March 2014

A new ‘Cosmos,’ same message

March 18 2014 by Dan Dewitt, Baptist Press

The first documentary by the title of “Cosmos” was broadcast in 1980. Now the show is back.
 
The original began with a panoramic shot of atheistic scientist Carl Sagan standing in front of the ocean. The new series features astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, also an atheist.
 
In the first production Carl Sagan delivered his famous maxim, “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be,” a fitting summary of a naturalistic worldview. For the sake of full disclosure, formally trained scientists are not the only ones to recount this creed. Not long ago I picked up an old copy of the Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature. One chapter begins these words, “Nature is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”
 
In the new Cosmos, Tyson encourages viewers to “Test ideas by experiment and observation; build on those ideas that pass the test, reject the ones that fail; follow the evidence wherever it leads and question everything.”
 
For anyone who values scientific discovery, his advice is appropriate. But how can Sagan’s original opening line stand up to this standard? We have not proven scientifically that nature, or the cosmos, is all there is, or was, or ever will be. So, where has this belief come from? I think we should heed Tyson’s advice and question everything, including this materialistic manifesto.
 
Even as the remix of Cosmos is sure to fascinate and educate, it is also likely committed to regurgitating some of the old faith/science myths, and perpetuate an atheistic worldview. Even in the first of the 13 broadcasts, Tyson is already postulating the possibility of a multiverse, a theory that there is an infinite number of randomly ordered universes beyond our universe. It is interesting to see someone who reminds us to only follow the evidence proposing a theory that has zero physical evidence.
 
This shouldn’t be overly surprising as the multiverse has become a go-to theory for many public atheists as a way of explaining away the uniqueness of our universe to host a planet that allows for life, particularly human life. And while Tyson maintains that we don’t know how life began, his comments make it clear that he is committed to only one option, as he tells viewers, “You, me, everyone – we are made of star stuff.” Of course we are made of star stuff. After all, the cosmos is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be.
 
I look forward to the full series and I’m sure I will learn a lot. Yet, I am prepared for some measure of the hum drum of the popular, yet false, notion that Christianity is at odds with science to be mingled with awe-inspiring shots of the universe. While I’m certain the show will deliver on its promise to provide a fascinating tour of the cosmos, I’m also confident the new documentary will convey the old message that nature is all there is.
 
I think some of the historical greats from the science hall of fame who were men of great Christian commitment like Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler and even Galileo, were they alive today, would find the show captivating even while rejecting its atheistic slant. As Kepler once said: Science is thinking God’s thoughts after him. Had Kepler or Newton hosted the original broadcast instead of Sagan, or the new one instead of Tyson, it is likely the opening scene would begin with the words, “The heavens declare the glory of God.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dan DeWitt is dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Quotes from the show are taken from the following Washington Post article “Cosmos: A Fond Return to the Vastness of Space.”)
3/18/2014 11:10:58 AM by Dan Dewitt, Baptist Press | with 2 comments



Learn from Jesus to pray

March 17 2014 by Steve Gaines, Baptist Press

The Lord Jesus is the only expert on prayer. Though He was God in the flesh, He put a high premium on prayer. How do you explain that? I do not know, except He knew that communication with the Father was imperative.
 

Jesus prayed openly.

Luke recorded that Jesus prayed at His baptism. As He prayed, the heavens were opened and the Spirit of God came down upon Him (Luke 3:21). I love that. One of the ways you open heaven is to pray.

 
Jesus prayed intentionally.

Immediately after His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days of prayer and fasting. As He prayed He came under temptation, but was victorious through prayer, fasting, and knowing and quoting Scripture – the only protection any of us have with any type of temptation. Jesus came out of the wilderness with an anointing upon Him. He came out “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).
 

Jesus prayed constantly.

In his Gospel account, Mark noted that early in the morning while it was still dark, after a very busy previous day and night, Jesus went out to a place of solitude and prayed (Mark 1:35). The language suggests it was a protracted time of prayer. This was an apparent regular practice, for Luke indicated that Jesus often slipped away into the wilderness to pray (Luke 5:16).
 
When Jesus fed the 5,000, He took the little boy’s lunch and blessed it. He prayed over it and there was abundance.
 
Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas knew exactly where to find Him because John recorded that Jesus frequently went to that place to pray.
 

Jesus prayed fervently.

Luke records that Jesus prayed fervently, and His sweat was like great drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44). It was very intense prayer. The writer of Hebrews noted that in the Garden, Jesus prayed with “loud crying and tears,” and “was heard because of his piety” (Hebrews 5:7, NASB).
 

Jesus prayed redemptively.

Jesus prayed on the cross! Several of the sayings from the cross are prayers. Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”
 
Then he prayed twice by quoting from the Psalms. He prayed Scripture when he prayed Psalm 22:1, which is a prophetic text about the crucifixion. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” he asked (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34).
 
One of the most vivid descriptions of the cross is Psalm 22. I have often said, “You would never have the Shepherd of Psalm 23, if you had not had the Savior dying for us in Psalm 22.” Jesus prayed Psalm 22:1 on the cross. He also prayed from the Psalms when he said, “In your hands I commit my Spirit” (Luke 23:46; Psalm 31:5).

 
Jesus prays everlastingly.

Even in His resurrected state at Emmaus, our Lord would not put a morsel of bread in His resurrected mouth before He prayed over it (Luke 24:30).
 
In His role as the “one mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5), we read that “He ever lives to make intercession” for those who “draw near to God through him” (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus is praying right now. One of the most encouraging things I know is that Jesus prays for his children.
 

The question for us.

If the Son of God needed to pray while He was on this earth, how much more do we need to pray? The early church gained its power through prayer!
 
Some people say the problems with the church today – lethargy, lack of power, impotence – are because we do not preach the pure gospel or we do not sing the right songs. I do not think the problems are found in songs or sermons. Think about it. We all believe that Jesus died an atoning, sacrificial death. We know He was raised bodily from the dead. We call people to repentance and faith in Christ. We sing, as Paul instructed, “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). I think we sing the same songs and preach the same sermons.
 
The reason we do not see the movement of God is because we do not pray like the early church prayed. Prayer is the secret to it all. I have asked the Lord for years to get me to the point where I would rather pray than preach. We ought not try to talk for the Lord before we talk with the Lord.
 
I say with and not to because God speaks to us. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27). Deuteronomy 13:4 says, “You will hear my voice.” Isaiah said, “Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way; walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or the left” (Isaiah 30:21).
 
God speaks to us through His Word, impressions and His Holy Spirit. The more we talk with the Lord, the more the Lord talks with us.
 
The ultimate answer is to study what Jesus taught on prayer as summarized in the Lord’s Prayer. It downloads a pattern for us to follow. It includes praise at the beginning, surrender of the will, asking for forgiveness, intercession, petition and spiritual warfare. All of that is in there. It is an amazing pattern. I have used that over the years in my prayer life, and it has changed my life.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Steve Gaines is senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee.) ­
3/17/2014 9:56:40 AM by Steve Gaines, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Discipling & theology on the mission field

March 14 2014 by Chuck Lawless, Baptist Press

I have traveled around the world and have reviewed many strategies for making global disciples, but this one caught my attention like few others. I am concerned that we help new believers develop a strong biblical theology, and this approach does just that.
 
John*, an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary serving in one of the most populated regions of the world, uses the Bible and the Baptist Faith and Message as his resource for training new believers and leaders. You likely have seen the layout of the BF&M: several theological articles complete with commentary and scriptural references. Instead of giving his students a translated version of the BF&M, though, John gives them only the scripture references that accompany each article and several questions to guide their study.
 
Imagine this scene. A group of new believers who have left another world faith to follow Christ are learning to study the Word. John gives them this exercise as they study the Word together:
 
The scriptures (Theology Exercise #1)
 
Exodus 24:4; Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 17:19; Joshua 8:34; Psalms 19:7-10; 119:11,89,105,140; Isaiah 34:16; 40:8; Jeremiah 15:16; 36:1-32; Matthew 5:17-18; 22:29; Luke 21:33; 24:44-46; John 5:39; 16:13-15; 17:17; Acts 2:16ff.; 17:11; Romans 15:4; 16:25-26; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-2; 4:12; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:19-21.
 
What is the Bible?
 
Who wrote the Bible?
 
Who inspired the Bible?
 
Is the Bible true?
 
Does the Bible contain any error?
 
The believers work together in several groups of five or six, first reading the texts aloud and then corporately seeking answers to the questions. They must answer only with the words of Scripture, and they must also state the references. This process alone often takes a few hours.
 
Next, the multiple groups join together to review the individual group responses. Collectively, they evaluate the responses and correct each other as needed based on the teachings of the Word. Should the group ultimately reach an untenable conclusion, John steps in to guide them back to the Word for further study. Most often, the group properly corrects one another, like when several believers corrected two others who stated that Christians can lose their salvation.
 
This second step in the process often requires two or more hours of additional work. Thus, the groups spend four to five hours studying each doctrine intensely. The entire group of studies requires eight full-day sessions, often scheduled once per month. At the end of each study, the believers then have a written resource for guiding further study, for teaching others, and for recognizing and correcting error.
 
My reasons for affirming this model are several. First, it begins and ends in the scriptures. The believers start by reading the scriptures, find their answers in the scriptures, and submit to the scriptures when theological correction is in order. They begin to understand that the Bible truly is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
 
Second, this approach highlights the importance of proper theology. Doctrinal error is always a threat – especially for young believers – but proper attention to the Word helps guard against that danger. Models like this one emphasize the theological foundation on which churches are built.
 
Third, it emphasizes the value of the church’s studying the Word together. Believers not only learn the Word, but they also learn how to study it. Should some formulate false beliefs, the group takes seriously its responsibility to correct one another. Missionaries like John guide them in this group discovery process, lovingly correcting them as needed so they teach the Word properly to next generations.
 
Fourth, it is reproducible. Indeed, John expects his students to teach other believers during the time between his training sessions. Because they now have a resource and a method to instruct others, they can reach and teach another generation of believers. Should questions arise they cannot answer, further training sessions with John and the group provide opportunities for more study.
 
This method may be only a beginning in theological training, but it is a robust one. In eight sessions of reading, discussing and correcting, the believers formulate their theology about the scriptures, God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Man, Salvation, the Church and Last Things – all based on the Word. I suspect most believers in our North American churches seldom receive this level of training.
 
I am grateful for missionaries like John who take seriously their responsibility to sow the Word, lead non-believers to follow Christ, teach believers a strong biblical theology, and equip them to plant healthy churches. They give me confidence that our support through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is reaping fruit. Moreover, their work challenges me to strengthen my own efforts in these tasks right where I live in North Carolina.

*Name changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Lawless is dean of graduate studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and global theological education consultant for the International Mission Board.)
3/14/2014 9:56:58 AM by Chuck Lawless, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Concerns about Elevation Church

March 13 2014 by Nate and Jon Akin, Baptist 21

The evangelical world is buzzing with concerns about the practices of Elevation Church and Pastor Steven Furtick. Let us begin by saying that we are grateful for every good thing that God has done through Pastor Furtick and Elevation Church. Their zeal to see lost people saved is truly wonderful. And, we want to say with the Apostle Paul that we rejoice anytime the gospel is preached (Phil 1:15-18).
 
Having said that, we do want to raise questions about whether or not the reported practices of Elevation Church are inconsistent with the gospel. We have hesitated to write about another pastor or church for many reasons, and we know that in doing so we open ourselves up for critique. Even so, we felt it necessary to raise these concerns for several reasons: first, we are concerned for our brother Pastor Furtick, and for his church. Second, we have members in our churches who are interacting with this story on social media, and we have a responsibility to address these issues as their shepherds. Third, since Elevation has sought to distribute their guide to spontaneous baptisms to other local churches (click here), this is a public issue that affects more than one local church. We see some deep theological problems in these reported practices, so we want to raise some questions in hopes of helping our churches wrestle with what our practices communicate:
 
1) Do our practices reveal a lack of confidence in the power of the gospel?
 
If a church follows these spontaneous baptism practices (click here for How-To-Guide), then it might reveal a lack of confidence in God’s Spirit and the gospel. At Pentecost, Peter didn’t plant people in the crowd to respond to the sermon. He didn’t assign people to “smile and clap,” create a “HUGE and over the top celebration,” or “pick young energetic people” to go first in order for God to perform a miracle (all direct quotes from the guide). Instead, he simply stood in the power of the Spirit, proclaimed the simple gospel of Christ crucified and risen, and a miracle happened. These types of practices sound very similar to what Paul references in 2 Corinthians 4:2 when he says, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” Paul didn’t manipulate miracles. He trusted in the power of God to open blind eyes through the message about Jesus (2 Cor 4:1-6). (Note: It is also concerning that no where in the “How-To” document do they instruct potential churches who they are encouraging to follow their pattern to interview candidates about the gospel or give their testimony. In fact, the words “gospel” and “testimony” are not found in this document. This is no minor oversight because it could imply that regeneration is not necessary for baptism.
 
2) Do we pull the verses out of context for our own purposes?
 
There seems in integral places to be misuse and poor interpretation of the Bible. One simple example is the coloring sheet (see the coloring sheet here) that uses Romans 13:1 to teach the kids at Elevation to submit to “the visionary,” Furtick. Romans 13 talks about the government not the pastors of the church. Certainly there are verses that talk about following pastoral leadership, but Romans 13 isn’t one of them. In addition, check out this blog (read blog here) about Furtick’s troubling use of “I Am” to also refer to human beings not just Yahweh. This is potentially dangerous teaching that sounds close to prosperity theology.
 
3) Do we believe in the priesthood of the believers?
 
Repeated statements about the authority of pastor Furtick’s vision from God seems to communicate a pope-like role for the pastor (contra 1 Peter 5). The Elevation Code seems to have no place for the Priesthood of the Believers; instead, the priesthood seems to lie with the Visionary alone. Elevation Code 4 states, “We are united under one vision: Elevation is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will aggressively defend our unity and that vision.” This is quite problematic for two reasons among others: 1) The scriptures indicate that all Christians can hear from God and know his plans for the church as outlined in the Bible. 2) We don’t need a priest to mediate these things to us because there is One Mediator (1 Tim 2:5).
 
Yes, the pastors are called to lead the church in accomplishing God’s mission (Heb 13; 1 Pet 5; etc.), but God in his goodness has also given a voice in decision-making to the congregation (cf. Acts 6; 13; 1 Cor 5; 2 Cor 2; Gal 1). Church leaders and the congregation hold one another accountable and serve on mission together.
 
4) Do we believe that a pastor should shepherd his people?
 
There seems to be a wrong understanding of the role of the pastor in regard to the church at Elevation. In the Elevation Code (read the code here) it states, “We need your seat:  We will not cater to personal preference in our mission to reach this city. We are more concerned with the people we are trying to reach than the people we are trying to keep.” And in another clip on YouTube (Watch clip here), Furtick says “if you know Jesus, I am sorry to break it to you, this church is not for you.” On the surface, both of these statements seem right. Our mission – like our Savior’s – is to seek out and see the lost saved. However, these statements fly in the face of the biblical witness. Paul told the Ephesian elders otherwise, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). This doesn’t mean catering to personal preferences; it means that you have a weighty and high calling to protect, exhort, rebuke, encourage, pray for, and equip your sheep because you will give an account for them (Hebrews 13:17).
 
Yes, the church should be focused outward, but at the same time the pastor and the church should be focused inward to care for members (i.e. obey the one another commands). To say that we must choose one or the other is a false dichotomy not presented in the Bible. The early church’s love for one another was part of their corporate witness that led to people being added to their number daily (Acts 2:42-47).
 
5) Where are the Bereans?
 
Finally, where have all the Bereans gone (Acts 17:11)? Why don’t more church people question what their pastor says to see if it squares with the Bible? Why does the coloring page not shock more parents? Why are more people not asking, “Does planting people in the crowd not violate 2 Corinthians 4?” Church members need to search the scriptures to see if, as this graphic (View graphic here) indicates, what the lead pastor hears from God truly comes from God and is in line with the scriptures.
 
These are important theological questions for all of us to ask ourselves. Do our practices reveal any of these theological concerns? It may not be our spontaneous baptism plan that lacks confidence in the gospel, just our lack of passion to share it. It may not be a coloring sheet with the pastor on it that shows a misuse of the scriptures, but we all have agendas that we will be tempted to paste a verse over. Out of concern for the witness of Christ’s church in the world, the clarity of the gospel and our own local churches, we need to answer these questions to the benefit of our own churches and ministry.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jon Akin is the pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., a suburb outside of Nashville, and Nathan Akin is one of the planting pastors of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh and serves there as the pastor for Disciple-Making. This piece was used with permission from Baptist 21. Before the Akins released this article they sent it to Elevation Church with the hope of opening dialogue about these concerns and learning from Elevation Church and pastor Steven Furtick. [As of March 6] the Akins had not heard back from Elevation Church.)
3/13/2014 11:46:08 AM by Nate and Jon Akin, Baptist 21 | with 3 comments



‘God’s Not Dead’: The movie pastors asked for

March 13 2014 by Ginny Dent Brant, Guest Column

Pure Flix Entertainment is renewing interest in God and asking its viewers to consider one of the most important questions of our day, “Does God exist?” through the release of “God’s Not Dead,” March 21 in more than 600 theaters nationwide. The film features a star-studded cast, an appearance by “Duck Dynasty’sWillie and Korie Robertson and special performance by Newsboys and their hit song “God’s Not Dead.”
 
Pure Flix Entertainment, the number one faith-producing film company, is known for producing and distributing Christ-centered movies for the purpose of changing our culture for Christ and being salt and light in a media-driven culture.
 
This feature film is certain to ruffle feathers and stimulate intelligent conversations just as the Ken Ham-Bill Nye Debate on Creation/Evolution did on Feb. 4.
 
In “God’s Not Dead,” college freshman, Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper of “Flipped”), finds his faith challenged by an arrogant philosophy professor (Kevin Sorbo of “Soul Surfer”) who requires his students to deny the existence of God or face a failing grade.
 
Josh, whose dream is to attend law school, finds himself having to choose between his faith and his future without the support of his parents, classmates, or girlfriend.
 
He seeks the advice of a minister (David A.R. White of “Revelation Road”) who points him to Matthew 10:32-33 and confronts him with these words, “Your acceptance of this challenge may be the only meaningful exposure to Jesus that some in his class will ever have.” Risking his future, he steps out to prove the existence of God.
 
He puts God on trial with the professor as the prosecutor, himself as the defense attorney and the students as the jury.
 
Before landing this role, Shane Harper prayed diligently for the opportunity to play Josh Wheaton as his passion is apologetics.
 
Also starring Dean Cain (“Superman”) as a self-absorbed executive, every character in this film must deal with the ultimate question, “Does God exist?” The film is rated PG and is Dove approved for ages 12 and above. It is a must see for all youth groups and a powerful lesson that when one stands for one’s faith, it gives others the courage to stand and believe.
 
This film is from today’s headlines as college students step into the shoes of Josh Wheaton every day when they leave home only to find their faith challenged in the halls of academia.
 
Many of us can remember the days we encountered professors who took pride in destroying our beliefs. We are living in a day when the very institutions such as Harvard, which was founded to promote “Truth for Christ and for the Church,” are now doing the opposite.
 
My own struggle in this area caused me to search and learn how to stand for my faith. But for many, the alluring rhetoric of all-knowing professors can wash away the foundations of their faith, leaving them feeling hopeless and confused.
 
This film is inspired by Newsboy’s 2011 hit song, “God’s Not Dead,” and the book by Dr. Rice Broocks, God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty. In this book, Dr. Broocks explains the differences in two mindsets:
 
“The naturalist asserts that the universe came into being from nothing, by nothing, for nothing.
“The theist believes the universe came from nothing, by Something, for something.”
 
The late Chuck Colson warned us that our culture will be changed through colleges and universities:
 
“We must train the mind by inculcating truth and developing graduates who will go out and infiltrate the world with the love of Christ. A society without a foundation of moral absolutes cannot long survive.”
 
When we send our young people out into the world of higher education, we must send them with the full armor of God, knowing that their faith will be challenged. 
 
We expect professors at secular universities to deny the existence of God, but many students have faced the same challenge as Josh Wheaton in institutions that bear the name of Christ.
 
Whatever the circumstances, this movie is a powerful reminder that those who follow Christ must be prepared to defend their faith in an increasingly godless society. And when we take that stand, we may never know the ripple effect and the lives impacted by those who are watching.
 
As William J. Federer has stated, “Whoever controls the media and education, controls the country.”
This film has it all – inspiring music, great acting, and a well-written screenplay.
 
One of the producers, David A.R. White, revealed Pure Flix made the movie after getting feedback from pastors who said they needed a movie about apologetics and defending the faith. And this movie does that while entertaining.
 
White said, “The addition of the Robertsons and their own stand for their faith has only mirrored the message in the movie.”
 
For more info click on this link http://godsnotdeadthemovie.com and see where it will be playing and how you can plan to bring the movie to your city. The trailer alone is a conversation starter and something that can be shared through social media.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ginny Dent Brant is an author, speaker, counselor and soloist. She is editor-at-large for Sonoma Christian Home Magazine. Visit www.ginnybrant.com.)
 
3/13/2014 11:37:04 AM by Ginny Dent Brant, Guest Column | with 0 comments



Abusive content overshadowed Oscar talent

March 12 2014 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The razzle-dazzle 86th Academy Awards ceremony naming “12 Years a Slave” the best film of the year, paraded before viewers a list of movies with abusive content.
 
The technical and artistic qualities of the nominees cannot be debated. Indeed, it must have been difficult to select one nominee over another when it came to the skill and technique represented in each category.
 
But whatever positive messages may be contained in Oscar’s choices, their themes were eclipsed by desensitizing content. Content is never considered when Hollywood passes out little golden statues, but cinematic content has become as influential as its artistic merits.
 
While some of last years’ films offered a moral or life lesson – “Gravity,” “Captain Phillips,” “Saving Mr. Banks” – far too many took moviegoers down a dark road. Six of the Best Picture nominees were deservedly rated R. And how “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Dallas Buyers Club” escaped the seldom used NC-17 mystifies this film reviewer.
 
Movies are said to be an art form. It follows then, that the art of storytelling is most effective not just when it shows who we are, but when it suggests what we can become. Many of this year’s Oscar contenders seem to ignore that challenge. What exactly is the moral of “August: Osage County” or “American Hustle?”
 
So, why does this humble movie correspondent continue to subject himself to such grievous film-going experiences? (Don’t think I don’t ask that of myself about this time each year.) My answer – movies are modern man’s medium for relating parables to the masses. Like parables, films can teach and uplift as well as entertain. And like every other film buff, I’m always hoping for the next “Friendly Persuasion,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” or “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
 
Sadly, films that uplift the spirit as well as entertain are few and far between. So many of this year’s nominees seem to not just reflect our nation’s decaying moral standards, but embrace them.
 
If you are troubled by the crudity and profane nature of many films Hollywood considers “art,” then you really should read the critiques of those of us who provide the reasons for the ratings. A review is just an opinion, but the synopsis and the film’s content should help you when deciding what’s appropriate for your family’s viewing.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org and is a regular contributor to “The World and Everything In It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.)
3/12/2014 11:28:40 AM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Why do Baptists need a newspaper?

March 11 2014 by Mike Creswell, Guest Column

Why is a newspaper in the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) budget? Why should churches want to help fund the Biblical Recorder?
 
Most organizations have print and digital platforms to tell their message. But communications is especially important to Baptists, both for theological and practical reasons.
 

Communications and church polity

Baptists believe in the priesthood of believers. In other words, we believe every Christian is competent to deal directly with God on spiritual matters.
 
Some denominations have a hierarchy of leaders speaking to members for God and handing down instructions to local congregations.
 
But Baptists have autonomous churches that assign members to direct their associations and conventions, rather than the other way around. There is no such thing as “the Southern Baptist Church.” Rather, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is a partnership of autonomous congregations voluntarily cooperating in missions and other matters on which they agree.
 
When the BSC holds its annual meeting, messengers from the local churches vote on the annual budget and other important matters. Leaders, including convention officers and the board of directors, are elected by those local churches to carry out business for the convention between annual sessions, but major questions must be voted on during each annual meeting.
 
For Baptists, information replaces a hierarchy of leaders! To make the right decisions, members need to be informed.
 
But there’s much more to this than business meetings. In the Baptist view, being informed is an integral part of being a disciple of Christ.
 
Baptists need to know where God is at work in the world, so they can join Him there. They need to know of needs, so they can give, go and pray to have those needs met. They need to know how their missionaries and the ministries they support financially are faring, so they can respond accordingly.
Since every Baptist has a say in what happens in Baptist life, we need to be well informed. Baptists never completely agree on every issue, but a majority will usually choose correctly when they have solid information in hand.
 

Communications, missions & discipleship

Baptists who are disciples of Jesus Christ must understand how they can partner with Him in the process of redeeming a lost world.
 
That’s why Bible teaching and current missions information go hand-in-hand. The New Testament was written as the core witness to God’s empowering of the church to partner with Him in global missions and is full of rich instructions on how to become better disciples and thereby, more productive partners.
 
Current reports on missions and ministry let us know how we’re doing in that process and where we need to get involved.
 

Communications: highly valued

Consider how much Paul valued having informed members behind him as he did his missionary work.
Paul likely wrote his letter to the Colossians while imprisoned in Rome. Colossians 4 tells how he sent two men all the way from Rome to the church in Colossae just to report on missions work.
 
Tychicus, Paul wrote, “will tell you all the news about me.” Paul called this man “a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.”
 
He said, “I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts.”  Tychicus and Onesimus “will tell you everything that is happening here.” Think about how important this was in the first century.
 
Today, getting from present-day Honaz, Turkey, (ancient Colossae) to Rome, Italy, would take about 31 hours of non-stop driving to cover 1,400+ miles, and that’s not counting getting across the Aegean Sea. Of course an air trip would be quicker, but the point is that it’s a significant distance by land even today.
Paul was clearly setting a high importance on keeping church members informed!
 
Today the Biblical Recorder’s staff – Allan, Michael, Dianna and others – have taken the place of Tychicus and Onesimus. These contemporary communicators use different tools, but their purpose remains the same as it was for those first-century messengers.
 

Not much good news

These days Americans drown in information, yet you will rarely see news about missions or God at work on the secular six o’clock news shows, online services or blogs. Those editors are generally blind to spiritual events.
 
That’s why the Biblical Recorder is not just a nice option for North Carolina Baptists. It is an essential part of what they’re doing to impact the world.

Of course, the Internet allows web-savvy Baptists to access to vast numbers of Christian news sources, prayer guides newsletters and blogs. The Recorder highlights the best information available.
The prayer needs of missionaries, the progress on evangelizing an unreached people group, the needs in our county or state – this information and much more is just a few clicks away at BRnow.org.
 

God in the details

If you’re still just praying, “Lord, bless all the missionaries,” you can do better! By learning details about situations and circumstances in missions, your prayer life will be more personal and passionate.
 
When I learn that Christians in many countries around the world risk their lives to own and read the Bible but nevertheless are sure God’s Word is worth it, maybe I won’t leave my Bible on the shelf so much.
When I learn that half of our Southern Baptist missionaries overseas serve in places so dangerous they cannot even be named in public, I begin to understand why they are so persistent in asking for prayer support.
 
When I learn about our North American missionaries sharing the gospel with gun-toting, drug-addicted gang members in Los Angeles, I begin to actually see the need to pray for them.
 
When I learn that some of our North Carolina church planters are going into places I would be afraid to visit in our state’s growing urban centers, I want to give more to support them. When I get a picture of what missions today really is, I have a greater appreciation for what those first-century Christians endured to share the faith we take for granted.
 
When being informed precedes our giving, going and praying, we will accomplish more.
 
Having both a biblical and global context gives us a spiritual GPS as we seek to live out our faith in ways that honor the Lord.
 

God’s stuff is good

Being informed takes a little time and effort – maybe a few more clicks of the mouse – but there’s another payoff. Stories about lives being redeemed and refashioned by God are some of the greatest, most exciting stories in the world.
 
A criminal commits a crime? That’s old stuff. It happens all the time. But when a criminal enters into a relationship with Jesus Christ, transforms his life and becomes a meaningful part of society – that’s real news.
 
If you don’t believe God is active in the world today, maybe you haven’t heard what He did just this morning.
 
If you have trouble believing God is everywhere, maybe you have not tracked reports on what He’s doing on every continent.
 
Secular news outlets will tell you about China.
 
They’ll tell you about trade and tourism and problems. But they’re not likely to tell you about the 10,000 Chinese who become Christians every month or that China is one of the greatest harvest fields for the Christian faith in history.
 
They won’t tell you about the five house group church groups Southern Baptists relate to or how all five of these groups are already bigger than the entire SBC.
 
TV “reality” shows are shallow and empty when compared to inspiring stories of people risking their lives or public ridicule to follow Jesus. “Reality” without a spiritual dimension is not reality!
 
Get informed and you will pray with greater understanding, depth and intensity. You will go on mission assignments more often, with more commitment and a greater understanding of why.
 
Be an informed Baptist and you will give more sacrificially and understand that financing missions is an integral part of partnering with God.
 
So, Baptists, get busy! Subscribe to the Biblical Recorder and read all about it! Read the printed copy, the online digital copy and website BRnow.org.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Creswell is the Cooperative Program consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)
3/11/2014 9:57:29 AM by Mike Creswell, Guest Column | with 0 comments



The Ukrainian crisis

March 10 2014 by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – My first visits to Eastern Europe in the 1990s were eye-opening events. The process for visiting Ukraine for the first time was quite involved. Securing a visa to visit the country was complicated and expensive. When the plane touched down on that first visit, the first of three passport controls took place while I was still standing on the planes exit stairs. Armed guards, rifles at the ready position, were fanned out across the tarmac. An army colonel scrutinized each passport and interrogated each deplaning passenger before our foot ever touched Ukrainian soil.
 
My second visit was not quite as intense, although still quite involved. On this trip I was privileged to visit a number of villages away from the major cities. I found small pockets of Baptists anxious to reestablish visible churches in their communities.
 
One village stands out. John, an elderly man, was visibly moved to know that his village would again have a Baptist church. He had experienced the challenges of living as a Christ-follower under Communist rule during the 1930s. His Baptist community of about 400 believers was decimated under Nazi rule when they advanced across Ukraine in fierce fighting in 1941. Others from his church were killed when the Nazis retreated, razing and looting the land of everything with any military value as the advancing Russian army retook Ukraine in 1944. Being “liberated” from Germany, he then spent many years in the gulag under Stalin’s cruel rule during the post-WWII communist era.
 
John hosted me in his home for a meal, his extended family crowded around him at the table. Though his aged body was racked from obvious signs of great suffering, his eyes shone with the radiant light of Jesus as he told his story and reveled in the fact that a new church was being established in his village.
 
My most recent visit to Ukraine was altogether different. No visa, no armed guards, no intense scrutiny. I saw open Christian witness and beautiful church houses and experienced vibrant worship services. So, it is with intense interest that I have watched the unfolding events taking place in Ukraine this past month.
 
Oleksandr Turchynov, a Baptist preacher, was elected as Ukraine’s interim president in late February. Valery Antonyuk, vice president of the All Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Churches, Baptist, released the following statement at the time of Turchynov’s election. It is a powerful commentary on an appropriate Christian response to the changing and challenging political winds that sweep across countries. It is a call to prayer and serves as a prayer guide for us as we pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ living in the midst of a nation in crisis. I urge each reader to read it as a prayer to the Lord.
 
“During this time of fateful change in the life of the Ukrainian nation, the Church and each Christian individually cannot remain spectators on the sidelines of the battles and losses. The Church serves society and mourns together with it. We went through difficult days together with the nation – we served through prayer, evangelism, volunteers, medical help, clothing, and food. Today a time has come for a ministry of active reconciliation, which will help maintain unity in our country and nation.
 
“We supported the nation’s demand to put an end to the tyranny of the authorities and repressions by the police. Now it is important to restore justice and due process of law in the country, to form a government that has the people’s trust, and provide fair presidential elections. We believe that those guilty of crimes against the people will be justly judged, and that peaceful citizens will be protected.
 
“But on behalf of the Church we must say more, we must speak the whole truth; we must say that which is still hard to accept and fulfill; that, which is a precondition for a better future.
 
“Therefore the Church calls the Ukrainian nation to more than just feelings of human justice – to Christian forgiveness, grace and reconciliation. We pray to God for repentance for the guilty. However at the same time we ask victims to forgive those who are already repentant as well as those who are still lost. In order to unite the nation, in order to reconcile its various parts, its various social, cultural, and political groups, laws and justice are not enough. Without repentance, grace, forgiveness and reconciliation, the country will remain divided and in conflict. This is the precondition for a deep spiritual transformation of Ukraine.
 
“The Bible says that there is, ‘a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace’ (Ecc. 3:7-8). In accordance with these wise words, we declare today to be a time to mend, and not a time to tear the nation apart; a time to seek peace, and not a time to fan the flames of war; a time to learn to love yesterday’s enemies, and not a time to continue to hate rivals and those who have hurt us.
 
“We call on the Evangelical churches of Ukraine to serve to bring peace between people and healing to the wounds of war. We do not call black white and do not justify crimes or even mistakes. But we, as Christians, forgive, because we have been forgiven by God. He reconciled us to Himself, and gave us a message of reconciliation. This grace-giving Word to our whole nation should be heard from Lvov to Donetsk, from Kiev to Simferopol.
 
“We also call upon the international Christian community asking for prayer and intercession for the Ukrainian nation and for help with peacemaking. We mourn for the victims, and thank God for His grace toward Ukraine, and pray for peace and spiritual revival in our nation.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger S. Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee.)
3/10/2014 9:59:49 AM by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



What good is Christian apologetics?

March 7 2014 by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press

Apologetics simply is a reasonable defense of the Christian faith. The word is derived from the Greek noun apologia and means “a defense.” Apologia and its verb form apologeomai are used nearly 20 times in the New Testament, often in the classic legal sense, but more importantly to describe the call of God to all believers to defend the Christian faith with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).
 
But how is sound doctrine applied practically? Put another way, what good is Christian apologetics?
 
Apologetics has at least four practical applications. We may use apologetics to:
 

Build

There is a positive case to be made for Christianity, and apologetics helps us get there.
 
The Bible, history, archaeology and other sources help establish that a real person named Jesus burst onto the scene 2,000 years ago. He claimed deity, performed miracles, spoke the truth, modeled compassion, died on a Roman cross, was buried and rose physically on the third day. His coming to earth was the most important event in human history.
 
Further, apologetics helps us know who God is; who we are; why there is purpose in life; how we can be restored to a right relationship with our Creator; why we can face death without fear; and what God is doing about evil in the world.
 

Defend

Christianity is under attack on many fronts, from moral relativists to radical Islamists to angry atheists. Many times they misrepresent Christianity, so we can go a long way in defending the faith by clarifying the Christian position on matters of faith, answering objections and clearing away difficulties.
 
For example, Jehovah’s Witness leaders historically have claimed that orthodox Christians worship a “freakish-looking three-headed god.” While we may not be able to convince our Jehovah’s Witness friends of the truth of the Trinity – their New World Translation of the Bible and their official publications have stripped this biblical truth from JW doctrine – we may at least provide biblical clarity.
 
The Bible teaches that there is one true and living God who exists as three distinct, co-equal, co-eternal persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We do not worship a three-headed god, or three separate gods, or even one God who shows up sometimes as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. Defending the faith against mischaracterizations of Christian doctrines is an important function of apologetics.
 

Challenge

Sometimes Christians have to go on the offensive by challenging critics to provide evidence for their unbiblical beliefs. For example, when a moral relativist boldly declares, “There is no absolute truth,” a good response is, “Are you absolutely certain about that?”
 
When our Muslim friends tell us that Jews and Christians have corrupted the Bible, it’s only fair to ask them how they came to that conclusion.
 
We have significant manuscript evidence that the scriptures have been carefully copied and faithfully preserved. Further, the Qur’an states in several places that the sacred writings of the Jews and Christians faithfully attested to the truth of Islam. If Muhammad believed the scriptures were intact in the 7th century, what happened since then to make them corrupt?
 
Sometimes the best defense of the Christian faith is to hold critics accountable for their unbiblical views.
 

Persuade

Ultimately, Christian apologetics finds its greatest application as an effective means of evangelism. When we build a positive case for Christianity, defend Christianity from attacks, and challenge critics to defend their views, we can bring them to a point of commitment to Christ.
 
We should never coerce another person to trust in Jesus. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit (see John 16:7-11). But we should eagerly invite our unbelieving friends to receive Christ and thus pass from death unto life (John 5:24).
 
In his book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, Gregory Koukl writes, “It may surprise you to hear this, but I never set out to convert anyone.... I have a more modest goal, one you might consider adopting as your own. All I want to do is put a stone in someone’s shoe. I want to give him something worth thinking about, something he can’t ignore because it continues to poke at him in a good way.”
 
May all of us be Christian apologists that gently and respectfully place pebbles in the shoes of our lost friends.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rob Phillips is director of communications for the Missouri Baptist Convention with responsibility for leading MBC apologetics ministry in the state. This article first appeared in The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.org), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Phillips also is on the Web at www.oncedelivered.net.)
3/7/2014 11:37:29 AM by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



To ‘feel’ the faith

March 6 2014 by Benjamin Hawkins

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Once he feels its flame, a child will never doubt the candle’s heat. Likewise, the English Reformer William Tyndale once wrote that those who “feel” their faith will stand firm in the truth of Scripture and the promises of God.
 
Tyndale, convinced that English men and women needed to hear God’s Word in their own language, published in 1526 the first English New Testament translated from the Greek text. Throughout the 10 years of ministry that followed, he often spoke of “feeling” – a term he used in his earliest translation of Romans 5.
 
In this passage, the apostle Paul writes that we have peace with God because we are justified by faith. Moreover, by God’s grace we have hope. In fact, faith gives us hope even amid tribulation. For this reason, we should rejoice in suffering. After all, Paul writes, suffering produces perseverance, which produces “feeling.” At least, “feeling” is the term that Tyndale used to translate a Greek word, dokimen, rendered elsewhere as “experience,” “character” or “proven character” (Romans 5:1-4).
 
In a note, Tyndale referred the readers of his translation to James 1:2-3, where a related Greek word, dokimion, is used. Here, James calls believers to rejoice amid tribulation, since the “testing (dokimion) of your faith” produces perseverance, which itself leads to complete Christian maturity. But, whereas James emphasizes the testing of faith through suffering, Paul in Romans 5 emphasizes the result – that is, the tested, refined and proven faith (or, perhaps, person of faith). He writes that such “feeling,” in turn, produces a hope that is assured by God’s love. And this love has been poured into the believer’s heart by the Holy Spirit and has been displayed by Christ’s death for sinners (Romans 5:4-11).
 
Christians feel their faith, therefore, when refined by the intense heat of suffering, pain and persecution.
 
Tyndale wrote in 1528 in his book, The Obedience of a Christian Man: “Mark this also, if God send thee to the sea and promise to go with thee and to bring thee safe to land, he will raise up a tempest against thee, to prove whether thou wilt abide by his word, and that thou mayest feel thy faith and perceive his goodness.”
 
Tyndale noted, “For if it were always fair weather and thou never brought into such jeopardy whence his mercy only delivered thee, thy faith should be but a presumption and thou shouldest be ever unthankful to God and merciless unto thy neighbor.”
 
He added, “Tribulation for righteousness is not a blessing only, but also a gift that God giveth unto none save his special friends. … For Paul in the fifth chapter to the Romans saith, ‘Tribulation maketh feeling,’ that is, it maketh us feel the goodness of God and his help and the working of his Spirit. … Lo Christ is never strong in us, till we be weak.”
 
Speakers at the Missouri Baptist Convention’s “Sowing in Tears” conference, Jan. 27-28, translated Tyndale’s message into 21st-century English. “You will suffer,” said international evangelist Sammy Tippit, who has trained pastors and proclaimed the gospel in the hardest-to-reach regions of the world.
 
“This is the missing message in America. … Suffering is part of the Christian life,” Tippit said. But hope only comes, he added, when we are hopeless, when our hope lies only in God.
 
Suffering strips from us the confidence that we may have in ourselves and in our own resources. It is at that point, when we have nothing to guide us but God’s promises, that we feel our faith. As Tyndale’s better-known contemporary, Martin Luther, once wrote, “But this is the glory of faith, simply not to know: not to know where you are going, not to know what you are doing, not to know what you must suffer, and … to follow the naked voice of God.”
 
By the way, Tyndale ultimately felt his faith in 1536. Latched to a stake, he was strangled and burned because he wanted people to read Scripture for themselves, in their own languages. As we seek to follow God’s call in our lives, would we also risk feeling our faith to scatter God’s Word abroad and reach people with the gospel?
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Benjamin Hawkins is associate editor of The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)
3/6/2014 10:55:29 AM by Benjamin Hawkins | with 0 comments



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