per church, as a percentage of a church’s undesignated receipts, had steadily declined. For example, in 1982, across all Southern Baptist churches, the average Cooperative Program gift per church was 10.7 percent of a church’s undesignated receipts. Each year since, with the exception of three slight upticks in 1995, 1997 and 1999, there was a predictable and steady decline of average Cooperative Program gifts per church. Since 1999, average percent of undesignated gifts from cooperating churches has declined by about two-tenths of a percent per year, reaching its lowest point in 2011 – 5.407 percent across all Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches.

But, we see signs of hope. In 2012, the average Cooperative Program gift per church ticked up slightly to 5.414 percent. Now, for some really good news: The 2013 Cooperative Program reports and SBC Annual Church Profile data show the average Cooperative Program gifts per church has again risen slightly to 5.50 percent. This is the first two-year growth in average percentage gifts through CP in more than 30 years. Instead of declining, as some had predicted, Cooperative Program gifts have moved in the other direction.

What does this report mean?

If the Cooperative Program were a publicly-traded “big box” company, and if analysts had projected a continued steady decline in business and market share, and then good news became public – like our current Cooperative Program report – you can believe renewed confidence in the stock would be driving up prices on the Dow Jones Industrial Average … up a lot!

We routinely hear from some quarters that we (Southern Baptists) are on a steady march to the edge of a cliff. Yes, many of our reported numbers give us cause for grave concern. But is it time to reframe the image? Could we, perhaps, be standing at a new starting line?

Yes, this is only a two-year trend line. But it is the last two years, it is two years in a row and it breaks a 30-year decline.

Keep in mind that when we compute average percentage Cooperative Program gifts per church, we compute all Southern Baptist churches: graying churches, growing churches, new churches, contemporary churches, ethnic churches, mega-churches, small churches, legacy churches … and, yes, churches that gave nothing through the Cooperative Program. Declaring this report about the Cooperative Program to be a clear-cut winner may be a matter of opinion, and I know there is cause for reticence and caution, but regardless of the celebratory rhetoric you may detect in this article, this is good news and certainly worthy of our attention and our celebration!

Again, when people expect one thing to happen, and the exact opposite happens, you absolutely must take notice, you absolutely must find the best way forward.

So, consider this. It appears that Southern Baptist churches are making positive, cooperative choices! Not only did the average percentage of Cooperative Program gifts per church go up; total Cooperative Program dollars went up, too, and did so during a time that many of their churches’ undesignated receipts and total church receipts declined.

This year, at the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore, SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page will once again ask pastors and churches to prayerfully consider increasing their support of SBC missions and ministries through the Cooperative Program by giving an additional 1 percentage point of their churches’ undesignated receipts. In 2012, more than 3,000 churches reported an increase in Cooperative Program giving by 1 percent or more. Now that the ACP report has been published, we will begin analyzing the 2013 data to see if this trend, too, is continuing.

During Frank Page’s Great Commission Advance message on Tuesday, June 10, he will not only ask churches to do more, he will ask all Southern Baptists to do more. He will ask every individual and every family to embrace a biblical standard of stewardship – tithing, giving of offerings and developing a lifestyle of generosity. If Southern Baptists were giving according to biblical standards, there would be more than enough money to reach every unengaged, unreached people group in the world; plant 15,000 new churches in North America; increase accessibility of affordable theological education; revitalize 28,000 plateaued and declining churches; support collegiate ministry at unprecedented levels; express vibrancy, passion and urgency for evangelism; address human suffering; increase ministries to hurting children; and expand moral advocacy efforts in the public square.

Usually Cooperative Program giving and church plate offerings tend to move together, but not this time. The 2013 ACP data confirms our churches are giving more to missions through the Cooperative Program while church members are giving less through their churches.

On this cusp of something new, there has never been a better time for Southern Baptists to settle the Lordship issue about money and honor the Lord through tithes and offerings.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – C. Ashley Clayton is vice president for Cooperative Program and stewardship with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.)

6/6/2014 10:58:20 AM by Ashley Clayton | with 0 comments

The swap & the cross

June 5 2014 by Malcolm Yarnell

The news is shocking. An Army sergeant allegedly walks away from his post; six soldiers were apparently killed trying to find him; five hardened terrorist leaders were released for him; and one U.S. president may have violated a law for him.

Twelve lives affected – a high price for one man’s freedom. I pray this one man understands how grateful he should be for all those who have paid and may yet pay a price for his fleshly freedom.

More than that, I pray he perceives that the Creator of the universe paid an even higher price to offer him – and us – free redemption. When the Son of God, entirely divine, became a man, He emptied Himself of His divine prerogatives, making himself of no reputation. When the Son of God, supremely holy, took our sin upon Himself and received our death, He humbled Himself even further.

Is Bowe Bergdahl worthy of the lives apparently lost and the law allegedly broken and the future lives endangered to win his release? A more poignantly personal question, however, is, Are any of us as sinful human beings worthy of the sacrifice made by a sovereign, holy God on our behalf? Indeed, we are less worthy of that perfect sacrifice, which works our spiritual freedom, than Bergdahl is of these high human sacrifices, which have worked his fleshly freedom.

And this God, this man, this one we know as Jesus Christ, He made this perfect sacrifice for all of us unworthy human beings. Would that we were more indignant, not about the question of Bergdahl’s freedom and worthiness, but about the eternal crisis regarding our freedom and unworthiness – for none of us are worthy of God’s love and yet love us He did. This is the most pertinent question facing us today.

Even as we hear of one man’s freedom for an apparently terrible price, let us rejoice more about the freedom offered to all human beings at the greatest ontological cost of that perfect God-man’s life. Let this be an opportunity for us to exalt the crucified God, who is also the risen Savior. This should cause us to tremble at how great a love God has for us – the Father sent His Son to become our brother that He might give His life for our lives.

From the perspective of what it cost God, the cross is the greatest injustice. From the perspective of His character, this is the greatest justice. From the perspective of our unworthiness, this is the greatest love. From the perspective of our attitude, the cross ought to invoke wonder and worship for the God who embodies love and justice in perfection.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Malcolm Yarnell is professor of systematic theology and chair of the systematic theology department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He also directs the seminary’s Center for Theological Research.)

6/5/2014 1:44:39 PM by Malcolm Yarnell | with 0 comments

Trials, suffering & God’s glory

June 4 2014 by Gregory Smith

On a recent trip to a large country in the Far East, I was met with the difficulty of teaching the meaning of James 1:2-3, which invokes the challenge, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

It just so happened that the Christian community in this city had just experienced one of their most prominent churches being torn down by local officials. This was a group of believers who knew the meaning of trials!

I encouraged my students with the fact that they were just like the Christians of the first century and that the authors of our New Testament wrote to churches that suffered and endured real persecution. The unanimous voice of both the Old and New Testaments is that while God does not remove the sources of trials and sufferings that a Christian faces, He does promise to uphold the believer who trusts Him through those trials and sufferings.

James speaks of this testing of faith as yielding perseverance.

The biblical idea of testing comes out of the world of metallurgy and the refining of precious metals. The biblical authors use this same idea to discuss the process by which God refines the faith of individual believers, a process that often requires suffering.

Paul encourages his hearers with the idea that as co-heirs with Christ, they also will share in the sufferings of Christ in order that they also share in His glory (Romans 8:17b). By maintaining faith amid trials and suffering, believers develop the present benefit of endurance or perseverance as well as the future benefit of adding to the glory rightly due Christ (v. 18-19).

Instead of praying that the trials and sufferings be removed from the life of the believer, these verses encourage Christians to pray that the fullness of God’s agenda – testing, endurance and glory – be realized through the enduring faith of the one who suffers.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gregory Smith is associate vice president of academic administration and professor of Bible at the College at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. His 2014 book, “The Testing of God’s Sons: The Refining of Faith as a Biblical Theme,” deals with testing as found in the Old and New Testaments.)
6/4/2014 11:35:47 AM by Gregory Smith | with 0 comments

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