March 2015

Americans’ muddled morality about the unborn

March 31 2015 by Trevin Wax, Religion News Service

On March 18, Michelle Wilkins answered a Craigslist ad for baby clothes. When she arrived at the seller’s home, Dynel Lane, a former nurse’s aide, attacked her, cut her open, and removed her unborn child. Wilkins survived the incident; her child did not.
Hearing about this horrifying crime provokes a sense of moral revulsion, as well as a demand for justice to be carried out against the killer. But this crime took place in Colorado, and therefore, the attacker will not face murder charges. Colorado state law does not recognize the fetus as a person unless the fetus has reached the point he or she can survive outside the womb.
Today, 38 states have fetal homicide laws that increase penalties for crimes involving pregnant women or explicitly refer to the fetus as a person worthy of protection.
But creating and passing these laws is a contentious process because it takes lawmakers to the heart of our society’s debate over abortion: What is the unborn?
Opponents fear that some of these laws go too far in bestowing “personhood” on the unborn and may jeopardize a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion. Supporters believe these laws provide justice for women like Wilkins and Laci Peterson, a pregnant California woman who disappeared in 2002.
The debate over fetal homicide reveals our society’s inconsistency in the ongoing debate over abortion: We only affirm the humanity of the unborn if the child is “wanted.”
With friends and neighbors and family members who celebrate a pregnancy, we speak of the unborn in warm and personal terms: “baby” and “child.” When debating the right to abortion, we speak of the unborn in clinical and impersonal terms: “fetus,” “zygote,” or “tissue.” One wonders if our manner of conversation conveniently shifts, depending on the context, or whenever we find it necessary to distance ourselves from the humanity of the unborn.
American views of the morality and legality of abortion are complex, defying the conventional labels of “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” and confounding activists on both sides who see the issue with black-and-white clarity. Describing American views as “complex” is the nice way to put it; it may be more accurate to say we’re muddled on the morality of abortion because we are inconsistent in our view of human life in the womb.
This is why Cosmopolitan can post an article lauding Latina reproductive rights activists and a video of ultrasounds showing how unborn babies grimace when their mothers smoke, without any apparent dissonance. Cosmo readers are supposed to react with horror to the harm smoking may cause a prenatal child, while rallying to support a woman’s right to a procedure that, in the second and third trimesters, would tear the same child limb by limb.
It’s why many in our society demand the harshest penalties for people who commit violent crimes against a pregnant woman or unborn child, while maintaining the right of a doctor to do violence to the unborn within the sterile confines of an abortion clinic. It’s why there is outrage at the news of fetal remains being used to heat hospitals in England, as if we ought to treat a prenatal child with more dignity after death than before. If the baby is “wanted,” he or she deserves our protection. If the baby is unwanted, he or she can be discarded.
Appealing to religious grounds in opposing abortion is difficult because of society’s wide range of perspectives. Agnostics or atheists may not agree that human beings are made in the image of God, or that abortion is a sin against another human being, or that human life begins at conception.
Appealing to science is difficult as well because, while science may answer the question of when human life begins (at conception), it cannot tell us if that developing human being should be considered a “person” or at what stage of development we should consider the fetus worth protecting.
But here at this intersection of science and faith the debate over the unborn is beginning to converge. Technology is playing a larger role in these discussions. High-quality ultrasounds offer us unprecedented pictures inside the womb. Millennial parents who put together scrapbooks for their children begin with sonograms, not newborn photos.
And so, as technology advances, our society is put in the increasingly uncomfortable position of both affirming and denying the humanity of the unborn. For now, however, our muddled inconsistency will deny justice to Michelle Wilkins, and no one will be charged in the death of the baby she lost.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project and author of multiple books, including “Clear Winter Nights: A Journey into Truth, Doubt, and What Comes After.”)

3/31/2015 11:48:24 AM by Trevin Wax, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

CALL TO PRAYER: The tear bottle

March 30 2015 by Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee

Over the years, I have hosted many groups in Israel. Often, though not always, the groups I have led have been kind to purchase a gift to present to me near the end of the trip. It is certainly not obligatory, but a generous expression of appreciation. I have been given some beautiful olive wood carvings which I exhibit in my office to this day. I have received other items such as a wonderful, authentic widow’s mite coin.
One of the gifts that I received most recently was a lachrymatory or “tear bottle.” It is part of a 3,000-year-old tradition where mourners would actually catch tears in a bottle and seal them. Sometimes these tear bottles were placed in the grave of a loved one who passed on. It was a tribute to the family or person to show both love and devotion on the part of those who mourn.
I think this is a precious tradition. Scripture records numerous examples of people mourning one for another, including our Lord Himself. Our own experience reveals the deep friendship that comes when someone mourns with you over a loss in your life.
Psychological counselors distinguish between healthy versus unhealthy grief. Scripture encourages us to grieve, “not as those who have no hope,” but to grieve as those whose hope is firmly fixed in the second coming of Jesus. This is healthy grief.
Grief is real. As many of you know, my family is not a stranger to grief. Having lost a daughter, as well as other relatives, my family understands what it is to grieve at many levels. Someone once said that grief is like the waves on the seashore; it never stops. Gratefully it does decrease over time in both frequency and intensity, though it never completely ends.
I want to share a word of encouragement to you today that our Lord Himself knows our struggles and grieves with us. I love the words of 2 Corinthians 1:3-5. In that precious passage, our Lord is described as “the God of all comfort.” Isn’t that a precious and accurate description of our Lord? He comforts us in our times of trouble.
Psalm 46:1 teaches us that our God is “always found in times of trouble.” I am certain that you join with me in desiring a God who is ever present to help in our times of need. We do not want a part-time God, or a God who takes vacations, or a God who sleeps. We want a God who is with us and available at all time. Thankfully He is!
In relation to the tear bottle, look closely at Psalm 56:8. There the scripture says, “You Yourself have recorded my wanderings. Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your records?” This is a precious reminder of God’s care and comfort. Just as ancient mourners would catch their tears in a literal bottle, our Lord knows every tear we cry. He is with us as we grieve at every moment.
I urge you to lean upon the Lord. While all human beings will disappoint at some point in time or in some way, our Lord is steadfast and ever present. He knows every emotion that we experience.
Do we not serve a great God? Praise His name!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column first appeared on Frank S. Page’s blog at

3/30/2015 12:39:26 PM by Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee | with 0 comments

Remembering Kara Tippetts – A Life of Faith

March 30 2015 by Courtney Crandell, World News Service

Kara Tippetts fought the fight and finished the race. Tippetts, the pastor’s wife who blogged about her battle with terminal cancer, died Sunday in Colorado Springs, Colo. She was 38.
In many ways, Tippetts lost. She lost her battle with breast cancer. She lost mothering her four young children, and her children lost their mother. She lost the ministry she and her husband Jason had just started.
But in all the ways that matter to a follower of Christ, Tippetts won. Long before her cancer diagnosis, Tippetts and her husband resolved to spend their lives faithfully answering Martin Luther’s question: “What will you do in the mundane days of faithfulness?”
The way they answered that question revealed their absolute faith in Jesus and brought hope to thousands of people who followed them on their long journey of saying goodbye.
About six months after they moved from North Carolina to Colorado Springs in 2012 to plant a church, Tippetts discovered a lump in her breast during a routine exam. Two weeks later, doctors told her she had cancer. When the Tippettses started their church plant, she had already begun chemotherapy. Despite choosing to treat her cancer aggressively, it quickly spread throughout her body.
“The story is cancer growing, and Jason and I just looking for Jesus in the midst of it,” Tippetts said in September. “I have to still keep going, and so while I still have this breath, I’m planning on using it faithfully.”


Kara and Jason Tippetts

Tippetts began blogging about her cancer journey in 2012. Her transparency drew devoted followers – 20,000 visits a day – and the attention of a publisher. Her book, The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard, came out in October.
Tippetts readily admitted cancer’s tragedy and challenges. And she didn’t pretend it was easy to see God during the hardest days. Her church family not only cleaned her home and helped prepare meals, they also reminded her of the gospel when sickness overwhelmed her.
“Our neediness has become our strength,” Tippetts wrote. “We wake needing God’s grace, Jesus’ presence, and to walk in a way that allows our love to abound more and more. It’s stunning, absolutely stunning, to see a community of the beautifully broken seek daily bread to survive.”
Her friendships with Christian women in her community blossomed as the cancer progressed. But even as Tippetts received help, she poured out love on others. When she first began chemotherapy, she asked friends to accompany her so she wouldn’t have to go alone. A friend would arrive at the appointment to find more than a dozen other women already there, said Mark Bates who pastors Village Seven Presbyterian Church and mentors Jason through the church planting process. All those women consider Tippetts a best friend, he said.
Love for writing and an affinity for sarcasm initially drew fellow author Jill Lynn Buteyn and Tippetts together. The two frequently texted throughout Kara’s illness about the book deals both received and joint acupuncture visits. In conversation, Tippetts quickly turned the topic from herself and toward others, Buteyn told me. In the middle of an overnight stay in the hospital, Tippetts began asking Buteyn about other friends making sure someone had checked up on them. And though her process of dying often felt surreal, Tippetts and her circle of friends still had moments of girlfriend-talk, Buteyn said.
Tippetts’ perspective helped make the harsh reality of her death easier for those closest to her, Buteyn said. After Buteyn received a book deal, Kara texted her for news: “Tell me; I’m dying! Well, I’m actually dying, but I want to know!” Her trust in God’s promises and His sovereignty made her death easy to talk about, Buteyn said.
“I’ve never seen faith quite like this,” Buteyn told me. “My faith has just been growing as I’ve watched her because He is in this.”
Mickey Gauen frequently helped Tippetts through her last days. As Tippetts’ friends struggled with her passing, Gauen encouraged them to extend to others the love Tippetts showed them.
“Kara would want a dance party; she would want you to continue what she modeled of loving in kindness, to look for ways to continue what you have learned in her suffering how to show up, how to love those hurting hearts around you,” Gauen wrote. “She always saw her story as a one small piece of God’s earthly kingdom.”
Tippetts strove to fully live every breath she had, her editor, John Blase, recalled.
“It’s very much a challenge for all of us,” he said. “Every breath is valuable and holds some kind of grace.” Blase edited Tippetts’ book and developed a brotherly affection for her as he guided her through the publication process.
But her transparency didn’t reveal the depth of her struggle with her own death, Blase said. Her book barely scratched the surface of her emotional paradox: She wanted to be with Christ, but also loved living on this Earth and loving her kids. Though she believed in God’s goodness, Tippetts begged to live longer, to mother her children longer.
“John, I just don’t want to leave the party,” she texted him after her husband called for hospice care shortly after Christmas.
Telling her kids that she had stopped treatment was “unbelievably hard,” Tippetts confided on her blog. Friends have surrounded the Tippetts children with love as they process grief. Jason has faithfully worked behind the scenes to continue everyday life for the kids while he supported his wife.
“I’ve been impressed with how good of a man her husband Jason is,” Blase said. “It has been just a really beautiful picture of marriage.”
As Jason Tippetts mourned his wife’s impending passing, he and his family found peace. “I have great memories of us that will last a lifetime, no length of goodbye will take them,” he wrote earlier this month. “But I grieve as I watch her fade. The peace that is in our house is amazing, peace in the midst of tears, peace in the midst of impending loss, but it is peace.”
For many, walking with the Tippetts family through suffering hasn’t been easy. “You see the brokenness of this world,” Bates said. “You’re watching that brokenness in their lives.” But through the suffering, God has used Tippetts’ blog and book to reach millions drawn to her transparency.
And because Tippetts’ cancer journey built authentic community into their church from its start, the church is stronger for it, Bates said. “I wish God had chosen a different way,” he said. “But the church is in a totally different place than it would have been if it had gone according to our plans.”
Following the hospice call, Tippetts thanked God on her blog for the time she had left: “I get to draw my people close, kiss them and tenderly speak love over their lives. I get to pray into eternity my hopes and fears for the moments of my loves. I get to laugh and cry and wonder over heaven. I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus—and He will provide it. He has given me so much to be grateful for, and that gratitude, that wondering over His love will cover us all. And it will carry us – carry us in ways we cannot comprehend.”
Tippetts’ fight against cancer ended with hospice care, but she continued to fight to love the people around her. She found strength for a final photo shoot with her family, a trip to the beach with Jason, and intentional friendships – all while working with doctors to minimize her pain as much as possible.
And despite her suffering, Tippetts chose to cling to Jesus: “What I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Courtney Crandell writes for WORLD News Service.)

Related Story:

Kara Tippetts, Brittany Maynard and ‘death with dignity’

3/30/2015 12:28:51 PM by Courtney Crandell, World News Service | with 0 comments

Jesus put things in order, walked out of the tomb

March 27 2015 by Michael Kelley, Guest Column/Baptist Press

What does it look like to rise from the dead? We’ve all seen the TV dramas in the operating room when the heart monitor suddenly goes flat with the ominous and unceasing tone. Then the shock paddles are brought in and the formerly and technically dead person is brought back to life. Maybe it’s like that – jolts running through the body.
Or maybe it’s the way most of us feel on a particularly early morning when the alarm clock goes off. We’re startled awake, but as we switch the near blinding light on, it takes a few moments to rub the sleep out of our eyes. We have a sense of weakness in our hands and fingers as the blood starts to get going again, until we can eventually stagger to the bathroom to turn on the shower. Maybe it’s like that, only greater. We might need a couple of hours to regain control of our faculties and get some strength to just sit up.
But something tells me that Jesus didn’t stumble out of the tomb. Something tells me He didn’t cough and gurgle, or need the blood-flow to return to His extremities on Easter Sunday morning. Sure, His death was messy, undignified, bloody, gruesome – embarrassing even. But His resurrection? That was different. I love the fact that John, right in the middle of his Easter morning account, drops a little detail into the narrative that not only describes the resurrection of Jesus, but helps us see it and feel it. We read of Mary coming to the tomb hopeless and despondent, her faith dying with Jesus. We hear the night sounds starting to fade as the sun begins to rise. We sense the stillness, the emptiness of the air. We see her tears and feel the crushing weight of her even greater grief as she discovers in the darkness of the morning the stone rolled away. We hear her shrill cries as she sobs out her testimony to Simon Peter and John that grave robbers have come and stolen the body. Then comes the running.
We hear the panting. We feel the hot breath. We see the younger of the two outrun the older. Then, by the first rays of light, we see along with, first, John and then Peter, that the tomb is indeed empty. That’s when we get the detail:
The wrapping that had been on His head was not lying with the linen cloths but was folded up in a separate place by itself” (John 20:7).
It’s a curious little detail to include, don’t you think? John was there; he saw the whole thing. It’s possible that the memory was so ingrained into him that he wanted to record every last detail. But maybe too, buried in this little detail, is a commentary about the nature of the risen Lord. Jesus was raised to life, and when He was, He took on the dignity befitting Him. He simply got up in an unhurried manner. Like the Lord of All Creation that He is, He took a few moments to put things in order, even going so far as doing something like making His bed. Jesus didn’t stagger and stumble, bleary-eyed and numb from the coils of death; He rose as a conquering hero. And He strode out of the tomb like He owned the place. Because He does.
This is not like the resurrection of Lazarus whom Jesus pulled out of death. Just a few chapters earlier in this Gospel, he came out of the grave “bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth” (John 11:44). Jesus Himself gave the order to “loose him and let him go” because Lazarus couldn’t do it himself.
Jesus took a few moments to give us a little glimpse into the fact that centuries before the cross and the tomb, creation was broken by sin. It was set in a spiral of disorder where up was down and left was right. Everything was flipped on its head, but when He stepped out of the tomb, He announced to that broken creation that He was setting everything back the way it was always supposed to be. Out of disorder and into order. Out of death and into life. Out of brokenness and into wholeness. And maybe that reordering started with that simple act of taking what might have otherwise been a wrinkled, tattered mess, and folding it up neatly.
Then He walked out into the light.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Kelley is the director of discipleship for LifeWay Christian Resources and author of Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God; Transformational Discipleship; and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life. This article first appeared in HomeLife magazine published by LifeWay Christian Resources.)

3/27/2015 2:35:47 PM by Michael Kelley, Guest Column/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Why evangelicals are divided by afterlife testimonials

March 27 2015 by Aaron Griffith, Religion News Service

Earlier this week, LifeWay Christian Resources announced it would no longer carry “experiential testimonies about heaven,” such as Don Piper’s popular 90 Minutes in Heaven. Books and films in this vein report people’s various brushes with the afterlife (usually heaven, but sometimes hell) experienced during traumatic moments like surgery or car wrecks.
The LifeWay move follows a 2014 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) resolution that criticized this recent spate of “books and movies purporting to explain or describe the afterlife experience.”


According to the resolution, the problems with these media are twofold: They describe heaven “from a subjective, experiential source,” and they “contain details that are antithetical to scripture.” Other evangelicals have condemned the genre along similar lines.
Despite these reproaches, Americans keep consuming these books and movies, and publishers and studios are betting that there will still be an audience for afterlife testimonials for at least the near future. 90 Minutes in Heaven is scheduled for film release later this year, the Burpo family has booked spring tour dates promoting Heaven Is for Real, and Eben Alexander has recently produced another work in the same vein as his popular yet controversial earlier book, Proof of Heaven.


Photo courtesy of Aaron Griffith
Aaron Griffith is a doctoral student in American Christianity at Duke Divinity School.

Who exactly is reading these books and watching these movies is tough to say. Near-death experiences are phenomena that fascinate Americans of all religious stripes and often use vague language of spirituality rather than distinctive evangelical or even Christian doctrines. Proof of Heaven, for instance, occupies the No.1 Amazon sales slot in Christian eschatology but also in “Reincarnation,” under the New Age category.
It seems safe to assume, though, that at least a large chunk of those who are fascinated with afterlife tourism are indeed evangelical Christians. Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network dedicated multiple segments to heavenly visitation stories. Liberty University and other evangelical schools have hosted their own Heaven Is for Real events. And the upcoming 90 Minutes in Heaven film is being produced by Family Christian stores and marketed toward evangelical audiences.
If nothing else the persistence of a divided evangelical mind in regards to afterlife testimonials should remind us that there is no such thing as a monolithic evangelicalism in America. More than simply a divided Protestantism, there are at least two types of evangelicalism operating here. One is rationalistic. It focuses on “objective” truths that can be gleaned from the natural world and, in 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge’s words, the “store-house of facts” that is the Bible.
The other evangelicalism is more experientially minded. Drawing from the post-1960s “new paradigm churches” such as Vineyard congregations and Calvary Chapels, these evangelicals worry less about theological precision and more about escaping nominal wooden religiosity.
Anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann has written about this latter group in her study of Vineyard Christians, pointing out their willingness to use their imaginations to make biblical truth come alive and encounters with God more tangible. Using imagination does not mean that these evangelicals simply invent God or their spiritual experiences, but it does mean that they allow for more playful and creative takes on how God might be at work in their lives (like setting out an extra cup of coffee for God during morning devotions).
For rationally minded evangelicals, the problem with afterlife testimonials is their subjectivity; they do not align with, as one SBC pastor put it, the “clear, revelatory, propositional statements of scripture” regarding death and heaven. Instead, they rely on “personal testimonies that cannot be corroborated,” according to the SBC statement.
Perhaps rationally minded evangelical gatekeepers sense an intrusion on their turf. A recurring theme in afterlife testimonials is their aspiring objective quality. To cite a few examples, Heaven is “for real” because we can trust the stories of innocent children. There is “proof of heaven” because a highly trained neurosurgeon went there. The repeated focus on measures of time lends a quantifiable air to these stories (90 Minutes in Heaven, 23 Minutes in Hell). Todd Burpo evidenced this concern with either/or objectivity in a Liberty University question-and-answer session about his son’s heaven experience: “People can’t explain away what he saw by the drugs and chemicals creating memories that he never had. He either experienced this or he didn’t, and if he did, heavenly answers are the only answers you’re going to come up with.”
Therefore, the simultaneous popularity and controversy with afterlife testimonials is a result of its placement at the nexus of American evangelical experience. These testimonials pull the heartstrings of Christians seeking genuine experiences while also tempting faithful rationalists with their purported discoveries about empirical proof of the unseen. And they cause such a stir because most churches, and indeed most souls, contain heavenly longings of both the mind and the heart.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Griffith is a doctoral student in American Christianity at Duke Divinity School. Reach him on Twitter @AaronLGriffith.)

3/27/2015 11:35:22 AM by Aaron Griffith, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Loving our atheist neighbors

March 26 2015 by Dan DeWitt, Baptist Press

A CNN special report, “Atheists: Inside the World of Non-believers” that aired on March 24, focused mainly on the rejection felt by three individuals who no longer identify themselves as Christians. David, Jerry and “Stan” used to believe. Now they don’t. And that makes them bad.
At least that’s how many Christians have made them feel.
Christians can be guilty of overlooking the simple fact that atheists are people too. It’s more convenient to deal with them as objects instead of subjects. They are easy to dismiss as misguided, angry and divisive. They are better dealt with from afar, from echo chambers deeply embedded within our Christian subcultures where we can trade our apologetic pep talks and affirm our superiority over the incredulous.
Such thinking can lead to a subconscious, or conscious for that matter, view of the world in terms of a three-class system comprised of believers, unbelievers and those who have abandoned the faith.
Believers deserve fellowship and edification. Unbelievers are in need of care and evangelism. But the apostate, as this thinking goes, is simply hopeless. In short, such persons are our enemies.
The only problem with all this is that it is contrary to the spirit of Christ.
If Jesus walked onto a secular university campus today He wouldn’t head straight to the campus ministry center. More likely, He would be found in a small room in the library where a group of young men and women gather to build relationships and find solace in their journey away from the familiarity of faith into the unknown of the seemingly unknowable. That’s because Jesus wasn’t afraid of doubts and He had the stubborn habit of loving doubters. He seemed to take to Thomas just fine, and since He is the same today as yesterday, He’s still in the business of meeting skepticism with compassion and unwavering fidelity.
We would do well to follow in His footsteps.
Though the show included brief appearances from popular atheist evangelists like Richard Dawkins and David Silverman, the emphasis was on a less angry, more humanistic brand of unbelief advocated by David, Jerry and “Stan.”
In spite of his devout Christian upbringing, David became an atheist at the age of 16 and is now a leader in the Secular Student Society at his university in Georgia. He describes his feelings about his parents’ response to his unbelief.
“I am who I am and I’m not going to change that. I can’t change that,” he said. “It’s just part of who I am. And as loving parents of a loving son on some level they should be accepting of that. And they are outwardly of course, but it’s still lurking there underneath the surface. They’ll always harbor some sort of regret or anger towards me for just being who I am and that kind of hurts.”
I couldn’t help but think of the article published at The Atlantic by author Larry Taunton who highlights the decisive nature of the ages 14-17 for worldview development in his article, “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for A Stronger Christianity.” If we wait until students leave for college before we give significant attention to dealing with doubts about Christianity and training in basic apologetics we will likely labor in vain.
Jerry DeWitt (no relation to me) grew up idolizing Jimmy Swaggart on television, so it was only natural that he became a Pentecostal preacher in his home state of Louisiana. But after a former church member sought out his counsel when her brother was in critical condition, Jerry realized he no longer believed in prayer. And he no longer believed in God. His choice cost him his job, his career and his family. He now leads a congregation for unbelievers that he founded after his de-conversion.
Where he used to ask for an “amen” from his parishioners, he now says, “Can I get a Darwin?”
“Stan” is an active minister and a closet atheist who is still working through how to tell his believing congregation that he no longer believes.
While the CNN special did not offer any substantive arguments for or against the existence of God, it did bring a good reminder. Many atheists feel rejected and alienated from the faith communities to which they once belonged. Among many lessons we can learn is that these unbelievers miss something about their religious past: not the religion but the relationships. So much so that they are drawn to humanistic organizations and god-free worship services. Our witness to this growing demographic of “nones” could certainly be strengthened by genuine friendships and an authentic and relentless love.
But this is nothing new. And it shouldn’t take a CNN special to compel Christians to action. A Jewish carpenter in the Middle East once told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. And He didn’t make this command contingent upon whether or not our neighbors are believers.
And neither should we.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dan DeWitt is dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association recently named him a finalist for “Best New Author” in the 2015 Christian Books Awards for his latest book, “Jesus or Nothing.”)

3/26/2015 4:47:22 PM by Dan DeWitt, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Culture shift: questions for pastors & churches

March 26 2015 by Roger S. Oldham, SBC LIFE

In August 2013, same-sex marriage was legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia. By February of this year, Alabama had become the 37th state in which same-sex marriage was declared lawful despite a state constitutional amendment to the contrary that had been adopted by 81 percent of its citizens.
During this 18-month period, news services as diverse as Associated Press and Fox News have carried news stories about steps churches have taken to identify their core beliefs relative to same-sex marriage in the face of a rapidly changing culture.
Some news stories drew attention to pivotal internal policies: Has the church clearly articulated whether it would allow its pastor or other ministry leaders to perform same-sex marriages? Does the church have procedures in place to deal with safety and security issues should it be targeted by activists?
Other stories focused on the church’s witness within its community: How does a church redemptively minister to all people while simultaneously holding to a biblical sexual ethic and embracing biblical marriage as the covenantal union of one man and one woman?
Reporters also raised questions concerning public accommodation laws related to the church’s building and grounds: Has the church researched local and state laws about external groups renting the church’s facilities for a variety of purposes, including weddings?
With the changing cultural landscape in view, churches may wish to consider a wide range of questions.

Church membership and church discipline practices

Do the membership practices or policies of your church sufficiently address the issues of Christian witness? Are matters clearly stated about conduct that would place a person’s membership in jeopardy, or justify intervention of some sort, such as church discipline?

Statements of biblical beliefs

Has your church come to and adopted a common understanding about the biblical concept of marriage? Do all of the members, leaders, volunteers and staff understand the importance of maintaining a uniform witness in regard to that standard?

Pastor’s role in determining wedding policies

Is the pastor the sole decider for whom he will perform wedding ceremonies? If so, are the congregational expectations of the pastor’s participation in wedding ceremonies in harmony with the pastor’s own position? Could the pastor and people grow to be at odds in the absence of a church-adopted statement of faith or marriage policy?

Policies on how building and grounds may (or may not) be used

Does the church have clearly stated guidelines about the use of the church’s facilities and grounds? Has the church researched local and state public accommodation laws? For example, given new developments in discrimination law and their application to commercial activities, is your church engaged in any commerce (such as renting to non-church members or operating a school, coffee shop or bookstore) to which a non-discrimination law in your jurisdiction might apply? Should that activity be re-evaluated?

Potential disruptions by church members, guests or activists

Has your church thought about and prayed through, and been legally counseled about, what steps should be taken in the event of an unwanted participation, disruption, demonstration or threat in a church activity or service?

Participation in churchwide and community ministry events

Has your church determined how it will minister to and evangelize individuals whose lifestyles are at odds with biblical teachings? For example, would marriage enrichment seminars or parenting classes be community-wide events, or designed for church members only, or both?

Liability insurance questions

Is your church adequately covered by insurance for legal proceedings stemming from alleged discrimination or defamation?
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger S. Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee. This article first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of SBCLIFE, published five times yearly by the Executive Committee.)

3/26/2015 4:31:13 PM by Roger S. Oldham, SBC LIFE | with 0 comments

Looking for home

March 25 2015 by Erich Bridges, Worldview Conversation

Maya, age 7, loves bananas, cartoons and her pink teddy bear.
She had to leave the teddy bear back in Syria when her family fled to Lebanon to escape the worsening civil war. “It’s probably riddled with bullets now,” Maya said. She’s probably right: Homs, the city they left, is now essentially a pile of rubble.
At least she has a stuffed blue Smurf to keep her company. But she doesn’t have many human friends her age in the “home” she occupies with her parents and her teenage brother, Hammoudeh. For more than 1,000 days, they have lived with other Syrian refugees in the crumbling Gaza Hospital in Beirut. It ceased to be a medical facility during Lebanon’s own civil war decades ago, but has played host to generations of refugees from the region’s conflicts.
It’s more comfortable than the tents, sheds and hovels many Syrian refugees endure in Lebanon. But Maya – a goofy, giggly girl with tons of energy – feels like she’s growing up in a prison.
“I’m a kid! I want to have fun,” Maya complained. “Who am I supposed to play with? I’m surrounded by 10 walls. ... When I get bored, I go outside. I don’t find anyone so I come back in. I keep going in, out, in, out. I drive Mum crazy!”
Syria’s civil war bled into a fifth year in March, and Maya has little chance of going home anytime soon. She doesn’t understand the larger forces that are destroying her homeland, or why she and her brother can’t go to school, or why her mother seems sad most of the time. She laughs and dreams and makes the best of an awful situation. But she knows something is wrong with a world that snatches a home and a teddy bear from a little girl. You can see it in her eyes.
Maya told her story as part of the Al Jazeera series “Life on Hold,” which presents five video portraits of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. In that series, you will also meet young Omar, who misses his assistant chef’s job and his sweetheart back in Damascus. He cares for a leg shattered by an exploding shell before he fled Syria, reads the Quran, prays, checks out the latest songs and videos online and waits.
Haifa, a widow who closed the hotel she owned in Damascus to seek safety for her three children, misses home so desperately that she wants to go back – even though conditions are far worse now than when she departed. “At least if I die, I die in Syria,” she said. Hajj, an older man who cares for his sick wife, wonders if his 200 olive trees have withered and died. He has lost 38 family members in the conflict.
Al Furati, an award-winning poet and former government worker, cries for lost friends, coworkers and simple pleasures back home. He worries about his children missing years of school, part of an entire lost generation of young Syrians. He sits in a tent with his wife and children, writing mournful verses late into the night: “Why is my country draped in the black of night? And why are Syria’s hands hennaed with blood? ... Your children are now crying and your women are wailing, your precious soil is awash with the blood of your men. I feel your heart is breaking like the valley of lament, I know that your wound is too deep to heal.”
Those words reminded me of the lament of another refugee poet: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1 NASB). Carried away into forced exile 26 centuries ago, the psalmist and his Israelite brothers and sisters could only remember their beloved land – and hope one day to return.
I’ve become acquainted with many refugees over the years, whether in dusty camps and border towns or after they resettled in other places – such as the city where I live. They include Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Cubans, Afghanis, Iraqis, Kurds, Palestinians, Burmese, Nepalis and Syrians. I’m proud to count some of them as dear friends. Before our own children came along, my wife and I were foster parents to two Vietnamese refugee kids for a time.
I don’t pretend to understand the refugee experience, however, or the trauma, despair, isolation and loss that come with it. It is impossible to fathom unless you have gone through it.
But God understands. He loves. And He gives hope. He commands again and again in His Word that we welcome and shelter the alien, the stranger and the outcast. Jesus Christ, who experienced rejection by His own that we can only imagine, calls us to befriend the wanderers of this world and to offer them the only hope that transcends the desperate circumstances of their lives.
Millions of Syrians have been driven from their homes since the civil war began. If you want to help them, or any refugees, here are 10 practical ways to do so. And here are a few more: Listen to their stories. Cry with them. Be a friend. Offer the hope only God can give.

Love transcends all borders.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent.)

3/25/2015 11:53:07 AM by Erich Bridges, Worldview Conversation | with 0 comments

Creflo, character and the ripple effect

March 24 2015 by Joel Rainey, Guest Column

Western Christianity never looks more lavish, or less like Jesus, than when its leaders are embroiled in scandal. A recent example is Creflo Dollar, an Atlanta area pastor and “Word of Faith” teacher, who made waves across the Internet by asking his congregation to provide funds for a $65 million private jet.
Those acquainted with Dollar’s ministry are not surprised at this latest development. Formerly a student of Kenneth Copeland, Dollar promulgates a message of health, wealth and prosperity that sounds less like Jesus’ call to take up one’s cross, and more like Milton Friedman on steroids.
When scandals like this are caused by prosperity preachers, followers of Jesus need to send an abundantly clear message that this is NOT Christianity. Often, our Pentecostal brothers and sisters are unjustly blamed because of the relationship that exists between these movements and prosperity teaching.
However the historical roots of the “Word of Faith” movement are not anchored to Azusa Street, but to Spencer, Mass., where E.W. Kenyon developed his philosophy of New Thought Metaphysics. His teachings concerning the nature of reality and the ability of the human mind to bend that reality by “tapping into the divine” and “positive confession,” are a bizarre mixture of eastern panentheism and practices that originated in a form of Vajrayana Buddhism. The subsequent “positive confession” teachings of the late Kenneth Hagin and his students built on these false ideas.
When it comes to the origins and essence of “health, wealth and prosperity,” Word of Faith theology bears absolutely no historical, biblical, theological or philosophical resemblance to orthodox Christian faith. We may call this twisted faith system many things, but “Christian” is not one of them.
So when non-Christian leaders cause a scandal that affects the name of Jesus, it’s important that genuine followers of Jesus call these false teachers what they are. But at the same time, we must also admit that many who might otherwise be considered “orthodox” can be guilty of the same error.
To be sure, prosperity teaching certainly makes it easier for someone to do what Creflo Dollar has done. But Dollar’s recent actions aren’t primarily about heretical theology. Nor are they about affluence.
I’m not sure who first suggested that ministers should be poor, but whoever did it was forwarding a poverty theology that is every bit as heretical as its prosperity counterpart. If a pastor is doing well financially, in most cases we should be happy for his success.
But when your net worth is north of $27 million, and you are seeking to bilk one of Atlanta’s poorest neighborhoods – one in which the average annual income is less than $29,000 – out of another $65 million just so you don’t have to fly coach, that’s a character issue!
And when it comes to a lack of character, the ripple effect through the western church is vast!
Too often, churches and ministries have skimmed right past the instruction of the New Testament pastoral letters, and ignored their call for character because they were attracted to a leader’s winsomeness, leadership skills or visionary ability. The results have been tragic.
While they will never make the headlines like someone coveting a $65 million plane, the results of low character – even in “doctrinally sound” environments – are very similar to those produced by religious charlatans. When we ignore character, in the end we really don’t look much different from the heretics.
After many years of working with churches and denominations, I’ve observed three primary ways low character presents itself, damages the body of Christ and casts aspersion on the mission.
• Pride. When a leader of low character becomes prideful, he or she develops a “God’s man” syndrome that causes them to think themselves above everyone else. This can lead to an entitlement mentality. Like Moses in Numbers 20, they feel as though their faithfulness over a certain period of time means they should be allowed to blow their stack, or otherwise use their ministry for personal gain. I’ve seen pastors pad their resumes, embellish their achievements and use ministry resources for personal pleasure – all because of pride.
• Personal. Personal animus sometimes causes a leader to harm entire ministries simply because he or she won’t practice Matthew 18. I’ve counseled with churches where staff conflict was handled in an unhealthy way, and the conflict rippled out to eventually divide the church. I’ve seen church members scarred, staff terminated and ministries ruined because someone who presumed leadership was willing to damage mission simply to be vindictive. Leaders unwilling to take the relational high road for the sake of mission are leaders of low character.
• Power. Low-character leaders will abuse their authority for personal gain. Some obvious examples of this are cases of sexual misconduct and/or financial impropriety. I’ve dealt with a few pastors who couldn’t keep their pants on or their hands out of the offering plate. At the end of the day, it was their sense of entitlement that fueled these behaviors. The power they were granted for the good of those under their care was used to serve themselves.
The ripple effect of low character carries a very high cost.
So how should we respond? In 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, we read that the first qualifiers for spiritual leadership have little to do with ability, vision or charisma, and everything to do with character. Unfortunately, western Christendom has too often looked past character, and we have paid a dear price for it.
Pastor search committees, executive search teams and senior pastors looking to hire staff shouldn’t ignore the importance of skill and competence; nor should they view visionary leadership as an undesirable trait. Important questions must be asked to determine if a leader is truly above reproach, genuinely devoted to his family, morally consistent, financially responsible and relationally respected. Eventually, the things a leader does when no one else is looking will break through all the “visionary” facade.
When that happens, it suddenly becomes clear whether the things which are most important are inherent in a leader’s life.
Creflo Dollar’s theology and lifestyle are easy to identify as a false gospel to anyone with an ounce of discernment. But for those who call ourselves followers of Jesus, it’s the less distinct expressions of bad character wrapped in “solid theology” or “visionary leadership” that is the real danger. When it comes to spiritual leadership, character is king.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joel Rainey leads the engagement team for evangelism and missions at the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, made up of the Baptist churches in Maryland and Delaware. He is the author of three books including Side-Stepping Landmines that is designed to show pastor search teams how to ask interview questions to reveal character. It is available on Amazon. This column appeared first on his blog, Themelios, at

3/24/2015 1:11:22 PM by Joel Rainey, Guest Column | with 0 comments

From the heart of the mission field

March 23 2015 by Ronnie Floyd, SBC president

Jeana and I have just returned from 12 days away, with much of that time in the heart of the international mission field. As we conversed one-on-one and in several meetings with our missionaries in challenging fields all over the Middle East, we were able to hear their hearts loud and clear. As I have thought about this upon my return home, I feel it is incumbent upon me to share what I am able to within the boundaries of security.
What do you want me to share with our churches back home?
In each meeting, I asked this question of our missionaries: What do you want me to share with our churches back home? The missionaries and their leaders were not timid at all. I want to highlight the things they shared with me.

1. Pray for us

Without any question, the need for prayer rang loud and clear! They are fully aware they are called to forward the gospel message in territories of the world where this message has never been heard before. They know their giftedness in and of itself cannot penetrate the lostness of the ethnicities of people they are trying to reach. They know they need what only God Himself can do.
In fact, one of the biggest challenges for which they pleaded for prayer is the ability to learn Arabic language. This is an ongoing challenge for them, and for a segment of their initial term, it dominates their schedule. To the level of learning and articulating the language will be the level of their ability to live cross-culturally and share Christ effectively.
Since they realize the places they serve are in the harder places of the world, they are always in need of prayer for their flexibility, security and welfare. Yet, they are more than aware God has them there and are convinced He will use them in all kinds of places in the world. While they may intend to go one place, the doors close and they have to adjust to the Spirit’s leadership rapidly.
Pastors and churches, pray for our missionaries. Begin to pray daily for them personally and more regularly in our churches.

2. Pray for open doors

With every global crisis you see through the media, realize it is time to pray for our missionaries to have an open door for the gospel. The call of God upon their lives drowns out their fears. They know God has called them, and to that call they are committed.
They believe the Arab world is more open to the gospel now than ever before. Many in the Muslim faith are evaluating their religion now more than ever before due to the extreme practices of some. God is using the ISIS crisis to expose the darkness of a life without purpose and a relationship without God. In fact, our missionaries said to us again and again, “Tell the American people to not judge the Muslim people by what ISIS and others may be doing. They are friends, astounded themselves by what is happening, plus we are trying to reach them for Christ.” They are just like us: They need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
We all need to pray that even for those within ISIS themselves, that our God would reveal His power to many of them, converting them to be Christ-followers. He did it with Paul who was a persecutor of Christians; therefore, God can do it again.

3. Partner with us

Almost every missionary was passionate about desiring true partnership with our churches in America. They greatly desire personal correspondence of any kind, whether it comes in the form of emails, notes or even through gifts of encouragement of things back home. Additionally, they desire the sense of family created through relationships.
Churches partnering with our missionaries may also result in churches going to the regions, serving alongside of the missionaries. Not serving as tour guides, but ministry partners. Perhaps as some mentioned, rather than sending teams, send their friends who know them well and can help with the endless challenges of raising children, taking care of the house, the needs of the children and the friendship of sharing burdens which exist on the mission field.
Missionaries need partner churches because they lose identity, even with their home churches. At times, their Pastor leaves the church, or leadership of the church transitions, or even the church goes through such transition in the course of one, two or more terms of a missionary that they do not even recognize the church any longer. Therefore, they need our churches to do all we can to establish a relationship with our missionaries, becoming real partners with them.
If your church has been fortunate to have missionaries called to serve on the field, then your church, as ours does, must take this seriously. Our prayer support must be tremendous, our relationship strong and our partnership defined and fulfilled at every level. They need to know we are with them as they serve overseas.

4. Thank you

Endlessly, the missionaries asked me to tell our churches thank you! Therefore, thank you to the Southern Baptist churches that give through our Cooperative Program to help place our missionaries on the field. They also wanted me to tell you thank you for your generous support of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Their thank you was not only endless but generous.
They also wanted to say please do all you can to continue to give generously and grow in giving sacrificially so we can have more missionaries on the field to do all we can to help advance the gospel to the world, including the hardest places on this planet. Therefore, Southern Baptist churches, please continue to give and increase giving through our Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
Therefore, as they have let me share their heart with the churches, I also was able to share the heart of the churches with the missionaries. To God’s glory, we join in this grand task together: Extending the glory of God to the Nations!
Yours for the Great Commission,
Ronnie W. Floyd
Senior Pastor, Cross Church
President, Southern Baptist Convention

3/23/2015 2:58:11 PM by Ronnie Floyd, SBC president | with 0 comments

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