March 2013

On gay marriage, don’t follow the mob

March 28 2013 by Steve Willis, Baptist Press

As I reflect on these words Simon Peter spoke some 2,000 years ago, I am amazed that a man who attacked a squadron of soldiers could – just moments later – acquiesce to a midnight mob led by a servant girl.

The sociological phenomenon of the power of “groupthink” led Peter to deny His Savior. It also led the people of 1930s Germany to sacrifice the Jews and high school students in Steubenville, Ohio, to laugh as an unconscious teenage girl was publicly molested. And, sadly, in recent years, it has led many American Christians choosing to forsake God’s perennial teaching on marriage.

How else can one explain the radical, overnight shift in views toward marriage? In 2008, a majority of Americans, including presidential candidate Barack Obama, knew marriage to be a sacred union between a man and a woman. Just five years later, much of that group has gone with the flow of the new “in crowd.”

Sociologically speaking, mobs don’t “evolve.” They change course quickly and as soon as they muster enough numbers, they coerce. They disrupt stability. Mobs riot and seek to force their will upon others. Before long they crucify any religious figure who stands in their way. If you have joined the mob, do you hear that sound? The cock is crowing.

Don’t follow the mob. Rejection of God’s definition of marriage is ultimately a rejection of the Triune God it reveals. The good news is that the message of John 21 still applies: Even if you’re in the boat with the rest of the mob, Jesus is waiting by the seashore to restore you. He’s always standing on solid ground.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Steve Willis is lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Kenova, W. Va., and vice president of program development at Tri-State Bible College in South Point, Ohio.)
3/28/2013 5:17:36 PM by Steve Willis, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Facing the ‘giants’ in our lives

March 28 2013 by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press

EL CAJON, Calif. – There’s something about “giants” that intrigues us, whether we’re talking about movies and television shows, or books like “Gulliver’s Travels,” or fairy tales like “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

In popular stories, these giants are clearly symbols of our own challenges in life. Sometimes we seem so small in the face of adversity that our problems can appear giant-sized. We need to believe we can slay the giants in our lives.

Giants in the Bible
You don’t need sci-fi movies for that. The Bible will do just fine, thank you. It’s full of giants; and the giants of scripture aren’t supernatural monsters or science fiction images. There were ancient tribes of humans who were, well, big. Goliath was nine feet tall. The Bible introduces us to him in the Valley of Elah, taunting the armies of Israel and defying the people of the living God. Everything about him was intimidating. He was a champion of evil, and day after day he challenged the Israelites: “Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me.”

King Saul was “dismayed and greatly afraid” (1 Samuel 17:11), and he made the mistake of comparing himself with the giant instead of comparing the giant with God. Arriving on the scene, the young sheepherder, David, sized up the situation, compared the giant with God, and determined with God’s help, he could defeat Goliath.

Giants, ancient and modern
Goliath represents all the giants we face in our lives today. We need to face the fact that those giants taunt us today just as in ancient times.
  • The giant of fear. Advice columnist Ann Landers was asked if a common denominator linked the letters she received, and she said that the one overriding theme was fear. People are afraid of what is happening, what might happen, what will happen, and the effects of it all. With God we can overcome the giant of fear.
  • The giant of discouragement. Due to the recent economic problems in our nation, many people have encountered the giant of discouragement. We need to resist the intrusion this giant presents to our peace of mind, and instead look to God for consolation and provision.
  • The giant of loneliness. On every side we see lonely senior citizens, lonely singles, lonely spouses, lonely survivors, lonely sufferers, and lonely servants of God. The giant of loneliness taunts many people each day, but God comforts and relieves the lonely.
  • The giant of worry. Physician Charles Mayo called worry the “disease of doubt” that can affect the circulation, the heart, the glands and the whole nervous system. Perhaps you’re battling this Goliath right now.
  • The giant of guilt. Genuine guilt is an honest friend that leads us to the blood of Christ, but there are two deadly kinds of guilt: (1) Lingering guilt over sins long ago confessed and nailed to the cross of Jesus; and (2) False guilt over things for which we bear no responsibility. These are giants to be confronted and conquered by the power of the blood of Christ.
  • The giant of temptation. Too many times during my ministry, I’ve seen how the giant of temptation can, in only a few moments, tear down a reputation that it’s taken a lifetime to build. We have to learn to consistently and constantly resist this enemy. He has no power over us unless we yield to his demands.
And there are many others. Goliath has a lot of kid brothers who taunt us – the giants of anger, resentment, doubt, procrastination, failure and jealousy. Are any of these enemies in your personal Valley of Elah right now?

We’re living in the Land of the Giants. We’re on tough terrain. Like most giants, Goliath was a bully who thought he was invincible, but whose demise was inevitable. He thought he was facing a shepherd boy, but he was really nose-to-nose with that shepherd boy’s Almighty God.

And if God is for us, who can be against us? That’s why it’s time to stop comparing ourselves with the giants, and start comparing the giants with God.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is the founder and host of “Turning Point for God” and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California. For more information on Turning Point, visit www.DavidJeremiah.org.)
3/28/2013 5:01:37 PM by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The gospel & culture engagement

March 27 2013 by James A. Smith Sr., Baptist Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It would be easy to assume a posture of resignation to the seemingly unstoppable cultural slide against biblical standards of morality. Especially on the issue of homosexuality, those who contend for biblical morality in our society are increasingly in a defensive position. More public policy losses than wins pile up, while the near universal affirmation of homosexuality from virtually all segments of societal opinion makers is clearly moving public opinion.

Indeed, it’s enough to cause some to retreat from engaging the cultural debate, believing there’s little likely return on such an investment.

Whether or not evangelicals ever have been in the moral majority (or even retain strong influences in some places), it has always been true that ultimate success will not be won or lost at the ballot box, through legislative bodies and in the courts of our land – and no serious evangelical cultural warrior should think otherwise. Spiritual transformation of individuals is necessary ultimately, and such transformation in critical mass may result in cultural reformation.

Still, it remains true that seeking spiritual transformation of individuals is not unrelated to cultural engagement of society – and the two need not be seen as mutually exclusive, even contradictory endeavors. If you think otherwise, consider Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, a one-time leading lesbian political activist and atheist scholar at a major university who, although an “unlikely convert” to Christianity, nevertheless became just that – after a pastor reached out to her.

Butterfield published last year an autobiographical account of her conversion, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. Eloquently – and at times provocatively – written the book is an incredible story of God’s grace. “And such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11) is the testimony of all who experience God’s grace, but some testimonies are strikingly so. This is one.

More than just a story of her own spiritual journey, Butterfield offers an important critique of the Christian bubble that too often shields evangelicals from engaging with those with whom we disagree – and, therefore, limiting our opportunities to see Christ’s transformative work as demonstrated in her life.

Butterfield’s path to Christian conversion started with a simple letter from a Presbyterian pastor who responded to an op-ed she wrote critiquing Promise Keepers. Pastor Ken Smith challenged Butterfield to consider her presuppositions and offered to discuss the issues with her.

As a radical feminist and vocal lesbian who could be readily assumed to be intractably opposed to a Christian viewpoint, especially from a pastor, it would have been easy for Smith to shake his head at Butterfield’s liberal opinion piece, resigned that engaging her would be fruitless, and move on to more seemingly promising ministry opportunities of that day. Because he chose the opposite path, Butterfield is a trophy of God’s grace advancing the gospel in ways few can.

Smith’s letter was so disarming Butterfield didn’t know what to do with the correspondence. It certainly wasn’t fan mail, but neither was it hate mail, both of which she collected in two boxes on her desk.

“I didn’t really know how to respond to Ken’s letter, but I found myself reading and re-reading it,” she wrote. “I didn’t know which box to file this letter in, and so it sat on my desk and haunted me.”

After throwing away the letter several times only to retrieve it again and again from the recycling bin, Butterfield responded to Smith’s offer to dialogue, resulting in at first a telephone conversation and then an accepted dinner invitation to the pastor’s home.

“Ken and Floy [the pastor’s wife] did something at the meal that has a long Christian history but has been functionally lost in too many Christian homes,” Butterfield wrote. “Ken and Floy invited the stranger in – not to scapegoat me, but to listen and to learn and to dialogue.”

And the sincerity of Smith’s faith greatly impacted Butterfield.

“The most memorable part of this meal was Ken’s prayer before the meal,” she writes. “I had never heard anyone pray to God as if God cared, as if God listened, and as if God answered. It was not a pretentious prayer uttered for the heathen at the table to overhear. (I have heard a few of those at gay pride marches or in front of Planned Parenthood clinics.) It was a private and honest utterance, and I felt as though I was treading on something real, something sincere, something important, and something transparent but illegible to me. Ken made himself vulnerable to me in his prayer by humbling himself before this ‘God’ of his, and I took note of that.”

After about two years of ongoing conversation and growing friendship with the Smiths, Butterfield confessed faith in Christ, completely overturning her life, personally, and especially professionally as the most popular teacher in gay and lesbian studies at her university.

“My journey out of lesbianism was messy and difficult. I spent a lot of time in prayer – and still do,” she writes.

Butterfield has strong words for Christians who counsel acceptance of homosexuality, like a Methodist pastor and dean of the chapel at Syracuse University who advised her she “didn’t have to give up everything to honor God.”

“I’m grateful that when I heard the Lord’s call on my life, and I wanted to hedge my bets, keep my girlfriend and add a little God to my life, I had a pastor and friends in the Lord who asked nothing less of me than that I die to myself. Biblical orthodoxy can offer real compassion, because in our struggle against sin, we cannot undermine God’s power to change lives,” Butterfield writes.

Butterfield experienced great trauma in leaving lesbianism, feeling like a traitor to the homosexuality community. But she has also experienced rejection by God’s family. Butterfield recounts a story of how her lesbian past was so upsetting to some fellow Christians she was advised it would be better if she kept it to herself.

“An elder’s wife, someone I valued as a friend, asked me what I would do if a homosexual entered our worship service. I quickly shared with her my testimony, apologizing that I hadn’t done so earlier. I gave her a chapter of the book that you are holding in your hand and I asked her to read it and to let me know what she thought of all of this. A week later, she came to talk. She took a deep breath. All the color drained from her face. She looked like she had just witnessed a crime scene. Manifesting disgust and horror, she told me that she wished that I hadn’t shared this with her. She quickly added, ‘Oh, I’m fine with this information, but B (the other elder’s wife) could never handle it. Do you have to tell people about this?’ This. Rosaria’s unmentionable past. Rahab the Harlot. Mary Magdalene. We love these women between the pages of our Bible, but we don’t want to sit at the Lord’s Table with them – with people like me – drinking from a common cup. That’s the real ringer: the common cup – that is, our common origin in depravity. We are only righteous in Christ and in Him alone. But that’s a hard pill to swallow, especially if you give yourself kudos for good choices.”

We have no hope of greater cultural engagement if some of us can’t even countenance open acceptance of those who have actually turned from immorality to follow Jesus.

This month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases related to gay marriage whose outcomes could very well change dramatically the legal status of this matter. The cases may also encourage even greater societal approval of that which the Bible unalterably condemns as immoral.

Whatever the outcome of these cases and whatever the results of innumerable other public policy and cultural contests about homosexuality, the Christian mission remains the same (even if religious liberty may suffer as a result of the Supreme Court’s rulings). The gospel still must be preached in a winsome, engaging way, even to those who are seemingly unlikely converts to the message.

Only God knows how many other Rosaria Champagne Butterfields are awaiting such a gospel engagement.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column first appeared at the Florida Baptist Witness where James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor.)

3/27/2013 3:41:05 PM by James A. Smith Sr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments



5 money mistakes that lead to debt

March 27 2013 by Chuck Bentley, Baptist Press

AINESVILLE, Ga. – Here are five common money mistakes that can quickly lead to debt. Avoid them at all costs.

1. Allowing a get-rich-quick mentality. Symptoms of a get-rich-quick mentality are evident in many of the investment schemes in the world today. Unfortunately, many Christians find themselves caught in the get-rich-quick trap before they realize what is actually happening.

Speculating on the future not only is a practice in surety, which is warned against in the Bible, but also is presumptuous, because no one can rightly predict what will happen in the country’s financial markets over the next hour, much less the next few months or years. Borrowing money in order to speculate on the future is both unwise and dangerous, placing the borrower in a position of potentially losing everything if the economy turns downward.

Another danger concerning get-rich-quick schemes is that often investors know nothing or very little about the product, service, idea, system or organization in which they are being solicited to invest. Christians are particularly vulnerable to being tricked by get-rich-quick schemes, because they tend to trust people who call themselves Christian, especially if they claim to have a special revelation or direction from God. Stay with what you know and do not invest until you have completely and thoroughly investigated the product, program or company. In addition, no decision should be made hastily. Always wait until you understand the proposed opportunity, seek outside counsel and earnestly pray before making any investment decision.

2. Ignoring the advisor that God has provided. It is very dangerous for a husband or a wife to ignore the primary advisor that God has given them – their spouse. When there is a relationship as close as a husband and wife relationship, there will be problems. Since opposites tend to attract, they may not agree on a number of things and issues. That’s OK as long as they communicate and try to reach a reasonable compromise. God’s Word is very specific when it comes to husband and wife relationships. God created the husband and wife to function as a single working unit, each with different but essential abilities. Without the balance that each can bring to a marriage, great errors in judgment will most likely be made.

3. Buying a home you cannot afford. Nearly every family in America dreams of owning their own home. However, many times they try to buy a home too soon after marriage or pay too much for a home and end up in financial trouble. These families often don’t realize that owning the home created their financial problems because it took too large a portion of their spendable income. Because of this, inadvisable home purchases are the number one expense that leads to unmanageable debt.

The percentage of an average family’s budget that should be spent on a house payment is no more than 25 percent of net spendable income (after tithes and taxes). Add to the mortgage payment the cost of property taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance, repairs and telephone, and the percentage climbs to about 38 percent. Unfortunately many couples commit 60 percent or more of their budgets to housing and cannot handle that cost.

Too often, the biggest mistake is stretching to buy a house based upon two incomes. If a family can afford to purchase a home within their budget (budget should be based on the one income only, not on the combined incomes of husband and wife), that will protect the majority of families from future stress and perpetual debt.

4. Buying a car based on monthly payments instead of overall cost. Another common expense that leads to debt is the purchase of a new car. Quite often couples who cannot qualify to buy a home buy a new car as a compromise. This is a major debt trap for couples, especially those who have a tendency to overspend, because they are generally not concerned with the overall price of the car, just the amount of the monthly payments.

New car depreciation is another important factor when considering taking on a sizeable auto loan. Should a family’s financial circumstances change, trying to sell an almost new car to relieve debt will be difficult. Most families owe more on a car that is one year old than its actual value, a condition often called being “upside down.” Whether a family buys new or used, the ultimate goal should be to save enough to pay cash for the vehicle. To do this, a family must continue to set aside all or part of their car payments after an auto loan is paid off, building up savings to be used as a down payment on the next car. If this practice is followed faithfully, eventually it will be possible to purchase a car without financing.

5. Failing to schedule “disasters.” In order to plan a financial disaster, all a family has to do is fail to plan for predictable expenses that haven’t come due yet, such as automobile maintenance, emergency home repairs or personal injuries. Failure to plan for these is a major reason many families end up in unmanageable debt. When expenses occur they must be paid, so the only alternative available is often a credit card.

Why do people fail to anticipate inevitable expenses? Generally when they try to work them into their budget they don’t fit, so they simply ignore them until a crisis occurs. To do otherwise would require adjustments in the other areas of spending, such as housing, automobile expenses or recreation. The credit card debt invariably grows in order to absorb these non-budgeted but predictable expenses.

My concluding advice is spot financial issues before they become giant problems by having and maintaining a written financial plan, including a budget. This will help avoid debt. Even if you are currently in debt or struggling from financial problems, Crown can help. Give us a call or visit our website. I recommend you take our free MoneyLife® Indicator assessment, available on the site, for a clear picture of nine specific issues related to your current financial health.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries. His latest book, The S.A.L.T. Plan, How to Prepare for an Economic Crisis of Biblical Proportions, is available now. To sign up for Chuck’s free weekly e-newsletter, “Handwriting on the Wall,” visit Crown.org/handwriting or call 1-800-722-1976.”)
3/27/2013 3:33:03 PM by Chuck Bentley, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



They that worship God

March 26 2013 by Ned Mathews, Guest Column

Many are they who think it unnecessary to enquire as to the nature of worship. To them, it is like asking, “What is the purpose of breathing?” In the practice of worship, clarity seems rare and confusion widespread.
 
Some, however, are interested in reforming it according to the principles of sound theology. Matt Papa is one of them. In a blog article, posted Feb. 14, 2012, Papa, a worship leader at The Summit Church, asserts that mainstream Christian radio, which, for some listeners, shapes their understanding of church music, “is not giving people God, but a safe, condensed, and feminine view of God.” The result, he affirms, is lyrics that are theologically invalid. He concludes his post with examples of the same.
 
It is from scripture, not culture, modern or ancient, that we discover what worship is to be. It is an awesome encounter with holy God (Isaiah 6) that must always be offered “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). William Temple clearly understood this. He wrote, “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose – all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.”
 
Temple’s definition is helpful precisely because it is so rich in theological essence. He asserts that God is the center of worship. It is about Him, not about the worshipper’s felt needs or desires however they may be expressed or sung. It is about God’s holiness, His beauty, His love, His purpose. Worship that is thus focused on God changes the worshipper’s life because God is magnified in his or her soul.
 
Jesus made it clear to the woman at the well that genuine worship happens when God shows up (John 4:23). The followers of Baal also discovered the same thing at Mount Carmel. Only the God of Elijah showed up that day (1 Kings 18:29, 38-39). This suggests that while we may sometimes be casually interested in worship, God is not at all indifferent about how we go about it. Indeed, he will accept worship from us only if it is offered in the right way. The prophet Jeremiah confirmed this. He proclaimed that God was proactive in inviting His people to “call” unto him that He might “show [them] great and mighty things” that they [did] not [and apart from Him, could not] “know” (Jeremiah 33:3). But God is not only proactive in seeking true worshippers He is also reactive in disapproving that which is wrongly offered. From this we learn that some of our expressions of worship, which we may deem appropriate, are simply not acceptable to Him. This may come as a shock to some for they write of trying new experiential ways of worship and “styles of worship” that they consider appealing to the masses. But in a worship service, who is to be served, God or the masses?
 
Consulting God in prayer on how to design meaningful worship services is helpful but not without following that up with a study of the many passages about worship, which are furnished by the Bible. For example, according to scripture, God is quite discerning about what we offer Him in worship. Paul concurs with this as he informs Roman believers that there is an acceptable or suitable way of worshiping God. Accordingly, worship that is shaped in conformity with worldly standards, no matter how acceptable or pleasing that may be to us, is simply not “reasonable” or “logical,” given God’s self-revelation (Romans 12:1-2).
 
Furthermore, the Lord’s reaction to some of the expressions or styles of worship that are offered in His name has long been known to students of the Bible. Indeed, according to Malachi, God actually despised some of the expressions of worship that were being offered in His day (1:10). 
 
Today, there is still confusion about how to approach God in worship. While our ways of worship may have become routine, even in times of traditional expression, worship is not a performance to be followed by applause. It is and always has been, when genuine, an awesome encounter with Holy God. It is for His pleasure not for our entertainment. Consider Isaiah’s experience in this matter (6:1-13). There was not one thing in his encounter with God that was entertaining or fun for him. Instead, he thought he was undone or ruined by it (6:5). In true worship, one’s self is to recede while God himself fills the focal screen of one’s consciousness (6:1). Moreover, we discover in scripture that worship is to be interactive, that is, it is to be a reciprocal encounter with God, a divine/human “fellowship” (1 John 1:3). It is a refreshing communion between the redeemed and the Redeemer. This interactivity is both vertical and horizontal. It is vertical when the fellowship is between the Lord and us, and horizontal when between worshippers as they interact with God’s presence among them. This is perhaps best expressed through music. Thus, the songbook inspired by God, the book of Psalms, guides us. Music has always been a medium by which worshippers may fellowship with God and with one another in meaningful ways.
 
But the music used by the church must first pass the test of theological authenticity. It must be notes and lyrics shaped by sound doctrine, not by romanticism and touchy-feely emotions. In Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:17-18, we find admonitions from Paul on the proper use of music in worship. In both places, he encourages believers to interact with one another by the use of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” apparently as a means of having fellowship with God by “making melody to the Lord with all [their] heart” (Ephesians 5:19). The only reference that is specific to doctrine in this passage is implied in Paul’s admonition to sing the Psalms. The Psalter is clearly theological in content. However, in the parallel passage the matter is settled with the words, “Let the word of Christ dwell in your hearts richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16). After all, “they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Let’s do it.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ned Mathews is emeritus professor of pastoral ministries at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and pastor emeritus of Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia.)
3/26/2013 3:49:34 PM by Ned Mathews, Guest Column | with 0 comments



Who’s ‘anti-science’? The pro-choicers

March 26 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – Many in the media tend to characterize conservative Christians as anti-science. But when it comes to the issue of abortion, it would seem that those who truly reject science are many of those same media members – and their ideological allies – who affirm abortion-on-demand.

Let me explain.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty legal group based in Arizona, filed a lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University (EMU) on behalf of a student group that was denied university funding for an exhibit that compares abortion to other historically recognized forms of genocide, according to a report on the Detroit Free Press website.

“The lawsuit says that the student government should have allocated the roughly $5,000 that Students for Life had requested in February to sponsor the Genocide Awareness Project. The project uses large displays to compare abortion to the Nazis’ mass killing of Jews, the lynching of African Americans, and genocide in Cambodia,” reported the Free Press.

According to the Free Press report, the Genocide Awareness Project travels the country and visits universities. It is sponsored by the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, a pro-life organization based in California. The lawsuit alleges EMU violated the constitutional rights of Students for Life because the distribution of student fees for campus events is to be politically neutral.

“Asked by Students for Life why the money was denied, a member of the board of student government said in an e-mail: ‘The images you want to display are very controversial ... a little biased,’ according to the lawsuit,” reported the Free Press. “The e-mail said that student senators ‘would prefer to fund something that brings awareness to both sides of the issue.’“

From a purely scientific standpoint, there is nothing controversial about pregnancy. Science has firmly established that during pregnancy a living human being develops in the mother’s womb.

Abortion, no matter how it is carried out, is quite simply ending the life of a preborn baby prematurely.

When an abortion is performed on a preborn baby in its early stages of development, the procedure tends to be more clinical. However, when abortion occurs in the latter stages of pregnancy, it is brutal and gruesome.

The only element that is controversial about abortion – the only “other side of the issue” if you will – is whether or not a woman should be allowed to terminate her preborn child’s life and at what stage of development.

Current federal law stipulates abortion is legal during any stage of a preborn baby’s development and that no reason is needed for a woman to abort her preborn child.

Federal law does, however, allow abortion to be restricted by individual states to varying degrees. As a result, some states have passed laws to require parental notification for minors and mandate the disclosure of abortion-risk information to patients prior to the procedure.

Abortion proponents may not like the comparison of abortion to historical instances of genocide. However, considering that in the United States alone approximately 55 million preborn babies have had their lives terminated in their mothers’ wombs over the past 40 years, the comparison is legitimate.

Science has so well established that the preborn baby in the womb is a living human being that most pro-choice activists have conceded the point. Today, those who advocate for legal abortion want to debate when the child in the womb actually can be said to have achieved “personhood.” They talk solely about “choice,” not wanting to mention that the choice involves a living human being in the womb.

The argument about personhood is scientific. However, since the abortion proponents have lost the science argument, they are now advocating an existential one.

The development of medical technology, such as ultrasound, has enabled the scientific method to be applied to the fetus during pregnancy. As a result, science has confirmed and validated the presence of a preborn human being in the womb.

Though the media continues to paint Christian conservatives as anti-science, it is clear that when it comes to abortion, they and their ideological allies are the only ones who stand firmly on the side of science. Science has proven that abortion is the killing of a preborn human.

(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.)
3/26/2013 3:47:52 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The Supreme Court & gay marriage (part 2)

March 25 2013 by Richard Land, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – On Tuesday and Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on two cases involving same-sex marriage issues which will have far-reaching repercussions for both the Supreme Court and American society.

As I explained in [the last] column, on Tuesday the court will hear arguments on California’s Proposition 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry), and the next day (Wednesday) the court will review sections of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor. These are two very different cases and are best analyzed separately. Yesterday’s column dealt with Hollingsworth v. Perry, and today we turn our attention to United States v. Windsor.

Whereas the Proposition 8 case deals with the issue of whether the people of California’s amendment to their state constitution defining marriage as being only between one man and one woman violates the U.S. Constitution, in United States v. Windsor the Supreme Court is seeking to adjudicate Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This bill passed Congress with an overwhelming bipartisan majority in 1996 and defines marriage as only between a man and a woman concerning eligibility or applicability of more than 1,000 federal laws, benefits and programs that apply to marriage. The most well-known section of DOMA, which allows states not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, is not under challenge in the court in this case.

United States v. Windsor concerns Edith Windsor, who married Thea Spyer in 2007 in Canada. When Ms. Spyer died in 2009 and Ms. Windsor inherited her property, DOMA precluded Ms. Winsor from being treated as a surviving spouse by the Internal Revenue Service. Consequently, she faced a tax bill of approximately $360,000 that would not have been due had the marriage been a heterosexual union. Ms. Winsor sued in federal court and won at the district and appellate level. Now, the Supreme Court has taken up the case on appeal from the appellate court.

Why did the Supreme Court agree to hear these two cases? What will their decisions be? Will the Court risk provoking the wrath of a sizable percentage of the public by seeking to take the marriage issue away from the people of the various states and imposing its definition of marriage on all 50 states? Will the court further use the occasion to mandate that federal benefits accorded to heterosexual marriage must now all be applied to same-sex marriages performed in the states that legalize it?

Many people have damaged their reputations and some have depleted their bank accounts trying to predict or bet on what a particular Supreme Court will do concerning any given decision. Remember the Supreme Court’s unpredictable and surprising decision on the constitutionality of Obamacare?

Having acknowledged that the court is always notoriously unpredictable, I am prepared to take the plunge and make a prediction. Given Chief Justice Robert’s aversion to judicial activism, shared by a crucial number of his fellow justices, I believe the Supreme Court will take the path of least judicial activism and most judicial restraint. I believe they will uphold the more that 200-year-old judicial tradition of letting the states regulate and define marriage within their borders and will uphold the people of California’s ban on same-sex marriage. They have heard Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s concerns about Roe v. Wade and do not want to be the cause of such social and political division on the issue of marriage. Further, they do not want the court and its role to become the issue.

However, I believe they will, at the same time, take the opportunity of the United States v. Windsor case to decide that when a state has recognized same-sex marriage as legal within that state, such marriages should be treated the same as heterosexual marriage under federal law for the purposes of applicability of federal marriage benefits. I believe this is precisely why they took the United States v. Windsor case at the same time they decided to take up Hollingsworth v. Perry.

I believe they are going to seek to thread the needle and split the difference. Such decision making by the Supreme Court would leave the issue of defining marriage within the borders of each state (such as California), but at the same time declaring that if a state (such as New York) defines same-sex marriage as marriage, the federal government (including the IRS) would defer to each particular state’s definition of marriage when determining eligibility for benefits.

The end result would be that the Supreme Court would allow the same-sex marriage issue to continue to play out in the ebb and flow of the political process in the various states and keep the issue of marriage a “state” issue.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)


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3/25/2013 3:41:43 PM by Richard Land, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The Supreme Court & gay marriage

March 22 2013 by Richard Land, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Next week the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on same-sex marriage, a high-stakes moment for both American society and for the court itself. On Tuesday the Court will hear arguments on California’s Proposition 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry) case. The next day, the Court will review the federal Defense of Marriage Act in U.S. v. Windsor.

Just like in Roe v. Wade, a case widely discredited by legal scholars as poor law and credited by conservatives as the spark that ignited Christian activism, the court has a massive challenge ahead of it – threading the needle between state’s rights and the press of coastal public opinion.

I’ll address Hollingsworth v. Perry here and U.S. v. Windsor later.

The California case has the potential for far-flung reverberations in all 50 states. In the Proposition 8 case, the court will decide whether to overturn a lower federal court’s renunciation of Proposition 8, in which the voters of California voted to amend their state constitution to define marriage as only between one man and one woman. The presiding judge, the since retired Vaughn R. Walker, declared that “excluding same-sex couples from marriage is simply not rationally related to a legitimate state interest.”

The Obama administration has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Proposition 8 case calling for same-sex marriage to be declared legal, arguing that it is a civil rights case. The general counsel for Proposition 8 supporters, Andrew P. Pugno, responded to the Obama Administration’s brief:

“By arguing that Proposition 8 is rooted only in irrational prejudice, the President has impugned the motives of millions of Californians, turned his back on society’s longstanding interest in both mothers and fathers raising the next generation, and disregarded the rights of each state to decide for itself whether to redefine marriage.”

The Supreme Court is basically faced with three choices.

First, the Court could overturn Walker’s decision and validate the right of the people of California to define and regulate marriage in their state. This would be in line with 224 years of American federal jurisprudence which has left marriage to be regulated by each state.

Second, they could uphold Walker’s decision which would legalize same-sex marriage in California alone. Currently, nine states (and the District of Columbia) have legalized same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Washington and Vermont.

Third, the Supreme Court could take the occasion of this case to invalidate the prohibition against same-sex marriage in the more than 30 states [that] have voted in favor of such prohibitions, the most recent being North Carolina.

If the Supreme Court were to take this third option and use the Proposition 8 case to declare same-sex marriage the law of the land in all 50 states, it would create a firestorm similar to its overreach in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which struck down the abortion laws in all 50 states in one fell swoop. Even Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, perhaps the most liberal Supreme Court justice ever, has argued that the Supreme Court, acting as it did in Roe v. Wade, attempted to take an extremely contentious and divisive issue (abortion) out of the public discourse and caused an extreme backlash which made the abortion issue much more contentious and divisive than it otherwise would have been over the last four decades.

If the Court were to make a similarly sweeping and divisive decision on gay marriage and seek to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on a deeply divided country, it would create a similarly tremendous backlash. Same-sex marriage would immediately return to the boiling point in American politics, and the Supreme Court would become similarly controversial in ways it currently seems to abhor.

Make no mistake, the nation is as deeply divided on same-sex marriage as it was on abortion in 1973, if not more so. Gallup polling data reveals that the country as a whole has shifted to some degree on the issue (49 percent to 40 percent currently favor same-sex marriage). However, Pew polling data reveals that opinion varies widely across the country with a majority favoring same-sex marriage on the Pacific coast, in New England, and in the Mid-Atlantic states. The same polling data reveals a majority opposition in the South, and opinion evenly divided in the Midwest and South Atlantic.

These figures are a recipe for the same volatile backlash Roe produced and has caused 19 state attorneys general to urge the Court not to “Stultify democratic principles by declaring a winner of the marriage debate.”

One would hope the Supreme Court would heed the lessons of history and make a narrow ruling on California and California alone and not repeat the mistake of Roe and further divide and inflame the country on the deeply divisive issue of same-sex marriage. The better part of judicial wisdom would be to follow the precedent of the last 224 years and leave the issue of marriage to the various states.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)


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3/22/2013 1:54:38 PM by Richard Land, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Homosexuality & humanity

March 22 2013 by Owen Strachan, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – One of the most common ideas on offer in the cultural discussion of homosexuality is this: “humanity.” As in something like, “Senator Rob Portman now affirms same-sex marriage because he has seen the humanity of his son.”

The implication of this statement, at least by some, is that considering homosexuality a sin per Romans 1 and Leviticus 19 (among other biblical texts) is inhumane. If you hold that position – some say – you are seeing a homosexual person as an abstraction, not a fellow human. What you and I need to do, they say, is to give up on the ideology that dehumanizes people and embrace them in all their humanity, their interests, their predilections, their desires.

Of course, it is true that people who recognize the moral will of God – and more broadly, the existence of absolute truth grounded in the Lord – can view others as abstractions. In fact, everyone on all sides of the culture is guilty on this charge. We find it easy because of our sin to stereotype others and to pre-judge them, by which I essentially mean that we find it easy to dislike people not like us.

Jesus provides a better example for us than we sometimes imagine. He is kind in surprising ways and treats his interlocutors with dignity. Yet we note that this never involves Him excusing or overlooking sin. Think of the woman by the well, who is living in sexual sin (John 4). He speaks with her, which shows remarkable kindness (and contravention of societal codes). He cares for her soul. But He also calls out her sin. He shows her ultimate kindness, in fact, by doing so. To leave her in her pattern of disobedience would be the unkindest act of all.

So when we see Jesus and other biblical figures calling fellow human beings to repentance, we should not view them unkindly. We should see their gospel witness as the height of love.

We become more, not less, human when we are converted to Christ. We are not functioning as we were made when we live in unbelief. It’s only when we are transformed by the gospel of grace that we are able to live as we were meant to live. Holiness, not sin, is true life.

This is directly antithetical to our culture’s doctrine of humanity, which teaches that to be human, to be happy, is to be as we are, and to “discover” our true humanity over the course of our life. What does this mean? Well, according to our culture, if you find out you’d actually be most happy as a single person despite multiple kids who depend on you, get divorced. If you want to gratify your sexual lusts, do so. That’s “honest.” “Authentic.” And to be honest and authentic is to be “saved” or whole in a naturalistic sense.

The Bible offers us the opposite perspective. Many of our desires must be reordered to know the Lord and to flourish, and even those that function rightly must be rewired to the circuit board of God’s glory. It is in this process of renewal that begins with conversion and continues over a lifetime of sanctification that we become what we were made to be: God-worshipping beings, those being changed into the image of Christ. This is what true life looks like, not hedonism and selfish gratification and losing ourselves in whatever sinful pursuit we like.

So Christians, in opposing same-sex marriage and tirelessly advocating for marriage (especially when connected with the gospel), are not treating others inhumanely. We are showing kindness to fellow sinners. We should feel immense compassion for all who are trapped in unrighteousness. But in experiencing this emotion, we do not norm the Bible by their example. Instead, we point them to God’s design, which is always wise, always for our best, and motivated by divine love. To affirm sin is to diminish humanity. To affirm righteousness and advocate for it in a spirit of winsome courage is to restore humanity.

Believers cannot support homosexuality as a God-glorifying way to live. We recognize humanity most in other people when we see how sin has trapped them, feel empathy for them, and call them to the obedience of faith. This, and no other, is love; this, and nothing else, is compassionate.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Owen Strachan is Assistant Professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College. This column first appeared at Patheos.com.)
3/22/2013 1:50:56 PM by Owen Strachan, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



A weekly 30-second celebration at your church

March 21 2013 by Diana Davis, Baptist Press

INDIANAPOLIS – I’ve noticed an interesting common denominator in vibrant, growing churches: They always seem to be celebrating something God’s doing there. Your church can do that. Use these two simple steps to add a mini-celebration during weekly church announcements.

Step One: Be vigilantly observant to see what God’s doing in His church. He is at work! Keep an ongoing list, and select at least one current praise to mention each Sunday.

Step Two: Plan the best way to tell everyone what God is doing. Use varying methods to praise Him for that specific blessing during Sunday worship’s announcements. Here are some ideas and examples, each requiring less than 30 seconds:
  • Show it. “The Fire Department sent this thank-you note for our church’s prayer and the Fireman’s Bibles we gave them.”
  • Numbers. Create giant numbers, and use them to announce camp enrollment, baptism numbers, cans of food collected, etc.
  • Tour instructions. “After worship, follow the yellow arrows to see our remodeled nursery!”
  • Assignment. “God’s blessing our new singles class! They are distributing invitation cards for you to give to a single adult you know.”
  • Tradition. Play four musical bars of “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” then announce “God’s newest blessing at our church – Ian Key, born to Hal and Jan on Monday.”
  • Reminder. “We exceeded our Annie Armstrong offering goal! Take the bookmark in your chair to remind you to pray for our North American Mission Board missionaries.”
  • PowerPoint slide. Add praises into pre- and post-service audiovisuals. “73 stopped here to pray on National Day of Prayer!”
  • Facebook. “Ann, who is being baptized today, wrote her testimony as a Facebook post! Share it on your page today!”
  • Wall graphic. After every baptism, our pastor refers to the wall visual tallying God’s blessing of new believers.
  • Applause. “God has answered our church’s prayers for new small group leaders. Let’s all applaud Him for His blessing!”
  • Raise hands. “Our men’s Bible class is the fastest-growing in the church. If you’re in that class, raise your hand.”
  • Certificates. “Everyone on the front row has completed our Discipleship 101 class! Each received a beautiful certificate like this one.”
  • Visible results. “Our youth garage sale raised $800 to buy these 40 Bibles and 100 witness bracelets for their Mexico mission trip!”
  • Stand up. “Our 5th grade Bible class set a record attendance of __! Stand up, 5th graders!”
  • Photo. Use supersized or PowerPoint photo. “Here’s the property our church plant, Soma Church, has purchased!”
  • Ask for action. “Let’s use our vehicles as mobile church invitations! Take a church window sticker. Volunteers in the parking lot can help you with installation.”
God is at work in His church. Will you be constantly on watch, and use praise announcements during worship to intentionally, joyfully celebrate what He’s doing?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Davis is author of “Fresh Ideas” and “Deacon Wives” (B&H Publishing). She is an author, columnist and wife of North American Mission Board’s vice president for the south region, Steve Davis.)
3/21/2013 2:01:43 PM by Diana Davis, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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