March 2012

Christ’s presence, seen in ‘little Easters’

March 30 2012 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Easter is coming. It’s the day we mark the biggest moment in history: the moment the resurrected Christ conquered sin and death.

A few years ago I shared some “little Easters,” the quiet epiphanies that continue to reveal His risen presence on the move around the world. Here are a few more.

STEPPING UP – “This is what we’ve been waiting for, praying for: Zambian people telling Zambian people about Jesus!” reports an IMB (International Mission Board) mission team in Africa. “Recently an 18-year-old, blossoming preacher-in-the-making traveled more than three hours by public transportation and his own two feet to encourage the new Litoma Baptist Church.”

The small congregation, only 6 months old, had barely begun when the missionary couple who helped them get started returned to the United States for a time. The fledgling church’s members needed support and reassurance. The young “Timothy” taught the older members, and during a revival weekend, 18 new people came Sunday morning.

“Thank you, Lord, for making this young man missions-minded for his own people!” the IMB team prays. “Thank you that he refused to let anyone look down on him because of his youth (see 1 Timothy 4:12). Continue to bless him and provide peace in his unstable home life. May Your wonderful words of life go down deep into the hearts and minds of the 18 men and women who expressed an interest in the church.”

RESISTING THE DARKNESS – “A man came last night to ask my husband to go and pray for his daughter who was sick,” another missionary in Africa writes. “When my husband arrived, there were several people waiting outside the hut – eerily silent. As he entered the hut, the girl was acting very strangely and it soon became apparent that this girl was more than likely demon-possessed. He began to pray for her, laying hands on her and calling out the demons in Jesus’ name. After some time, he walked around outside with the girl’s father, praying for protection on the whole family.”

After an hour, the girl began to act normally. She came outside to sit by the fire.

“Witchcraft is very real here,” says the missionary. “Many people can become demon-possessed. The girl’s father had asked for my husband to come and pray for his daughter [instead of seeking out a witchdoctor]. Praise the Lord for the belief of this man, a relatively new believer. Pray for renewed spiritual strength that will glorify the Lord in all things. Pray that this girl will be delivered from the powers of darkness and accept Jesus as her Savior.”

WEEPING FOR JOY – A mission volunteer recently crossed a river with a ministry team, leaving behind a busy city for a rural area dotted with palm trees and bamboo houses on stilts. They walked through a village, crossed a rice field and found a one-room schoolhouse with a tin roof and chicken wire covering the windows. Inside were two rows of wooden pews on a dusty cement floor.

“From my seat at the front of the room, I looked out the windows to view lines of fat banana trees all around us,” the volunteer recalls.

“It felt almost like a dream, and I felt so thankful to be in this place with these people. The people of this village were filled with love and humor. I couldn’t get over the words from their leader declaring that they had nearly 75 believers ... with many more waiting to be discipled and baptized.”

A man came forward with a guitar, strumming the tune to a song the volunteer team had never heard. But they knew what the song was about by the way the people closed their eyes and raised their hands toward heaven.

“They were singing with as much volume and passion as they could muster out of their thin bodies, and I began to cry,” the volunteer says. “I couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down my cheeks, dirty from the dust of traveling there. The sight of these like-minded believers giving their whole heart in praise of Him who had saved them was more beautiful than any landscape or artist’s rendering I had ever seen. ... Like dry land thirsting for rain, the people were desperate for Good Book teachings, and you could see them being watered spirit and soul.

“These people risk everything to come to this gathering. They could lose their homes, be imprisoned, possibly even killed, for standing in their newfound faith. Yet, here they were with hands raised high and smiles on their faces. Despite circumstances and hardships, sacrifices and sufferings, triumphs and blessings, life with purpose is a life worth living, and He is worth it all. That day, for that moment, they got it. They lived it, and so did I.”

Easter is coming.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com/. Listen to an audio version at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/148/14841/14841-82226.mp3.)
3/30/2012 2:39:41 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



America needs more free speech, not less

March 29 2012 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – America is as divided politically and ideologically as perhaps it has ever been. As a result, I think it is time for a refresher course on the First Amendment. To borrow a line from an old Kellogg’s Corn Flakes ad: “The First Amendment, read it again for the first time.”

If we are to navigate ourselves out of the political and ideological morass we now find ourselves in, it will require more speech, not less. What we desperately need is unfettered expression of ideas and the debate of their consequences.

Religious Americans rally around the First Amendment protection of religious liberty. And well they should. However, closely linked to the idea that the government should not impugn religious expression is freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech goes hand-in-hand with religious liberty. If religious faith is to be promulgated, a person must be able to freely express the tenets of his or her belief system. Speaking as a person of faith, I believe freedom of religion and speech should be granted without reservation to every citizen.

America’s founders believed freedom of speech was critical to the success of the republic they were seeking to construct. In America, if political, religious and philosophical positions were to survive and thrive, they would have to compete in the free marketplace of ideas.

To be sure, the Supreme Court has ruled that freedom of speech is not sacrosanct. However, the limits are few. Among expression not protected by the First Amendment is defamation, slander, fighting words and speech that incites illegal action. Obscenity is speech or expression that also can be regulated.

Additionally, speech can be restricted subject to the principle of time, place and manner. The most well-known application of this principle was articulated by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes when he said, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

The bottom line is the First Amendment right to the freedom of speech is very broad. The government simply is not to interfere with or seek to censor the articulation of thoughts, ideas and opinions.

“Free speech is intended to protect the controversial and even outrageous word; and not just comforting platitudes too mundane to need protection,” observed Colin Powel, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state under President George W. Bush.

Though the government is forbidden from restricting freedom of speech, private citizens and organizations are not. That said, the general principle of freedom of speech as practiced in America could best be summed up in the phrase, “While I disapprove what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

While there are a variety of groups and/or individuals that I do not agree with in America, I do not want to shut them up. Quite the opposite, I would like to challenge them in the marketplace of ideas.

I absolutely detest the funeral protests of the Westboro Baptist Church. I think the independent church’s picketing of any funeral is distasteful and even goes beyond hateful. That said, if I really believe in the principle of free speech, I must defend their right to protest, no matter how I feel about their actions.

Since the Supreme Court upheld Westboro’s right to protest at funerals, some groups have started to counter-protest when the church shows up. That said, I wish everyone would ignore them and perhaps they would just go away.

The idea of “defending while disapproving” seems to be waning among some in the United States. Some citizens and organizations are seeking to muzzle speech to which they disapprove.

When students from a Lutheran high school showed up at the Wisconsin Capitol for a visit, they encountered a protest against their state’s governor. Spontaneously, the students began to sing and chant in support of the governor. It was a model of free speech on display – people on both sides of an issue freely expressing themselves. However, according to a variety of reports, some activists called the school to complain. “People identified themselves as union leaders, protestors,” the school’s executive director told the Sheboygan Press.

In reaction to some conservative radio talk show hosts utilizing disparaging, though not illegal, speech, the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution calling on local TV and radio stations to limit what the council sees as “racist” and “sexist” comments on their broadcasts. The council was wise enough to use a resolution that does not have the force of law. If the council was to pass a law attempting to restrict the speech of media personalities, it likely would be found unconstitutional because it would be the government seeking to regulate speech.

I will not defend crass comments of media personalities. While I might find them rude, crude and wholly inappropriate, I do think they have the freedom to express themselves. The public has a right to turn them off and ignore them.

In a time when more speech is needed, too many seem reticent to “defend while disapproving.” Rather than expand dialogue and freedom of expression, it seems they want to restrict debate. Could it be they are afraid their philosophies may not fare well in the market place of ideas?

Freedom of speech is protected by the U.S. Constitution. The courtesy to speak freely should be extended by all fair-minded Americans. By debating ideas and their consequences and allowing people to choose both, our republic is made strong. What we need right now is more speech, not less.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
3/29/2012 4:07:25 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



No time for designated decoys

March 28 2012 by Mark H. Creech, Guest Column

A police officer was waiting across the street from a bar parking lot late on a Saturday night watching for drunks trying to drive home. After a short wait, one particularly sad case stumbled out the door with the front of his shirt soaked. He appeared bleary eyed and confused as he wandered through the parking lot looking for his car. When he finally located his vehicle, he fumbled for his keys, bumped his head getting in, drove off and bumped the curb on the way.
 
Of course the man didn’t get very far before the police officer had him pull over. The policeman had him step out of the car and proceeded to administer several sobriety field tests. The driver seemed to have considerable difficulty understanding some of the tests. In fact, he failed all of them miserably: he couldn’t stand on one foot, he couldn’t touch his nose, he couldn’t walk straight, and he couldn’t recite the alphabet correctly. The final legal step, of course, was the Breathalyzer, so the police officer asked his subject to blow into the tube. The green light indicated that the man was not drunk. In complete disbelief, the policeman checked the Breathalyzer and had the suspect try once more. This time another green light showed the man’s blood-alcohol level was legal!
 
“All right,” said the police officer, “but how can you pass a breath test when you’re falling-down drunk? I just don’t get it.”
 
“Well, it’s like this,” replied the man. “I’m the designated decoy.”
 
Recently, news reports from across North Carolina featured the results of an Elon University poll, a study, which ABC 11, the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News and Observer collaborated on, saying opinions had now shifted regarding the proposed marriage protection amendment. The survey supposedly found 54 percent of Tar Heel residents currently oppose the constitutional amendment, while only 38 percent supported it.
 
Don’t be fooled! The Elon University poll is nothing more than a designated decoy – something meant to lead people away from the truth and discourage backing for the amendment. Contrary to what’s being reported, support for the marriage protection amendment is not waning. The Elon poll was not limited to registered voters, nor did it employ the exact wording of the amendment that will appear on the ballot in May. But a Civitas poll, which was scientifically conducted during the same period of time, using the exact wording of the proposed amendment, while polling only those who had voted in at least one of the past three general elections or had registered since November 2010 (likely primary voters), was completely ignored by the media.
 
Tami Fitzgerald, chairwoman of Vote For Marriage NC noted: “The Civitas Institute poll stands in complete contrast to the Elon poll. By asking likely voters the actual May 8 ballot question, we have a scientific test showing that 64 percent of likely voters in North Carolina support the marriage protection amendment.  Furthermore, when asked if a recent court case in Guilford County challenging North Carolina’s marriage laws made them more likely to support the Amendment, 60 percent of likely voters responded ‘yes,’ which includes 20 percent of people who had previously not supported the amendment.
 
In addition to African-American support remaining strong for the amendment by a 40 percent margin, the poll showed that unaffiliated voters support the amendment by a 24 percent margin, which is an increase from January’s 11 percent margin.”
 
So support for the marriage protection amendment has not shifted with most people now being opposed, but it is, in fact, slowly picking up momentum.
 
You know, a very prominent and powerful man of yesteryear said the role of the press should be one of a collective propagandist and agitator. That certainly seems to be what is going on today, especially when it comes to the proposed marriage protection amendment for North Carolina. There has yet to be one positive story about it in any of the major dailies, or any other news venue for that matter. Every story is propagandist in nature and obviously meant to agitate the public against the measure. The sad thing, however, is Vladimir Lenin was the one who advocated this is how the press ought to work. In contrast, America’s founders believed the hope of sustaining a free people was a free press that would freely tell the whole truth. Despite the negative reports of the media, efforts to protect marriage as one man and one woman in this state are succeeding. Therefore, like a runner who has his eye upon the goal and pushes through every difficulty to reach it, let us bear down all the more toward the mark (Phil. 3:14).
 
This is no time to be distracted – no time to be discouraged – no time to be following after designated decoys.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark H. Creech is executive director of the Christian Action League.)
3/28/2012 3:41:27 PM by Mark H. Creech, Guest Column | with 0 comments



It’s time to give up excuses, embrace ‘unengaged’

March 26 2012 by Michael Cloer, Guest Column

Imagine going into a room with 100 people starving of malnutrition and you had a large bowl of warm food. You put heaping spoons of nourishment on 27 of these plates before you run out of food.
 
When you return from the kitchen, you dish out food on those same 27 plates until they run out again. Next time, you give food to those same ones who are now stuffed, while leaving all the others starving.
 
What if you kept feeding the same ones over and over, and at the same time the vast majority starved while you never took the time, money or effort to give them a single morsel?
 
I had heard about them, read articles about them, and even mentioned them in sermons, but I had never taken unreached, unengaged people groups (UUPG) seriously until three years ago. I thought it wasn’t my problem. I had read that at least 73 percent of the people on earth were without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but I was busy feeding the other 27. That was my responsibility.
 
For over 30 years I had taken many mission trips, completed mission projects, and developed partnerships with missionaries.
 
However, I had always excused my personal involvement in engaging a UUPG because as a pastor in America, I believed they were not my responsibility. I shirked my personal responsibility by hiding underneath a much larger group responsibility.
 
I thought, “Our church gives to missions. We support the Cooperative Program.
 
We give to Lottie Moon. We fully support the International Mission Board. It is their job to reach the unreached. I am a Southern Baptist, and they are trying to reach those who are spiritually starving.”
 
Like the men in Luke 9, I had used so many excuses; “It is too costly. They are too far away. We are involved in other good works. This is too hard. There are lost people right here.”
 
In my devotion time one day I read where the four starving lepers received a miraculous provision. While they were gorging themselves as everyone around them starved, they said, “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves.” (2 Kings 7:9). There it is!
 
If God has saved me and I know others do not know – I AM RESPONSIBLE!
 
Even after 2,000 years since we were commanded to make disciples among all people groups, there are still over 6,400 people groups that are “unreached,’ (UPG) with less than 2 percent Christians; and over 3,500 that are unreached, and “unengaged” (UUPG). They have no church, no missionary, and no one engaging them with the gospel.
 
This means while 27 out of every 100 people on earth keep getting all the food along with most of the cooks and servers, 73 are left starving. As a follower of Jesus Christ who has received the Bread of Life, I cannot excuse myself. I am responsible and so are all those I keep feeding week after week.
 
Those whom I am privileged to serve understand this same responsibility. We realize Acts 1:8 starts in our community, extends in our country, and embraces the continents. We are intentional about reaching the lost around us in our Jerusalem.
 
Last year, Englewood launched a new church plant in our Judea, Creekside Fellowship in New Bern, while sponsoring two new Hispanic church plants.
 
Two years ago, after months of prayer and exploring the different UUPGs in the world, Englewood Baptist Church made the unanimous public declaration in a called business session: We are committed to go wherever it takes, and do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes in order to plant indigenous, healthy, reproducing churches among the Koli Malhar people.
 
After taking five teams to South Asia in the past 16 months, we know of seven Koli adults who have professed faith in Jesus Christ, thrown out all their idols and been baptized. All glory goes to Jesus Christ! Our church is committed to send a couple from our congregation to work among the Koli and other UUPGs through the International Mission Board, but will be financially supported by the church.
 
This church is focused and filled with excitement as members in every age group are praying for the Koli. Englewood is taking personal responsibility.
 
I challenge other pastors to join me in embracing a UUPG, or an area, a village, or a region with several of these groups. Four pastors from eastern North Carolina are currently leading their churches to partner together to embrace, not one group, but a district in Mumbai that contains several UUPGs. What an exciting concept – cooperating together to reach the unreached!
 
There are enough churches in the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina that if we pastors and members took personal responsibility, we could embrace every unengaged people group that is left in our lifetime. We could take food to all those 73.
 
What about you? What is your excuse?  
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Cloer is senior pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Rocky Mount.)
 
Impact Your World Conference
When: April 30-May 2
Where: First Baptist Church, Charlotte
Deadline to register: April 25
Registration fee: $50
For more information, contact Teresa Bowman at tbowman@imb.org or (800) 999-3113, ext. 1721.
One of the speakers will be Michael Cloer.
Register: www.regonline.com/IYW2012_NC
3/26/2012 4:07:15 PM by Michael Cloer, Guest Column | with 0 comments



On Twitter? Biblical ethics apply there, too

March 22 2012 by Chuck Fuller, Baptist Press

ANDERSON, S.C. – Just six years after its advent, Twitter boasts around 500 million users and has been recognized by MLA as a citable source in academic papers.

With no “friendships” to maintain, Twitter offers the ultimate in low-maintenance networking. Any user may follow or unfollow any other user. With hashtags, anyone may join any conversion on any topic at any time (using 140 characters or less, of course). Twitter is social media simplicity and freedom. Such freedom, though, brings accountability and breeds etiquette. Users who show little restraint will annoy others, resulting in fewer followers. Those who Tweet carefully will build larger networks, find themselves more connected, and be able to exert more influence. (See www.klout.com to explore social media styles and strategy).

Ethically, Christians must think of Twitter no differently than other forms of speech. The biblical instructions concerning one’s words broadcast from the mouth apply also to words broadcast over social media. Try reading James 3:1-12, and replace each instance of the word “tongue” with “Tweet.” Really. Do it. See what I mean?

While Twitter etiquette is still at its dawn, I offer my simple seven rules for Tweeting with class:

1. Venting your petty frustrations only frustrates others. Complaining about poor service, a homework assignment or your neighbor’s dog isn’t helpful. You may feel better, but your followers won’t. Besides, since when is venting – in any format – OK? (Read that James 3 piece again.)

2. Say what builds up (Ephesians 4:29). This one should go without saying, but be encouraging! I’m often energized and exhorted by what my Christian friends and heroes post on Twitter. In fact, by carefully selecting those I follow, Twitter has actually become very helpful in my own sanctification, as their Tweets remind me of the gospel and God’s calling on my life. Am I doing the same for those who follow me?

3. Tweet the “C’est La Vie” (your “such is life” moments): the funny, the strange, the random and the interesting. A child’s birthday, an exciting development, an unexpected visit, your favorite team. Sharing life is what makes social media just that – social. Even the apostles shared their very lives (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

4. Seize the platform, but don’t make Twitter your pulpit. Tweet Bible verses, quotes from sermons and books, and even your own insights and convictions. Share the gospel and gospel-centered thoughts. Resist the urge, though, to make Twitter your personal sermon to the world. Casual conversation doesn’t afford you such privilege, and neither does Twitter. Your followers are your followers only in the loosely connected, free-to-come-and-go-as-you-please sense, not in the we’re-your-disciples sense.

5. Save your privacy and avoid TMI. As my father once told me, “You can get your skeletons out of the closet without hanging them in the yard.” Not everything should be Tweeted. If you wouldn’t share it in a room full of people at a casual event, then don’t post it on Twitter. Life is peculiar in that the darkest and most delightful moments are deeply personal, even intimate. You can flatter your spouse without embarrassing him or her (or the whole world!). You can share some of your pain without spewing all the mess.

6. Exerting influence isn’t building your brand. In Twitter’s early days, it seemed OK to RT (re-Tweet) a compliment paid to you. As time passed, this practice became less acceptable, and now is nearly Twitter taboo. If, when in public, you don’t say, “Mr. So-and-So said I’m awesome and smart,” then, when on Twitter, also refrain.

7. Keep personal conversations personal. Some back-and-forth is fine, and even a little light-hearted banter can be fun. Remember, though, no one wants to hear a personal conversation in public space – whether in an elevator or on a Twitter page. Use DM (direct message) for private exchanges (even though the true privacy of such information is debatable). Better yet, for very personal matters, use that mobile phone actually to talk to someone.

These are my simple seven. A common thread runs through them. Twitter is a semi-public space. Tweeting is the equivalent of saying something very loudly in a large room full of people with whom you have varying degrees of relationship. Don’t Tweet what you wouldn’t say in that room. Rather, “give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Fuller is assistant professor of Christian studies at Anderson University in Anderson, S.C. This column first appeared at MinistryU.org, a blog of Anderson University’s faculty.)
3/22/2012 3:23:11 PM by Chuck Fuller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Do you know when you were saved?

March 21 2012 by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Oct. 27 is an important date for me.

On that day, many years ago, I was a young kid walking alone under a starry sky in my hometown of Biloxi, Miss. I was grappling with who I was and what my life would mean. And there, looking up into the vault of space up there overhead, I trusted a Stranger in the Night to forgive me, and to take me wherever He wanted. The gospel wasn’t new to me, and the teachings of Jesus weren’t new to me. Years and years of Sunday School and Baptist Training Union and Vacation Bible Schools were all back there. But, somehow, I just knew at that moment that the central point of all those things was true: the gospel. It was as though I heard a voice.

The reason I write this is because my story isn’t at all typical of most Christians I know, and many kind of feel guilty about that. Many believe if they really have embraced the gospel, they ought to have a moment, a date, they can point to as the instant they passed from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.

Sometimes our churches reinforce this misunderstanding. Preachers talk about assurance of salvation as though it were about remembering a past experience, and doing a mental autopsy on the sincerity of that. The people we allow to give testimonies in our churches and in our publications all seem to have a dramatic tale to tell.

That’s not what the gospel is about.

In our culture, we make a big-to-do about birthdays. Other cultures don’t. I could ask you right now, “When were you born” and you could probably tell me month, date and year. But how do you know that? It’s because there were people there, usually your parents, who could tell you that information. You don’t remember emerging from the birth canal (and that’s probably a very good thing).

Other people, in other cultures at other times, don’t recognize dates but seasons. They might not know what day on the weekly calendar or what year in the solar calendar they were born. But do they then question whether they are alive? Of course not. How do you know if you were in fact born? You look to see if you’re alive ... now.

It’s no accident that Jesus compares entrance into the Kingdom of God to physical birth. There is a kind of helplessness that we experience in the biology and history of our births. No one can boast about an easy delivery. No one should feel guilty about prompting a Caesarean section. The important thing is that you’re here.

The same is true for the gospel. Some of you were brought to Christ suddenly and dramatically. Your past life as a prostitute or a drunk or a warlord gave way to a radically different direction as a disciple. In that, your situation is quite similar to the Apostle Paul’s. Others of you, though saved just as truly in some point in time, aren’t able to identify that time. Your memory is of a slow realization of the gospel, and you can’t necessarily pinpoint when you were converted in that time frame. Your situation sounds more like that of Paul’s disciple Timothy. The point of the gospel isn’t celebrating an experience; it’s believing a Man who is your crucified, resurrected, reigning Life.

It’s important to mark dates as ways of prompting thanksgiving. If you know when you met Jesus, set up an Ebenezer of remembrance in your mind and be grateful. If not, be thankful for life in Christ and mark other dates when He showed himself real and faithful to you.

The crucial matter isn’t whether you remember when the Shepherd pulled you out of the thorn bushes. Maybe you were barely conscious. The critical thing is whether you hear His Voice, maybe somewhere out there in the dark in front of you, calling you forward, right now.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell D. Moore is dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at www.russellmoore.com.)
3/21/2012 3:49:46 PM by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Go see ‘October Baby’

March 20 2012 by Thom S. Rainer, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The second sermon I ever preached was on the incredible value of life and the inconceivable atrocity of abortion. A local pastor pulled me aside after the message and gave me these words of admonition: “Thom, those are the type sermons that will get you in trouble. You need to stay away from them if you want to have a long ministry.”

I was stunned. In my naïveté, I had assumed that most all Christians, especially Christian leaders, would rally around the cause of life for the defenseless unborn. My sermon, I didn’t think, was either abrasive or graphic. I simply shared God’s Word from my heart about the sanctity of life.

My first church out of seminary was in St. Petersburg, Fla. I was honored to serve on the board of a local crisis pregnancy center. I heard countless stories of babies that were saved from abortion. But my eyes were open even wider when a couple showed me their newly adopted baby. Then they told me that their baby was adopted through the same crisis pregnancy center. They also told me the story that their daughter’s biological mother was precariously close to having an abortion before she visited the crisis pregnancy center.

That precious baby mesmerized me. She was in perfect health. She was totally and completely loved by her parents. She was beautiful. But if the intervention had not taken place, she would have been dead.
 
I have remained active in the cause to save unborn children through different ways over the years. But I confess, since I came to lead LifeWay over six years ago, I have not done much toward this critical cause. I have even wondered how God might lead me to provide leadership where I have been recently silent.

Then I previewed the movie “October Baby.”

I admit that I shed tears during and after the movie. I was moved. The movie and its message were powerful.

The story focuses on Hannah, a college freshman who learns from her adoptive parents that she is the survivor of a failed abortion. The movie is powerful and compelling without being preachy and judgmental. Indeed, I would rank it among the most powerful movies I’ve ever seen.

After I saw the movie, I knew God had given me new marching orders. Tell the world. Tell anyone who will listen. Get as many people as possible to this movie for its debut weekend this Friday.

So I’ve been writing letters, sending emails and making calls. And now I’m pleading with you to tell others about this movie. Get crowds to go see it. They will be moved. More babies will be saved.

I am grateful to God beyond measure for the opportunity to speak about the incredible value of life once again. I am so thankful that He has allowed me another chance to be a defender of the defenseless. I really should be doing more.

Andy Andrews, in his little book, “How Do You Kill 11 Million People?,” tells the compelling story of how more than 11 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. One of the more tragic stories was the eyewitness account of how one German church responded:

“We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because we felt, what could anyone do to stop it.

“Each Sunday morning, we would hear the train whistle blowing in the distance, then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars!
 
“Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sounds of those wheels because we knew we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us.

“We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church, we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more.

“Years have passed and no one talks about it now, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep.”

Millions of unborn babies are being led to their deaths. But most churches are just singing louder.

What can we do?

I urge you to make “October Baby” a priority for you and your church.

Go see it this weekend.

This movie is so powerful that it will move many to act.

Lives will be saved.

Lives will be changed.

“For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well” (Psalm 139:13-14).

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources. This column first appeared at his website, ThomRainer.com.)

View the trailer here: http://youtu.be/I_9l7lEe-AA.
3/20/2012 8:54:11 PM by Thom S. Rainer, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Money – a test of our loyalty to God

March 16 2012 by Chuck Bentley, Baptist Press

GAINESVILLE, Ga. – Chris was desperate for career guidance. After spending seven years in prison, he reached out to me on our national radio broadcast that he had listened to since his incarceration for car-jacking.

He explained that he was a changed man since he had surrendered his life to Christ. He was now out on his own looking to make a fresh start after paying his debt to society for a crime he committed when he was only 21 years old. However, after two months of applying for jobs, not a single business had even given Chris an interview.

I advised him to go to a small, privately owned business and ask for a face-to-face meeting with the owner. “Explain that you’d like a chance to prove yourself and commit to being faithful in any job you’re given.” I told Chris that Jesus measures each of us by the same standard; we are either faithful or unfaithful.

Fast-forward three months and Chris was back on the air with us. This time, however, he sounded like a new man, excited to explain what had happened to him. Chris had taken my advice and applied for a job at a truck stop. He was immediately hired by the owner, who sensed he was truly a humble and repentant man needing only an opportunity to prove himself. Chris’s story is a fascinating testimony of living by God’s financial principles.

Chris was hired to do general maintenance around the truck stop. He was given specific responsibilities, one of which was to check and make sure the restrooms were clean “every time he passed by them.” After three weeks, the owner called Chris into the office and asked him to have a seat. My new friend feared the worst, but to his delight, the owner praised him for his faithful work and gave him a significant pay increase based upon his performance as a new employee. The owner said he’d hired over 50 people and given them the same simple instruction to check the restrooms and make sure they’re clean at all times. The owner informed Chris that he was the only person who ever did exactly as he was asked.

Faithfulness seems like a small matter, but just like the truck stop owner, God also expects His children to be faithful when handling His property – the money He entrusts to us.

In Luke 16:10-12, after telling the Parable of the Shrewd Manager, Jesus concluded with this profound principle: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”

Jesus is telling us that if we have learned to be responsible handling small things, we can be trusted with responsibilities greater than worldly riches. In the same way, if we have been irresponsible, we will have to learn some important life lessons before our heavenly Father will entrust those weightier matters to us.

Larry Burkett often said that managing money is a small matter, but faithfulness with money is a big matter. He explained that how we handle money is a test of our loyalty to God.

In many ways, we are all like Chris, the ex-convict. We have been given grace and accepted as servants of the Owner of the entire universe. We are each given an assignment that may seem like a small matter now, but it’s one that actually holds eternal significance. One day we will be evaluated for our “job performance.” If we have been faithful to the Master, we will not only receive words of great affirmation, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” we will also be entrusted with an eternal responsibility.

The day I realized Heaven wasn’t an endless vacation but a job for eternity, it jolted me into taking my daily responsibilities as God’s steward far more seriously. Each and every one of us is being watched to determine if we too will do all the simple, mundane tasks that the Owner has requested of us.

If we pass each little test, God will add more responsibilities and ultimately welcome us into our permanent assignment. While still a mystery, we are assured that the true riches reserved for God’s faithful servants surpass anything we could ever imagine.

The small things truly count.

As you fulfill your responsibilities today, be mindful that you work for the Owner of the universe – and remember, He’s watching.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, only at Crown.org. His latest book is “The S.A.L.T. Plan, How to Prepare for an Economic Crisis of Biblical Proportions.” To sign up for Chuck’s free weekly e-newsletter, “Handwriting on the Wall,” visit Crown.org/handwriting or call 1-800-722-1976.)
3/16/2012 12:55:26 PM by Chuck Bentley, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Cross the street, reach the nations

March 15 2012 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – A missionary with years of experience in the Muslim world was visiting back home in the United States when he struck up a friendly conversation with an immigrant shop owner.

“I said, ‘Thanks for coming to America,’” the missionary recalls. The shop owner was moved almost to tears. “He put his arms around me and said, ‘You’re the first person who has ever welcomed me to this country.’”

During the same U.S. stay, the missionary spoke at a church in a Southern town. Before he arrived there, a member of the church surveyed the community’s 20 or so Muslim families. Some of them had lived in the area as long as 10 years. The church member asked them if anyone in town had ever visited to tell them about Christ. No, they answered. Had anyone ever mentioned the name of Jesus to them? No. What was their chief emotion about living in America?

“We’re so lonely,” they responded. “No one ever talks to us. No one wants to hear our story. No one wants to have a meal with us.”

The immigrants arriving in America these days include people who are very hard to reach with the gospel in their home countries. Here, they can be reached by crossing the street.

But you have to cross the street.

“God is giving us a second chance. He is bringing the nations to us,” the missionary says. “But we’re running from the nations in our midst. Having Muslims in our homes is not brain surgery. But the thing that is driving the church is fear. Until we get over our fear, we will not welcome the lost in our midst. We’re afraid of Muslims and we’re afraid of foreigners. These people are so lonely and isolated. Get out of your church. Go to their homes. Invite them to your home. Shop where they shop.

“We’re in a free country, and yet we’re not exercising our freedom to witness to the nations in our midst.”

What are we afraid of? Lots of things. Fear or suspicion of the stranger, the foreigner, the “other” is part of human nature. The United States has alternately welcomed and shunned immigrants over the past century, opening and closing its borders depending upon events, political-economic forces and social attitudes. More recently, the flood of illegal immigration, the competition for jobs in a recession-ravaged economy and the ongoing reverberations of 9/11 have played into the mix. And racism, even in our supposedly enlightened era, still poisons minds and hearts.

Within the church, there’s another dynamic worse than fear or resentment: indifference. If we’re not sharing the Good News with neighbors we’ve known for years or a lifetime, we’re not going to share it with newcomers who don’t act and talk like we do.

We need God’s perspective. He told the children of Israel again and again to welcome the “stranger and the alien in your midst,” reminding them that they once were aliens and refugees in Egypt.

Throughout history, observed the late, great missiologist Ralph Winter, God has been “kicking people out of one culture into a new one” – from Abraham’s move to Canaan, to Christian slaves carried off by pagan conquerors, to the present day.

God often uses such migrations, forced or otherwise, to place believers in cultures that haven’t yet heard He is Lord. Alternately, He moves nonbelievers into cultures where they can hear the Good News, then sends them back to their own people groups to spread the Word.

The United States leads all nations of the world as a destination for migrants, according to new findings from the Pew Research Center. No surprise there. With 43 million foreign-born residents, our country counts more than three times as many migrants as Russia, the second-place destination. America is home to one of every five migrants worldwide.

“The United States has been the leading destination for many, though not all, religious groups,” Pew reports. “The U.S. also has been the top destination for Buddhist migrants ... and for people with no particular religion (including many from China). The U.S. has been the world’s second-leading destination for Hindu migrants, after India, and for Jewish migrants, after Israel.” More than 2 million Muslim immigrants were living here in 2010.

According to mission research, nearly 600 unengaged, unreached people groups can be found in North America – many of them in urban areas. They haven’t heard the Gospel in ways they can understand it and respond to it, and no evangelical group currently has a viable plan to reach them. Up to eight of every 10 refugees resettled in the United States come from unreached areas of the world.

As participants in the recent “ethnéCITY: Reaching the Unreached in the Urban Center”* conferences have learned, many of those new arrivals are moving to medium-sized urban areas and suburbs, rather than the traditional ethnic enclaves of big cities. By 2010, slightly more than half of all immigrants could be found in suburbs.

According to The Brookings Institution, the number of foreign-born people in the United States topped 40 million in 2010, a 28 percent increase since 2000 and about 13 percent of the nation’s total population. More than a third of new immigrants during the decade came from Asia, while the fastest-growing group came from Africa.

The five cities with the largest foreign-born populations are New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and Houston. But the fastest growth is happening in smaller and midsize cities. Brookings reports: “A swath of metro areas from Scranton (Pa.) stretching southwest to Indianapolis and Little Rock and sweeping east to encompass most of the Southeast and lower mid-Atlantic ... saw growth rates on the order of three times that of the 100 largest metro areas’ rate. These include Charlotte, Raleigh, Nashville and Indianapolis, all of which passed the 100,000 mark for total foreign-born population by 2010.” Similarly, the states with the fastest-growing foreign-born populations are North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Nevada and Tennessee.

That’s essentially the Bible Belt, folks. How will we respond?

As a mission worker in a Muslim country used to tell me: “These people haven’t rejected the gospel. They haven’t heard the gospel.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com/. Listen to an audio version at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/147/14761/14761-81899.mp3.)
3/15/2012 2:13:39 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



What will the marriage amendment do?

March 14 2012 by Paul “Skip” Stam, Guest Column

On May 8, the voters will decide whether this provision should be added to the State Constitution:

“Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This Section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”
 
This marriage amendment would recognize only domestic legal unions between one man and one woman. Domestic partnerships or civil unions, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, would not be valid or recognized here. The amendment would prohibit the government from creating “same-sex marriage.” 

The meaning of “legal union” as a judicially recognized status is concrete and clear in the context of family relationships.  In federal law, “‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife…” 1 U.S.C. §7 (2005). This definition of marriage in federal law is consistent with the long-standing definition: marriage is the “[l]egal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife” Black’s Law Dictionary 876 (5th ed. 1979). The word “domestic” was added to the words “legal union” to clarify that other legal arrangements, such as business partnerships, would not be affected by this amendment.
 
Any benefits extended by government to a person based on a domestic legal union other than marriage would be prohibited. But the government could still extend employment benefits that impact or benefit non-married domestic households. The extension of such benefits, however, could not be predicated only upon the status of a domestic relationship other than marriage. For example, a city could still allow an employee to pick one other person of his or her choice to be the beneficiary for health insurance.
 
The second sentence of the amendment makes clear that the amendment would not prohibit private companies from entering into private contracts based on relationships chosen by the company. Private employers, for example, could continue to offer domestic partnership or civil union benefits to an employee’s same-sex or opposite-sex partner. The amendment would prohibit the government from forcing a company to provide such benefit.
 
During the debate I was amazed at the baseless claims made by opponents. Several continue to be repeated by the media. Let’s set the record straight:

1. The amendment will not adversely affect North Carolina’s economy. A 2011 report by the American Legislative Exchange Council ranked states by economic performance between 1999 and 2009 and by economic outlook. Eight of the top 10 economically performing states have marriage amendments. None have legalized same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships. Nine of the 10 states forecasted to have the poorest economic growth have legalized same-sex marriage, civil unions and/or domestic partnerships. 

2. The amendment will not affect the enforcement of domestic violence laws. Opponents would have you think the amendment obliterates our domestic violence law. The cases they use as authority are Ohio appellate cases later overturned by the Ohio Supreme Court, which found the domestic violence statutes consistent with the state’s marriage amendment. In Kansas the outcome was the same. Marriage amendments have had no effect on the enforcement of domestic violence statutes. Thirty other states have marriage amendments. In all 30 states domestic violence laws continue to be enforced. I have read and reread our domestic violence statutes. I am unable to even comprehend the logic of this objection.
 
3. Legally recognizing only heterosexual marriage isn’t discrimination against homosexuals wanting to marry.
 
Marriage between a man and a woman has existed in virtually every known society. It has served the purpose of channeling procreative sexual activity into an institution, which will provide a stable environment for children produced from the sexual union of the partners in marriage.
 
Recognizing that heterosexual marriage has provided the best environment for the rearing of future citizens, North Carolina has regulated marriage for at least 340 years. Same-sex marriage is an entirely different relationship with a completely different purpose. Expanding the marital institution to other relationships which serve completely different purposes ultimately undermines the institution which has proven to be the best and safest environment for children.

4. The amendment will not nullify medical powers of attorney (MPOAs), wills and trusts if the parties are homosexual partners.
 
Under G.S. 32A-18 “any competent person who is not engaged in providing health care to the principal for renumeration, and who is 18 years of age or older, may act as a health care agent.” The relationship between the patient and the designated agent does not matter. The intent of the testator and trustor is the “gold standard” in N.C. for interpreting wills and trusts. The amendment does not change the intent of the testator in either type of these instruments. The amendment explicitly states that it will not affect the rights of parties to enter into private contractual agreements.

5. The marriage amendment will not determine the custody and visitation rights of unmarried parents unless their behavior affects the child. Custody orders are based on the “parent”/child relationship, not on the domestic relationship between the “parents.”
 
Courts have based custody and visitation on the “best interest of the child.” NCGS 50-13.2(2007) The sexual behavior of the party petitioning for custody or visitation is not determinative except as it affects the child. 
 
The “de facto parenting doctrine” was applied in 2010 in Boseman v. Jarrell. The Supreme Court refused to allow adoption to an unmarried same-sex partner but did award joint custody and visitation rights to that non-biological same-sex partner who had become a de facto parent to the child.
 
There is a real threat to the institution of marriage. 
 
In several states, same-sex marriage has been imposed upon the people by courts that have engaged in tortured judicial reasoning – Massachusetts and Iowa for example. These courts have used the state constitutions to reverse the very pro-marriage policies that were in effect when the state constitution was adopted.
 
Now it’s happening in North Carolina.  Same-sex couples in Asheville went to the courthouse for two weeks last fall seeking to obtain marriage licenses. A lawsuit was filed by the Register of Deeds of Guilford County in December challenging our state’s marriage laws and asking the Court to declare them unconstitutional because they don’t allow same-sex partners to “marry.”
 
This amendment will ensure that marriage between one man and one woman will be protected from result-oriented judges.
 
Voters will decide on May 8.
 
For more information please visit VoteFORMarriageNC.com.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Representative Paul Stam is N.C. House Majority Leader and a member of Apex Baptist Church, Apex.)
3/14/2012 7:14:12 PM by Paul “Skip” Stam, Guest Column | with 0 comments



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