March 2014

Peace in the midst of crisis

March 31 2014 by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press

On March 25 I had the privilege of speaking with Vyacheslav Nesteruk, president of the Baptist Union of Ukraine. A fellow Baptist who works in Ukraine helped facilitate the phone call and served as our translator. Vyacheslav is a faithful servant of Christ. It was a wonderful conversation between brothers in the Lord.

During our conversation, I expressed my prayerful support for pastor Nesteruk and let him know that I would be calling on all Southern Baptists to pray for our Baptist brothers and sisters in Ukraine as they minister in the midst of a national crisis. Russia’s seizure of Crimea and subsequent military build-up on the border of Eastern Ukraine has serious implications beyond just the politics of the moment. This is a spiritual crisis of the highest order.

After speaking on a number of points of mutual interest, we discussed specific prayer requests. Brother Nesteruk specifically asked Southern Baptists to pray for the following:
  • That there would be no war in Ukraine, but peace.
  • That there would be a sense of peace in the hearts of Ukrainian people, rather than a sense of unrest or anxiety.
  • For the economic situation, as sanctions imposed by Russia have already begun making life difficult in Ukraine.
  • Most of all, that people would be open to the gospel and actively seek the gospel during these troubled times.
These prayer requests take on special meaning when we think about Ukraine’s history.

Ukraine suffered horrific deprivation, starvation and oppression throughout most of the twentieth century. Lenin’s harsh rule of the early 1920s was followed by Stalin’s reign of terror in pre-WWII Ukraine. Beginning in 1929, thousands of Ukrainian scholars, scientists, cultural and religious leaders were falsely accused of plotting insurrection against Russia and were either shot without a trial or deported to prison camps in remote areas of Russia.

The following year, when private property was seized and farms “collectivized,” about 10 million Ukrainians were forcibly removed from their homes. Many were put on railroad cars and deported to the wilderness of Siberia. Stalin’s forced starvation of Ukraine in 1932-1933 resulted in as many as 7 million Ukrainian deaths. Our Ukrainian Baptist brothers and sisters were not exempt from these horrible events. Churches were destroyed and entire congregations perished from the face of the earth.

When Germany invaded Ukraine during World War II, things went from terrible to even worse. The German army drove the Russians inch by bloody inch across the countryside. Hundreds of thousands of noncombatants were killed or left homeless. A few years later, Russia fought to regain its lost territory. The retreating German army wreaked even more havoc, destroying every standing structure – homes, churches, businesses – in every village.

Those Baptists who managed to survive the war continued to experience persecution during 45 more years of Communist rule.

With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, a new wave of spiritual hope flooded the land. Despite continuing economic struggles, Baptists have seen family and friends come to faith in Christ, have rebuilt churches all across the country, and experienced a rising tide of religious liberty. The heart-rending hymns of suffering and persecution that dominated the 20th century churches have been replaced with vibrant songs of joy and deliverance during these 25 years.

The spiritual significance and importance of the Baptist ideal of a free church in a free state cannot be overstated!

The Baptist worker who translated our conversation told me this is indeed a special spiritual time. Almost all of the Ukrainian Baptist churches have been joining in special prayer for the nation during this current crisis. In fact, many have begun gathering in their city squares, hundreds at a time, for a concentrated time of prayer. In one city in Eastern Ukraine, more than 100 men have begun gathering for prayer every morning at 7 a.m. The same thing is happening in other parts of the country as well. For the first time since the early 1990s when restrictions against evangelism were eased, people are again very open to a gospel witness.

These are days of spiritual receptivity in the Ukraine. Pray for the people there. Pray for our Baptist brothers and sisters as they share the gospel and minister to hurting people in this time of national crisis.

And, as we pray, join me in praying for our own country, that people in the United States will also be open to a gospel witness and that it will not take a crisis of this magnitude to bring us to our realization of our need for the Lord.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank S. Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.)
3/31/2014 10:52:24 AM by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Cuteness vs. divine revelation

March 28 2014 by Paul Mathenia, Baptist Press

How do you compete with cuteness?
 
Everybody loves the cuteness, innocence and honesty of children. Now comes the story of Colton Burpo who, at age 4, told of a three-minute trip to heaven and returned to tell us Heaven Is For Real, a New York Times Bestseller published by Thomas Nelson in 2010.
 
Millions have read the gripping story that will soon be seen by predictably larger numbers when the movie version is released in April just in time for Easter.
 
Should this amazing testimony be taken at face value? Or as Todd Burpo, Colton’s father asked in the book’s prologue, “How could he [Colton] have known?” And, “Could this be real?”
 
Todd concluded that there is only one explanation for his son’s knowledge – it’s an eyewitness account in heaven itself. Therefore, what Colton said must be real. Reading various reviews and endorsements of the book, it appears that many, including evangelical leaders, have come to the same conclusion.
 
But how should a Bible-believing Christian respond?
 
The cuteness, innocence and honesty of 4-year-olds as well as the testimony of adults must bow before the divine revelation of God’s Word.
 
On the one hand I am happy the movie is coming out. What a great opportunity to get people talking about heaven! Those who view the movie will be open to discussing its views of heaven compared to biblical teachings. A clear and accurate presentation of the gospel can easily flow from this.
 
On the other hand I am saddened. Many people will succumb to the real temptation to base their view of heaven on the word of a 4-year-old boy instead of the Word of God. This type of reaction has already followed the book.
 
Space will allow just a few areas in the book that cause concern and may be part of the movie version:
  • Colton said that in heaven, “Everybody’s got wings” (p. 72), and “Pop [Todd’s grandfather] has really big wings” (p. 87). This is not found in the Bible. This description could further a common misunderstanding that humans become angels in heaven; but we do not.
  • Speaking of Pop on another occasion, Colton said, “He’s in heaven. He’s got a new body. Jesus told me if you don’t go to heaven, you don’t get a new body” (p. 136). The Bible assures believers they will get a new body, but the new body is not received until the resurrection. During the time between physical death and resurrection we continue to exist, but not in a physical body (1 Corinthians 15:12-58; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8).
  • Then there are odd revelations by Colton that seem to be accepted without question: God’s throne is “really, really big, because God is the biggest one there is” (p. 100) and the Holy Spirit is “kind of blue” (p. 103). These descriptions are not supported by Scripture.
  • My greatest concern is seen in the mostly subtle inferences, and sometimes direct statements, that God’s Word is somehow confirmed by the testimony of Colton. The Bible stands true on its own merits and is not dependent of one’s experiences to confirm it; on the contrary, the Word of God must confirm all experiences.
Remember Todd’s first question, “How could he [Colton] have known” some of the things he talked about? How could a person know information about dead loved ones they didn’t even know existed?
 
Anyone with young children knows they are like sponges. By 4 years of age, children’s concepts of heaven and God have been heavily colored by television shows they have watched, books that have been read to them, and conversations of countless adults and older children they have overheard. Further, the ability of the enemy to provide deceptive information cannot be ignored. The descriptions of heaven in this book are a common theme in other books that relate near-death experiences.
 
The Bible commands us, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). Whether through testimonies of near-death experiences, as in this instance, or overt false teaching, the test must always be God’s Word (Isaiah 8:20).
 
Think about this: God has spoken with finality by sending His Son back from the dead to show us the way to heaven. Would the One who has thus spoken send a dead loved one back to confirm His Word? We must remember that Satan, the great deceiver, can present himself as “an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).It should not surprise us if he misleads a young child.
 
Furthermore, for the rare occurrences in Scripture when God did allow one who had seen heaven to return, He did not permit any record of what they saw. He gave His reason to the rich man in hell: “... They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.... If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:29–31).
 
How should believers respond to “Heaven Is for Real”? Be cautious. Have a holy skepticism. Judge everything by God’s Word. Use the opportunity of this book and movie to talk about heaven. But of first importance, use the moment to share the Gospel of Jesus, the only hope of heaven!

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Paul Mathenia is founder of Discover Your Destiny (www.destinydeminar.com) based in Mountain Home, Ark., a conference ministry devoted to helping people prepare for their eternal destiny by sharing biblical teaching about life, death and beyond.)
3/28/2014 9:47:46 AM by Paul Mathenia, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



What happened to the Moravians?

March 27 2014 by Bryant Wright, Baptist Press

Church planting is hot. Few things inspire me more than young adults called to vocational ministry who want to take the gospel to the hard to reach. The tougher the city to reach, the more they want to go. The harder to reach the people group, the more willing they are to pay the price to take the gospel to them.
 
Yet in preparing for our church’s annual global ministries week when we bring in some of the partners we work with around the globe, I gained some new insights about the Moravians, a pietistic Christian sect that made frequent evangelistic visits to America and other nations during the colonial period. Most Christians only know about the Moravians as being instrumental in the conversion of John Wesley when he was returning from America to England as a failed Anglican missionary. The big reason for Wesley’s failure is that even though he was an ordained Anglican clergyman, he was not truly saved.
 
On the ship home, a terrible storm came upon the Moravians and Wesley. Fearing for his life, he was struck by their calm faith. He knew the Moravians had something he didn’t. Under great conviction, he soon came to personally trust Christ as his Savior and Lord during that famous Bible study on Romans on Aldersgate Street in London.
 
But what most don’t know is how the Moravians were such a dynamic missionary force in the 1700s and early 1800s. They were bold and courageous. Their zeal and passion for spreading the gospel was the driving force behind their movement. I got to thinking. What happened? What happened to the Moravians?
 
So I began to do some research and found there are just over 800,000 Moravians today. How could this dynamic missionary force be so small now? Was it a classic case of embracing liberal theology that killed the missionary zeal? No, it was not.
 
Nathan Finn, professor of church history at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, says that the Moravians were part of the Pietistic movement within the Protestant church that reacted against the dead orthodoxy among many Lutherans and Calvinists of their day. The Moravians felt what was important was preaching the gospel for the individual to be saved, or born again. They were so focused on that, they neglected doctrine. So what happened? This dynamic missionary movement lost its zeal because second- and third-generation Moravians didn’t know the basic doctrines of the faith. They didn’t turn from the gospel to liberalism or unbelief. They just weren’t taught the transforming power of the doctrines of our faith. So the children and grandchildren lost their zeal for taking the gospel to the world.
 
Could there be a more sobering warning to the church planting movement of today? What a passion young church planters and missionaries have for reaching the tough-to-reach with the gospel! Yet where are the basic doctrines of the faith emphasized and taught? Will this movement go the way of the Moravians?
 
Praise music is great for worship, yet so often it is weak on doctrine – especially in comparison with classic hymns of faith. Often, Sunday Bible study or Sunday School is confined to children while regular weekly Bible study for adults is evaporating. Small groups that are strong on fellowship and prayer and discussing the pastor’s sermon of the week are seen as the way to go.
 
Since parents have the major role in discipling their children, how can they do so without being taught key biblical doctrines of the faith? Is it realistic that the church meeting with their children once a week can get this done since so few parents will be trained for the task of spiritual leadership in the home?
 
Please know, I’m not advocating church as it used to be – with the structure and methods of yesterday. I am only asking the passionate young church planters and missionaries of today: How is the Spirit of God going to lead you to truly disciple the new followers of Jesus in your care – to teach them biblical doctrine so that each succeeding generation knows what they believe and why they believe it? Then hopefully the missionary and church planting zeal can continue to prosper with the third and fourth generations to come.
 
Some thoughts:
  1. David Platt’s Secret Church is seeking to address this need, yet how can this type of teaching be incorporated in the local church on an ongoing, weekly basis? One great teacher heard once a year is just skimming the surface of the week-to-week needs in discipleship.
  2. What Gen X and Millennial church leaders will step up and develop Bible study material on basic biblical doctrines of the faith in a style and language and methodology that Millennials gel with and are drawn to?
  3. How can publishers and ministries incorporate Gen X and millennial writers that use the social networking tools of technology to provide churches – especially new church plants and missionaries – tools for teaching the Bible and biblical doctrine to adults, teens and children?
While it’s vital to raise these questions, the answers will come from Spirit-led Gen Xers and Millennials who become just as passionate about discipleship as they are about reaching the unchurched for Christ in tough-to-reach areas. This is my great hope for today’s passionate generation of planters, missionaries and young adult Christians: that 50 years and 100 years from now a few remaining Christians will not wonder, “What happened to the passionate church planters and missionaries of the early 21st century?”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bryant Wright is senior pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
3/27/2014 1:43:04 PM by Bryant Wright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Where is the next James Madison?

March 26 2014 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – If you want to stand in the room where America as an idea was conceived, visit Montpelier, where James Madison grew up, lived most of his life and died.

Montpelier is a beautiful place, nestled in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. On clear days, you can see the peaks rising in the distance through the second-floor window in the library of the restored plantation house. I stood in that spot recently and trembled at the magnitude of what took place there, in the mind of one man. 

You can imagine Madison looking out that very window for inspiration during the months he spent alone there before the historic summer of 1787, poring over his own books and the many volumes of history, philosophy and politics sent to him by his friend and political ally Thomas Jefferson. When he emerged from his self-imposed intellectual retreat, Madison carried the ideas that would form the basis of the U.S. Constitution and its first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights. 

Without those founding documents, our nation – which was then a shaky confederation of former colonies on the verge of squandering their hard-won independence from England – would not exist. And you would not enjoy the right to speak, worship, vote and assemble with others as you please. Neither would untold millions of other people across the world, freed from their chains by the ideas Madison not only forged but ceaselessly labored for, wrote about and campaigned to see ratified.

To be sure, the encouragement of Madison’s great mentor Jefferson (who also wrote a little something called the Declaration of Independence) was crucial. So was the instant credibility George Washington brought when Madison persuaded the beloved revolutionary general to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Many others contributed to the basic principles that went into the Constitution, both during Madison’s formative years in the Virginia legislature and during the long, hot summer of the convention itself, where he spoke more than 200 times. 

But without Madison in his finest hour, where would we be today?

“As a framer and defender of the Constitution he had no peer,” historian Garry Wills wrote. “No man could do everything for the country – not even Washington. Madison did more than most, and did some things better than any. That was quite enough.”

He would go on to serve two terms as president, lead the young country through the War of 1812 and lived until age 85, the last of the Founding Fathers to pass off the scene. Yet in that pivotal year of 1787, James Madison was 36 years old. And he was far younger when he began grappling with the ideas that would make him the “Father of the Constitution.”

I highlight Madison’s youth at the time in order to pose a question: Where are the Madisons of today? More specifically, where are the spiritual Madisons?

We keep hearing that the Millennials, born after 1980, are leaving churches in droves (or never joining in the first place), that they are wary of making commitments to faith communities, government, school, marriage or any other institution. They like having unlimited options, we’re told, and prefer digital social networks to joining or forming the groups that traditionally have held society together. 

The Pew Research Center supplied more confirmation of those attitudes in its study released March 7, “Millennials in Adulthood: Detached from Institutions, Networked with Friends.”

“The Millennial generation is forging a distinctive path into adulthood,” the study reported. “Now ranging in age from 18 to 33, they are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry – and optimistic about the future. … [H]alf of Millennials now describe themselves as political independents and about three in 10 say they are not affiliated with any religion.”

Pew said Millennials are “at or near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the quarter-century [it] has been polling on these topics.”

You have to give Millennials credit for being optimistic about the future, given the crummy economic and career prospects they’ve been handed. Maybe that’s the natural energy and hope of youth. The grim economic outlook of recent years, not to mention massive student debt, also explains part of their reluctance to get married and enter into other major social or financial commitments. The issue of trusting others, however, is revealing.

“Millennials have emerged into adulthood with low levels of social trust,” Pew reported. “In response to a longstanding social science survey question, ‘Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?’ just 19 percent of Millennials say most people can be trusted, compared with 31 percent of Gen Xers [born from 1965 to 1980], 37 percent of [the Silent Generation, born from 1928 to 1945] and 40 percent of Boomers [born from 1946 t0 1964].”

People tend not to interact with those they don’t trust – and definitely won’t willingly work with them, join churches or other voluntary organizations with them, or cooperate with them to keep civil society functioning. 

Perhaps you’re a Millennial believer in Christ, but you’ve decided to take a pass on being part of a local church. It’s an outmoded institution encrusted with irrelevant traditions, you say. You’re “spiritual but not religious,” so you intend to worship on your own or with a few close friends. You plan to do ministry and missions that way, too, rather than bothering with bulky religious organizations that might waste your time and money. 

It’s your choice. But consider this: What if James Madison had decided to go it alone after the American Revolution? He could have stayed at Montpelier and enjoyed his big Virginia plantation – and let others worry about a fledgling nation on the edge of collapse. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves and plunged into the long, exhausting task of dialogue, debate, compromise and coalition-building that went into creating the United States of America out of the competing interests of 13 ornery colonies.

The church, a far older institution than the United States, is also the body of Christ. Christ commands that we not only worship, serve and proclaim the gospel alongside other sinners saved by grace, but that we love them.

In order to form a more perfect union, we must commit ourselves to renewing the imperfect one we have. We need you to be a part of it.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board’s global correspondent. Visit WorldView Conversation, the blog related to this column.) 
 
3/26/2014 10:28:42 AM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Where are the wise at Gardner-Webb?

March 25 2014 by M. Doyle Holder, Guest Column

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:20, “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age?” I would ask the Gardner-Webb University (GWU) leadership these same questions in their decision to allow an openly gay, ordained Baptist minister to speak in their “Life of the Scholar” (LOTS) series.
 
Cody Sanders, a 2005 graduate of GWU, spoke about his most recent book, Queer Lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow: What All Christians can Learn from LGBTQ Lives. He also published the second edition of: Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Resource for Congregations on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. According to his website, Cody lives in Sacramento, Calif., with his partner Ben Curry, who is also a Baptist minister.
 
According to the Feb. 27 issue of The Shelby Star, “Dr. Ben Leslie, GWU provost and executive vice president, sent an open letter to members of the GWU community highlighting the event’s purpose, which he said was to understand a position on an increasingly common point of view within Protestantism. In his letter, he also said Sanders is a professing Christian and an alumnus of the university.
 
This young man is a son of GWU who has taken a different road, and the LOTS lecture is an opportunity to understand better the views that characterize his writings. Mr. Sanders’ views are not the views of the university or its leadership. But university leadership does believe that mature college students benefit from talking openly about the serious issues and challenges of the day.”
 
Where is the wisdom in allowing Mr. Sanders to speak at GWU? Is there wisdom just in the fact that he graduated from GWU in 2005 and has become a rising star and a published author in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community? Or was it his notoriety as a Baptist minister who is living an openly gay relationship with his Baptist minister lover? Who is next in the LOTS lecture series?
 
Will GWU allow other alumni who have openly violated scripture to present a lecture on his or her perspective?
 
According to scripture, homosexuality is not descriptive of who one is, but of the sin that individual practices.
 
The forgiveness of that practice is promised in 1 Corinthians 6:11 where the Apostle Paul said: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
 
Is it wise to give Mr. Sanders a forum for promoting his publications, his assumption being that if we would only read his books, we would be as enlightened as he is? Even one of his titles suggests that if, we Rightly Divide the Word of Truth, we could arrive at his distorted conclusion.
 
There is fear that GWU leadership may be guilty of 1 Timothy 3:7, “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Is it wise for the leadership of GWU to compromise their convictions for the sake of academic freedom and fairness; then take little thought in offending a holy God and North Carolina Baptists who have supported GWU?
 
Is there wisdom in believing that mature college students can actually benefit from the musings of an individual who has committed his life to distorting scripture, disobeying the Savior and denying the sinfulness of his own behavior?
 
The lack of wisdom assumes that mature college students, whether Christians or not, need to at least be given an opposing view of sexuality which will enable them to make their own choices.
 
What students need is to be challenged to live godly and holy lives, loving Jesus and loving sinners enough to call all sin what it is, whether homosexual or heterosexual.
 
I noticed on the GWU homepage this motto: “Learning and leadership for God and Humanity in a changing world.” Did Cody Sanders go down a different road in spite of his days at GWU or because of it?

Is there more to his life than just being a son of GWU? The apostle Paul said in Ephesians 5:17, “Do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – M. Doyle Holder is pastor of Philadelphia Baptist Church in Connelly Springs.)

Related: Frank Bonner, president of Gardner-Webb University, responded to this letter. Click here to read the response.

3/25/2014 11:06:04 AM by M. Doyle Holder, Guest Column | with 4 comments



Millennials & the call for dialogue

March 25 2014 by Michael McEwen, Guest Column

A few weeks ago at the State Evangelism Conference in Raleigh, I listened to Tom and Stephen Wagoner discuss their distinctive ministries.
 
Here are a father and son who love Jesus and faithfully pastor their congregations, yet they have different approaches to disciple-making and ministry.
 
Tom has pastored Central Baptist Church in Dunn for 30 years, and he describes himself as “a country preacher” with “a big choir and a rural church.”
 
Stephen, influenced by the Acts 29 network, is a pastor of a missional community called the Church in the Triad.
 
On the stage, the two continued to emphasize different contexts and generations require disparate methodologies.
 
While I’ve heard this principle taught dozens of times, I thought it would be an opportune time to expound on some identity markers of my generation – the Millennials – in order to provoke transgenerational dialogue in the church where you serve. Millennials are a very confusing group to interpret and understand. Speaking about Russia in his day, Winston Churchill once remarked that this political superpower was “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” This captures well the lives of the largest and most diverse generation in American history, the Millennials.
 
Millennials are individuals between 18- to 29-years-old. They’re also known as “Generation Y,” the “Mosaics” or “Generation Me.” But be careful to not label them too much, they’re skeptical of designations.
 
In fact, Pew Research makes this point well. “Only about half (49 percent) of Millennials say the phrase ‘a patriotic person’ describes them very well – with 35 percent saying this is a ‘perfect description.’”  Let me see if I can provide some clarity: think about an envelope you just received in the mail. It has a few identification markers: one being a (sticker) stamp and also an (embossed) stamp. One is stuck on, the other is etched or imprinted onto the envelope.
 
Millennials may use labels, but they don’t want them to be “etched” on. Generally speaking, they attempt to alienate themselves from any descriptor. Labels, the logic goes, are stifling, rigid, confining and artificial.
 
Which leads to another identity marker of Millennials: the religious Nones. Barna Research has done more work in this area than any other organization or company that I am aware of.
 
The Nones, Barna notes, are “those who self-describe as ‘spiritual, but not religious’ – individuals who like to associate with what they perceive as the positive elements of spirituality but not the negative associations of organized religion…the ‘Nones’ [are] the much-discussed adults who are religiously unaffiliated and who don’t want to use any conventional label for their religious faith.”
 
“Religiously unaffiliated” doesn’t mean “atheistic” or “agnostic” toward God; 86 percent of Millennials believe in God. Rather, the Nones are skeptical toward most institutions – political and religious, while somewhat more optimistic toward educational institutions. Pertaining to the religious sphere, Millennials may love Jesus but they’re hesitant about the church. As we are all too aware, one of the prominent characteristics of Millennials is their usage of technology and how this influences their social life. Smartphones are now in the hands of 1.4 billion people and 81 percent of Millennials are on Facebook. With this digital explosion comes new patterns of thinking, relating and influence. This can be both good and bad. As for the good, Millennials are very relational creatures with most average 250 friends on Facebook. They love sharing their stories, their “statuses” and they like “liking” their friends’ pictures.
 
Some analyses show that Christian Millennials are one of the factors behind the downsizing of the megachurch.
 
Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources said, “This generation is already affecting the size of the worship gathering … worship centers will be smaller. The Millennials are at the forefront of this facility revolution. They will eschew large worship services for more informal and smaller gatherings.” With an emphasis on authentic community and healthy relationships, the motto for Millennials is, “Small is the new big.” Christian Millennials want to be in a church that preaches and practices social justice and where congregation care is carefully and thoughtfully exercised.
 
On the flip-side, technology can be bad as well. David Kinnaman, president of Barna Research, says in his book, You Lost Me: “Technology access allows [Millennials] to experience and examine content origination from nonbiblical worldviews, giving them ample reasons to question the nature of truth.”
 
In the past few generations, wisdom was primarily given through structures such as the family, educational systems and religious institutions. With the rise of the Internet and with it the accessibility to content anywhere in the world, knowledge is at their fingertips. Literally! Hence, the traditional form of passing down insight about the world, and how to inhabit it well, has been largely bypassed with the creation of smartphones and similar technologies.
 
For instance, if the average Millennial wants to know the answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” In generations past, an individual would have asked his or her grandmother or father; today, all the individual has to do is “Google it.” And when Google provides approximately 730 million results in 0.58 seconds (seriously, “Google it”), the familiar conclusion becomes, “Well, there must be more than one meaning to life.” This breeds not only skepticism toward certain authorities, but it also encourages an unhealthy pluralism and a tolerance that says where truth is whatever you want it to be.
 
Lastly, even though Millennials might be more likely to search for answers through technology, they’re very much open to mentorships that can become fertile ground for discipleship. In fact, 90 percent of Millennials who drop out of the church didn’t have a mentor. This alarming statistic cries out for all generations to take seriously the role of mentorship in an age where young adults are more likely to be “discipled” by screens rather than human beings.
 
Indeed, I am a Millennial writing about Millennials for a majority audience that is likely not Millennial. No, this guest column is not narcissistic – a common label given to Millennials by our elder generations. As Tom and Stephen emphasized in their interview, the church needs honest, trans-generational dialogue. And when all ages of saints can gather together, genuinely discuss and partner in this Great Commission mission, the gospel advances. This is what I’m after.
 
These facts provoked my wife, Jade, and I to choose a church that encompasses all generations, young and old. We desire wisdom from the generations preceding us and in turn, we want to offer it to the generations after us.
 
I apologize that we Millennials may be “riddles wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” The best advice I can offer is this: Please remain patient with us, because we truly desire relationships, wisdom and Jesus.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael McEwen is content editor for the Recorder.) 
3/25/2014 10:58:42 AM by Michael McEwen, Guest Column | with 0 comments



Reaching our neighbors with the gospel

March 24 2014 by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press

Perhaps the best known parable of Jesus is the Good Samaritan. Jesus gave this teaching in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29*).
 
In 2011, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) adopted the Ethnic Study Committee Report that contained a series of recommendations designed to increase participation of ethnic churches and church leaders in Southern Baptist life. The report was designed in part to help Southern Baptists answer Jesus’ question in light of the changing demographics in our nation and across the SBC.
 
Since then, SBC Executive Committee president Frank S. Page, in concert with the North American Mission Board, has appointed four ethnic and racial advisory groups. Their purpose is to provide information, insight and counsel to NAMB and EC staff relative to the special needs and concerns of ethnic churches and church leaders in the Southern Baptist network of churches. The advisory councils are Hispanic, appointed in 2011; African American, appointed in 2012; Asian American, appointed in 2013, and Multi-Ethnic, appointed this year.
 
Researchers have projected that within the next few years there will be no majority ethnic or racial population in the U.S. In light of these changing demographics, our Lord’s Great Commission becomes even more urgent as we seek to engage all peoples (translated from the Greek phrase ta ethne) with the gospel, beginning in our own neighborhoods (Matthew 28:18–20).
 
How, then, should we pray?
 

To see with the eyes of Jesus

On more than one occasion, Jesus urged His disciples to see with a vision refined by the Spirit of God – to really see that “the fields are ready unto harvest!” (John 4:35). We have no alternative; we must see with the eyes of Jesus.
 

To feel with the heart of Jesus

Matthew used a strong phrase to express Jesus’ deep-seated compassion for the scattered multitudes. Matthew wrote, “When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Our neighborhoods are changing. We must pray that the deep-seated love that drove the heart of Jesus will likewise drive our hearts, that we will love our neighbors as ourselves.
 

To hear the words commanded by Jesus

Luke told the story of 35 soul-winning teams Jesus sent to evangelize the cities He was about to visit. Jesus gave them a specific command: “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2). NAMB’s TenTwo initiative, based on this text, is designed to remind Southern Baptists to pray for additional laborers to participate in the harvest.
 

To hear God’s general call as a specific calling

Isaiah heard a general missionary call from the Lord (Isaiah 6:8, “Who will go for us?”). When he heard it, he responded immediately with a specific reply, “Here am I. Send me.” Can we be content to pray the TenTwo prayer without simultaneously hearing the Spirit of God call our own hearts to the harvest fields? May the Lord break our hearts for the things that break His!
 

To hear the perspectives of our brothers and sisters in Christ

As the advisory groups have met with Page and other EC staff, one common denominator has been a broken heart for the lostness of their own peoples. An illustrative question posed by one of the councils asked, “Are there sufficient ethnic church leaders in empowered positions at every level of SBC life (churches, associations, state conventions and SBC entities) to provide input needed to have culturally informed strategies to reach” the rapidly expanding people groups living in our own neighborhoods?
 
In Romans 10, the Apostle Paul asked a series of questions:
  • But how can they call on Him they have not believed in?
  • And how can they believe without hearing about Him?
  • And how can they hear without a preacher?
  • And how can they preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:14-15)
Paul answered his questions by drawing from an Isaiah 52:7 visual image: “As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things!’” (Romans 10:15).
 
Who, then, is my neighbor? In the last church I served as pastor, a godly lady named Nancy was dying with cancer. She had a passion to reach women from non-Anglo families in our community. Days before her death, she called me to visit her home. When I arrived, she was surrounded by several young adults with whom she had been sharing the gospel. Too weak to speak, she asked me to share the gospel with them once again. A few moments later, one of these dear ladies prayed to receive Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.
 
After she confessed her faith in Jesus, I asked what motivated her to leave her nominal religious background to trust in Jesus Christ as the living Savior. Her answer lingers in my mind. Pointing to Nancy, she said, “Love built a bridge from her heart to mine, and Jesus walked across.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – All Scripture references are HCSB. Roger S. Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee.)
3/24/2014 2:22:51 PM by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



How NAMB assists churches in evangelism

March 21 2014 by Al Gilbert, NAMB/Baptist Press

God works through His people, the Church. The Bible makes it very clear. The local church is central in God’s plan to move the gospel throughout the world. That’s why the evangelism teams at the North American Mission Board  (NAMB) are geared to encourage and extend the ministries of the local church.
 
We believe in the continuum of church – every evangelism effort should be rooted in and flow back into the local church. NAMB’s role becomes clear in the light of this conviction.
 
North America needs more churches. This may not be apparent in your community but it is clear when we look at the density and diversity of our cities – especially outside the South region. In many places Southern Baptists must plant more evangelistic churches if we want to proclaim Christ and disciple new believers in every place in North America.
 
Many established churches need help. As we learn from the challenges of church planting in the cities, we can better serve established churches struggling with how to share Christ in a changing and diverse culture. We are committed to discovering best practices for effective ministry and sharing these approaches with Southern Baptist churches and partners.
 
NAMB’s evangelism teams are encouraging the local church through:
 

Church revitalization

Research indicates that only 10-15 percent of SBC churches are healthy and multiplying. What can be said about the 85-90 percent of our churches that are plateaued, declining or at risk? There may be other factors but many of our churches have lost their spiritual health and outreach focus. That’s why NAMB has placed revitalization in the evangelism group. Working with conventions and local Southern Baptist partners, we encourage struggling churches to refocus. We are also coming alongside dying churches to offer a vision of starting something new by replanting as a legacy church.
 

LoveLoud

Historically, churches have built relational and evangelistic bridges through mercy ministries. Increasingly, churches across our Convention are renewing their commitment to this way of engaging their communities. Our LoveLoud team is working to identify and highlight churches effectively serving and sharing Christ. We encourage every church to engage in “ministry evangelism.” New life, found in the gospel, can bring restoration to neglected neighbors, neglected communities and neglected children. We encourage churches to join this movement of meeting significant human need while sharing Christ.
 

Evangelism Networks and Resources

We are actively working with our partners to provide tools and strategies for churches to use in evangelism and discipleship.
 
NAMB is preparing a new tool that will help pastors teach their members how to enter into gospel conversations. We are encouraging churches in evangelism training, ethnic networks, apologetics, interfaith witnessing, the Evangelism Response Center and Crossover. For instance, our GPS: God’s Plan for Sharing emphasis for 2014-15 is “Serving Across North America.” We are praying that churches will discover new ministry opportunities as they engage in a Day of Service or Season of Service in their communities.
 
NAMB’s evangelism teams are extending the local church through:
 

Chaplaincy

We help extend ministry into areas where local churches might not have ready access. Chaplains seek to represent Christ on U.S. military bases and in deployment situations throughout the world. Chaplains also serve in prisons, hospitals and in other institutional settings. Our chaplaincy ministry endorses chaplains and encourages them as they share Christ where most pastors and churches can’t. Additionally, we are beginning to see the potential of new church plants in communities near military facilities.
 

Disaster relief

For decades, Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers have responded in times of great human need with practical help and the love of Christ. NAMB serves in a coordinating role when disasters require multi-state response and maintains relationships with national government and relief entities. We seek to extend the reach of Southern Baptists who represent Christ and share the gospel. In some cases new churches emerge as people respond to the gospel in the midst of their heartache. We are committed to extending help, healing and hope when meeting physical needs in disaster settings.
 

Collegiate evangelism

Currently there are 21.7 million students on college campuses in North America. Our collegiate evangelism team is seeking to accelerate a movement to reach students with the gospel and catalyze a discipleship movement that encourages every student to share their faith. Many college students are being mobilized for mission service as they answer the call of God. Outside the South, we are seeking to foster a church planting movement around college campuses.
 
The Great Commission was given to every believer and every church. It is exciting to work together with you – encouraging and extending the ministry of the local church – seeking to share the Good News of Christ with every person in North America.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Al Gilbert is vice president for evangelism at the North American Mission Board.)
3/21/2014 10:31:36 AM by Al Gilbert, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Theology at the Supreme Court

March 20 2014 by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press

The U.S Supreme Court will hear a monumental religious liberty case on Tuesday (March 25). It’s being brought by the Hobby Lobby chain of stores, owned by the evangelical Green family, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, owned by Mennonites. The owners of both businesses object to being forced to provide coverage for abortion-causing contraceptive drugs under Obamacare.
 
The only true exception to the Obama administration’s HHS mandate is for churches and their auxiliaries. But the mandate caused such a furor that the administration at least made a pretense to accommodate non-church-related religious organizations such as hospitals and schools, but critics said it still would force such groups to provide access to the drugs through third parties. Nearly 50 non-profit lawsuits have been filed against the mandate and nearly 50 for-profit lawsuits, encompassing 300-plus plaintiffs.
 
However, for private businesses whose owners see the HHS mandate as a violation of their religious beliefs, the administration did not even go through the motions of offering conscience protection as it did with religious nonprofits.
 
Why not?
 
Constitutional attorney David French asked that question in a recent column at National Review. He offers an answer, wondering if there’s a twisted version of Christian theology that has managed to linger in our culture – one that is actually undergirded by what he calls “an old yet popular theological mistake, the sacred/secular distinction in work and life.”
 
It’s this idea that a calling to the ministry is somehow a higher calling than that to other work. French writes, “The distinction is so prevalent amongst certain evangelicals, you can sense a barely-restrained eagerness to get out of the secular workforce as soon as possible – to move as quickly as possible into the ‘Lord’s work.’” This outlook in the culture has produced the idea that for-profit work, though done by sincere, believing people of faith, is less worthy of protection from state interference than work done for churches and parachurch ministries.”
 
Theologian Lester DeKoster wrote an important booklet in which he explained how churches have disconnected discipleship from everyday life. DeKoster argued that the biblical model of stewardship encompasses our whole lives, “how we cultivate the world in all our activities.”
 
David French points to the “real-world effects of free enterprise – with billions lifted out of poverty, life expectancies extended, and a quality of life unrecognizable to individuals who lived even a century ago.” He asks, “Is a soup kitchen a morally superior enterprise to a company that provides its employees with meaningful work and a livelihood?” He wonders if this is “why Americans have acquiesced in the continual encroachments on for-profit liberty.”
 
In the Hobby Lobby case, the federal government argued that private individuals lose their religious freedom when they go into business. Again, we see the residual effect of this false sacred/secular distinction. Believing saint, for freedom’s sake, pray that such reasoning is shot down at the Supreme Court.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Penna Dexter is a regular panelist and frequent guest host of Point of View, a nationally syndicated issues-oriented talk radio program. Her weekly radio commentaries air on the Moody Broadcasting Network and Bott Radio Network.)
3/20/2014 10:17:09 AM by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Lessons learned in choir rehearsal

March 19 2014 by Joe McKeever, Baptist Press

“Come before Him with joyful singing” (Psalm 100:2).
 
During the time I sang with the choir at our church, I loved singing for the worship service, but had to make myself go to rehearsal.
 
Rehearsing songs – whether for church or school assembly or for the juke joint down the street – is hard work.
 
Gradually, I began to see some patterns forming. Eventually, those shapes merged to form life-lessons that have remained with me all these years.
 
I do not like new songs.
 
The minister of music would say, “Joyce, pass out the new music,” and I would cringe. I did not read music and did not do well trying to negotiate my way around these clotheslines of blackbirds. The piano is picking out the melody of the song and I’m working to get it. This is no fun. It’s work.
 
But a funny thing happened. The following week, when the director passed out that music for the second time, I was interested in that piece. It had possibilities. And the third week, I kind of liked it. By the fourth week, I was in love with it and had been humming it all week.
 
But you know what happened, I expect. At rehearsal, the minister handed out some new music once again. And again, I cringed. “I hate learning new music.”
 
We sound better together than we do separately.
 
Even the good singers, when called on to do a little solo in rehearsal to help the others, were not all that great. And of course, I was the very definition of mediocre. But a funny thing happened. When we all joined our voices together, the result was something magical.
 
I wonder if that’s the reason for church. We work better and worship better and pray better in concert with brothers and sisters than we do alone.
 
I sing better and learn faster when standing near a good singer.
 
Larry Andrews, our minister of music, would place the non-music-reading singers next to solid singers. And we would pick up the notes from them. Later, once we got the hang of the song, we could stand anywhere.
 
Encouragers and examples to those who are new to the faith are worth their weight in gold.
 
Singing can transform your mood.
 
That 100th Psalm calls for us to “enter His gates with thanksgiving.” There is the clue as to how to “come before Him with joyful singing.” We start by giving thanks to our Lord for His abundant blessings. Do that –”count your many blessings, see what God hath done” – and the darkness of the blues seems to dissipate. Soon, you’re singing and doing so quite well, thank you.
 
Those who bless us on Sundays are the ones who did the hard work of rehearsing during the week.
 
Just this week, a pastor told me about his worship ensemble. “I cannot get them to come to rehearsal. They love to sing on Sunday, but if I announce a rehearsal, only one or two show up.” Not good. I suspect they enjoy gathering fruit from crops they did not plant or cultivate, too. That kind of laziness is common. Something inside me feels the same way.
 
Rehearsing is work. But for those who know how transforming an hour of worship with God’s people can be, it’s an investment of faith.
 
When done right, a rehearsal for worship is also a time of worship.
 
Many a time, I have left the choir rehearsal with my spirit lifted and my heart full. The fellowship with friends was great. Some of us hugged one another, and we laughed a lot. We fell in love with some songs and learned to express our love for our Savior more with them.
 
Singing is as much a faith enterprise as praying or giving.
 
Anytime we do anything by faith – believing, worshiping, giving, praying, going, serving – we do so regardless of what we have or do not have, what we know or still question, those nagging doubts and the discouragement from others. The operative word is “regardless.” When we pray or drop our offering into the plate, we do so regardless of seeing the results in our lifetime. And with singing to others, in church or assembly or a classroom or nursing home, we must not look for immediate results.
 
Paul and Silas showed us how this is done in Acts 16:25. Beaten and their wounds left untreated, then locked into stocks in the interior of the Philippi jail, they began to pray and sing hymns. “And the prisoners were listening to them.”
 
They’re always listening to us sing.
 
In the case of Paul and Silas, God did some amazing things that night, all of them instigated by their faith-singing.
 
What will He do with your singing? I have no idea. But count on it, friend, He will use it for His glory.
 
So, go ahead. Join with me now. “I love you, Lord. And I lift my voice, to worship You, O my soul rejoice. Take joy my King, in what you hear. May it be a sweet sweet sound in Your ear.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe McKeever, on the Web at www.joemckeever.com, is a Baptist Press cartoonist and columnist, a former longtime pastor and former director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association.)
3/19/2014 11:42:57 AM by Joe McKeever, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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