March 2017

Save the people

March 16 2017 by Brian Hobbs

Millions of people in the online world have watched livestream video for days on end for a 15-year-old named April to give birth to her baby. April, though, is not a teen mom. April is a giraffe who lives at Animal Adventure Park in New York.
 
People often are as emotionally attached to the lives of animals as they are of people. We see it now with “April the Giraffe,” as we saw it when many grieved over the deaths of “Harambe the Gorilla” and “Cecil the Lion” in recent years.

Brian Hobbs


Why is that? First and foremost, animals are an important part of God’s creation, and they command our attention and, in many cases, our affection.
 
Beyond that, there is something in human nature that responds more acutely to a single life, than a bunch of lives. A quote attributed to the evil Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin says, “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”
 
Think about it. According the latest data, some 58 million children have been aborted in America since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling. For many Americans, a number like that doesn’t seem real, but more of a statistic. As Christians, however, we know that each of these boys and girls deserved to live and is precious to God and to us.
 
To go one step further, it’s not only a single life that makes a birth or death seem more real; it’s knowing a name.
 
People know the names of April, Harambe and Cecil. When we do not know the names of these 58 million dead, it makes their lives seem more distant. As Christians, though, we know that God knows the names of these boys and girls.
 
In the Bible, we see that one of the first things God had Adam do was to name the animals. The Bible also promises us that God knows each of us by name. To borrow a well-worn phrase, what’s in a name? Turns out, there’s a lot.
 
We therefore ought to use this moment to understand what motivates people. It’s not our job to tell people celebrating a giraffe’s birth to stop. It’s our job to help them celebrate the unborn and each birth of a child in their family, neighborhood or church with the same (or hopefully even more) enthusiasm.
 
It’s not our primary job to tell people to get over the death of a gorilla or a lion. It’s our job to help them to grasp and to grieve over the real human suffering in our world, such as women and children being sold into human trafficking, people of faith being persecuted, kids stuck in the foster care system and, yes, the horrors of human abortion.
 
While animals’ lives and deaths do certainly matter, we cannot disproportionately elevate their importance. Socrates taught that you cannot elevate an animal’s rights to that of a person; you can only bring down a person to the level of an animal.
 
In the case of April the Giraffe, Harambe the Gorilla and Cecil the Lion, let’s note the moment. Then let’s move our gaze to even weightier matters, which certainly include getting the gospel to our neighbors in need, people who are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26).
 
After all, our primary job is to point people toward the One who came, not to save the whales, but to save the people.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Hobbs is editor of The Baptist Messenger, baptistmessenger.com, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, where this article first appeared. Used with permission.)
 

3/16/2017 10:49:00 AM by Brian Hobbs | with 0 comments



When foster kids come to church

March 15 2017 by Diana Davis

“The Turners have a new foster child,” someone whispered. A wide-eyed 12-year-old walked into church beside the couple, and people began to welcome him.
 
When God prompts someone in your church to foster a child, how will your church respond? Are the preschool, children’s and youth workers prepared? Will children include them? Will seniors and singles, ushers and leaders, individuals and groups lovingly support those brave parents and welcome that child?

Diana Davis


The need for foster parents is critical; the biblical mandate is clear. This column, however, is not for foster parents. These ideas are for everyone else in your church – those who may not be called to foster parenting but whose personal attitude and actions might encourage the foster parents and change a foster child’s life forever.
 
Get ready to make a difference. Try some of these fresh ideas:
 

Get prepared

– A church needs to have a support team in place before foster children enter their doors. Surround each foster family with an organized support system.
 
– Listen to the excellent podcast The Adopting and Fostering Home at namb.net or iTunes. There’s also a step-by-step guide for a church project to collect rolling suitcases and new clothes for social workers to give new foster children.
 
– Send your children’s/youth minister or key volunteer through your state’s foster care training classes. The information will be invaluable. Consider auditing other topical classes they offer. Share the information with other leaders.
 
– Have a respite plan in place to help absorb foster parents’ weariness. Foster agencies may be willing to do onsite training on a Sunday or a weekend.
 
– Organize a foster and adoptive parent Christian support group.
 

When a foster parent receives a child

– Rally around them. Discover immediate needs and help meet them. Loan a car seat. Prepare a care package. Appoint one person to organize some meals.
 
– Allow bonding time. Leave gifts at the door. Arrange a visit only after the foster family says they’re ready for guests.
 
– Pray. When my daughter and son-in-law picked up their foster children a year ago, a church member sent a text message asking how she could pray for them. Every week since, she sends another text, and prays.
 
– Your small group or family may help with specific needs. Be the “shoe-buying family” or the group who provides school supplies, wardrobe, a stroller.
 
– Help foster parents avoid feeling alone. Check on them.
 
– Repeat these steps each time they receive foster children.
 

When the foster child comes to church

– When a foster child arrives at your church for the first time, realize this could possibly be the child’s only experience with church. Foster children may be placed for a day, a short time or long-term. Today’s experience in God’s house with God’s family could make a lasting impression.
 
– Give the child value by learning his name and calling him by it. Recognize him. Don’t ask personal questions about the child’s past with him present. Never ask, “Is he a foster child?”
 
– Show interest. Talk to the child. Be a friend. For example, if he loves art, introduce him to an artist in the church or give a gift of art supplies or lessons. Cook his favorite dessert. Give a small Walmart gift card to a teen.
 
– Be patient. The child may have never been to church before. He may never have learned basic manners, communication skills or even potty training. If behavioral problems occur, show grace to the child. Help the foster parents; they’re probably overwhelmed too!
 
– Teach your own children to offer friendship, care and kindness.
 
– If you know of a church activity that would benefit the child, personally extend an invitation and help with assimilation.
 
– Invite the foster parent and child to your home for dinner. It may be very beneficial for the child to observe another peaceful, loving family.
 
The Turners fostered dozens of children over the years – some for a day, others long-term. Each of those children was showered with God’s love by their foster parents as well as their church. As God calls families in your church to foster children in great need, how will your church receive them?
 
As scripture tells us, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27 NLT).
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Davis is online at dianadavis.org. Her newest book, co-written with her daughter Autumn Wall, Across the Street and Around the World, New Hope Publishers, is a resource for missions ideas for churches, small groups and individuals.)
 

3/15/2017 2:06:43 PM by Diana Davis | with 0 comments



‘Welcome’ – for international students, a powerful word

March 14 2017 by Terry Sharp

No one likes being the new kid on the block. Just thinking about it now takes me back to difficult times when I experienced loneliness and unfamiliarity in new places.
 
It even reminds me of those awkward years trying to fit in with others in my early school years.

Terry Sharp


That’s why being welcomed into a new community can be such a wonderful experience. The simple truth is that “welcome” is a powerful word.
 
Over the course of 42 years, my wife Kathy and I have moved a number of times, and with every move came the same unnerving feelings. Whether here in the United States or overseas where we served as missionaries, we always felt like the new kids on the block.
 
I will always remember one particular move when our new neighbors rushed right over. They welcomed us and invited us over for dinner that night. It felt great to receive such warm hospitality.
 
A single family reaching out to us made us feel completely welcomed to our new city and neighborhood.
 
During the time we lived in Brazil, we moved from the city where we attended language school to our new city of ministry a thousand miles to the south. We tried to connect with our new neighbors next door the way our previous neighbors had done with us. They were cordial enough, but our conversation was stilted and superficial.
 
But I will never forget the Sunday morning when their shallow greetings turned into something more. They invited us over for Chimarrão, which is a caffeine-rich infused tea that’s quite popular in southern Brazil. Being invited over to our neighbors to drink tea was exciting. We felt welcomed and honored to be included in one of the most culturally important customs of the region.
 
“Chimarrão é amizade” is one of the local sayings. Translated, it means “Chimarrão is friendship.” Our neighbors shared that adage with us, adding that drinking Chimarrão with family, colleagues or friends created a social bond. It didn’t take long to become good friends with our neighbors. Our daughters were soon best friends and spent a lot of time together.
 

Be a Welcoming Neighbor

International students especially feel lonely when they move to a new, unfamiliar place. They arrive with the pressure to excel in their studies in a second language, all while learning a new culture.
 
It must be totally overwhelming, and feeling welcome in their new hometowns can likely help offer some much-needed comfort.
 
We have an incredible opportunity in the U.S. to welcome almost a million international students who arrive from countries all around the world to attend American colleges and universities every year. Knowing that 75 percent of international students are never invited into an American home increases the importance of welcoming them in.
 
Consider this excerpt from a WorldView column by missions writer Erich Bridges in 2011:
 
“A foreign student preparing to return home after several years at an American university left behind a full suitcase with his roommate. ‘What’s this?’ the roommate asked. ‘It’s full of the gifts I brought to give Americans when they invited me to their homes,’ the student replied, a tinge of sadness in his voice. ‘No one invited me.’”
 
The opportunity for believers to serve international students through simply welcoming them and helping them acclimate to their new home and culture is astounding. No international student who wants to have an American friend should ever be lacking.
 

Practical steps

1. Contact your local university and ask about becoming a host family to an international student. This is usually arranged through a program in the international student office. Programs may differ but you’ll generally receive a form to fill out that matches your family and a participating student. You’ll typically be asked to host your assigned student throughout the school year.
 
Currently, my family is hosting two students, and we make a point of including them in holiday festivities and meals as well as family birthdays, shopping excursions and worship opportunities with our church.
 
2. Pick up international students from the airport and help them get settled into their dorms or apartments.
 
3. Provide household goods and furniture for international students. Some churches and Baptist associations have developed ministries to provide these items. International students secure household goods and furniture as they settle into their new places of residence and return them at the end of the school year or when they return home.
 
4. Embrace students as a part of your life and become a genuine friend. Invite them for meals and to special family events, church activities and excursions such as ball games, bowling and amusement parks. On holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, explain the meaning of your observances and traditions. Remember that they want to experience life in America, and you are their guide.
 
When you reach out, you’ll discover a multitude of opportunities to build friendships, meet needs and minister the gospel to people God has brought to your community. All of this opportunity is available simply through the power of welcoming others into your life.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Terry Sharp, @terrysharpimb, is the International Mission Board’s state, association and diaspora network leader. This article first appeared at the mission board’s imb.org website. Used with permission.)
 

3/14/2017 3:59:03 PM by Terry Sharp | with 0 comments



Our Benedict is probably black

March 13 2017 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

Rod Dreher’s vision of America is apocalyptic, and he’s looking to the past for a glimpse into the future. Ancient monasteries give him hope for American Christianity, but Dreher might find the Italian hill country of his dreams right across town.


His new book, The Benedict Option, warns of a coming flood, one that is already knee-high and rising. But it’s not literal water he’s worried about, it’s “liquid modernity” threatening to swallow orthodox Christianity and wash away the foundations of America.
 
“This may not be the end of the world,” Dreher writes, “but it is the end of a world, and only the willfully blind would deny it.”
 
Western society is unmoored from its intellectual and moral foundations, according to Dreher, and we are now cast afloat on an ever-changing sea of self-discovery. Sex and technology drive us with gale force.
 
Once stable notions of marriage and gender now drift on the waves. A constant deluge of hand-held pornography and digital entertainment threaten to sink what remains of self-control and solidarity.
 
American Christianity will not weather the storm unless she finds safe harbor.
 
Dreher, a writer and senior editor for The American Conservative, seeks refuge in The Rule of Saint Benedict. The ancient monastic code for Christian communities prescribes virtues like order, prayer, stability and balance – the bedrock of spiritual and social life being swept away by the torrent.
 
Dreher prays for a new Benedict, someone who has tread rough waters before, someone to teach the Christian community how to regroup amid turbulent social conditions, where Christianity lives best as a disenfranchised but prophetic minority.
 
Some critics scoff at Dreher’s “strategic retreat” from broader American culture. Evangelicals are especially wary of monkish ideas because they sound like an abdication of the evangelistic responsibility given to the church by none other than Jesus himself. But Dreher emphasizes the Benedict Option is not un-evangelistic. His strategy recovers solitude and renewal for American Christianity in ways that enhance the church’s witness.
 
Throughout the book, he points to a litany of ark-building communities that have embodied Benedict Option principles in various social milieus: Czech Christians, Orthodox Jews, Latter-Day Saints, Roman Catholics and his own tribe, Eastern Orthodox Christians.
 
Yet, there is an obvious group missing from the list, one that is singularly familiar with the raging seas of majority American culture. Dreher’s oversight blurs his vision – our Benedict is probably black.
 
The African American Christian community – maybe more than any other – offers tangible and near-to-home examples of how to live in this country in a degrading social environment. They have the spiritual and communal resources to help the rest of us do the same, if we’re willing to follow.
 
Perhaps a more nuanced account of Western history would have prevented the mishap. As Dreher traces the contours of seven centuries of Western thought, highlighting the critical missteps that contributed to the current crisis, he bypasses philosophical and theological ethnocentrism.
 
Although Dreher admittedly leaves out material, to sidestep racial issues while recounting European and American intellectual, spiritual and social development is a unique blunder.
 
The book contains in-depth theological discussions of the imago Dei, another opportunity to shore up weak levees in American Christianity. Still, the blight of theological, Curse-of-Ham-style racism never comes up, despite truly insightful accounts of image bearing as it relates to individualism and sexuality.
 
In a treatise meant to flush the wounds of Western society so future faith communities can heal and grow into vibrant and sustainable countercultures, it’s a devastating mistake to overlook the fact that for many American Christians in the 19th and 20th centuries, the doctrine of the imago Dei was a whitewashed tomb full of black men’s bones.
 
Since the book does not identify ethnocentrism as a mortal danger to faithful Christian communities, it’s unsurprising that Dreher’s “idea of a Christian village” does not prioritize diversity.
 
This is a serious error, and if uncorrected, ethnic homogeneity in an ever-diversifying America will doom Benedict Option communities to fail at some of the most important Benedictine practices, such as cultivating community and offering hospitality.
 
In addition to valuing ethnic diversity, Benedict Option communities would do well to follow the lead of minorities that have walked the paths of social isolation.
 
African American Christian communities can be exemplary in demonstrating how to sustain vibrant havens amid turmoil. They have deep, multi-generational experiences as minorities, and their spirituality bears it out.
 
Take, for example, the compelling theological case for justice that Martin Luther King Jr. made as he sat in a Birmingham jail. His appeals to historical Christian doctrines and American ideals strengthen the fiber of our social fabric, in addition to Christianity’s prophetic voice. King drew from deep wells of communal reflection on the nature of God, biblical anthropology and what it means to exist in an un-barbaric society.
 
Consider also Maya Angelou’s “Black Family Pledge.” The tenor, resilience and timeliness of the piece embodies a great deal of Dreher’s Benedict Option:
 

Because we have forgotten our ancestors, our children no longer give us honor.

Because we have lost the path our ancestors cleared, kneeling in perilous undergrowth, our children cannot find their way.

Because we have banished the God of our ancestors, our children cannot pray.
 
Because the long wails of our ancestors have faded beyond our hearing, our children cannot hear us crying.
 
Because we have abandoned our wisdom of mothering and fathering, our befuddled children give birth to children they neither want nor understand.
 
Because we have forgotten how to love, the adversary is within our gates, and holds us up to the mirror of the world, shouting, “Regard the loveless.”
 
Therefore, we pledge to bind ourselves again to one another;
To embrace our lowliest,
To keep company with our loneliest,
To educate our illiterate,
To feed our starving,
To clothe our ragged,
 
To do all good things, knowing that we are more than keepers of our brothers and sisters. We are our brothers and sisters.
 
In honor of those who toiled and implored God with golden tongues, and in gratitude to the same God who brought us out of hopeless desolation,
 
We make this pledge.


Whether Dreher refers to a literal person or a personified community, he is profoundly right that Christians in America need a new Benedict. But we shouldn’t be surprised if the monastery bells ring a Negro spiritual: “The old Ark’s a moverin’.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Seth Brown is content editor for the Biblical Recorder, news journal for North Carolina Baptists. The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher is available for purchase March 14 at Amazon.com or your favorite bookseller.)

3/13/2017 12:10:21 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 1 comments



Staggered & humbled

March 13 2017 by Jonathan Akin

Background: At the SBC Executive Committee meeting in February, Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, announced that Jonathan Akin had been named to lead a ministry of NAMB and the Executive Committee to engage young leaders in Southern Baptist cooperative missions. Ezell arranged a meeting between Akin and several state convention executive directors who were concerned about the appointment; Ezell subsequently asked Akin to evaluate the meeting, in which he recounted his interaction with Georgia Baptist Convention Executive Director J. Robert White, which is released here with permission of Akin, pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., the last six years, and White, who has led the Georgia convention since 1993.
 
I took Intermediate Greek in seminary with Dr. John Polhill, and we did our work in Philippians for the entire semester. Each student had to select a passage in Philippians on which to write three exegetical papers. I grew up listening to my dad preach a wonderful message on Philippians 2:1-11, so I selected that passage for my papers. That beautiful passage that some think was an early Christian hymn tells all about the humility of Christ and how He voluntarily set aside privileges that were rightly His in order to serve humanity.

Jonathan Akin


I was pumped about digging into the Greek syntax and learning more about it. I studied that passage for four months. I did lexical work, syntactical work and exegetical work. I knew the ins and outs of all the Greek clauses. In fact, I memorized the passage in Greek. You could say I was an expert on Philippians 2.
 
The problem is that while I worked hard to become an intellectual expert on Philippians 2, I didn’t work hard to become a practical expert on it. Far from having the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5) and far from displaying the humility of Christ, I actually became more arrogant and prideful. Despite Dr. Polhill’s best efforts to challenge the students, including me, to make this more than an intellectual exercise, I failed to adequately apply the passage to my life.
 
Regretfully, as a young minister, I have often been guilty of arrogance and pride. I have often thought I knew better than my elders. I have often been cocksure that my solutions to the problems were always the correct ones. I still have Philippians 2:5-11 memorized, at least in English, but I often fail in having the mind of Christ.
 
And yet, the other day I was convicted and challenged anew to apply Philippians 2 in my life when I got to see firsthand a brother in Christ powerfully demonstrate the humility of Jesus to me.
 
I met recently with some state convention executive directors. (Backstory: I have at times been very critical of state conventions and state convention leaders. So, I was meeting with some men who had every reason to be upset with me.)
 
One of the men in the room was Dr. J. Robert White, the executive director of Georgia’s state convention, and he asked to go first. I braced myself wondering what he would say. However, Dr. White turned the conversation on a dime and changed the temperature of the room with his first sentence, “Jonathan, I want to ask you to forgive me.” I was caught off guard and humbled within seconds.
 
Dr. White went on to say that I had written some hurtful things about the Georgia Baptist Convention, and he said that instead of doing the biblical thing that he knew to do – call me or come see me to talk it out like brothers – he chose to just be upset with me. For that he said he was sorry and sought my forgiveness.
 
It was such a powerful moment. I was almost moved to tears and did choke up when it was my turn to speak (especially since it’s a ministry of Georgia Baptists that led to my mom to faith in Christ while she lived at the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home). It was a powerful moment because Dr. White displayed the mind of Christ. Dr. White is a man in a very important position. He is my elder. He has tenure in ministry longer than I have been alive. He honestly didn’t owe me anything. I hadn’t had the respect or courtesy to call him or sit down with him before I wrote those things. And yet, he voluntarily humbled himself before me. He apologized to me. He sought my forgiveness. In that moment I was reminded of Philippians 2 again, and I knew that’s the kind of man I want to be.
 
I was staggered. I was humbled by Dr. White. Of course, I forgave him and I sought his forgiveness in return. In my zeal to see more resources get to the places with little to no gospel witness, I have sometimes been guilty of being uncharitable to other brothers and have arrogantly thought my proposed solutions are the only right ones. Dr. White graciously forgave me as well.
 
It was an encouraging and convicting meeting – one I’ll never forget. And it’s a reminder to me that knowing the Word is one thing but practicing the Word is quite another. I hope this will be a challenge to all students and young pastors. I know it’s a challenge to me. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5) and “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jonathan Akin, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Lebanon, Tenn., has been named to begin a young leader initiative of the SBC Executive Committee and North American Mission Board to better engage pastors between the ages of 25-45 in Southern Baptist cooperative ministry. Akin is one of the cofounders of the pastor-led Baptist 21 network. This article first appeared in The Christian Index, christianindex.org, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Used with permission.)
 

3/13/2017 12:05:57 PM by Jonathan Akin | with 0 comments



Fresh perspective

March 10 2017 by Jeff Iorg

I met a young woman at a recent event who told me her story which left me in awe of her courage. Here’s what she has packed into the past few years.
 
She grew up in an Asian country, the daughter of working-class parents who did menial jobs to provide for their family. She showed academic promise, so her parents sacrificed to keep her in school – all the way through graduate school.

Jeff Iorg


As a college student, she became a Christian and started attending a church. Soon, she was picked up by the authorities and given an option – spy for them on other Christians or be expelled from the country. She refused and prepared to be exiled.
 
While in the university, she had fallen in love with a young missionary from the United States – an Asian (but different ethnicity) who had been adopted by an American family. They decided to get married and moved to the United States (a very complicated process).
 
After they had been in the U.S. for a few months, her husband was diagnosed with cancer and died after a short illness. Now in her late 20s, she is a widow, living in a new country, far from her family and going back to school to earn American educational credentials.
 
When she finished telling me her story, she concluded, “God has been so good to me.” Seriously, that’s what she said.
 
Compared to this young woman, my life has been a walk in the park down a primrose path paved with hundred dollar bills. Her story jolted me to a new level of gratitude and appreciation for God’s blessings.
 
What about you? Got a poor me attitude? Get over it by focusing on how good God has been to you. Let my new friend’s story give you fresh perspective on what it means to trust God and celebrate His blessings.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Iorg is president of Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared on the seminary’s website at gs.edu/gateway-blog. Used with permission.)
 

3/10/2017 10:46:23 AM by Jeff Iorg | with 0 comments



The power of preaching the Word

March 9 2017 by Frankie J. Melton Jr.

The writer of Hebrews said, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
 
Not long ago, I was reminded of this power.
 
Preachers are called to communicate God’s Word and when they do so, they have a promise of His power to work in it and through it. When a preacher stands behind the pulpit, let the goal be to say what God has said. This truth should prod preachers to preach with passion and sobriety.

Frankie J. Melton Jr.


Part of the power of His Word is that it continues working years after it has been preached. God’s Word does not return void, though the results are sometimes delayed.
 
For me, the reminder came in an unlikely context and from an unlikely person – an agnostic dying of cancer – reminding me to never falter in the pulpit.
 
I was uncertain what I would find behind the front door of the house as I stood knocking. As a hospice chaplain, I had been summoned to visit a 78-year-old woman who had little hope of survival from pancreatic cancer. Her husband directed me to the room where she was reclining, in agonizing pain.
 
She was a Unitarian and had only married the year before. She had been single her entire life and had been looking forward to several years with her new husband. She was highly educated, having retired from an Ivy League university as a tenured professor of psychology. Though she had considered being a nun in her teens, she turned from her faith and never looked back – until now. She was angry, bitter and questioning why after being single her entire life she was now dying after a year of marriage. Although she had refused to see hospice counselors, she requested to speak with a chaplain.
 
She instructed me to close the door and sit in front of her. I immediately had the impression she wanted privacy, perhaps from a sense of embarrassment about the conversation we would exchange.
 
I began making small talk, asking questions about her life and background to complete the required hospice evaluation from details of our conversation. Demonstrating her domineering spirit, she turned the tables on me and began peppering me with questions. She probed my beliefs and doctrine. She recoiled at the thought of belief in heaven, hell and the divinity of Christ, having drunk deeply from the wells of rationalism and pluralism.
 
We had been talking at length when she suddenly paused. She lurched forward in her chair and said, “I want to ask you something.” I knew immediately this was the reason I was sitting in her room. She was about to get to the point, her point. In a low and somber voice, she intoned, “I had a dream the other night. In the dream I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Touch the hem of his garment.’ What do you think it means?”
 
She was unaware of the origin or meaning of the phrase. The Holy Spirit used a fragment of biblical truth that had lain dormant within her for decades. Only God knows the preacher or Bible study leader who planted this seed in her young mind – long before she abandoned her faith.
 
I momentarily froze in stunned silence. God was displaying His grace by reminding her of His Word she had learned as a child. She didn’t even remember where the phrase came from, but a merciful heavenly Father was using His Word to awaken her conscience to the truth, giving her one last opportunity to experience grace through Jesus Christ. I seized the moment and explained to her where the phrase came from in the New Testament and I pressed upon her that God was calling her to reach out for His mercy and grace. She listened politely to my words and abruptly concluded the visit. I prayed with her and left. She never requested another visit.
 
She died a few weeks later. I have never forgotten her or the lesson she taught me about preaching. I don’t know if she put her faith in Christ before death came. However, I do know that He was working in her heart and reminded her of His Word.
 
As a preacher, I desire immediate results. I want to see lives changed when I preach. However, the Word I preach will bear fruit in the lives of the hearers even if it is 50, 60 or 70 years from the time it is delivered.
 
In a world of massive moral shifts and devastating human turmoil, a preacher cannot do more than trust in the power of God’s Word. The prophet Jeremiah declared, “‘Is not My word like fire’ – this is the Lord’s declaration – ‘and like a hammer that pulverizes rock?’” (Jeremiah 23:29). Let every preacher take heart. When poor souls stand on the verge of chilly Jordan, they may very well be meditating on the Word of God which you preached in their hearing decades before.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frankie J. Melton Jr. is assistant professor of Christian studies at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C.)
 

3/9/2017 9:13:11 AM by Frankie J. Melton Jr. | with 0 comments



Innovative ministry in rural Wadesboro

March 7 2017 by Jonathan Yarboro

Like many N.C. Baptist churches, Brown Creek Baptist Church’s building occupies a rural piece of land on the corner of a state highway and a country road bearing its name.
 
Rather than driving into a bustling new neighborhood of young families across the street, Pastor Curtis Williams walks across the street to the parsonage where he lives. But despite a lack of these alluring neighborhoods filled with prospective pew-fillers, Williams is leading Brown Creek to fill a mission field down the road at South Piedmont Community College with high school age students enrolled in early college.
 
South Piedmont is home of the Anson County Early College (ACEC), a school of about 200 high school students. Started in 2005, ACEC was part of the first wave of early college high schools to pop up across North Carolina.
 
Part of North Carolina’s Innovative Education Act in 2003 that stemmed from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation one year earlier at Guilford College in Greensboro, early college high schools were created as part of our public education system to give an alternative educational experience to high school students who would be first-generation college students.
 
Targeting students who have the drive to succeed but lack the support systems they need – students who tend to find themselves marginalized in traditional high schools – the early college system places students on college campuses where they complete their entire high school experience. There are three primary differences in the traditional high school and the early college high school:

  1. The early college high school meets entirely on a college campus;
  2. The early college high school program is five years instead of four;
  3. Graduates have the opportunity to earn an associate degree or equivalent vocational certificate by the time they graduate from high school.


This translates into the ability to earn two years of college credit by the time a student is 19 years old – at no cost to the student!
 
Because the early college movement is so new, it has gone nearly completely untouched by churches. Youth ministries overlook them because they are on college campuses; college ministries overlook them because they are high school students. But thanks to innovative leaders like Williams and churches like Brown Creek who are intent on engaging their communities with the gospel, things are changing.
 
Brown Creek decided as a church to adopt ACEC. That means that Brown Creek sponsors events where they serve goodies like doughnuts, bagels or other pastries to teachers as an act of appreciation.
 
Church members help proctor tests for the school, celebrate students’ achievements by sponsoring parties each semester and offer prayer partners for each of the faculty and staff and place the onus completely on those employees whether or not they take advantage of it.
 
They have done the legwork of working through the administration offices so trust has been built. They aren’t seeking ways to break or bend rules; but instead value the administration, and the administration values them. They believe the best way they can saturate the campus with the gospel is by keeping their focus on the long game.
 
More focused on creating a stable ministry that will last, the church members have eschewed the temptation to go after more flashy, quick wins that are sure to raise eyebrows and strain the trust they have built. In addition, Williams is actively discipling students so those students can have the opportunity to organize under the banner of a recognized student group on campus to make more disciples. He understands these students can have a far more profound impact on the campus than he can, but he also understands that for them to be able to make disciples, they first need to be disciples themselves, connected to and under the authority of the local church. Williams is making disciples so they can make more disciples, and he is doing this in an environment that many perceive to be hostile to the church. During the process, he is taking radical steps to build trust and credibility.
 
Undoubtedly, Williams and Brown Creek will make some mistakes along the way. This is bound to happen because they are blazing a new trail into a new frontier. In the end, however, churches and early college high schools all over North Carolina will be able to look at a few pioneers like Brown Creek Baptist Church in Wadesboro for a roadmap to healthy and effective bridges between churches and some of the most innovative education programs in the United States. It may look like Williams has built the bridge, but he would say instead that it’s a bridge constructed right from the heart of the gospel.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jonathan Yarboro is collegiate partnerships team leader for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Contact him at jyarboro@ncbaptist.org or (828) 406-3202.)
 

3/7/2017 12:34:38 PM by Jonathan Yarboro | with 2 comments



How N.C. churches can fight the opioid epidemic

March 6 2017 by Denise George

Prescription (opioid) drug abuse is skyrocketing in North Carolina. People in overwhelming numbers are becoming addicted to and overdosing on doctor-prescribed painkillers.

Which drugs are opioids?
• Examples of opioids: Painkillers such as codeine, fentanyl, hydromorphone, meperidine, morphine, methadone, buprenorphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone and acetaminophen, oxycodone and naloxone. Heroin is also an opioid and is illegal.
• Opioid drugs sold under brand names: Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora, Hysingla ER, Zohydro ER, Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, Vicodin, Dilaudid, Exalgo, Dolophine, Methadose, Astramorph, Avinza, Kadian, MS Contin, Ora-Morph SR, OxyContin, Percocet, Palladone (taken off the market in July 2005), Vicodin, Percodan, Tylox, Demerol and others.
• Drugs that are not opioids: Cocaine, methamphetamines, ecstasy, LSD, GHB, Ketamine, and other “club drugs” or steroids.


The results are frightening.
 
Wilmington is now America’s worst city for opioid abuse. Hickory comes in at No. 5; Jacksonville ranks 12th, and Fayetteville is 18th.
 
One out of every three opioid prescriptions in the state is being abused. In 2015, 738 North Carolinians died from prescription opioid abuse.
 

What are opioids?

Opioids are a type of narcotic pain medication for use with doctor supervision. They can have serious side effects if misused.
 
When someone takes an opioid, the drug binds to receptors in brain cells, on the spinal cord and throughout the body, dulling the perception of pain. If the person is suffering from a serious injury or recovering from major surgery, he or she can find needed pain relief.
 
After continued use, however, progressively more medication is needed to achieve the same pain-reducing effect. The body becomes tolerant of the drug.
 
When someone develops a dependence on opioids, a doctor may gradually wean him or her off the drug. Otherwise, a sudden halt in medication could cause withdrawal symptoms, including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, anxiety, irritability and other symptoms.

Why are opioids so misused?

How to recognize drug abuse and addiction
Common physical and behavioral signs:
• anxiety
• irritability
• hyperactivity
• lethargy
• unpredictable mood swings
• tremors
• shakiness
• red eyes
• runny nose
• problems with coordination
• a constant need for money
• poor work or school performance
• unexplained confusion
• unusual weight gain or loss
• physical withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug
• changes in attitude or friends for no reason.


Not only do opioids help relieve physical pain, they also affect the brain’s reward-pleasure system, creating a euphoric feeling.

When a person continues to take painkillers after injury or surgical pain subsides, hoping to continue to experience the “high,” the drug is being abused and can be fatal.
 
Each year in the U.S., nearly 16,000 people die from prescription drug overdose.
 

Heroin: cheap and available

When prescription opioids become too hard to find or too expensive, addicts sometimes turn to heroin (also an opioid) to get a similar high.
 
Unlike prescription painkillers, heroin is cheap and readily available.
 
“We’ve had a 565 percent increase in heroin deaths since 2010,” said Alan Dellapenna, head of the Division of Public Health’s Injury and Violence Prevention Branch, according to North Carolina Health News.
 
“We’ve had 20 years of prescription pain medications, combined with an unprecedented availability of easy-to-find heroin and fentanyl.”
 
North Carolina had 364 deaths from heroin in 2015, nearly one a day.
 

Churches can fight drug abuse

Helpful resources
• The State of North Carolina has established a Drug Control Unit (NC-DCU) within the Division of Mental Health, in response to a need for improved regulation of prescription monitoring. The NC-DCU collects controlled substance prescriptions data within 72 hours of being dispensed and makes information available to prescribers and dispensers. To read more about how North Carolina legislators are combating prescription drug abuse, visit ncdhhs.gov/divisions/mhddsas/ncdcu.

• To find substance abuse treatment centers in North Carolina, go to treatment-centers.net/
directory/north-carolina/page3.html.

• For immediate treatment in North Carolina, call (888) 995-6273.

• To help someone with substance abuse or mental health issues, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline at (800) 622-4357 or visit their website: samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline.

• For the Southern Baptist Convention’s website that recommends drug treatment programs for addiction and substance abuse by state, please visit drugtreatmentprogram.net/tag/southern-baptist-convention.


Church members aren’t immune to North Carolina’s rising prescription drug abuse.
How can pastors and church leaders in North Carolina Baptist churches help prevent drug abuse and overdose deaths in their congregations and communities?
 
Here are some suggestions:
• Learn about prescription opioid drug abuse and heroin. (See Which drugs are opioids?)
• Learn to identify drug abuse and addiction symptoms. Keep a close eye on church members, always ready to identify and respond to drug abuse. (See How to recognize drug abuse and addiction.)
• Educate and train church leadership to respond to an emergency overdose situation.
• Make and keep current a list of emergency phone numbers, substance abuse treatment agencies and drug abuse counselors in your community. Always be prepared to respond to an emergency situation or refer help. (See Helpful resources.)
• Preach about the dangers of opioid abuse from the pulpit.
• Promote Southern Baptist Sunday emphases, such as Substance Abuse Prevention Sunday on March 19. Plan a special service, talk about the problem, invite a guest speaker to give information, ask a former abuser to give a testimony or something similar.
• Plan separate church events/programs and classes/seminars for youth and parents that expose the dangers of opioid prescription drugs and heroin, and offer insights into understanding the dependencies and addictions that can result from abuse.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Denise George, author of 30 books, is co-author of the new Penguin Random House book: The Lost Eleven: The Forgotten Story of Black American Soldiers Brutally Massacred in World War II.  She is married to Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School, Samford University.)
 

3/6/2017 2:22:35 PM by Denise George | with 0 comments



Begin now

March 3 2017 by Anthony L. Jordan

There are two Sundays each year that provide the greatest opportunity to engage family, friends and people, in general, for invitations to church. Those two Sundays are Easter and Christmas. Even those who are irreligious are more open to attend church on these two Sundays.
 
So, you may ask, why are you telling us this several weeks before Easter? Because I want to challenge you to develop a list of three lost people whom you can invite to Easter services on April 16. Your list may include a son-in-law, a sister, parents of your child’s friend or the checker at the grocery store. The point is that you identify three people whom you know by name or who you can identify with through regular contact.

Anthony L. Jordan


Begin now praying for them daily with the idea that you will extend an invitation for them to join you for Easter worship. When you pray for them, do so using the Word of God. For example, pray 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Pray that God would do a work in each of their lives that would bring them to repentance.
 
Or pray John 16:8-11, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” Ask the Lord to send the Holy Spirit to bring strong and powerful conviction in their lives so that when they hear the Easter message they would come under deep conviction and respond to the gospel.
 
Pray also that they will be willing to attend Easter services with you. Be alert to opportunities that God may well provide for you to speak the gospel into their lives even before Easter. As you know, praying for lost people means God is preparing and using you as a witness to speak into their lives. I have discovered that often He will open the door along the way to drop a brief witness or, on many occasions, He provides a wide-open door through circumstances to speak the gospel to someone for whom I am praying.
 
One of the ways to extend the invitation to those for whom you are praying to join you for Easter services is to also invite them to your home for Easter lunch. Sadly, many of us have lost the art of Christian hospitality. We often look to biblical times and think that to sit down at a meal with someone indicates a willingness to come close. This is the reason the Pharisees criticized Jesus so many times. Remember, they said of Jesus that he “ate with sinners.” He did so because it showed He cared and wanted to know them beyond a passing “hello.” He wanted the opportunity to share the most significant truths with them in a natural and easy setting.
 
So invite some or all of the people for whom you are praying to join your family for Easter lunch. This invitation will provide opportunity for people to be in a Christian environment and see your family from inside your home. I assure you there will be many natural points of connection that will occur when you can share the gospel with your family or friends. If nothing else, just talk about the sermon over lunch.
 
Be ready to carry on the relationship and continue to share the gospel. Yes, there are those wonderful times when you present the gospel to someone, or they hear the gospel in a worship service, and they want to respond immediately. But as our culture moves further away from a Christian worldview, it often takes several times of gospel conversation before lost people respond to the gospel. Speak truth, but keep the doors open. Always be respectful. Your job is not to convince or convict – that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Your job is to pray and share.
 
Yes, it’s several weeks before Easter, but seed planting and cultivation precede the harvest. Now is the time to begin praying for those three people. Do you have them in mind? If not, your first prayer is to ask the Father to place those three people on your heart this week. Then, get on your knees and start the process.
 
I leave with a word to pastors. Pastors, you lead the way and set the example. Begin now challenging your people. Affirm to your people that you will preach the cross and resurrection on Easter Sunday, and you will make clear the way to salvation through Christ. Start now telling your people you will be prayed up, filled up, powered up and overflowing with the joy of the gospel.
 
Praying, inviting, sharing and proclaiming the gospel will make Easter a day of celebrating the cross and resurrection, but also a day of salvation for many.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Anthony L. Jordan is executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. This column first appeared in the Baptist Messenger, baptistmessenger.com, the convention’s newsjournal.)
 

3/3/2017 12:06:48 PM by Anthony L. Jordan | with 0 comments



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