March 2013

Why the afterlife bores us

March 14 2013 by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – I have long suspected that many Christians dread not just death but heaven. We won’t admit that, of course. Our hymnody, of whatever era, is filled with songs about the joy of the afterlife, and “what a day of rejoicing that will be.” We’re glad we’re not going to hell or to oblivion. But most of our songs and sermon mentions are about that first few moments in heaven: when we see Jesus, when we’re reunited with our loved ones, and so on. It’s like the happy ending of the story. And that’s the problem.

The gospel tells us that Satan keeps unbelievers bound by fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15). Believers, too often, dread death also, though not as much from fear as from boredom. We see the story of our lives as encompassing this span of 70 or 80 or 100 years. The life to come is our “great reward” in “the afterlife.”

But just think about that word “afterlife.” It assumes eternity is an endless postlude to where the action really happens. It’s “after.” Our “reward” happens after we’ve lived our lives. Here’s why this language matters.

Imagine a couple referring to their marriage as their “after-love.” They explain to you that years ago they met, fell in love, and married. The years since are their “after-love” years, since they follow their falling in love with each other. You would, no doubt, ask whether they still loved each other and, if so, why they would relegate their lives together now as “after” anything, and why they seem to put their “love” in the past tense. You would think they were downgrading marriage and missing out on joy by talking like that.

And you’d be right.

Too many Christians see the hope of resurrection life as a capstone on their lives now. We implicitly assume that our focus in the new creation is a backward focus on our lives as they are now.

We talk about all the questions we’ll ask about why this or that happened. We never think about whether we’ll be too busy to care about that, just like we’re too busy in the prime of our careers to ask our kindergarten teacher why she had snack time after recess rather than before. We talk about our reunion with loved ones, but even they often implicitly have a past focus.

A high school reunion can be fun. You catch up with old friends, and remember good and bad times. But the focus is usually on “remember when” and “whatever happened to” conversations. That’s great for an hour or four, but 4 trillion years of that would be awful. That’s not what Jesus promised us. He promised us life.

If we miss this, then we become just like those with no hope. We talk about our “bucket lists” of what we have to do before we’re gone since “you only live once.” We worry about our future and we nurse grudges because we fear our lives can be ruined by circumstances instead of by sin. We essentially move into the same old “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you shall die” except that we cap it with “and then you’ll stand around with your loved ones singing songs and staring at a light for a quadrillion years and then some.”

God forbid.

Your eternity is no more about looking back to this span of time than your life now is about reflecting on kindergarten. The moment you burst through the mud above your grave, you will begin an exciting new mission – one you couldn’t comprehend if someone told you. And those things that seem so important now – whether you’re attractive or wealthy or famous or cancer-free – will be utterly irrelevant in the face of an exhilarating new purpose, one that you were prepared for in this era but one that is far more than a mere sequel to your best life now.

Let’s talk about eternity. But it’s no mere “afterlife.” Instead let’s start thinking of this little puff of time, the next 80 or so years, as what it is: the pre-life.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell D. Moore is dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)
3/14/2013 4:07:49 PM by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



What if gay marriage goes nationwide?

March 13 2013 by Mark Heath, Baptist Press

WAKE FOREST, N.C. – If, as many believe, the framers of the Constitution held Judeo-Christian values, they saw the social benefits of the freedom to spread religious ideals. And certainly it is easy to assert that same-sex marriage does not fit with the Judeo-Christian worldview.

But what if, in this liberal democracy, Christians find themselves in the cultural minority, and same-sex marriage is legalized? How will those who identify as followers of Christ react to such a monumental shift in the culture?

Christians should not let such a thing rattle their faith. Cultural disgust should not stop the work of the Kingdom.

And we must think about this: How will our response affect our children?

I can remember as a young 8-year-old boy observing my father in the 1996 presidential election. An avowed politically conservative, pro-family and pro-life citizen, my father would watch and comment as the campaigns unfolded. He may not have realized it, but I was watching his every move.

I still have memories of him watching the campaign speeches, the TV ads and the news reports. I still remember his demeanor as drastically different from other adults I observed. Some in our church were disgusted with the election’s results. My father’s reaction was different. He was not shaken. To this day, he is the most unwavering man I know, and this speaks volumes to his child. For those of you who are parents, heed this: How you react to the world and the happenings in it will set an example for your children.

We can’t simply stop paying our taxes because we don’t like how things are going, remembering the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13: “Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves.” Until we are forced to do something contrary to the will of our Lord, we must obey the law to the fullest.

We must hold strong in our faith because people will see the glory of the God Most High, and He will be praised.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Heath is a former Christian worker in Iraq and currently a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.)
3/13/2013 5:04:08 PM by Mark Heath, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



How to share Christ with your Hindu friends

March 13 2013 by Jeff Brawner, Baptist Press

CORDOVA, Tenn. – If you’ve traveled most anywhere in the United States recently, you’ve likely had contact with a follower of Hinduism, a religion that is becoming a major factor on the American religious landscape.
 
Witnessing to Hindus can be daunting. A seminary student described his effort to reach out to a Hindu, saying, “They have all of those gods. I just felt ... helpless.”

With 330 million gods, a Hindu’s simple response can be, “How can we be wrong, if we accept that everyone is at least partially right?”

Still, increasing numbers of Hindus around the world are trusting Christ. The church in India now encompasses more than 70-million people, the world’s eighth-largest Christian population.

To initiate sharing Christ with a Hindu, consider these steps:
  1. Befriend a Hindu. Invite your new Hindu friend to coffee or tea. Invest time in your new friend.
  2. Avoid the urge just to be the person’s friend. Take a leap of faith and talk about spiritual ideas as soon as possible. Mention how God has blessed you, so the person will know that you are a spiritual person.
  3. Look for “spiritual clues” – indications that God is working in the person’s heart. If the person mentions thinking about spiritual matters, recognize that he or she might be open to a gospel presentation. Seize the opportunity if it is available to take the bold step of presenting the gospel to your friend.
In my book, How to Share Christ with Your Friends of Another Faith, I give four different approaches to witnessing to a Hindu. For one of those, I asked “David S.,” a veteran pastor who has served in India for more than 11 years, to describe his witnessing approach. Notice David’s brief non-intimidating style. David looks for a person’s needs and then shows how Christ meets those needs. Also, note how David constantly points his polytheistic friend to the only true God.

“I always start a conversation with the topic of my friend’s family, such as his mother, father, wife, or children,” David said. “I then continue the conversation by inquiring about their needs. I keep the conversation going until I find some place that isn’t going well in the person’s life.

“Whatever the stress in his or her life, I would ask, ‘How are you feeling about it? Is it worrying you?’

“Whatever the specific needs, I express my concern and say, ‘I believe in the One True God because He really loves me. I will pray for you. The One True God knows your problem and knows about you.’

“Then I say, ‘Would you mind if I pray with you right now?’ I would bow my head and clasp my hands in a posture of prayer. If my friend is a man, I will put my hand on his shoulder and pray RIGHT THEN for that need.

“With that prayer I have ministered to my friend immediately. Then I think of a story in the Bible that would match his dilemma.

“After relating the Bible story, I tell my friend, ‘But all those blessings did not make me a true believer. Those were a kindness to me from the One True God.’

“I might give my friend an opportunity to give his life to Christ; however, I probably will wait to do so. Why? I wait, generally, because he still will have to deal with many issues such as idolatry and polytheism. You don’t want to rush the process.”

David’s approach is simple and reproducible. Start now to pray about finding a Hindu friend with whom you can share Christ.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Brawner is chairman of the department of missions and assistant professor of missions, theology and church history at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn. His book, How to Share Christ with Your Friends of Another Faith, is available at www.hannibalbooks.com and such online sites as amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.)
3/13/2013 5:01:44 PM by Jeff Brawner, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



How to share Christ with your Mormon friends

March 12 2013 by Jeff Brawner, Baptist Press

CORDOVA, Tenn. – Mormons are family oriented, clean-cut and prominent in political and economic circles, fervent in their faith and all-around nice folks. In so many ways one could erroneously assume that Mormons represent just one more facet of fervent evangelical Christianity.

Many would like to think that theological differences between Mormons and evangelical Christians aren’t enough to have any real significance. Sadly, they are badly mistaken.

According to scripture, being nice, family oriented, clean-cut and fervent fulfills none of the requirements to be right before the Lord. Consequently, we can respect Mormons (who call their religion The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) for much of the way they live, but we also need to accept that their understanding of God, Christ, scripture and salvation as well as other matters of faith are outside what scripture teaches.

Here are a few of the highlights of the theological differences between the Mormon belief system and what Southern Baptists and other evangelicals believe, drawing from my book, How to Share Christ with Your Friends of Another Faith:

God: Mormons believe that God is the ruler of our planet. He is the ruler of only this particular planet. He acquired that status over the earth over a progression of time. He has a physical body and flesh.

We Southern Baptists believe that the Bible teaches about only One True God (Deuteronomy 6: 4-6). He is not one of many gods. He is one God in three forms: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Jesus: Mormons teach that Jesus is God’s firstborn spirit son. Jesus, like God, was a human being but attained his godhead status by living an upright life. His death provides for the physical resurrection of all people. This doesn’t mean that on death everyone will go to heaven, but everyone at some point will have an opportunity to be resurrected.

We Southern Baptists believe the Bible teaches that Jesus has always existed (John 1:1) and is one with the Father (John 10:30). He was born of a virgin in a non-sexual union. He is far above the angels (Hebrews 1), including Satan.

The Holy Spirit: Mormons believe the Holy Spirit does not have, as God and Jesus have, personhood in the Trinity. Instead, he is nothing more than a spirit manifestation that is from the Father.

However, we evangelicals believe the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is equal to the Father (Acts 5) and has personhood (Ephesians 4:30) in the Trinity (Matthew 28:19-20).

After examining just the differences in belief about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the evidence is clear that Southern Baptists and Mormons are incompatible in theology. To further study the differences, I recommend www.4truth.net, a North American Mission Board website that succinctly details all of the differences.

Allow your Mormon friend to explain his or her beliefs. Show genuine interest and respect. Then succinctly share your personal testimony about your own personal faith in Christ. Always mention that your friend can have the same experience.

Whenever your conversation moves toward the theological differences between Mormonism and historic Christianity, explain that these are very serious. Start by noting these differences. Then share with your Mormon friend how he or she can experience true salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember to explain that Jesus is defined by how He is portrayed in the Bible alone, not by any other book.

I cannot think of a greater act of love than taking the time to show individual Mormons how they can know the Truth.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Brawner is chairman of the department of missions and assistant professor of missions, theology and church history at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn.)
3/12/2013 1:47:54 PM by Jeff Brawner, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Safe’ sex? Hardly

March 12 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – Most words have clear and distinct definitions and for those that don’t, context helps to delineate meaning. An example of a word with a definite denotation is “safe.”

“Safe,” according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, means “protected from or not exposed to danger or risk.”

When the word safe is used to describe a product or activity, the message conveyed is that it will not cause harm to consumers or participants. Our government even goes to great lengths to ensure companies provide labels concerning a product’s relative safety.

But for some time now, many government-funded public schools have touted “safe”-sex programs to their students. The message sent in the very title implies that by simply utilizing a condom, sex is risk-free.

Even though some safe-sex programs might mention the fact that condoms are not 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the very phrase, “safe sex,” undermines the message.

When the concept of safe sex is coupled with free condom distribution, the message is further muddled. If condoms are not 100 percent effective, then why give them away free to teenagers?

The Philadelphia, Pa., school district began a program in November that makes condoms available in 22 of the city’s high schools. The prophylactics are made available via plastic dispensers located on a wall in hallway. Teens can come any time during the day and take as many condoms as they desire.

The motivation for the Philly condom giveaway, according to the school district, is that 25 percent of new HIV infections in the city are among teens.

The Philly school district is sending a very clear message to the young people in The City of Brotherly Love: Condoms will provide you with a safe sexual experience so much so that we will give them to you, as many as you want.

Science, though, does not support the idea of safe sex – at least not sex that won’t result in pregnancy or STDs. Research in the past decade has found that while condom use does reduce the risk of pregnancy and the spread of STDs, they are anything but risk-free.

The June 2004 Bulletin of the World Health Organization included a report titled, “Effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted infusions.” It quoted another study and reported that condom use “resulted in ... an 80% reduction in risk” of HIV.

While an 80 percent reduction in risk sounds impressive, would you call it safe? Safer than no condom at all, yes, but safe? No.

Eighty percent effectiveness sounds good until you realize that in the game of Russian Roulette, a person has an 83.4 percent of pulling the trigger and the gun not firing.

What if your favorite restaurant began advertising their food was prepared in such a way that it reduced the risk of E. coli bacteria by 80 percent? How would you feel about eating there?

HIV is a devastating virus with life-long implications that can result in death. Those contemplating sex outside of the monogamous commitment of marriage should know the truth about the real risks of sex.

“Safe” is a word with a very definite meaning. When it is coupled with the word “sex,” it is not only oxymoronic, it is incorrect.

(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.)
3/12/2013 1:42:57 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Who put the ‘3:16’ in John 3:16?

March 11 2013 by Mark Coppenger, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Like the fellow who thought he’d be crossing visible longitude lines on his ocean voyage to Europe, some may think that the chapter and verse divisions were on the sheet when apostles such as John (or psalmists such as David) wrote down scripture.

But no, they wrote letters and poetry and gospels and other history without numbering. Those markers were added centuries later. Indeed, when Jesus referred to Exodus 3:6 in Mark 12:26, He simply located it in “in the passage about the burning bush.” Neither the “12:26” nor the “3:6” were yet in place.[1]

To make a long story short, biblical scholars were making divisions of one sort or another in the centuries following the books’ original composition, but it wasn’t until the early 1200s that we got our current chapter setup, thanks to Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton. As for the verses, Jewish scribes had already done work on the Old Testament around the year 900, and their work was wedded to Langton’s. But the church had to wait another 300 years for its New Testament breakdown, performed by a French-born printer, Robert Estienne or Etienne (also know by the Latinized version of his name, “Stephanus”).

He was a Protestant refugee in Geneva when he decided to construct a concordance for the Greek New Testament, but he found the broad A, B, C, D divisions unwieldy. So he inserted verse numbers, and the product was an overnight success. This isn’t to say his choices were free from criticism. Though the original writings, whether by Moses, Luke, or Peter, were free from error, that same inerrancy did not extend to Langton and Estienne, as useful as their work has proven to be.

For instance, most modern translations group 1 Corinthians 11:1 with the closing verses of chapter 10, under such headings as “Christian Liberty” (HCSB), “The Believer’s Freedom” (NIV), and “Do All to the Glory of God” (ESV). Most simply think that 11:1 belongs with the previous chapter. And other critics have objected to the way Estienne cut up single sentences, as with the opening words of Romans. Depending on where the translator puts the period, the first sentence of that epistle runs four (ESV; NIV) or six verses (HCSB).

Still, it’s hard to imagine how we could get along without these markers, as we cite or quote “Psalm 23” or Paul’s instructions regarding the believer’s relationship to the state in “Romans 13:1-7.” They’ve proven most helpful as we’ve made the most of the fact expressed in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

So today one hears, “OK class, let’s open our Bibles to today’s text. I’d like each of you to read three verses as we go around the room.”


(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column first appeared at the blog of Bible Mesh, a website that teaches the Bible as a unified story pointing to Christ. Mark Coppenger is director of the Nashville extension center for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)

www.biblemesh.com/blog
[1] A good account of the process can be found in Robert L. Plummer’s 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2010), as well as in Edgar J. Goodspeed’s classic How Came the Bible? (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1940). Encyclopedia entries are also useful, such as the article on “Estienne” in The Westminster Dictionary of Church History (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971).
3/11/2013 3:48:12 PM by Mark Coppenger, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



How to share Christ with Muslim friends

March 11 2013 by Jeff Brawner, Baptist Press

Muslims aren’t just people “over there” in the Middle East and parts of Asia. They live in major cities across the U.S. and many smaller towns as well. More are arriving daily and the vast majority want to live quiet lives making a living for their families.
 
To many Southern Baptists, evangelizing Muslims in this country may seem to be a daunting task best left to professional missionaries and skilled pastors. Nothing could be further from the truth.
 
Sharing Christ with people who represent some of the rapidly growing faiths in America (these include Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists) doesn’t have to be scary or complicated. Most people of another faith are quite open to hearing about Christianity. Learning a few simple steps and having conversations with adherents of other faiths about Christ actually is quite simple.
 
Muslims throughout the world regard Christ as one of their prophets and turn to Him to save them from their sins. At the same time, the pervasiveness of Islam in the news and the seeming fervency of Muslims’ beliefs unnecessarily strikes fear in the hearts of some Christians about talking to Muslims about Christ.
If we follow a few simple rules, we can find a bridge to talk with many Muslims about Christ. In my book, How to Share Christ with Your Friends of Another Faith, I spell out steps that help build these bridges. None of the plans is complicated. Each provides a step-by-step blueprint of what to say.
 
With a Muslim friend, for example, consider these four steps toward sharing your faith:

1. Befriend a Muslim. A simple act of kindness such as bringing a small gift to a new Muslim neighbor can set the stage for the process of friendship.

2. Avoid the urge to be only a friend. Look for opportunities to bring God into your conversation for the purpose of letting your Muslim friend know you are a person of faith. For example, invite a friend out for coffee and then incorporate into the conversation something about how God recently has blessed you personally.

3. Look for “spiritual clues” that your new friend is interested in God. If the person mentions any desire to know God, you will know that God must be working in his or her heart. In preparation, read John 12:32 or 16:8 for proof that only God draws individuals to Himself.

4. Take the opportunity to share your faith even if clues don’t present themselves. If you have invested in several visits with your Muslim friend, you have earned the right to share Christ.
For approaching a cultural Muslim who is not fervent in his faith, meanwhile, Wade Akins, an evangelist who has worked in Muslim countries, gives this suggestion:
 
“My main objective is, as soon as I can, to get this person into the Word of God. I will do this simply by offering a New Testament or Bible. I simply say, ‘I have a love gift for you.’ Then I watch the facial reaction. ... My objective simply is to get Muslims to receive God’s Word.
 
“They may read it at night in secret or openly. If they react positively ... then I might say, ‘May I show you a few verses that explain to you how you may know for sure you will go to Paradise after you die?’ If the response is, ‘Yes,’ then I share with them either the [Bible or New Testament] or the following verses that explain the gospel: 1 John 5:13 and Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, 10:9 and 10:13.”
 
Remember: In any encounter, whether your effort to share Christ is successful is not up to you. God is the one who changes hearts, not us. We just need to watch God do His work.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Brawner is chairman of the department of missions and assistant professor of missions, theology and church history at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn. His book, “How to Share Christ with Your Friends of Another Faith,” is available at www.hannibalbooks.com and such online sites as amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.)
3/11/2013 3:41:56 PM by Jeff Brawner, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



8 questions to assess your evangelism

March 8 2013 by Matt Queen, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – A lady once criticized the evangelism methods used by Dwight L. Moody, the famed 19th century American pastor, to win people to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In response Moody replied, “I agree with you. I don’t like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?” Moody’s critic answered, “I don’t do it.” Moody quipped, “In that case, I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”

Like Moody, I would rather be a criticized personal evangelist than a non-evangelistic critic. Sometimes another’s critique of our evangelism is biblically warranted. At other times critical comments about our evangelism discourage us without cause. Perhaps the evangelistic enterprise would be served best if before 1) we critique and/or question the evangelistic practices of someone else, and/or 2) our evangelistic practices are critiqued and/or questioned by someone else, we sternly look ourselves in the mirror and say, “I question your evangelism!”

What questions might a believer ask himself in order to assess his evangelistic practices? In Tell It Often–Tell It Well, Mark McCloskey offers three essential questions every believer should ask himself in order to assess his evangelism and its methods biblically. In addition to McCloskey’s three questions (which are enumerated first in the list below), I suggest five additional questions. A believer’s response to each of these questions assists him in discerning 1) whether or not someone else’s critique of his evangelism proves warranted, and 2) what aspects of his evangelism fall short of the biblical ideal and need adjusting.

Concerning your practice(s) of evangelism:

1. Does the New Testament teach it?

Evangelism finds its origin in the New Testament. A believer who assesses his evangelistic practices should begin by ensuring his evangelism conforms to the evangelistic doctrines, instructions and principles found in the New Testament. McCloskey offers a few follow-up questions that frame the context of this particular question for personal evangelistic assessment. These questions include the following: “Is my approach to evangelism grounded in theological convictions regarding salvation, the gospel, and evangelism? Is it grounded in the certainties of God’s plan to redeem a lost creation, the lostness of man, and responsibilities of our ambassadorship?” Because it serves as the authoritative and foundational source for evangelism, the New Testament must inform the reasons for and way(s) in which a believer evangelizes.

2. Did the first century church demonstrate it?

The first-century church initially received the Great Commission of our Lord, who passed it down to all ages of His church. For this reason a believer interested in assessing his evangelism should consider the philosophy, practice, and pattern of the apostolic church. To assist someone in this dimension of his evangelistic assessment, McCloskey suggests the following supplemental considerations: “Has my philosophy and practice of evangelism been modeled by the first-century church? Have the theological realities that drove the first-century church to proclaim the gospel with boldness and sensitivity caused me to develop similar patterns for communicating my faith?” Biblical evangelism results from one’s evangelistic consistency with the philosophy, practice and pattern of the early church.

A personal evangelist faces temptations to adopt worldly, even sinful, standards in order to gain a hearing and become relevant. Nevertheless, he must be convinced that an evangelistic lifestyle incorporates a lifestyle of biblical holiness. While not every evangelistic approach practiced today can be found in scripture, an evangelistic practice consistent with scripture conforms to its standards of holiness, as the first-century church practiced it.

3. Does it work?

While a believer should evangelize with all excellence and purge ineffective practices, McCloskey has something else in mind here. He frames the intended meaning of this assessment question by offering another: “Does my philosophy and practice of evangelism make me effective in getting the gospel out to as many as possible, as soon as possible and as clearly as possible?” In other words, does what you believe about evangelism encourage or hinder your practice of it? No matter how “biblical” someone perceives his beliefs to be, any belief that deters him from evangelizing inevitably will lead him to deter others from evangelizing.

4. Does it ground itself in the authoritative command of Jesus found in the Great Commission?

McCloskey suggests we ought not to ask ourselves, “Why are men not coming to us?” Rather we must ask ourselves, “Why are we not going to men?” Though many symptoms prevent us from going to men with the gospel, they all result from disobedience to Jesus’ authoritative command in the Great Commission.

In his day William Carey confronted such disobedience when he published “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.” He contended that all believers have a duty to obey the Great Commission of our Lord.

Evangelism is not the result of mere coincidence. Evangelism rarely occurs when someone relegates it to a pastime activity. Evangelism ensues when a believer in Jesus Christ submits himself to the authoritative command of Jesus and disciplines himself to make disciples.

5. Does it demonstrate urgency considering the reality of heaven and hell?

Concerning the reality of heaven and hell, evangelism can be described in terms of two, opposite extremes – either lethargic or urgent. Though most evangelicals identify themselves as believing exclusivists, those who exercise a less-than-urgent kind of evangelism appear as practicing universalists. If heaven and hell really exist and someone’s eternal destiny in one or the other depends on whether or not he repents of his sins and believes in Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection for salvation, how then will he believe and be saved if he does not receive the gospel by means of evangelism (cf., Romans 10:14–17)? An unbeliever will not be saved on the basis that we have heard and now believe – he must hear the gospel of Christ in order to believe! Therefore, ensure that you exhibit an urgency to evangelize as many as possible, as soon as possible and as clearly as possible.

6. Does it consider the role of the Holy Spirit?

According to the Bible, a personal evangelist and the Holy Spirit cooperatively partner with one another in the evangelistic enterprise. Evangelism that fails to depend upon the Spirit of God has a tendency to become manipulative. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit does not evangelize on His own apart from the evangelistic witness of a believer. Rather, He assists a believer in the proclamation of the gospel to an unbeliever. For these reasons a personal evangelist should rely on the evangelistic role of the Holy Spirit in preceding (e.g., Acts 10:19–22; Acts 8:27–35), empowering (e.g., Acts 1:8;Acts 6:10), and emboldening his witness (e.g., Acts 4:8–13; Acts 4:29–31), as well as convicting an unbeliever of his sin and need for Christ (e.g., John 16:8–11) and sealing him for salvation after he hears the gospel and believes in Christ (e.g., Eph 1:13–14).

A believer who evangelizes without utilizing a helpful technique may experience frustration. However, a believer who evangelizes without depending on the Holy Spirit will find failure.

7. Does it incorporate the scriptures?

The previous assessment questions appeal to evangelism that incorporates a biblical model derived from the New Testament, the practice of the first-century church, and the Great Commission. This question, on the other hand, helps a believer assess the extent to which he includes the scriptures in his gospel presentation. Hearing the Word of Christ is prerequisite for biblical faith (Romans 10:17). Evangelistic proclamations in the New Testament overwhelmingly incorporate the scriptures (e.g.,Luke 24:14–32; Acts 2:14–41; Acts 3:11–26; Acts 4:1–12; Acts 7; Acts 8:4, 35; Acts 13:13–49; Acts 16:25–32; Acts 17:10–13; Acts 18:5, 28; Acts 20:27; Acts 26:22–23; Acts 28:23–27). When he evangelizes, a personal evangelist often summarizes the gospel in his own words or in the words of someone else (if he utilizes a witness training model). Whether he uses his own words or the words of another, a personal evangelist should ensure that his evangelistic proclamation incorporates and structures itself around the Word of God.

8. Does it call for a decision?

A personal evangelist does not evangelize merely to convey information about Jesus. Rather, a personal evangelist evangelizes in order to call people to faith in Jesus. An evangelistic presentation must include a call for decision for at least two reasons. First, evangelistic presentations recorded in the New Testament include a call for unbelievers to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation and to repent of their sins (e.g., Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14–15; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 14:15; Acts 26:20). Second, unbelievers do not know how to respond to the gospel apart from receiving instruction through an evangelistic invitation (e.g., Luke 3:10–14; Acts 2:37; Acts 16:30). For these reasons, ask yourself, “Does my evangelistic proclamation emulate those recorded in the New Testament?” Also ask yourself, “After I present the gospel to an unbeliever, does he know how he can receive the gospel?”

Though not an exhaustive list, the previous eight questions can assist believers in both evaluating and articulating a biblical philosophy of evangelism.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Matt Queen is assistant professor of evangelism & associate dean for doctoral programs in the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This column first was posted at www.TheologicalMatters.com, a Southwestern Seminary website.)
3/8/2013 4:39:40 PM by Matt Queen, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



How baseball is like the Christian walk

March 8 2013 by David E. Prince, Baptist Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Baseball means dealing with failure. “There is more Met than Yankee in all of us,” as Roger Angell has poignantly written.

Every person who has ever played the game of baseball has been a consistent failure. It has been more than 70 years since the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams, finished the 1941 baseball season with a .406 batting average. Williams’ failure rate of 60 percent means that he failed less often than any batter in the seven subsequent decades. In fact, only five other players in the live ball era (since 1920) have matched the success of his 60 percent failure rate. Babe Ruth, known for hitting 714 home runs, struck out 1,330 times in his Major League Baseball career. The Cy Young Award is baseball’s most coveted honor for the game’s best pitcher each season. And yet the award’s namesake lost 316 games as a major league pitcher.

The reality that baseball is a game of managed failure for every player, even the great ones, is one of the reasons the game imbedded so deeply in the fabric of American culture. Baseball became the national pastime because it reflected the national character – a collective team endeavor that called consistently for individual responsibility and personal sacrifice for the greater good. John Updike noted, baseball is “an essentially lonely game.” Once the batting order is set there is nowhere to hide; your turn at the plate is coming. The fact that the whole team is counting on you in that moment produces the possibility of personal exultation or humiliation. Unlike other youth sports, baseball doesn’t permit a game to be dominated by a star player whose teammates are simply along for the ride.

I fear that one of the reasons for the waning popularity of baseball in American culture is not because the game has changed but because we have changed. It takes time and patience to understand the game of baseball, and becoming a proficient player is hard – very hard. Natural physical gifting and innate athleticism are no predictors of baseball success. In fact, the baseball Hall of Fame extols the virtues of the game’s greatest players, and the shocking reality is not the amazing size, strength and speed of the game’s heroes but the almost comical diversity of body type and physical ability. The game’s greatest players have been tall and short, skinny and fat, slow and fast, muscular and flabby, intelligent, and well, not so intelligent. But they all have one thing in common. Every one of them developed the emotional capacity to persevere in the face of frequent, chronic failure, and occasional humiliation.

If my suppositions are correct, what was once seen as a part of the glory of baseball – learning to persevere in the face of consistent failure – is now perceived to be a reason to avoid the game. Parents simply looking for ways to keep their children busy and happy will choose sports that do not include the pressure and individualized responsibility that baseball has always demanded. Baseball requires a kind of moral courage that keeps persisting in the face of inevitable repeated personal failures. That is the sober unalterable reality for Albert Pujols and every little leaguer as well. Thus, baseball demands a huge time commitment for dads, not simply in teaching and repetitively practicing the fundamentals of the game, but also calling sons to the kind of moral courage the game demands. Rarely ever will a boy persist in baseball if his dad has little interest in the game. As Diana Schaub avers in her essay “America at Bat,” “Without fathers, there is no baseball, only football and basketball.”

Baseball does not fit well with the current trend of sports leagues that don’t keep score and where the goal is for everyone to be successful and know that they are always a winner. Such a notion does violence to a game that is structurally committed to constant reminders of the participant’s finitude and allows no room for such utopian fantasies. One of the reasons baseball has been so slow to embrace instant replay in the sport (and rightly so) is that a game marked by chronic managed failure propagates no delusions of human perfectionism in its players or its umpires. When a baseball purist asserts, “Bad calls are a part of the game,” he is saying something about the warp and woof of the game.

Only genuine baseball fans understood the reaction of Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga during the 2010 baseball season when he was one out from throwing a perfect game (there have only been 23) and veteran umpire Jim Joyce made one of the worst big moment calls in baseball history. Joyce, inexplicably, called the batter safe at first base. When the next batter was retired, Galarraga was saddled with the most disappointing one hitter in the history of the game. How did Galarraga respond to the injustice? When it happened he offered a stunned grin and after the game he said, “He is human. Nobody’s perfect.... I want to tell him not to worry about it.” That moment was a beautiful window into what makes baseball unique.

No baseball player can survive and thrive without hope. When Henry Aaron was asked if he arrived at the ballpark every day knowing he would get two hits his reply was, “No. What I do know is that if I don’t get ’em today, I’m sure going to get ’em tomorrow.” Babe Ruth was fond of saying, “Every strike gets me closer to the next home run.” Persistent, daily plodding in the face of chronic managed failure, driven by future hope sounds a lot like my daily Christian walk.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). But he went on to write, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! ... There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 7:25a, 8:1). The reality of his persistent failure and limitations did not paralyze him because he knew his story fit into a larger picture of the story of Christ. In the Kingdom of Christ, “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” and those who love God are being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29).

As players prepare for Opening Day, every one of them knows perfection is impossible. No team will win 162 games; no one will bat 1.000, and no regular starting pitcher will go undefeated. Nevertheless, they practice with a sense of hope that this just might be their year. Despite their constant failure, if they keep stepping up to the plate and heading out to their position in the field, it all might work together for something special and if not there is always next year.

The very existence of another baseball season, another 162-game, seven-month exercise in hopeful, managed failure is a faint echo of the glorious promise James offers to all who have put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Every one of us has the tendency to compare the highlight reel of others’ successes to our daily failures and lose heart. But baseball, for those of us who love it, provides a constant reminder that everyone (even the superstars) strikes out, but the game still goes on.

Like most years, I think this just might be the year for my beloved Atlanta Braves to win it all. But whether they do or not, I am thankful that the chill of winter is giving way to spring and umpires will soon yell, “Play Ball!” Angell was right, “There is more Met than Yankee in all of us” but as much as a Braves fan hates to admit it, there is a glimmer of a greater glory that the Mets keep taking the field.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky. He also serves as assistant professor of Christian preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.)
3/8/2013 4:38:58 PM by David E. Prince, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Christian leaders in the digital age

March 7 2013 by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Digital Age is upon us. In the span of less than three decades, we have redefined the way humans communicate, entertain, inform, research, create and connect – and what we know now is only a hint of what is to come. But the greatest concern of the church is not a technological imperative, but a gospel imperative.

The digital world did not exist a generation ago, and now it is a fundamental fact of life. The world spawned by the personal computer, the Internet, social media and the smart phone now constitutes the greatest arena of public discussion and debate the world has ever known.

Leaders who talk about the real world as opposed to the digital world are making a mistake, a category error. While we are right to prioritize real face-to-face conversations and to find comfort and grounding in stable authorities like the printed book, the digital world is itself a real world, just real in a different way.

Real communication is happening in the digital world, on the Web and on the smart phone in your pocket. Real information is being shared and globally disseminated faster than ever before. Real conversations are taking place through voice, words and images, connecting people and conversations all over the world.

If the leader is not leading in the digital world, his leadership is, by definition, limited to those who also ignore or neglect that world, and that population is shrinking every minute. The clock is ticking.

Peril & promise in the digital kingdom

The digital world is driven by its entrepreneurial and ideological pioneers and cheerleaders, and they are a multitude. The numbers are staggering. The World Wide Web is, for all practical purposes, less than 20 years old. It now reaches every continent and country, linking over 2 billion people.

There are now 5.9 billion cellular subscribers, and that means 87 percent of the world's population. Cell phones, originally the toys of the very rich and powerful, are now more popular than landline phones in the poorest regions of the globe. The telephone pole will soon be an antique.

The blogosphere was unknown to humankind until the last 15 years, but just one blogging platform (WordPress) logs more than 300 million users each month who blog more than 2.5 billion pages. The world now turns to Google before even thinking of reaching for a dictionary or encyclopedia.

The central fixture of social media (for now), Facebook, was launched in February 2004 and now links more than 900 million users worldwide. Twitter, the micro-blogging sensation, was launched in May 2006 and boasts 140 million users who post 340 million tweets each day. Even more amazing is the fact that more than 1.6 billion search queries are performed on Twitter each day. For many Americans, Twitter represents the leading edge of news and communication.

The digital kingdom is massive and transformative. Older media are migrating to the Web, even as social media increasingly supplant voice technologies. Smart phones are actually small computers, used occasionally for voice calls.

The digital world is the wild west of information sharing and conversation. Just about everything can be found on the Internet, usually within a couple of mouse clicks. This includes everything from preaching to pornography, with politics and entertainment added to the mix.

The Internet and digital technologies connect people, and disconnect them. So much information and entertainment is available so instantly that it seems that the entire globe is developing an attention deficit problem. At the same time, these technologies have led to the greatest democratization of communications since the advent of spoken language. Christians can take the gospel into China, leaping over the “Great Firewall,” as many Chinese citizens refer to the efforts of their government to keep information out. North Korea struggles to isolate its people from the outside world yet cell phones (from Egypt!) are increasingly common, though illegal.

But the Internet also has disrupted the stable hierarchies of the old information age. A teenager with a computer can put out a blog that looks more authoritative than the blog written by the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation – and perhaps read by more people as well. Most of what appears on the Internet is unedited, and much of it is unhelpful. Some is even worse.

And yet, if you are not present on the Internet, you simply do not exist, as far as anyone under 30 is concerned. These “digital natives” rarely receive and even more rarely write letters. They know nothing but instant information, and studies indicate that they multitask by instinct, utilizing several digital devices at once, often even when sitting in a classroom.

The digital world is huge and complicated and explosive. It contains wonders and horrors and everything in between. And it is one of the most important arenas of leadership our generation will ever experience. If you are satisfied to lead from the past, stay out of the digital world. If you want to influence the future, brace yourself and get in the fast lane.

Developing an Internet presence

By now, just about every church, corporation, business, school, or organization has a presence on the Internet. If not, realize that you just do not exist, so far as untold millions of people are concerned.

If you are a leader, you are responsible to see that your organization's Internet presence is useful, attractive, inviting and well designed. If you need help, get help. The first impression on the Web is often the only impression you will make, so make it count.

Content is king. People come to your website because they are looking for information. Make sure they can find it and make certain it is worth finding. Your Web presence advertises to the world who you are, what your organization is all about and the seriousness of your commitment to that mission. The information on your site must be up to date, regularly updated and worthy of attention. If your Internet presence looks stale, visitors will assume that your organization is stale as well.

As a leader, consider establishing your own Internet presence as a part of your organization's Internet site. If this seems self-aggrandizing, just recognize that this comes with the territory when you are a leader. Visitors want to know what you think, how you communicate your organization's mission, and whether you inspire trust.

You have a message to communicate, and there is absolutely no virtue in failing to communicate that message. Make it serve the mission of your organization and drive visitors into its Web pages. Offer good content, and visitors will come back again. Let it grow old, and they will go elsewhere. This means a loss for your organization and its mission. Never forget that.

Make certain that visitors can find you and your organization. If search engines do not know you exist, only those who already know your Internet address can find you. That is not a growth strategy.

The gospel imperative in the Digital Age

The church is assigned the task of sharing the gospel, taking the message of Christ to the world, making disciples of all the nations. Christians have been about this task for more than 2,000 years, and we are now witnessing a resurgence in Great Commission vision and vigor in a new generation of gospel Christians.

Just as the Gutenberg Revolution granted the generation of the Reformation unprecedented new opportunities to communicate their message, the Digital Revolution presents today's believers with tools, platforms and opportunities that previous generations of Christians could not have imagined.

Christians – and Christian leaders in particular – should be taking advantage of blogs, social media and every available platform for communicating our message. We should be exercising stewardship in new opportunities to learn, teach and study online, recognizing that no generation before us had such rich opportunities.

At the same time, the Christian leader must be aware of the dangers and seductions of the digital world, knowing that every new technology can be used for both good and evil.

But our imperative to fulfill Christian leadership in the digital world is not technological. We should not use this technology simply because it is there. Our driving motivation must be a Gospel imperative – to see the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the full wealth of Christian conviction and the comprehensive reach of the Christian worldview set before a sinful world. In other words, the Christian imperative in the digital domain comes down to this – sharing the light in a world of darkness.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at his website, AlbertMohler.com.)
3/7/2013 3:11:01 PM by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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