March 2013

Extramarital sex has consequences far beyond ‘the morning after’

March 21 2013 by Thomas White, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – It’s plain and simple human nature – if it hurts us, then we stop doing it.

I remember as a little boy placing my hand firmly on top of a hot stove. I quickly removed it. You didn’t have to tell me twice. It hurt.

The problem comes when an action has long-term negative consequences but brings short-term pleasure. We no longer act rationally. No one starts drinking with the intention of becoming an alcoholic. No one starts gambling thinking, “I will become addicted, lose all my money and not be able to pay my bills.”

Think about extramarital sex. In the olden days, it came with the consequences of pregnancy. But through technology and feminist activism that helped fuel the sexual revolution, we have removed the consequences – or at least we think we have. Clinics provide abortions all across the nation while public schools distribute the morning after pill.

But we haven’t told our kids about all the consequences – emotion and physical. Abortions leave one dead and one wounded. Extramarital sex (and pornography) leaves emotional scars that affect intimacy in marriage for years to come. Men begin to view women as an object for pleasure rather than a partner for life, and once the pleasure ceases, those men throw them away like an old pair of tennis shoes.

But consequences exist, and they go beyond the emotional, too. A Feb. 13 story on NBCNews.com demonstrates the rise of STDs: 20 million new incidents of infection arose in 2008 for a total of 110 million infections in the United States, according to the CDC. These STDs costs the U.S. nearly $16 billion in estimated direct medical costs.

So what is the secular solution? Matthew Golden, the director of Public Health Seattle and King County HIV/STD Program and a professor of medicine at the University of Washington Center for AIDS and STD, wants to remove the consequence instead of addressing the root problem.

Golden said, “We have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by not pursuing effective strategies, such as school-based universal access to the HPV vaccine.”

Let’s be honest. If we did it God’s way, which means waiting to have sex until you are married and then staying married to one person, you would have only one sexual partner with no prior experience for your entire life. Guess what? No more STDs.

I’m glad I work with people like Richard Ross, who 20 years ago started a movement to inform people about the negative consequences and to call them to a higher standard. The movement known as “True Love Waits” has impacted millions with a challenge to do it God’s way. A couple of weeks ago, Ross preached at the same church where, two decades earlier, he launched “True Love Waits.”

The Bible says in Galatians 6:7-8, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

No amount of technology, pills, procedures, or anything else will remove the consequences forever. One day we all will stand before our heavenly Father and give account for our actions. It’s time we realize that God intended for it to hurt when I placed my hand on a hot stove, and God intends consequences when we violate His commands.

Consequences exist for our own good – an earthly reminder of eternal significance.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Thomas White is vice president for student services and communications at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This column first appeared at thomaswhite.wordpress.com and was later re-posted at TheologicalMatters.com.)
3/21/2013 1:56:54 PM by Thomas White, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Dying by a bullet ... would have been easier’

March 20 2013 by Joseph Rose, Baptist Press

AMMAN, Jordan – “I’m scared that if I go into the kitchen, I’ll grab a knife and kill myself.”

Khalid* spoke many times of suicide during the 90 minutes I spent with him. His story, like those of many other refugees who have fled the ongoing civil war in Syria, is one of deep loss and desperation.

One of his children, a 2-year-old twin son, was killed in January when high winds knocked down the family’s tent in the refugee camp in Jordan where they were staying. A tent pole penetrated the boy’s chest in the middle of the night.
03-20-13gcsyria.jpg

Photo by Jedediah Smith
Khalid (name changed), a 26-year-old father, stands outside his rented house in Jordan. The Syrian family of four shares the home with several other families. They left a nearby refugee camp after one of their youngest sons was killed from injuries he sustained there in January.  


Friends sneaked the child’s body back into Syria in a water cooler so he could be buried beside his grandmother on a hillside near the border.

“Dying by a bullet or a bomb would have been easier,” the 26-year-old father said during our recent conversation. “We came from Syria to protect our women and children, to give them a chance to live. And there’s nothing here. No food. No water. ... It’s cold. It’s wet. ... There’s nothing. ... Nobody listens to us. Nobody cares. ... We don’t have anyone but Allah.”

My heart broke for this young man and his family. I wanted to tell Khalid not to give up. But before I could get the words out, he told me our visit had returned a glimmer of hope to his heart and soul.

My eyes began to fill with tears. I told him I would not forget him, and that I would continue to pray for him and his family.

I pray that this young Syrian refugee family – and the hundreds of thousands like them – will come to be held snugly in the Father’s arms as they gain access to God’s Word and embrace Christ, their eternal hope.

*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joseph Rose serves in the Middle East as a photographer and videographer. Donations for human needs efforts like in Syria may be made at www.imb.org under the “Give” tab.)


Related story

As crisis worsens, 4 million in Syria need humanitarian relief




 

3/20/2013 2:59:17 PM by Joseph Rose, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The key to a strong marriage: humble repentance

March 20 2013 by Owen Strachan, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Every marriage is under attack. Marriage is given to humanity by God as, ultimately, an expression and picture of His love for His people. Satan wants to tear this living image down.

There is much to work on in marriage, but it strikes me that there is a single key that unlocks the door to health: humble repentance. As sinners living together under the same roof, husband and wife will annoy one another, hurt one another, and fail to edify one another as they should. Sin and its baggage are not only possible, but inevitable for even the godliest couple. If we pretend otherwise, if we act as if we can bat 1.000 all the time, if we plaster smiles on our faces and project the image of perfection, then we lie to ourselves and to others.

Most significantly, we lie to God, who knows the depth of our fallenness, and who is justly offended by our sin.

The single most important key to a strong marriage, it seems to me, is humble repentance. Sin is the fundamental problem of our marriages; humble repentance is the fundamental solution. What does this mean? It means that husbands and wives must train themselves to be experts in the art of saying “I was wrong. I hurt you. I get that. I am so sorry.” What a simple collection of words, but what a punch they pack.

It is surprisingly easy for even loving couples to get out of this habit. You hurt your spouse, and she lets you know as she should, but you don’t apologize. You skate over it. On a regular basis, we arrive at a fork in the road: we can take one path and evade meaningful confession, or we can swallow our pride and take the route of humility. Whether you’re married or not, you know what I’m talking about. Taking the first path guarantees that things will get harder, that sin will calcify. Taking the second brings light into the marriage; the pressure releases, and it’s as if someone opened the blinds in a gloomy house. The light of the Gospel shines again.

Christians are called to be experts in repentance. We may not always feel that way; some of us, relatively young in our marriages, are working on establishing good rhythms, and training ourselves to take the good path. But this is a crucial part of what distinguishes us as a people. We have seen by God’s grace that we are wrong and that God is right. The cross of Christ is a summons to this confession, and the means by which we are made right. But being cleansed by the blood of Jesus does not free us to live as super-people deluded by our infallibility. Instead, the confession of repentance that marks our conversion is the initiation into a lifetime of the same. So believers are not first and foremost practitioners of ritual. We are not primarily people who merely enjoy gathering together. We are students in the school of repentance. This is not theoretical, though; it is by nature intensely practical.

If your marriage has run aground on the iceberg of unconfessed sin, the way off is humble repentance. Husbands are to lead in this discipline. Being the head of the home doesn’t mean that men are untouchable potentates. It means that men are lead repenters. Being the “head” or the leader in biblical Christianity doesn’t mean getting off the hook and doing whatever you want in the most lordly and officious way possible. It means leading in all the hard stuff: sacrifice, humility, change, growth, confession, and yes, repentance.

Wherever your marriage is today, break up the ice by initiating humble repentance. If you’ve gotten locked into patterns of hurting one another and never confessing it, get a babysitter tonight. Go get dinner somewhere. Talk about this. There’s a place for unwinding what has happened, and you’ll need to identify how not to hurt one another going forward. But make sure that your conversation leads ultimately to full-throated, whole-hearted confession of sin. Claim the gospel, practically, afresh in your marriage.

Along these lines, a former pastor of mine and very wise man, Mike Bullmore, once recommended that I have a weekly conversation with my wife to do just this. Some weeks get busy, but I think this has been the single most helpful piece of practical advice Bethany, my sanctification partner, and I have received.

This is needed, by the way, not just by the downcast among us, those who cannot help but wear their pain on their faces. It is needed by high-achieving couples, those who are always smiling, those who seem impervious to normal struggles. Healthy marriages definitely do exist. But we can also paper over our hurts. As a husband, take time this week to ask your wife, without any arguing back, how you can care for her better and not hurt her through sin. Are you two locked in patterns that make you ships in the night – the marriage hums along, things seem fine, but there’s little direct spiritual edification happening?

In truth, all of us are fighting sin together. Every marriage requires hard work. Don’t pretend. Don’t mask sin. Don’t say you’re a sinner but then act, practically, as if you’re not. The most mature among us are not those who seem never to offend God and man, but those who know they are going to sin and who actively hunt their sin down, in part by engaging with their spouse or loved ones.

Christians are not perfect people who can avoid repentance. Through Christ, Christians are called to be experts in repentance. The good news: wherever we find ourselves, we can grow, and change, and light can flood the room.

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Owen Strachan is assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College. This column first appeared at Patheos.com.)
3/20/2013 2:53:58 PM by Owen Strachan, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The media’s desire for Catholics to ‘get with the times’

March 19 2013 by Ed Stetzer, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – The election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pontiff sparked an interesting response from much of the mainstream media in the United States.

There was a great deal of angst, and even shock, that the Catholic Church chose a leader who holds to traditional Catholic beliefs. It appeared many were hoping the church would suddenly choose someone who would move away from all the conservative moral standards Catholics find rooted in their sacred texts, but which seem outlandish to those who have moved on to more progressive thinking.

The yearning of the media during the days leading up to the papal conclave may not have come to fruition, but it helps us consider this moment. You can see the reaction across the channels, but one example may help. For example, take Erin Burnett’s comments on CNN, including this bold statement: “The Church helps the poor and the lonely, and I bet there are a lot of people who might return to the Church if it changed.” Erin is blunt enough to say what many have thought – that if churches would just get with the times, people would return. But is there any evidence to show this to be the case? In short, no.

This desired capitulation to culture is a familiar refrain. As a matter of fact, this is the story of much of mainline Protestantism in the United States. In the desire to engage culture, several mainline Protestant denominations aligned with culture’s values and in a great historic twist of irony, their churches didn’t stop shrinking. They shrunk faster.

Regardless of whether or not you believe you are right, as I assume Erin does, the claim that capitulating to the whims of culture will lead to a renaissance in religion has no statistical basis whatsoever. It seems many in the media were hoping for a liberal mainline Protestant as pope, and shockingly, a Catholic showed up.

Those espousing conservative beliefs considered antiquated by mainstream culture are often the ones experiencing growth. The Great Awakenings even provide historical precedence for this. In previous religious renaissances it was Baptists and Methodists who saw the explosive growth. Today it is the Pentecostals.

The Pentecostals, according to the National Council of Churches, are one of the few denominations actually growing in the United States. The Assemblies of God grew by 3.99 percent from 2011 to 2012, and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World were up 20 percent from 2011 to 2012. Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a progressive mainline denomination and the 10th largest in the nation, saw a drop of 3.42 percent and the United Church of Christ, a small denomination only getting smaller, decreased in membership by 2.02 percent – and this is in one year, not a decade. The math does not look good.

My friends leading several of these growing Pentecostal denominations will assure you they have not changed their beliefs about controversial issues nor have they sought to downplay their practices, which many find odd and outdated at best. Yet, their churches are growing.

Regarding the Catholic Church, although many former Catholics from the northeastern elite have walked away from their faith, many devout Catholics consider these beliefs not something to easily discard in the name of cultural expediency.

Now, obviously, I am not a Catholic. I am not only a Protestant, but a conservative evangelical one at that. However, I do think the breathless reporting of the mainstream media, surprised that Catholics would choose someone with actual Catholic beliefs, actually shows something more about the media – their desire for religion to evolve, and, at the end of the day, a misguided impression that cultural capitulation will lead to more religious believers.

Moving away from your beliefs neither creates converts nor reverts (those who might return, like an Erin Burnett). It simply downplays what you believe and softens your impact on a society that needs you for what you believed and acted upon in the first place.

Needless to say, I disagree with Catholics when it comes to some of their doctrine. But, even as so many keep saying, “if they would just change, I’d come back,” the last thing the Catholic Church needs is to capitulate to the culture of the day because, well, they really aren’t coming back.

Ask the Episcopalians.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ed Stetzer is president of LifeWay Research. This column first appeared at his blog, EdStetzer.com.)
3/19/2013 3:03:34 PM by Ed Stetzer, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



What we talk about when we talk about Rob Bell

March 19 2013 by Trevin Wax, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Rob Bell’s new book came out March 12: What We Talk About When We Talk About God. In line with his previous offerings, it’s a conversational, thought-provoking monologue designed to raise questions and stimulate discussion.

It’s been two years since the release of Love Wins, a book that challenged traditional evangelical conceptions of hell and eternity. Bell has since left the pastorate and embraced a new role as a post-evangelical, spiritual advisor of sorts. He is positioning himself more an artist than theologian, more poet than preacher. That said, his poetry preaches. So what’s the sermon?

The gist of Bell’s new book is that the world is humming with spirituality. Far from being distant and removed, he says, God is present in our lives. We need to be reawakened to Him; we need the eyes to see Him at work. Dogmas and doctrines just get in the way of truly experiencing God. What once helped us now harms us and holds us back. But God is ahead of us, beckoning us forward to the new world that is coming.


Takeaways

Before challenging Bell on a few points, I think it’s good to mention some things that church leaders (especially traditional evangelicals) can take away from his book.


Ability to create memorable pictures

The first has to do with communication skills. Bell is compelling because of the vivid way he describes things.

For example, take a look at this scene where Bell recounts a conversation with a friend going through a divorce:

“He told me about their history together and how it got them to this point and what it’s doing to her and what it’s doing to him and what it’s like for him to go grocery shopping and then go back to his new apartment, all alone.

“Somewhere in our conversation the full force of what he was saying hit me – divorce, the effect on their kids, the image of both of them at some point taking off their wedding rings.”

Note the poetic way Bell puts together the first run-on sentence, letting us feel the misery of an unraveling marriage without pause or breath. Then look at the imagery of the divorce, the picture of two people taking off their rings.

This is just one example of how Bell utilizes language to create mental pictures. I could fill the rest of this review with similar illustrations. And while Bell’s artistic sensibilities aren’t everyone’s cup of tea (I grow weary from watching him weigh down verbs with multiple adverbs), there’s no question he can make a point in a memorable way.


Tapping into spiritual yearnings

A second takeaway is Bell’s ability to capture the sense that spirituality is breaking through the scientific, closed world that undergirds secularism.

There’s a memorable picture from N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian that imagines secularism as a dictatorship that puts down concrete as pavement over “dangerous” springs of water. All goes well, for a time, but the hidden springs eventually bubble up and erupt through the pavement.

In a similar way, Bell is tapping into the spiritual yearning of many people in our post-Christian culture. According to Bell, everyone is a “person of faith,” even the most ardent skeptic. The question is not if we have beliefs but what those beliefs are.

The best part of the book is Bell’s gentle, but firm challenge to those who refuse to believe anything science can’t prove. For centuries, skeptics who challenged the dominant religious dogma related to miracles were seen as open-minded, willing to step into a further stage of enlightenment and challenge the prevailing religious consensus. Today, now that secularism is the consensus, Bell turns the tables and casts the scientific skeptic as the closed-minded logician who fails to leave room for the mysterious, the mystical, and the soul. Science fails to deliver explanations that resonate with our experience, and Bell wisely exploits this failure of the materialist worldview.

This challenge to secularism leads to the biggest surprise of the book – a lengthy chapter in which Bell delves into the physical cosmology of the universe. His goal is to wow readers with the wonder of existence. And, in large part, he succeeds. Even with the evolutionary anthropology he assumes, Bell shows the weirdness of the world and why we ought to be amazed at life.


No place for dogma

Unfortunately, the strengths of the book are outweighed by the vagueness of Bell’s talk of talking about God. Nowhere is this more evident than his treatment of traditional Christian teaching.

For example, Bell chides religious people for their certainty. He believes certainty about God has limits. We have to leave the door open for mystery, he says. Knowing always takes place in the middle of unknowing. People who talk with too much certainty about God are attractive because people want to be right, but we should resist the allure of the religious know-it-all, he says.

It’s true that the Christian should have the humility to recognize that no one has exhaustive knowledge of God or truth. To point out our finiteness is not only humble; it’s really the way things are! There is no way to know everything we could know when we talk about God.

But Bell seems to make the jump from humility due to our inability to have exhaustive knowledge to the newly defined “humility” that says we can’t have certainty about anything.

Certainty is suspect. Except, of course, when it comes to the certainty of the harm traditional theology can cause. On this, Bell leaves no room for ambiguity. Our view of God may be foggy, but our view of fundamentalists is clear, he claims.

He writes:

“You can believe something with so much conviction that you’d die for that belief,

“and yet in the same moment

“you can also say, ‘I could be wrong ...’

“This is because conviction and humility, like faith and doubt, are not opposites; they’re dance partners. It’s possible to hold your faith with open hands, living with great conviction and yet at the same time humbly admitting that your knowledge and perspective will always be limited” (93).

First, it’s hard to imagine martyrs giving their lives when they think they might be wrong. Nothing would cause me to rethink and renege on my certainty than facing a lion in a coliseum.

Secondly, notice how Bell says we should have conviction and humility, as if these two things are opposites, like faith and doubt. He appears to see “humility” not as the gracious stance of someone who has tasted and seen the Lord is good, but as the willingness to hold doctrines loosely, as if certainty and humility can’t coincide.

Ironically, his description of fundamentalism centers on the elimination of paradox:

“When a leader comes along who eliminates the tension and dodges the paradox and neatly and precisely explains who the enemies are and gives black-and-white answers to questions, leaving little room for the very real mystery of the divine, it should not surprise us when that person gains a large audience. Especially if that person is really, really confident” (93).

What’s interesting is that, in reading the rest of the book, Bell eliminates more paradoxes than traditional Christian teaching does.

It’s traditional Christianity that portrays God as holy and wrathful against sin while being gracious and loving towards the sinner. For all Bell’s talk about embracing “both/and,” it’s his vision of Christianity that emphasizes God being for us, to the exclusion of any idea that God would stand over us in judgment.

Traditional Christianity doesn’t just include “both” but “triple” truths – God against us in our sin, God instead of us as sinners, and God for us as the Justifier. Far from diluting the beauty of God in His transcendence, traditional Christian dogma leaves us with unresolvable tensions and paradoxes galore: free will and sovereignty, God in us and yet distinct from us, the Trinity, the inclusive call to salvation from an exclusive Savior. The list goes on.

The paradoxes of traditional Christianity multiply in ways that stimulate the imagination. Bell’s teaching lacks that kind of substance.

Bell’s book goes down easy, kind of like whipped cream without the cake. God is ahead of us, beckoning society forward, and (how convenient!) it just so happens to be in the direction that society is already headed.

Oddly enough, after reading this book, I came to the conclusion Rob Bell is a fundamentalist of a different sort. In fact, I could apply his warning to himself, adding to his own words:

When a leader comes along who eliminates the tension (between wrath and love, or immanence and transcendence) and dodges the paradox (between judgment and grace) and neatly and precisely explains who the enemies are (traditional Christians) and gives black-and-white answers to questions (such as, you can’t be humble and certain) leaving little room for the very real mystery of the divine (or the revelation of this mystery, as explained by the apostle Paul), it should not surprise us when that person gains a large audience. Especially if that person is really, really confident (or really, really cool).

I believe this book will resonate with many because the idea of “spiritual experience” is popular today. The question is, does Bell’s vision of spirituality have the doctrinal bone structure to sustain faith for two thousand years? I’m afraid not. His artistic abilities aside, the book’s vision is boring because the drama is missing.

Dorothy Sayers was right:

“It is the dogma that is the drama – not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death – but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world, lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum line developed by LifeWay Christian Resources for all ages. This column first appeared at TrevinWax.com, a Gospel Coalition blog.)
3/19/2013 2:53:20 PM by Trevin Wax, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The profanity counter vs. the eye-rollers

March 18 2013 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – We met a few years ago on a press junket, and though she was a Catholic nun and I was a Baptist, we found we had much in common, including a love of movies. She has a brilliant mind, but we don’t always agree, the Sister and me.

In a recent article, she proclaimed her stance on movie appreciation and I found that, like so many of my Christian colleagues, my friend the nun seems more concerned with the meaning of a film than its content (the reason for the rating). Sounds logical, I admit, and to some degree I’m in agreement. I’ve defended films such as “Schindler’s List,” “Dead Man Walking” and “Tsotsi,” each R-rated and each containing language. It can be argued that the profundity found in those films outweighed the profanity, so to speak. But too often faith critics ignore the content of films as a collective amusement, and that’s where I take issue. 

Doesn’t it strike you that we are being desensitized and bombarded by all things crude and illicit? The dispiriting condition of our present culture suggests so. This indifference to the cruding up and dumbing down of today’s culture by many in Hollywood gets a free pass by many critique-ers, religious or non. Ah, I sense some eye-rolling from those who ridicule movie reporters they consider “profanity counters.” Well, I hope they’ll hear me out.

Rather than focus on the glaring offenses of sexual content or desensitizing violence, not to mention the political and social agendas of the makers of movies, let’s concentrate on one specific area: language. Surely, coarse dialogue in nearly every film, no matter the subject, the genre, or the class of characters featured, is symbolic of the film industry’s influence on the culture and therefore the society.

At the end of a press screening for some R-rated film, I discussed the subject with a fellow critic who views movies from a decidedly secular viewpoint. As I often do, I brought up the picture’s offensive language. He said he didn’t mind bad language in a film ... so long as it wasn’t gratuitous. A bit perplexed, I remember responding, “They used the f-word nearly 70 times. How gratuitous does it have to get?” He had no answer. But at least he was gentleman enough not to roll his eyes.

For a moment, let’s ignore Bible verses that concern what we should and shouldn’t put in our heads. Let’s just look at objectionable material in movies from a non-pious, artistic approach.

Most critics reward movies for their technical and artistic merits, while at the same time disregarding the effect of movie content on the culture. This may be shortsighted, for words vocalize our foibles and frailties and nobilities. Words articulate views of beauty, humor and meaning. Yet we are in an era when vulgarity dominates movie discourse. And while Hollywood reflects each generation’s evolution, can members of that industry deny their influence on how we dress, relate or, yes, speak? Though a rose is a rose, a word is more than just a word. Words have power because they reveal inner character.

There should be a respect for language by those who make their living using it. Their chosen vocation has to do with the world of communication, yet much more effort goes into special effects than the authoring of screen conversation. Or, at least it seems that way. This is an artistic failing as motion pictures shouldn’t just show what we are, but also what we can become. That’s the ultimate purpose of an art form. Otherwise, it isn’t doing all the art form is capable of. 

Let’s go back to what the Bible says about what we say. 

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (Ephesians 4:29). 

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Exodus 20:4). That command comes before those that pertain to coveting, adultery or even murder. It must be somewhat important to the Creator of everything. 

If words are the summation of the heart’s thoughts, then surely people who constantly misuse God’s name are contemptuous of His nature. And even if those in Hollywood don’t believe in a Creator, shouldn’t they at least respect those who do? They apparently feel a responsibility to regard everybody else. Well, except for conservatives. But we won’t go there today.

Who am I kidding? Hollywood isn’t going to change. Nor is the surrounding society. What about us?

The Christian, who is instructed to think on things such as “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is lovely,” should find words that abuse the soul to be reprehensible. Obscenity and blasphemy shouldn’t be tolerated or merely dismissed. They don’t signal evolution, just deterioration. 

Ignoring the way people talk in movies is like viewing a fine painting while standing in the dark. You’re just not seeing the big picture.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org. He is also a regular contributor to “The World and Everything In It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.) 
3/18/2013 1:20:11 PM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Praying for the weather

March 18 2013 by Rick Shepherd, Baptist Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the spring of 2007, more than 215 wildfires ravaged the Florida landscape, polluting the air with thick smoke and smoldering ash. Winds carried smoke and ash from the Bugaboo swamp fire, which raged as the largest wildfire in the history of both Georgia and Florida, as far away as Atlanta and Birmingham where the haze hovered over those cities during April, May and June.

In response to weeks of unrelenting, uncontrollable fires, Florida Baptists called for a Day of Prayer for Rain on the Sun., May 27, 2007, through an e-blast to pastors, a news story in the Florida Baptist Witness, radio spots and word of mouth. Many joined together in prayer.

The very next day, Mon., May 28, a low pressure system began developing south of Key West. By Fri., June 1, tropical storm Barry began dropping moderate to heavy rain across the region. Over the next few days, three to seven inches of rain covered the state from Key West in the south to north of the Florida state line into Georgia and South Carolina. The rains doused wildfires and brought 90 percent containment to the Bugaboo swamp fire. Jacksonville, Fla., reported the wettest June 2 date since 1873. Baptists across the state believe God answered prayer!

Can the weather forecast change so suddenly and dramatically? Can prayer have a part in that? Remember Elijah’s prediction to wicked King Ahab? Elijah prophesied, as part of God’s judgment on the unrepentant northern kingdom of Israel, that it would not rain in the land except at Elijah’s command (1 Kings 17:1). For three years and six months it did not rain (James 5:17). At the end of the drought, Elijah fervently and earnestly prayed for rain from the top of Mount Carmel. As he prayed, the sky grew dark with clouds and wind followed by a downpour of rain (1 Kings 18:42-46). Prayer made a difference with the weather.

Job 37:13 records three ways God works through weather:
  • for a measure of correction (for punishment, v. 13a);
  • for maintenance on earth (for His land, v. 13b – sun, rain, snow, thick clouds, bright clouds, verses 6-12);
  • for mercy on earth (for His faithful love, v. 13c).
Fast forward a few months to the fall of 2007. Twenty-one of the 50 states were in drought, some extreme. Atlanta was in such severe drought that experts predicted there would be no drinking water for the metropolitan area within 90 days.

With reservoirs drying up and boat docks and lake front property several yards from the water’s edge as lakes receded, calls to prayer surfaced once again. The Georgia Baptist Convention issued prayer guides and bulletin inserts to churches across the state and set Sun., Nov. 4, as a day of prayer for rain. The convention’s website carried information about ways to pray for rain.

The governor of the state, a Georgia Baptist, gathered lawmakers and ministers from across the religious and political spectrum for a lunch-hour prayer service in downtown Atlanta on Nov. 13 of that year to pray for rain. Though he faced opposition from special interest groups claiming he violated church-state separation issues, he was undeterred. Demonstrators hoisted signs reading “20% chance of rain today, 100% chance of church-state violation,” “Government-sponsored prayer is unconstitutional,” and “Nothing fails like prayer.”

What happened? The weather changed! God brought rain in answer to prayer! Records show December of 2007 as one of the wettest Decembers in Atlanta’s weather history.

Many see this as part of the remedial judgment of God mixed with His mercy and willingness to answer those who call on Him.

Without question, our nation needs spiritual awakening. Too many are saying, “God, will You leave us alone and let us do what we want!” Many in churches seek to do “church life” without earnest, fervent prayer.

When Solomon completed the dedication service for the brand-new temple of God, the Lord responded with this warning: If I close the sky so there is no rain, or if I command the grasshopper to consume the land, or if I send pestilence on My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:13-14). The praying in verse 14 is based on the chastening in verse 13! God is ever at work ready to restore. Are we cooperating?

Could the weather be an intensifying wake-up call to our nation for the need for spiritual awakening? Think about it. Since 2007, we have seen an increase in weather issues. In 2008, the number of disaster events exceeded 150 at a cost of more than $9 billion. In 2009, we had more than 200 disaster events at a total cost of more than $10 billion. The year 2010 set a new record with 247 events, again with more than a $10 billion price-tag. In 2011, we saw the disastrous October snowstorm in the Northeast shatter every weather record on the books. Costs were in the billions. The total for 2011 topped $14 billion in disaster events. In 2012, Super Storm Sandy alone cost over 50 billion dollars. And 2013 has begun with an equal vengeance across much of the nation.

The weather issues (droughts, fires, floods, tornadoes, blizzards, hurricanes) of the past six years were and are signs and symbols of the needs of the churches in America. Far more telling, many churches are experiencing spiritual drought and need the refreshing rains of the Spirit of God. We need to intensify praying together for the physical, material and especially the spiritual needs we see all around us.

Any need we see should serve as a call to prayer; and praying together is a much-needed ministry that often brings deeply longed-for answers and blessings.

God is at work on many levels. While many are intensifying their rebellion against God, many others are turning to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Bottom line for today: We need to rehearse the facts of the past. Moving beyond the past, we need a new fascination with who God is and what He is doing. We then need to join Him in active faith. Whether praying alone and praying together, (Jeremiah 29:7; 33:3; Ephesians 6:17-19; 1 Timothy 2:1-8), we must pour out our souls in earnest, fervent prayer.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rick Shepherd is the prayer and spiritual awakening team leader with the Florida Baptist Convention. The booklet: “Praying about the Weather.”)
3/18/2013 1:12:46 PM by Rick Shepherd, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



What can Baptists learn from St. Patrick?

March 15 2013 by Stephen Douglas Wilson, Baptist Press

PADUCAH, Ky. – On St. Patrick’s Day one year, I donned some green clothing for the traditional “wearin’ of the green.” Then I fastened to my sweater a shamrock pin and the identifying symbol of the O’Connor clan. I thought to myself, “What are Baptists to make of St. Patrick?”

Unfortunately, much of the popular lore about Patrick is largely untrue. For instance, the story about Patrick using the shamrock to demonstrate the doctrine of the Trinity appears to be a relatively modern legend. Patrick believed in the Trinity and cited this belief in his own writings, but he himself did not mention using the shamrock this way. 

Patrick also is credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland, but this unlikely tale originated at a later time, too. Two centuries before Patrick was born, the Roman geographer Solinus recorded that Ireland was devoid of snakes.

What we do know about Patrick comes from two of his own writings, penned near the end of his ministry in the late fifth century. These works, written in a rough provincial Latin, The Confession of St. Patrick and Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, reveal Patrick was a dynamic missionary and Christian leader. His personal testimony was very inspiring. Although Patrick’s grandfather Potitus was a pastor and his father, Calpurnius, was a deacon, Patrick said that nonetheless in his youth he “did not know the true God.” 

At age 16, Patrick and several other Britons were carried away from Britain by a group of marauding warriors that raided his community, Bannavem Taburni. They were sold into slavery across the sea in Ireland, where Patrick labored for six years as a shepherd. Although he was isolated from any church or clergyman, Patrick accepted Christ as his personal Savior. Patrick wrote, “There the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God.”

Shortly after his salvation, Patrick said he received a vision from the Lord, warning him to flee Ireland and informing him a ship had been prepared for his escape. Patrick eventually made it back home to Britain, where he rejoined his family and later was ordained as a deacon.

Nevertheless, Patrick was not destined to remain in Britain. He said he received another vision, in which an Irishman brought him numerous letters that implored him to return to Ireland. One of the letters read, “We ask you, boy, come and walk among us once more.” Patrick submitted to God’s call to return to Ireland.

Patrick’s plans, however, needed the approval of the local British pastors who Patrick called “the seniors.” At first he was turned down because of an unnamed sin he had committed in his youth, but later he was ordained as a bishop and sent to Ireland. Patrick felt accountable to “the seniors” for his financial dealings in Ireland, and in part the purpose of his Confession of St. Patrick was to show how he managed his finances in his ministry.

Although legend says Patrick’s mission was sponsored by the papacy, Patrick himself never mentions any holder of the papal office. In fact, Patrick seems to answer only to “the seniors.” This oversight by “the seniors” tended to be more symbolic than real, and he apparently experienced major conflicts with some of them. Nevertheless, it is clear from Patrick’s narrative that he, rather than “the seniors,” remained in charge in Ireland.

Patrick understood his primary mission was to “preach the [g]ospel to the people of Ireland,” and he performed his mission well. His preaching and ministry, aided by the Holy Spirit, resulted in the conversion of thousands of the Irish to saving faith in Christ. He also ordained others to help him in his work, influenced the local Irish chiefs to promote Christianity and encouraged the Irish themselves to financially support his ministry.

Similar to what we find today in international missions, Patrick produced his greatest gains in evangelism among the Irish women. They became strong supporters of his ministry in terms of enthusiasm, service and giving. Conversely, for the sake of propriety, Patrick returned many of their gifts.

Patrick’s advocacy for his newly baptized female converts even led him to challenge the roving raiders who plagued the British Isles in the middle and late fifth century. By this time, the Roman legions once stationed in Britain had long ago been recalled to the continent. Consequently, the British Isles were overrun by gangs of Germanic and Celtic warriors. One of these bands, under a leader named Coroticus, had butchered a number of Patrick’s newly baptized converts and had enslaved the surviving women.

Patrick sent subordinates to recover the women, but the soldiers of Coroticus only jeered at them. Patrick’s Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus was addressed to this warrior band. In it, Patrick again appealed for the return of the female captives and warned Coroticus and his soldiers they faced the wrath of God if they did not repent and comply. Given that these men were violent and well-armed, Patrick’s letter of “righteous anger” shows he thought nothing of putting himself in harm’s way for others.

Although history does not record what happened after his letter was delivered, two features of Patrick’s ministry are clear.

First of all, even late in his ministry, the success of Patrick’s work appeared incomplete. Although legend states he converted the entire island to the Christian faith, it seems obvious from the Coroticus incident that plenty of spiritual darkness remained.

Secondly, we can observe Patrick’s compassion for his newly converted charges. He truly loved the pagan Irish enough to bring the gospel message to them, and once they became part of the Christian community, he was willing to endanger himself to be their advocate.

What are Baptists to make of St. Patrick? 

Patrick is a remarkable role model for all Baptists who value the Great Commission. As Patrick himself proclaimed, “I share in the work of those whom He called and predestinated to preach the [g]ospel among grave persecutions to the end of the earth.” 

Much the same can be said of modern Southern Baptist missionaries and those who support them.

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Stephen Douglas Wilson is dean emeritus and chair of the history department of Mid-Continent University in Mayfield, Ky., and a member of the SBC Executive Committee. This column first appeared in Baptist Press in 2008.)
3/15/2013 12:18:10 PM by Stephen Douglas Wilson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Praying in full surrender

March 15 2013 by Claude King, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE -- Years ago, while reading one of my dozens of books by Andrew Murray, I learned that our modern posture of prayer (kneeling with hands clasped with head bowed) didn’t come from Judaism but from a medieval ceremony. I undertook a study of that ceremony while writing a booklet, Consecrate the People: Renewing Our Covenant Commitments to Jesus Christ.

The homage ceremony

In the homage ceremony a king, lord or landowner would call his vassals or subjects before him to pledge their loyalty and obedience to their lord. The king would hold out his open hands. The subject would kneel with bowed head and place his hands inside the hands of his king. Then he would say these words, “I am your man.” (The name of the ceremony comes from the Latin word for man.)

That simple statement essentially meant, “I belong to you.” It included the obligation to obey any request of the king, even the call to battle. That pledge of obedience also included a readiness to obey even if the assignment would cost the life of the subject. It could become a pledge of obedience even unto death.

Christians were required to pledge their loyalty and obedience to their earthly king in this homage ceremony. They realized, however, they owed a higher loyalty to their Lord and King in heaven. King Jesus is seated on His throne with outstretched, nail-scarred hands. He is waiting for our surrender and pledge of loyalty and obedience to Him for the work of His kingdom. Christians in the Middle Ages began to pray while kneeling with bowed head and clasped hands. By doing so, they were able to mentally enter into the throne room of heaven, kneel before King Jesus, and pledge to Him their loyalty and obedience: “King Jesus, today, I am your man (woman). Command me, and I will obey You!”

Entire consecration

That understanding of our common posture for prayer coupled with my study of the word consecrate, had a profound impact on my personal prayer life. One term in the Old Testament frequently translated “consecrate” is qâdâsh (kaw-dash). It means “to sanctify, cleanse, purify or make holy.” If we desire to have power with God in prayer, we must consecrate ourselves. “The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful” (James 5:16). Even Jesus Himself prayed for His followers, “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. ... I sanctify Myself for them, so they also may be sanctified by the truth” (John 17:17, 19). If we want to be filled and empowered by His Holy Spirit, we need to be clean vessels.

Let’s pray for one another and consecrate/sanctify ourselves. Let’s go after entire consecration, not a partial consecration. That very activity will lead us toward personal and corporate revival.

Another term for consecrate is made up of two Hebrew words. The first is mâlâ (maw-law) which means “to fill up or be full of.” The second is yâd (yawd) which means “open hand.” Put these words together and the term literally means “to fill up the open hands.” The imagery for this term consecrate is a priest standing by the altar. He has open hands to receive your offering or sacrifice. As long as the sacrifice is in your hands, it belongs to you. But when you place the sacrifice into the open hands of the priest, it is consecrated to God. It belongs to God – all of it. And it becomes holy because God is holy.

In Romans 12:1 Paul writes, “Brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.” To the church at Corinth he writes, “Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Jesus “died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).

We belong to King Jesus because He purchased us for God. Because of His mercies, we should fully surrender (present or even consecrate) our bodies and our lives to serve Him. We follow His example when we pray like Him: “not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

As we come before Him to pray, our King is looking for entire consecration and full surrender to hear and obey His will. Let’s consecrate ourselves to our Lord and King in full surrender. King Jesus, I’m your man (woman). My time, plans, possessions, resources, career, family, health, future and my very life are yours. Command me today, and I will obey you.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Claude King is discipleship and church health specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources. He is coauthor of Experiencing God, Fresh Encounter, The Mind of Christ, Pray in Faith, and other resources. He and his wife Reta have two daughters and three grandsons. You can download a free reproducible copy of Consecrate the People: Renewing Our Covenant Commitments to Jesus Christ here or purchase copies here.)
3/15/2013 12:10:33 PM by Claude King, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Bill Hyde: ‘John Wayne of missions’

March 14 2013 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Ten years ago March 4, a bomb planted at a Philippine airport by a Muslim rebel group killed 23 people, among them one American, Southern Baptist missionary Bill Hyde. 

It’s ironic that Hyde, 59, died at the little airport in Davao City where he’d walked countless times, a place considered safe. He had made a habit of going into some of the most dangerous places in the Philippines. Places where you could get kidnapped, shot at, or worse, especially if you were a foreigner. He’d just returned from such a place that day. 

Why did he willingly go to those dangerous places? After surviving the Vietnam War more than 30 years before, he vowed never to leave the United States again or if he did, never to go anywhere near Southeast Asia. To understand his change of heart, you have to understand Hyde.

He grew up in a small farming town in Iowa, the home state he shared with his movie hero, John Wayne. He was a big, athletic kid with a ready smile and ready fists. “His nickname was ‘Slugger,’” his older brother remembered. “He got into lots of fights.”

He had a strong will and a fierce competitive streak, but he wasn’t a bully. Mostly, he proved himself in sports, especially basketball and baseball. When he wasn’t working at his father’s hardware and farm implements store, he starred in both sports in high school and later earned a basketball scholarship to college. 

Hyde was no one-dimensional jock; his competitive instinct extended to all games, including chess, and he was a voracious reader. “I could almost see Bill looking at the world like a giant ‘Risk’ game, thinking of how the most people could come to Christ in the shortest possible time,” said a missionary in later years.

He accepted Christ as his Savior at 12 during a Vacation Bible School and renewed his commitment during college. Music eventually overtook sports as top priority, and he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music and choral literature from the University of Iowa in Iowa City. While attending Bethany Baptist Church near the university, he accepted a part-time job directing the choir and met Garlinda (Lyn) Gage, an attractive young woman singing in the alto section. They married in 1966.

Their early months of married life revolved around the church and college studies. But the U.S. Army intervened with a draft notice. Hyde served at the height of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam in 1967-68. 

He suffered no physical wounds, but bore unseen scars. When he returned, he stepped off the plane carrying a bag. Inside was a large piece of shrapnel. During a mortar attack on his camp, the shrapnel had ripped through the top of his tent – and through the center of his cot, where he had been lying only minutes before. 

“God had spared Bill’s life,” said Lyn. “We didn’t know why, but we were thankful that for him the war was over. When Bill returned from the war, he informed me that he would never leave the United States again.”

But the Word of God changed his mind and heart.

“Bill’s favorite verse in the Bible was Matthew 28:16, which says, ‘Then the 11 disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go,’” Lyn explained. “The verses we know as the Great Commission follow. Bill lived by this passage. ... He would tell people that if they went where Jesus told them to go, they would be able to carry out the Great Commission in those places.”

For the Hydes, that meant missionary service in the Philippines. They were appointed Southern Baptist missionaries in 1978. Their first assignment fit their skills and experience perfectly: teaching at Faith Academy, a school for children of missionaries near Manila. They spent 11 productive years there shaping young lives, including those of their sons. Never one to stay inside the bounds of walls and programs, Hyde seldom missed an opportunity to take students and choir groups on mission trips around the country.

He sensed God leading him toward a new task: teaching Filipinos studying theology at Southern Baptist College in M’lang, on the island of Mindanao. 

“He had a passion to equip Filipinos for ministry and leadership,” says former missionary Don Phelps, a friend and co-worker in the Philippines. “On the weekends he would go out and invest himself in their lives and ministries. He had such a rapport with them; he was a natural at spending time with them and encouraging them.”

A grand vision began to grow inside him: to equip believers to train other believers, to equip churches to start churches, to multiply the gospel throughout Mindanao and beyond. In 1997 the Hydes transferred to Davao City, and Bill began to focus all his energies on training church planters. 

“Bill could be kind of intimidating until you got to know him,” said another missionary friend. “He was tall and barrel-chested, with a deep voice that boomed with authority and confidence. ... He had an extensive collection of John Wayne movies, and we would always want to watch the Westerns while our wives would want more ‘sensitive’ selections. Bill even developed a theory on how John Wayne had influenced American theology.

“Bill himself was much like an ‘apostolic John Wayne.’ ... Aside from the physical similarities, he approached life and ministry in a similar way. He took on the devil and refused to accept defeat, with a vision to expand the kingdom that was as big as the West. As big as Bill was, he was doing something that was bigger than himself.”

The key to his church-planting strategy was simple: like the Apostle Paul, he multiplied himself in other faithful men, who could in turn multiply themselves in others. He started by training a core group of seven Filipino men committed to church planting. As they became trainers, the circle widened into a network of hundreds. 

He never went anywhere alone. He always took at least one young Filipino or missionary – and usually as many as he could pack into his vehicle – on his trips into the hinterlands. He trained Filipinos to start churches, then let them take the lead while he observed and encouraged. Most important, he flatly refused to do anything in ministry leadership that Filipino believers could do themselves. 

One of those Filipino men was Eddie Palingcod, a member of Hyde’s original core group. Palingcod became the leading Baptist church-planting trainer for an entire province in the Philippines. 

Hyde’s approach departed from the traditional idea of starting one church at a time. “He said to me, ‘Eddie, you need to train others to plant churches. It’s not that you’re doing the wrong thing now, but you need to multiply,’” Palingcod recalled after Hyde’s death. “It was hard for me to understand at first, but when I applied it, I got excited.

“Even though he is now living in heaven,” said Palingcod, “I told Bill, ‘It works!’”

Today Hyde’s legacy lives in the hundreds of churches started through his ministry of multiplication, in the thousands of Filipinos won to Christ and in the ongoing ministries of missionaries he mentored and encouraged. His legacy lives in the ministry of his life partner, Lyn, who courageously returned to the Philippines in early 2004 and continued her work until retiring in 2009. Hyde’s legacy lives in the lives of his sons, who followed in his mission footsteps. 

Perhaps most of all, his legacy lives in the hundreds of Filipino men like Eddie Palingcod, who continue to live out the passion for church multiplying Hyde instilled in them. 

“Every day I read the Bible Bill gave me before he died,” said Palingcod. “He was my discipler, but he was also just like a father. After his death, it was hard to continue. But at his memorial service, I told him in my heart, ‘Bill, I will continue.’

“Bill died, but his ministry is still alive.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent. Visit WorldView Conversation.)
3/14/2013 4:10:30 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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