June 2018

Stories around the casket

June 7 2018 by Wendy Baker

As terrible as experiencing my father’s funeral visitation was, it was nevertheless a rich time of remembering.


One thing that I will always cherish was getting to hear people, even strangers to me, come through the line and tell about their personal interactions with Dad, such as how he loved to sing and play his guitar; their shared love for fishing and hunting; and how he was a family man.
The most memorable one was shared by a man about the age of my older sisters who, as a small boy, had looked up to my dad, the local constable. Dad had a reputation for being stern about justice around our small town. Because of that, he was disliked by many. Yet, this man had idolized my dad in his fight against “the bad guys.” My sisters and I were pleasantly surprised to learn that there was such an appreciative person.
On that dark day around the casket, the visitors didn’t have to tell us how great our dad was; we already knew. But it made for a special time as we shook hands, hugged and cried with those who came to mourn his passing with us.
I feel the same way when I hear other brothers and sisters in Christ, even those who are strangers to me, share wonderful things about how our Father has blessed them in so many different ways. When they speak of His miraculous grace and provision, I joyfully share in their gratefulness.
After all, we are not mourning His death around a casket, we are celebrating life with Him forever.
As we celebrate Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection for our redemption, let us be bold to tell our stories with others who know Him and with those who do not. We never know who might need to hear a word of encouragement to prove yet again His awesome love.
While my relationship with God is deeply personal, it is also something I share with millions of others who know Him, too, and I am happy to be a part of such a family called to be “filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ ...” (Ephesians 5:18-20).
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Wendy Baker is the secretary at the Horner Homemaking House at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/7/2018 1:04:22 PM by Wendy Baker | with 0 comments

Rascally feelings

June 6 2018 by Rhonda Rhea

What if all our deleted selfies are actually saved up somewhere?

I’m not sure how I feel about that. Sometimes I’m not sure how I “feel about feelings” either.
I started down this line of thinking when someone took a surprise photo of me and it looked disturbingly like one of those proof-of-life photos a kidnapper would send. I was even holding a newspaper.
Maybe it was the jeans I was wearing, because after seeing that photo, I realized that I have my “good” jeans, my “wear these to Walmart” jeans and my “oh so you’ve given up altogether” jeans.
I’m not one to be emotionally driven, but I do admit I all too often let my feelings on the jeans I wear – and so many other things – push me around.
It can happen when I hit a life-snag, for instance, and it doesn’t feel like anything remotely redeemable could come out of it. Or when it doesn’t feel like God is responding – especially not the way I want. All those feelings can make it more challenging for me to lean back in peace, rest my head on my Father’s chest and trust that He’s got this.
Feelings can be such misleading little scoundrels. Sometimes they out-and-out lie. “The heart is more deceitful than anything else,” the Scripture tells us, “and incurable – who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, CSB). Our feelings will tell us everything is awful when it’s not. Or tell us everything is fine when it’s not. It’s almost like they can hold the truth for ransom.
Those rascally feelings will try to blow up our faith-life, working to convince us that focusing on that one big problem is exactly what we should do, while completely distracting us from seeing the big picture.
Feelings! You’re not the boss of me!
It’s not about making a resolution to “stop feeling.” Feelings are a gift. We don’t delete them. We were created with the capacity to feel, care, love and experience emotion. Life would be dull without feelings, even the difficult ones.
Finding peace is not about denying them. It’s more about being careful not to trust them to determine our actions or responses. Our feelings need to be reined in and filtered through the truth of God.
I’m trusting my Father and His truth, not feelings. No matter what’s happening, God is not uncaring or unkind. He’s not weak or passive. He’s got this – whatever the “this” is.
We deal well with our emotions when we pay attention to keeping them in check, when we don’t let them regularly push us around, when we don’t believe the lying ones, and when we don’t let any of them ransom away our peace and our trust in the Lord. The apostle Paul said in Ephesians 5:15, “Pay careful attention, then, to how you live,” then he tells us how to do that in verse 18 when he says to “be filled by the Spirit.”
Letting the Holy Spirit influence and affect our feelings brings peace. It’s the most picture-perfect kind of peace.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rhonda Rhea is a pastor's wife, mom, speaker and author. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/6/2018 4:13:43 PM by Rhonda Rhea | with 0 comments

Being fit for all the right reasons

June 5 2018 by Kathy Ferguson Litton

Let’s talk about a touchy issue. The topic? Health and fitness.


Americans today are grossly unhealthy in record numbers. Despite having tons of resources and education, the evidence is mounting that Americans are more obese than ever and exercise isn’t helping, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in March.
Among the study’s findings: Americans are eating an estimated 2,535 calories a day – up from an average of 2,075 in 1970.
The words of a recent Reebok video caught my eye: “Honor the body you’ve been given.” It chastened me a bit, because their call to “honor” your body is one we as believers should be pursuing. We have more reason to honor our bodies than anyone.
As 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 puts it: “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.”
Unfortunately, those of us who live and work in the world of vocational ministry have a bad track record when it comes to our health. In our tribe (Southern Baptists), statistics from GuideStone Financial Resources, the SBC entity that offers insurance and retirement for church workers, indicate that approximately half of insurance claims are for largely preventable diseases: hypertension, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease. These are problems caused by excess weight, poor diet and high stress.
What does it mean to be “fit”? It is not trendy eating fads. It is not body shaming anyone. It is about an ongoing, comprehensive approach to nutritious eating, combined with consistent physical activity that is maintainable for each unique individual, which by the way eliminates most “30-day” anythings.
What are the right reasons to be fit?


The No. 1 reason is clearly a spiritual one. God has commanded us: “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The language “eat or drink” is clear, long before Fitbits, BMI and carb counters.
We understand that even what we eat and drink glorifies God. Think about that. We reflect His glory by how we handle our appetites.
Spiritual maturity requires that we control our fleshly desires and resist being controlled by temptations. While we might be resolute on this teaching when it comes to sexuality, our emotions, character, morality, this also includes the desire to overeat and the propensity to be sedentary.
Without discipline, moderation and self-control, it is easy for our appetite for food to overtake us and for intentions of a healthier life to fall by the wayside.


We cannot isolate the fact that our health and fitness affect others. Our choices, behaviors and mindset say something to a watching world.
– In our families, our health choices deeply impact our children. Most likely you control the food choices in your home, so you can directly shape their understanding and choices about food as well as exercise and activity. No, it’s not automatic that they emulate our behaviors, but it’s fairly likely. Mothers and dads, what we do on this issue matters.
– In the world around us, the cultural climate has increasingly become more health conscious. Yes, it might be to an extreme. But amid the science and mountains of evidence, do we look uninformed, undisciplined and unintelligent when our bodies, behaviors and mindset scream denial about this issue? When we move in a Christian culture that speaks of controlling the flesh in other areas – yet are glaringly inconsistent in the physical realm – we lose credibility.


We understand God has given us resources He intends for us to steward, like our time, talent and money. The Bible is clear that we will be accountable for what we have done with those resources. This includes how we manage, maintain and value our bodies.
Yes, we have been given one body to inhabit, and we are responsible to maintain it and use it fully. Ignoring its needs and ignoring its maintenance means we are not stewarding the body God gave us. So, if we are loading up on obscene amounts of sugar or fat that creates hypertension, diabetes or heart disease, we are not taking care of the temple of God and, in fact we may be destroying it prematurely.
If we want to get the most out of our bodies, we must steward them attentively and intentionally. At 61, I fully appreciate the aging process. Stamina, energy, strength and vitality become more critically important to me every day. Physical movement and what I eat add tremendous value to my daily life. My energy level and stamina definitively increase. Weightlifting keeps my bones stronger. While I am running or cycling, I seem to find mental space for creativity. It certainly buoys my emotions. And typically this discipline breeds more discipline in other areas.
Where do you need to start in developing an ongoing, comprehensive approach to nutritious eating – combined with consistent physical activity – that is maintainable for you? Considering taking the next step you need to take to be fit, for all the right reasons.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kathy Litton is the North American Mission Board's director of planter spouse care.)

6/5/2018 12:57:54 PM by Kathy Ferguson Litton | with 0 comments

Racial reconciliation – the way forward

June 4 2018 by Ken Hemphill

Paula, my wife and ministry partner, loves Psalm 145:4 “One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.” This verse is the preface for the times when Paula and I talk to our grandchildren about the many ways we have seen God at work in our extended family. Believe it or not, the grandkids love these stories about our history and will often ask for us to “replay” certain stories.

Ken Hemphill

Among the issues that have been discussed in recent days is the matter of racial reconciliation and social justice and how we should address them as a denomination. Before we look at the present and future, it might be helpful to take an honest look at our past. While no one would deny that some persons and some churches have been less than Christian in their treatment of persons of other races, I think it is important to look at the positive contributions to racial reconciliation that are also part of our collective history.

A look at our past

Although critics argue that much of the division between Baptists in the North and South was related to slavery, they often fail to point out the role Southern Baptists have played in trying to remedy racism. (I have included several resolutions from our history. Please note that we do not consider the language of many of the resolutions to be appropriate today.)
When Southern Baptists split with Northern Baptists over the issue of missionary qualifications and slave holding, at the very first Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in 1845, Southern Baptists declared by a consensus resolution that “the Board of Domestic Missions be instructed to take all prudent measures, for the religious instruction of our colored population” in the South. Despite the split from Northern Baptists about slavery, the convention affirmed the biblical instruction to evangelize all persons.
In 1884, fewer than two decades after the end of the Civil War, Southern Baptists reiterated their gospel responsibility to Blacks in the South, declaring in a consensus statement a commitment to the “seven millions of colored people within the bounds of this Convention” with regard to religious instruction, resolving to provide “for their evangelization, and their proper instruction in the truths and duties of the Gospel,” and, pledging to raise up properly instructed “colored preachers and deacons.” This action is significant because it followed nearly 19 years of massive hostility and violence by some religious southern Whites.
Importantly, just two years later (1886) Southern Baptists dedicated what would be the 2018 equivalent of a quarter of a million dollars “to aid young colored ministers in acquiring education and more perfect training for their work.” This occurred at a time when Southern Baptists were still recovering from an economy wrecked by war. In 1939 and 1940 Southern Baptists took a bold stand by repudiating lynchings and mob violence and committing “to do everything possible for the welfare … defense … and protection” of African Americans, urging for greater “law and order.”
Moreover, in 1939 and 1940, messengers lamented “the disproportionate distribution of public school funds, the lack of equal and impartial administration of justice in the courts, inadequate wages paid for Negro labor and the lack of adequate industrial and commercial opportunity for the Negro race as a whole,” pledging “to use our influence and give our efforts for the correction of these inequalities” and “to strive to the end that our friends and neighbors of the Negro race shall have … equal and impartial justice before the courts, better and more equitable opportunities in industrial, business and professional engagements; and a more equitable share in public funds and more adequate opportunities in the field of education.”
Historian David L. Chappell noted that after the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decisions in Brown v. Board of Education, “The Southern Baptist Convention passed resolutions supporting desegregation and calling on all to comply with it peacefully.” The actual vote was nearly 9,000 to 50, according to a report in the Christian Index at that time.
We were the first among the larger denominations to apologize publicly for our role in slavery and racism (1995). Our six seminaries were among the first institutions in America that were fully integrated (1958). We elected Fred Luter, an African American as SBC president (2012). Moreover, we presently have African Americans and persons of other ethnic groups serving on many of our boards and currently on the search committee for the SBC Executive Committee president.
Twenty percent of our local churches are comprised of races other than Euro-Americans. We are becoming increasingly diverse as we move forward in our goal to reach people with the gospel, believing that every person needs to know Jesus and become fully involved in the local church of their choice.
Since I had the privilege of serving as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), I want to take a brief look at the timeline for the integration of our seminaries. According to David Roach in an SBC Life article, in 1942 SWBTS began offering night classes for Black preachers on their campus and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) began teaching Black students with professors and students holding classes in faculty offices since a Kentucky law prohibited educational institutions from teaching both White and African American students as pupils.
In 1944 Garland Offutt became the first Black graduate of any SBC seminary. In the mid-1940s SBTS began allowing Blacks to sit in classrooms with Whites despite state prohibitions against integration. SBTS hosted civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on campus in 1961. Only five years later, in 1966, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (since renamed Gateway Seminary) had more Black students than any other seminary on the west coast and more foreign students than all other west coast seminaries, combined. In 1986 SBTS hired T. Vaughn Walker, the first African American professor at any SBC seminary. In 1987 Golden Gate hired Leroy Gainey.
On a personal note, as SWBTS president in 1998, I was privileged to hire Raymond Spencer, a doctoral student at the time, as the assistant professor of preaching – the first full-time African American professor at the seminary. His election to the faculty was not based on race; he simply was the best qualified candidate for the position. He was an outstanding scholar and preacher who brought together the best of the academic world and practical ministry skills, and was a favorite among the students. He was one of the bright stars among Southern Baptist scholars of all races.

My personal experience

My father was a pastor in North Carolina for his entire ministry. My dad taught me to treat all people with dignity and respect without consideration to the color of their skin or ethnicity. While still pastoring in Morganton in the 1950s, he worked with a Black Baptist church to provide Vacation Bible School for their children. My dad was principal, my sister was lead teacher, and my brother helped with the crafts. I attended with all the other students. It did not dawn on me at that time that this was not the way most 8-year-olds spent their summer.
When I was nine we moved to Thomasville and my dad continued to work for racial equality. We lived near several Black families and the children were my regular playmates. When I was a junior or senior, all our local public schools were integrated. I can still remember the first Black student who walked into my chemistry class. Johnny Burnside stood awkwardly at the door, not sure whether to come into the room or not. Our desks were designed with two seats side-by-side and it was obvious he did not feel welcome or comfortable. I walked to the door and invited him to join me at the desk. I am telling this story to illustrate how my dad’s teaching impacted me. It was great preparation for my ministry in Norfolk. As you might imagine, our military community led to an ethnically diverse congregation with people of different races in lay leadership positions.

A way forward

Our history indicates that while we have taken some important steps in terms of race relations, yet there is much more for us to do. I have often stated, “Nothing changes anyone’s heart, mind, and behavior but the Word of God applied by the Spirit of God.” We must preach the whole counsel of God’s Word, which teaches racism is sin. The entirety of scripture teaches that everyone is created in God’s image and thus precious to Him and to all who follow Him. We should not preach on racial reconciliation just once a year, but regularly make application to the truth of God’s unlimited love for “panta ta ethne,” all the people groups of the world.
Preaching the gospel and pointing people to Jesus provides the most powerful way forward. When Paul confronted Christ on the Damascus road, a man who sought to kill the despised Gentiles became their greatest advocate and friend. Speaking of the relationship of Jew and Gentile, Paul would later write, “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14).
Second, we must build friendships across racial lines that are honest and genuine. This means we should spend time together just because we are friends and family in Christ. Go to lunch together, pray together and share times together in the home. We must genuinely love one another.

My “ah-ha” moment

As I was writing this section, it dawned on me that it would be beneficial for me to ask some of my African American friends to give me their take on what we could do together that would actually help advance the cause of racial reconciliation and make an impact for the gospel. The following ideas are a compilation of the thoughts and ideas shared by Dr. Ralph West, pastor of The Church without Walls in Houston; Dr. Walter Malone, pastor of Canaan Christian Church in Louisville; Dr. Terry Turner, pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in Dallas; Dr. Toney Parks, pastor of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, Greenville; and Dr. Paul Thompson, dean of humanities, North Greenville University. Their comments were remarkably similar and thus I have not quoted any individual but have compiled a list from their collective suggestions.

  1. Quit apologizing for past sins and start working together in a positive fashion. Revisiting the past only keeps us in negative territory. Do not treat us like victims but embrace us as brothers and sisters in Christ.

  2. Stop pretending to be “color blind.” Such language and action makes others feel invisible. They want you to see them for who they are – to do that you must be friends and share life together. Drop your mask and talk honestly. Honest dialogue and earnest prayer is the way forward.

  3. We must share life together. Part of the problem is that we do not know each other. We need to go to lunch together and share meals together in one another’s homes. Racial reconciliation must start at the individual level before it is embraced by the church, the convention and the nation on a collective level.

  4. Rather than a single racial reconciliation event once a year where a local church invites a pastor or choir of another race, get out into the community and do work projects together as often as possible.

  5. If a church is in a racially mixed community and has multiple staff, the staff should reflect the makeup of the community if they are serious about reaching that community.

  6. Preach the gospel. Racism is a sin problem and is caused by our fallen nature. Until people find Jesus and are saved, true reconciliation is not possible – and we cannot legislate what comes from the heart. This raises the question, “Why do evangelicals, who should be better prepared to deal with this problem than anyone else, struggle like the rest of the world?” It is an issue of the heart and we must address this at the local level or we will always have issues at the institutional level. Be biblically-based and Christ-centered, not race-centered.

  7. We must be intentional about addressing racism at the institutional level. If we are going to have a racially mixed convention, all peoples must be represented on committees, faculties and other entities. We therefore need to identify, mentor, and promote persons when they are fully qualified for the assigned task. When people of other ethnicities are placed in a service or leadership position, do not marginalize them – value them as equal members of the team.

  8. Consider an event where thousands of believers of different ethnicities would come together for a prayer summit focused on racial reconciliation. We could meet for several days with times of worship interspersed with workshops and dialogue events where people could drop their guard, truly listen, then pray together. Meals could be taken throughout the community in restaurants with each table being fully integrated. We could also build in opportunities to get out into the community to do work projects together. We should conclude with a great prayer walk that focuses on our commitment to pray and work together for racial reconciliation.

I was so moved by these practical suggestions, that I would love to help implement them and will attempt to do so whether elected as SBC president or not. I am going to start by getting to know my fellow professors better.

6/4/2018 11:06:26 AM by Ken Hemphill | with 0 comments

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