May 2013

No truth without love, no love without truth: the church’s challenge on homosexuality

May 31 2013 by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The church’s engagement with the culture involves a host of issues, controversies and decisions – but no issue defines our current cultural crisis as clearly as homosexuality. Some churches and denominations have capitulated to the demands of the homosexual rights movement, and now accept homosexuality as a fully valid lifestyle.

Other denominations are tottering on the brink, and without a massive conservative resistance, they are almost certain to abandon biblical truth and bless what the Bible condemns. Within a few short years, a major dividing line has become evident – with those churches endorsing homosexuality on one side, and those stubbornly resisting the cultural tide on the other.

The homosexual rights movement understands that the evangelical church is one of the last resistance movements committed to a biblical morality. Because of this, the movement has adopted a strategy of isolating Christian opposition, and forcing change through political action and cultural pressure.

Can we count on evangelicals to remain steadfastly biblical on this issue? Hardly. Scientific surveys and informal observation reveal that we have experienced a significant loss of conviction among youth and young adults. No moral revolution can succeed without shaping and changing the minds of young people and children.

Inevitably, the schools have become crucial battlegrounds for the culture war. The Christian worldview has been undermined by pervasive curricula that teach moral relativism, reduce moral commandments to personal values, and promote homosexuality as a legitimate and attractive lifestyle option.

Our churches must teach the basics of biblical morality to Christians who will otherwise never know that the Bible prescribes a model for sexual relationships. Young people must be told the truth about homosexuality – and taught to esteem marriage as God’s intention for human sexual relatedness.

The times demand Christian courage. These days, courage means that preachers and Christian leaders must set an agenda for biblical confrontation, and not shrink from dealing with the full range of issues related to homosexuality. We must talk about what the Bible teaches about gender – what it means to be a man or a woman. We must talk about God’s gift of sex and the covenant of marriage. And we must talk honestly about what homosexuality is, and why God has condemned this sin as an abomination in His sight.

Courage is far too rare in many Christian circles. This explains the surrender of so many denominations, seminaries and churches to the homosexual agenda. But no surrender on this issue would have been possible if the authority of Scripture had not already been undermined. And yet, even as courage is required, the times call for another Christian virtue as well – compassion.

The tragic fact is that every congregation is almost certain to include persons struggling with homosexual desire or even involved in homosexual acts. Outside the walls of the church, homosexuals are waiting to see if the Christian church has anything more to say, after we declare that homosexuality is a sin. Liberal churches have redefined compassion to mean that the church changes its message to meet modern demands.

They argue that to tell a homosexual he is a sinner is uncompassionate and intolerant. This is like arguing that a physician is intolerant because he tells a patient she has cancer. But, in the culture of political correctness, this argument holds a powerful attraction. Biblical Christians know that compassion requires telling the truth, and refusing to call sin something sinless. To hide or deny the sinfulness of sin is to lie, and there is no compassion in such a deadly deception.

True compassion demands speaking the truth in love – and there is the problem. Far too often, our courage is more evident than our compassion. In far too many cases, the options seem reduced to these – liberal churches preaching love without truth, and conservative churches preaching truth without love.

Evangelical Christians must ask ourselves some very hard questions, but the hardest may be this: Why is it that we have been so ineffective in reaching persons trapped in this particular pattern of sin? The gospel is for sinners – and for homosexual sinners just as much as for heterosexual sinners. As Paul explained to the Corinthian church, "Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 5:11).

I believe that we are failing the test of compassion. If the first requirement of compassion is that we tell the truth, the second requirement must surely be that we reach out to homosexuals with the gospel. This means that we must develop caring ministries to make that concern concrete, and learn how to help homosexuals escape the powerful bonds of that sin – even as we help others to escape their own bonds by grace.

If we are really a gospel people; if we really love homosexuals as other sinners; then we must reach out to them with a sincerity that makes that love tangible. We have not even approached that requirement until we are ready to say to homosexuals, "We want you to know the fullness of God’s plan for you, to know the forgiveness of sins and the mercy of God, to receive the salvation that comes by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to know the healing God works in sinners saved by grace, and to join us as fellow disciples of Jesus Christ, living out our obedience and growing in grace together."

Such were some of you. ... The church is not a place where sinners are welcomed to remain in their sin. To the contrary, it is the Body of Christ, made up of sinners transformed by grace. Not one of us deserves to be accepted within the beloved. It is all of grace, and each one of us has come out of sin.

We sin if we call homosexuality something other than sin. We also sin if we act as if this sin cannot be forgiven. We cannot settle for truth without love or love without truth. The gospel settles the issue once and for all. This great moral crisis is a gospel crisis.

The genuine Body of Christ will reveal itself by courageous compassion, and compassionate courage. We will see this realized only when men and women freed by God’s grace from bondage to homosexuality feel free to stand up in our churches and declare their testimony – and when we are ready to welcome them as fellow disciples. Millions of hurting people are waiting to see if we mean what we preach.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at his website, AlbertMohler.com.)
5/31/2013 2:38:25 PM by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press | with 1 comments



‘Honor Flight’ a powerful documentary about WWII vets

May 31 2013 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Recently I viewed a powerful documentary called “Honor Flight.” Indeed, it is one of most stirring documentaries I’ve ever seen. Focusing on four World War II veterans, the film spotlights an organization bent on saluting the remaining members of the “Greatest Generation.”

As the press notes describe the documentary, “a Midwest community has banded together to race against the clock in order to fly thousands of WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the memorial constructed for them in 2005, nearly 60 years after the War.”

The trips are called Honor Flights, and it’s often the final trip of their lives. Sometimes, it’s also the first time they’ve been thanked.

“It’s uncommon for World War II veterans to talk about the War, but the Honor Flight experience brings their stories out,” the press notes say. “Many veterans say, with the exception of their wedding day and the birth of their children, the trip is the best day of their life.”

For me the film was uplifting, but also personal. My own dad, who passed away last year at the age of 90, had been in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. He served as a radio operator in the China-Burma-India theater, traveling around the world, at one point being stationed on Okinawa. During that period, a fierce hurricane forced members of his unit to scramble to caves in the hills in order to take cover. There, he saw the charred remains of Japanese soldiers who had met their fate by means of flame throwers. He was in that cave for two days.

As I watched the documentary, I saw my dad in each of the men spotlighted in the production. Like theirs, his body was succumbing to the ravages of time, but like them, his mind was still alert and his attitude optimistic till the very end. Dad missed out on going to D.C. to see the memorial, but the local chapter of the VFW had recorded his wartime experiences in detail.

During a recent phone interview, I spoke with Dan Hayes, director of the film, and to Joe Demler, an 85-year-old World War II veteran who was captured at the Battle of the Bulge. As a POW in a Nazi prison camp, he was depicted by Life magazine as “The Human Skeleton.” He weighed just 70 pounds and was days from death before his release. Full of life, this retired assistant postmaster is still an exhorter of the expression, “Every day is a bonus.”

Q: Dan, what caused you to get involved with Honor Flight?

HAYES: I was a video producer in 2009 in Washington, D.C., and my dad told me these vets were coming from Wisconsin to see the World War II Monument. So, I went to do some interviews and during my first interview with a vet, I asked him how he was doing and he said, “I can die a happy man now that I’ve made this trip.” When someone says something like that to you, it resonates. Throughout that day, I spoke with several vets. Then I put together a short video for YouTube and got more reaction from that video than anything I had ever done. My partner and I quit our jobs and jumped into this full time, and a year and a half later we got to meet awesome guys like Joe and made this documentary.

Q: Joe, what kept you going during your ordeal in the concentration camp?

DEMLER: A couple of things. If you didn’t know how to before, you learned to pray. And we knew we needed the will to live to make it. And I have carried that on through my life. You need the will to live and to succeed.

Q: So there was a spiritual connection despite all the evil around you.

DEMLER: Yes, absolutely. You need something to hold on to. Nowadays a lot of people don’t pray. But I maintain you need prayer to succeed.

Q: Dan, has this experience of making the film changed or challenged your life?

HAYES: I was talking with a couple of my friends last night at dinner, and that subject came up. We realized the freedoms and opportunities we have in this country. Sometimes ... a lot of times, we take those freedoms for granted. When you see that picture of Joe on the cover of Life, weighing only 70 pounds, doing everything he can to stay alive, it makes you realize that often we aggrandize the trivial. I worry if my iPhone isn’t working right. So this adventure has given me a perspective on life and what I have in this awesome country.

Q: What improvements could be made to make it easier for returning vets from today’s wars?

HAYES: I think the reason Joe liked talking to me was because I actually listened. So ask yourself, are you really listening to vets and what they went through? Sometimes they won’t tell you about the hardships. But listen anyway.

DEMLER: When something happens to you to change your whole outlook on life, then things don’t mean that much to you. It’s people who matter. And if you try to help other people, like so many people have helped me, you find true meaning.

Q: Where can people see the film?

HAYES: It’s been broadly released on cable on Video on Demand. It’s currently available on VOD via SnagFilms. The DVD is coming out on June 4. If your readers want to go to www.honorflightthemovie.com/, they can get the information. And I hope they will.

Q: Joe, you’ve lived through a great deal and seen so many changes in our country. Where do you sense the nation is heading, morally and culturally?

DEMLER: Morally, I fear we’re going in the opposite direction. But I think things will eventually turn around.

Q: There’s that optimism.

DEMLER: I think this present recession has caused many to think spiritually.

HAYES: I’m an optimist too, but I do think we are in a tough spot here. That’s why I gravitated to this story. This is a positive, uplifting story, the kind that forces you to examine your principles, and what makes our country amazing. I’m optimistic, but more people need to remind themselves of what our country is all about. Joe’s generation is an unbelievable role model for people my age. I’m 30. If people my age learn from people like Joe, we can straighten out the country.

**********

So why should you see Honor Flight?

Some were drafted during that second Great War, some freely enlisted. Each gave up so much in order to defeat a cancer that threatened to destroy the soul of man. Their sacrifice should be depicted, and therefore, remembered. The filmmakers attempt to pay tribute to those who survived the horrors of war, and to those who gave the last true measure of devotion.

“Making the film, we learned that this was a generation that gives,” the filmmakers said in the press notes. “They made unbelievable sacrifices in an unavoidable war and then came back and as civilians and taught us the importance of family, hard work and keeping a positive attitude in life.”

Honor Flight contains the most moving climax I’ve seen in movies. When Joe and the others returned home from Washington, they were met at the terminal and throughout the airport by a throng of between 6,000-8,000 people, reaching out, saluting and thanking these men. It is a screen moment you will not forget, for it gives us hope and reminds us that “Every day is a bonus.”

Rated PG, Honor Flight is aimed at teens and up. Though we see some archival film footage of wartime atrocities, the film is not exploitive, and these scenes merely remind us of the horrors the world faced during that period. It is devoid of crude or profane language.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org. He is also a regular contributor to “The World and Everything In It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.)
5/31/2013 2:35:03 PM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The thorn room leads to the throne room

May 30 2013 by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – In 1862 during the Civil War, Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land.

During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moans of a soldier who lay mortally wounded on the field. The captain risked his life to bring the stricken man back for medical attention.

Crawling on his stomach through the sporadic gunfire, Ellicombe pulled the soldier toward his encampment. By the time he reached his lines, the man, a Confederate, was dead.

The captain lit a lantern. He caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light, he saw that the soldier was his son. The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, he enlisted in the Confederate Army.

The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial despite his enemy status. He asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for the son at the funeral. That request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate.

Out of respect for the father, they did allow him one musician. The captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of his dead son’s uniform.

This music was the haunting melody we now know as “Taps” that is used at all military funerals. Its words are little known: “Day is done, gone the sun, from the lakes, from the hills, from the sky. All is well, safely rest. God is nigh.”

Some of the hard questions we often ask are these:
  • “What happens when God does not answer my prayers?”
  • “What good can come from bad in my life?”
  • “Should I pray for God to intervene and remove difficult things from my life?”
  • “Is God truly nigh?”

The universality of tribulation

In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul referred to an adversity in his life, a deep problem with which he was afflicted – a “thorn in the flesh.” His yearning for God’s intervention led to a very meaningful discovery of God’s strength and the way to the throne room.

Was this thorn from God or from Satan? It is remarkable that Paul regarded his affliction as given by God and yet as “a messenger of Satan.”

There have been numerous interpretations as to the nature of this malady. Most assume it was a physical problem. Some think that the thorn refers to spiritual temptations. Some take it to mean the opposition and persecution Paul faced. One of the most interesting of all theories about this problem is that the “thorn” denoted the recurring agony of grief and remorse caused by Paul’s former hatred of Christ and his battle against Him and His people.

A.T. Robertson said, “It is a blessing to the rest of us that we do not know the particular affliction that so beset Paul. Each of us has some such splinter or thorn ... perhaps several at once.”

The afflictions of life are real. Troubles come. Pain is here, even for the believer.


The natural reaction of the believer

The natural reaction of the believer is to pray. Jesus prayed three times that the suffering of the cross He had been called upon to endure as the sin-bearer of mankind might pass from Him (Matthew 26:36-46). Paul also prayed three times that this thorn might be taken away (2 Corinthians 12:8).

Spurgeon was right when he said, “Prayer pulls the rope down below and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly, others give only an occasional jerk at the rope. But he who communicates with heaven is the man who grasps the rope boldly and pulls continuously with all his might.”

It is in the act of prayer that God reveals Himself to us. As one said many years ago, “Who so draws nigh to God one step through doubtings dim, God will advance a mile in blazing light to him” (author unknown).


The beautiful provision of our Lord

In prayer, Paul received a beautiful message. It was not the answer he expected. He expected the removal of the affliction. He received renewal!

God often doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want. Paul prayed that His problem be removed. Instead of taking the problem away, God gave Paul strength to bear it. Sometimes it is not God’s plan to spare us, but to enable us to come through our problems victoriously.

In this answer, we catch a glimpse of God’s limitless love. Paul experienced the reality of God’s all-sufficient grace. This answer to his prayer remained with him as the most powerful inspiration of his life.

Paul learned that whenever he was humiliated by his many “buffetings,” though he was an unworthy object of God’s unceasing favor, God would nevertheless lavish him with “sufficient grace.” It is in the weakness of man that the grace of God is strongest. It is in our times of hurt or weakness that we most fully experience God’s sufficient, sustaining and abiding grace.

Human weakness, frailty and suffering open the way for more of Christ’s power and grace. The power of His grace continually increases as our weakness grows.

God is asking for us to realize His power. He is urging us to see that in the struggles of life, He wants to help and will give us the necessary strength. He calls us to die to self so that He can freely live through us. This is not a denial of our personhood or a request to let our strengths and abilities lie dormant; it is a request to realize our limitations so that He can make us more than conquerors.

J.W. MacGorman, namesake of the MacGorman Chapel and Performing Arts Center at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said it this way, “The way to the throne room is through the thorn room.”

The way to experience the power of God is by recognizing who He is and who we are. We are weak. We often fall down. We struggle and life beats us down. But we serve a God who is great, a God who, in our weakness, shows up and manifests Himself strong on our behalf.

Yes, life has its troubles. We pray about them. One answer is that the way to knowing God more fully is by trusting and experiencing that His grace is sufficient – even when our own thorns cause us grief.

The way to the throne room is through the thorn room. Even in the thorn areas of life, God is nigh!

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.)
5/30/2013 2:35:42 PM by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



A reminder of abortion’s inhumanity

May 30 2013 by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press

DALLAS – The gruesome trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell has ended. He’ll spend his life behind bars for murdering newborns not quite killed in abortion. 

He called his filthy clinic the Women’s Medical Society, a respectable sounding name for a disgusting facility that was somehow allowed to operate, without inspection, for more than 15 years. When it was finally investigated, authorities called it a “House of Horrors.”
 
Gosnell was also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a woman who died of a drug overdose while emergency workers tried to break into the clinic’s barricaded door. And he was convicted on more than 200 other counts including performing illegal late-term abortions.

Both pro-lifers and pro-choicers were hoping for a conviction in this case. Pro-choicers had to show Gosnell is an outlier, an exception. That what he did was unethical, unscrupulous, illegal as opposed to what they portray as “safe,” legal abortion. In response to the verdict, Planned Parenthood deemed Gosnell’s crimes “appalling.” NARAL Pro-Choice America called his actions “atrocities” as if the abortions they support are not. 

Even with all its gruesomeness, it wasn’t until four to five weeks into Gosnell’s six-week trial that the major media began covering it. Internet outlets, social media and a few brave reporters finally broke through the sacred silence that surrounds the practice of abortion.

There are more of these clinics. In fact, just as Kermit Gosnell was being sentenced, another abortionist, who operates three Texas “Houses of Horrors,” was making headlines. Where Gosnell snipped spinal cords of viable babies, Douglas Karpen allegedly killed babies mistakenly born alive by twisting off heads, stabbing with a surgical instrument, or sticking his fingers down a little throat to suffocate.

The public shaming of these murderers has to change us. Southern Baptist theologian Al Mohler says, “The prosecution of Kermit Gosnell put the entire nation on trial.”

Family Research Council says, “the debate over the inhumanity of abortion is reborn in America.” Now lawmakers at the state and federal level must make sure it bears fruit in new legislation. 

Last year a friend took me into a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit to see, and hold, her preemie. Amazing. Tiny preemies having every breath monitored. The dignity ascribed to them warrants hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on their care. This provides a sort of cognitive dissonance with the abortionist’s ability to legally snuff out a child’s life inches before birth, in some states, very late in a pregnancy.

The question really is one of human dignity. If a mother and her “doctor” decide a baby should die, it’s only murder if the child accidentally emerges from the womb before the abortionist completes the deed. 

Murder convictions like Gosnell’s do not sanitize abortion by comparison. Instead, they clarify it. They leave lots of blood on the hands of the abortion industry and of the nation that perpetuates it. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Penna Dexter is a conservative activist and frequent panelist on the “Point of View” syndicated radio program.)
5/30/2013 2:31:44 PM by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



So long, kitchen table

May 29 2013 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) – We hauled the old kitchen table out to the curb the other day.

My wife found another table she liked at a yard sale. The old one was battered and beat up, so it had to go. We called a charity group to pick it up. I was in a hurry to go somewhere. My wife had errands to run, too. So we left it there. No moment of silence. No fond farewell. When we came home that afternoon, it was gone.

I felt a pang of sadness when I thought about it later. That old table deserved a better send-off than we gave it.

It wasn’t an antique or a fine work of craftsmanship, just a pine table from a low-end furniture store. But it was the center of our home for nearly 30 years. It’s where we got to know each other, where we talked, argued and made up. The first time our infant son laughed out loud, he was watching an empty pop bottle roll across the tabletop (he thought that was hilarious for some reason). The kids spent countless hours wriggling around underneath it as toddlers – and countless hours doing school projects atop it. My parents, both gone now, rocked their grandchildren to sleep beside it.

How many meals did we eat together around that table? How many prayers did we pray?

“Things don’t matter; people do,” was the motto of Martha Myers, the late, great missionary physician who spent her life – and ultimately gave it – serving the people of Yemen. For her, things had significance only if they could be used to help the needy. She had little interest in personal possessions for their own sake.

Martha was right. Things don’t matter. But things do have meaning, if we use them for people. That’s the difference between selfishly accumulating stuff and blessing others with it.

A missionary in Africa broke one of his sandals recently. What to do? “I did what I have always done,” he wrote. “I went to what I considered a nice store, sought out a pair of sandals that I thought would be serviceable and purchased them for $24. An astronomical price for the Africans, I am sure. But I am an American. When things break we don’t fix them; we throw them away. My new sandals broke two days later. I asked a local friend what he would do.

“‘Fix them,’ he replied. Apparently there are men all over town who repair shoes for a living. He took my old sandals home. The next morning he brought them back, having sewn the sole of my favorite sandal to the upper part. Amazing! They still work. They feel great. Cost: $1. I had them fix my new sandals as well for the same price.”

The missionary also brought a new soccer ball with him from America, but it wouldn’t hold air.

“I went and bought another ball. The Africans with whom I was playing asked if they could have my broken ball. ‘Why?’ I asked.

“‘Because we can sell it,’ they replied. They were able to get $4 for it. Apparently one of the boys from the area took some glue and inserted it into the hole and plugged the leak. Who knows how long it will stay inflated, but some kid and I are each $2 richer!

“What have I learned? God is teaching me how to be a better steward of what He has given me. Can what I am about to throw away be repaired or used again in some other way? In America, when something breaks, you replace it. In Africa, we are learning to see things differently – and even find the value in something that looks ‘broken.’”

I wish I had done that with our good old kitchen table.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Visit WorldView Conversation, the blog related to this column.)
5/29/2013 1:16:15 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Praying for our associations

May 29 2013 by Joe Wright, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Many years ago, I was told that if for some terrible reason we ever lost the ability to have a Convention then, by noon on the very next day, we would again have associations. This is because by and large, most Southern Baptist churches love to work together, and the local association is the best vehicle to do so. There are many definitions for association but the simplest and most accurate is, “An association is a fellowship of local autonomous churches with a singular vision to work together to claim their surrounding areas and ultimately the world for the Kingdom of Christ!”

Sometimes, it seems a daunting task for the small church to fulfill the Great Commission; but when viewed in the context of churches working together, such a vision can be unanimously embraced. One church may have the heart and motivation to move beyond its doors but lack the resources and volunteers, while other churches may have plenty of resources and volunteers but no vision. Mix these churches together in fellowship and suddenly the vision, resources and volunteers all become effectively shared to reach a lost world.

Southern Baptist associations are much like Southern Baptist churches in that they are a diverse group and are unique in many ways. Some associations are large while others are small enough that they must cooperate within an association of associations to accomplish their vision. Some directors of missions (DOMs) actually serve multiple associations because of limited resources and distance between churches. Other associations require a staff to accomplish the work because of the density and multiplicity of churches within their area and the sheer magnitude of the work.

So, how do I pray for my association?

Pray for a spirit of unity and harmony within the churches as they work together. Satan’s greatest tool is the ability to sow discord among believers and churches. The inability to work together is the one stumbling block we must constantly guard against. A wise country preacher once said, “You can throw two ole tomcats into a burlap sack together and you might have unity, but you ain’t got harmony!” Having a harmonious unity will bring churches together to accomplish great things for the Kingdom.

Pray for your director of missions and his family. Much as a pastor gives spiritual guidance to the church, a DOM must have a clear vision for Kingdom growth and the ability to cast that vision for the churches to see. He must be tireless in his service both to his pastors, his churches and to a lost world. The old title of “associational missionary” is still as valid today as it was years ago when it was in much greater use. Every church within an association has a missionary on staff whether the church recognizes it or not. Their DOM is their personal missionary to partner with the local pastors to resource, train and encourage all local churches to claim their communities for Christ.

Pray for a clear vision of planting new churches and strengthening struggling churches. Never has America presented such an opportunity for planting new churches as in today’s culture. The United States is now one of our world’s greatest mission fields as this nation becomes increasingly unchurched. The church’s impact on our society and culture is diminishing as our numbers steadily decline. Individual churches may be overwhelmed with the idea of planting a new work, but the association can be proactive in opening doors for new church plants and community outreach.

Mainstream, traditional churches are struggling as well. They are often hampered by past baggage and historical attitudes that limit their vision and create unnecessary boundaries to outreach. An association is able to encourage and provide the resources for dysfunctional churches to become healthy and spiritually reproductive.

Finally, pray that your association is challenged to resource, support and encourage every pastor. There can be no doubt that our pastors are front-line targets of the enemy. Who can come alongside these pastors to lovingly encourage and support them? Other pastors and especially the DOM can be the greatest friends to any pastor. Fellowship and time together allows pastors the opportunity to just be themselves and share their needs and frustrations.

So, please pray for your association and your Director of Missions. As the association grows stronger, the churches will benefit and become more effective in their Kingdom work.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Wright is director of missions for the Dyer Baptist Association in Dyersburg, Tenn., a member of the SBC Executive Committee, and serves on this year’s SBC Resolutions Committee. To learn more about the changing face of associations, visit www.sbclife.net/Articles/2013/05/SLA11.asp and www.sbclife.net/Articles/2013/05/SLA12.asp.)
5/29/2013 1:05:56 PM by Joe Wright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘God’s angel’ in WWII China

May 28 2013 by Jesse Kidd, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Emeritus Southern Baptist missionary Jesse L. Kidd, who served for many years in Brazil with his wife Wilma, will turn 90 in September. But in 1944 he was 20, a soldier in the U.S. Army as World War II staggered toward a bloody end. “We were mostly just boys, only lately out of high school,” he writes. “We knew little about the meaning of life. We were about to start learning in the cruelest manner the meaning of death.” On a brutal march, Kidd also was about to meet an unexpected guide.)

SAN ANGELO, Texas – World War II was raging in Europe and all over the Orient. In March 1944, my turn came to enter training for military service.

In November that year, we boarded a troop ship in Los Angeles. Thirty-three days later we landed in Bombay, India. A year and a half later we boarded a troop ship in Shanghai, China, to return to the United States.

Most of what happened between those dates I have tried hard to forget. What is written here is worth remembering.

In Bombay we boarded a troop train and traveled to Ledo in the northeast corner of India near the border of Burma (now Myanmar).

From Ledo we traveled by truck convoy to Myitkyina near the center of Burma. On Dec. 25, 1944, we ate Christmas dinner standing at hastily built tables made of bamboo.

The next day we started the longest march of any Army outfit during World War II. Our objective was to recapture the Burma Road from Japan so that badly needed supplies could flow through to China.

On the day we started our march, we were ordered to throw away everything not absolutely necessary for the march. I was about to toss a little New Testament on the pile of discarded things when a Chinese soldier standing nearby said, “Soldier, don’t throw that away. You are going to need it.”

Surprised, I asked how he learned to speak English and how he knew about the Bible. He said that he had attended a school in China run by missionaries from the United States.

I kept the New Testament. He was right. I would need it.

There are not many of us left to tell the story. We were mostly just boys, only lately out of high school. We knew little about the meaning of life. We were about to start learning in the cruelest manner the meaning of death. We would wrap our dead in their GI blankets and bury them in shallow graves. There was no time for mourning. We would grieve later.
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In World War II China, Jesse Kidd, then a U.S. soldier, reached a point of exhaustion during a long retreat from Japanese forces. “I crept into some thick bushes to hide. I must have passed out,” he writes, recounting an encounter with an elderly Chinese made who led him to safety.


For now: Keep moving. Keep your eyes open. Keep your attention focused. Behind enemy lines there is no time for grief, hunger, homesickness. And you do not get tired.

Our supplies were dropped from planes by parachute. Sometimes the enemy beat us to the place of the airdrop.

When our mission in Burma was finally accomplished we were flown over the “hump” into China. Gen. Chiang Kai-shek had decreed that no foreign troops would fight on China’s soil to liberate China from Japan. Our task would be to teach the Chinese troops how to use American weapons.

First we were to rest and recover from the months of fighting in Burma. We were camped near the city of Kunming in southwest China. Japan had lost Burma and now they began pushing harder than ever to take over all of China.

Our rest was cut short, too short. We were moved into central China to help deliver supplies to the Chinese troops. An airport near Chinkiang was enlarged to take care of the heavy traffic.

We were working 24/7 to unload the incoming planes. They carried everything from the nuts and bolts of war to pack mules and mule feed.

Orders came to evacuate. Japan was pushing hard and gaining rapidly. We were ordered to move out immediately.

Retreat, withdraw! From the American soldier’s point of view, nothing in our training had prepared us for retreat. Not since we entered Burma had we retreated one foot. Now in China we were being ordered to retreat.

Our officers told us that any who dropped out of the march would be left behind. If they fell into enemy hands they would be tortured and executed without mercy.

About mid-afternoon I could not go on. I crept into some thick bushes to hide. I must have passed out. I was not the typical robust infantry soldier. Still not fully recovered from the long, hard fight in Burma, this march was too much.

I am not sure how long I had been in those thick bushes when I became conscious that someone was prodding me into awareness. It was an old Chinese man. He wore a long, gray robe. This indicated that he was not of the laboring class.

He had a pronounced curvature of his spine and walked with the aid of a long, wooden staff. He motioned for me to get up and follow him. He had me take hold of his staff with him. He picked up my heavy infantry pack and started slowly down the road.

It was almost dark when, about five hours later, we reached the old ancestral temple where the other soldiers were making camp. I offered to pay him but he refused my money. I decided to share some of my food ration with him. I turned to open my pack. When I turned back to my rescuer, he was gone.

In the years that have come and gone, I have come to think of my rescuer as God’s angel sent to aid me.

“The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear him and delivers them.” Psalm 34:7.

“In all their afflictions he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them.” Isaiah 63:9.

There was no reason for a man of his status to be out on the road on a tumultuous day of war. The years have not dimmed my memory of this event. I had walked with the “angel of his presence.” He carried my heavy pack.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jesse L. Kidd is an emeritus missionary with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board who lives in San Angelo, Texas. Reprinted courtesy of the San Angelo Standard Times.)
5/28/2013 3:25:30 PM by Jesse Kidd, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The Boy Scouts fall to political correctness

May 28 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – The National Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has made a decision on the organization’s official position concerning the legitimacy and moral nature of homosexuality. As a result, Christians and conservatives will now be forced to make a decision.

BSA leadership voted May 23 to allow those who openly identify themselves as homosexual to be members. The organization did not, however, change its policy on Boy Scout leadership. Openly homosexual leaders will still not be allowed.

Many conservative churches sponsor BSA troops and many more are Scouts and leaders. All of these will have a decision to make concerning whether or not to remain a part of an organization that has legitimized a behavior they believe is immoral.

The BSA has come under increasing pressure from homosexual activist groups in recent years. The activists’ goal was to have the Scouts accept homosexuality as natural, normal and healthy.

Financial pressure, the ploy of many activist groups, was brought to bear on BSA. Homosexual activists successfully lobbied corporations and non-profits to pull funding from the Boy Scouts. Additionally, efforts were made to keep BSA troops from using any public facilities for their meetings.

Interestingly, in its official statement explaining the policy change, BSA leadership said:

“The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue.”

It remains to be seen how the mission or the youth served by the BSA will be affected by the policy change. However, it is abundantly clear the organization has been – and will be – affected, even consumed, by the single, divisive and unresolved societal issue of homosexuality.

According to Baptist Press, “Some 1,400 delegates to the National Council approved the change in membership standards by a margin of 61-39 percent.” The vote on the issue, according to reports, was by ballot.

Only those who voted in favor in changing the BSA policy on homosexuality know their real reason for doing so. However, given the trend in America today it is probably safe to assume that many did so based on an unproven premise.

The acceptance of homosexual behavior is now at unprecedented levels and seems to be rising. It seems many have come to accept the premise that homosexuality is more than just a behavior; it is natural, normal and healthy. To date, though, there has not been one single, definitive, scientific study that has established homosexuality as genetic or biological.

The American Psychological Association (APA) once touted there was considerable evidence to “suggest that biology, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors, play a significant role in a person’s sexuality.” The APA in recent years has abandoned this position.

The APA has produced a brochure, which is available on its website, titled “Answers to Your Questions for a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality.” In the pamphlet the APA states the following:

“There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors....”

America has seen a surge in homosexual acceptance throughout the United States in recent years. Two factors have contributed to this. One, the acceptance of the aforementioned unproven premise that homosexuality is innate and two, societal pressure to conform to politically correct norms. Politically correct doctrine holds that all sexual behavior between consenting adults is appropriate and beyond judgment. If any individual or group deems to call any sexual expression immoral, they are to be castigated and shamed.

When it was learned early this year that a Christian sports celebrity was to speak at a prominent Baptist church in Texas, the Huffington Post ran a story with the following headline: “Tim Tebow, Jets Quarterback, To Speak At Virulently Anti-Gay, Anti-Semitic Church First Baptist Dallas.”

First Baptist Church of Dallas represents the vast majority of Southern Baptist churches in America both in its doctrine and position on social issues. When a church like FBC Dallas is attacked for its biblical positions, all conservative Christians should be concerned.

What is interesting about the BSA decision concerning homosexuality is that it does not go nearly far enough for homosexual activists.

“GLAAD, a gay-rights group that has campaigned for change over the last year, said it would keep pressure on the Boy Scouts over the leadership issue,” reported the New York Times. “‘We’ll continue urging corporate donors and public officials to withhold their support,’ said Richard Ferraro, the group’s vice president for communications.”

“Meanwhile, lesbian mom Jennifer Tyrrell said that despite the incremental success, she would not be letting her son Cruz go back to Scouting,” the Times reported.

“I would not feel comfortable,” Cruz said. “I will keep him out until everyone is equal. With the current proposal, it sends the message to [same-sex] families that they are not normal. I don’t want him around that message,” wrote the Times.

Homosexual activists have made it clear they will not stop until America acknowledges homosexual behavior is natural, normal and healthy. Political correctness will be a key tool employed to achieve their goal.

According to the purveyors of PC, those who do not embrace all beliefs – including sexual and religious – as equal are to be vilified and shamed. And if a person or organization does not repent of their intolerance, he or she is to be shunned and ostracized.

The Boy Scouts have made their decision. BSA holds that homosexuality is natural, normal and healthy. Christians and conservatives now must choose if and/or how to relate to the new world of the BSA.

As for me and my house, we will adhere to the truth of scripture and not capitulate to the whims of political correctness, regardless of what the Boy Scouts of America may choose to do.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)


Related stories

Boy Scouts overturn ban on gay members
Churches to have 'hard discussion' about Scouts
5/28/2013 3:15:40 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Review: Creature calls believers to center church on Jesus

May 24 2013 by Micheal Pardue, BR Book Review

Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church
by Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger (B&H Publishing, 2012)
 
It would seem natural that any organization that labeled itself a church would be Jesus-centered.  However, it does not take many pages in the new book Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church by Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger, to realize that being Jesus-centered involves intentionally conforming the entire being of the church to the gospel of Christ.
 
The authors have delivered an authentic and practical plea for church leaders to consider their first love and the call of the Creator – the gospel of Christ. 
 
Creature of the Word is a 256-page theological call for gospel-centrality in the theology, philosophy and practice of the church. The authors make it clear that this is not about having the gospel and the flavor of the week. The authors write: “It is one thing to see the gospel as an important facet of one’s ministry. It is quite another to hold firmly to it as the centerpiece for all a church is and does, to completely orbit around it.”
 
The authors believe that the loss of and misunderstanding about the gospel has led to a loss of power in the church.
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Many churches, they lament, “have developed gospel amnesia, forgetting that the gospel not only creates and sustains the Church but also deeply shapes the Church. Present and future.”
 
Within these churches community is not being developed because the gospel is not central. People are not transformed when the gospel does not fuel their time together, they write.
 
When the gospel is not central, believers are robbed of their God-given opportunity and adoptive responsibility to be ministers of the gospel, exchanging it for consumer-driven religious experiences.  
The authors do encourage those readers who realize the gospel is not the centerpiece of their church. They write, “Without Jesus, your church culture is useless. But because of Jesus your church culture can be transformed … and become transformational. … If you are frustrated with the lack of gospel-centrality in your current church culture, understand that cultural frustration always precedes cultural transformation.
 
“The frustration is good and beautiful if it leads you to long for the grace of Jesus to permeate your theology, philosophy, and practice. Being gospel-centered is, for the authors, in part, about having a firm theological foundation that works its way out into every aspect of the functioning of the local church.” 
 
The authors have composed a book that is also amazingly practical. Obviously speaking from experience, they have captured many of the nuances of ministry and poured out for the reader how the gospel should run through the minutest veins of life within the local church body. So often with books of this nature the reader is inundated with theological insight, but is left to fend for himself when it comes to practical application.
 
Or, practicality is presented so narrowly that the church leader only finds it useful if he can completely reorient everything in the local body toward the newest programs presented. This book is neither. The authors honestly examine the makeup of church structure and give gospel-driven commentary on how even the most seemingly irreverent goings on of the church should be molded by the gospel. 
 
They examine areas of obvious import, such as preaching the Word and the Jesus-centered leader. They also make an impassioned plea for a gospel-centered ministry to children, as opposed to a babysitting service, and a Jesus-centered student ministry in exchange for a moralistic, legalism driven attempt at indoctrination.
 
These are real-life applications that force the reader to examine the motives behind some of the most cherished idols of church culture – from the budget to the social ministries of the church – through the lens of the gospel.  
 
The authors close the book with three important ways that “God lovingly removes our self-sufficiency, reminds us of grace, and emboldens us for the call of gospel-ministry: prayer, suffering, and celebration.” These three enable the church to define success on gospel terms. Creature of the Word is an exciting and convicting read. The authors display a passion, not just for the gospel, but for the local church. This book calls believers to gather together under the banner of the gospel, centering their lives and work on Christ.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Micheal Pardue is pastor of First Baptist Icard in Connelly Springs.)
5/24/2013 1:25:42 PM by Micheal Pardue, BR Book Review | with 0 comments



America still cries out to God when tragedy strikes

May 24 2013 by Ed Stetzer, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – When tragedy strikes, deep and abiding religious convictions, shared by so many in our country, rise to the surface and reveal what was thought to be discarded.

Much has been written about the secularization of America, and in some ways that is the case. Pew Research found that one in five adults in our nation have no religious affiliation, a group identified as the “Nones.”

Oftentimes, research like this and other anecdotes about the waning influence of Christianity on the public square are presented as proof that America is no longer a religious nation. This supposedly demonstrates that we have left our religious traditions in history’s dustbin. Then, a tragedy strikes.

Those times of grief reaffirm our identity as a religious nation. Shortly after the horrific news of the tornado devastation in Oklahoma, #PrayforOklahoma quickly rose to the top of Twitter’s trending list as millions shared their prayers for the people who lost loved ones and had their homes destroyed. 

In times of prosperity, far removed from tragedies, many people in our culture reject expressions of faith. In the moments of hopelessness, however, the desire to reach out to a higher power is an instinctive reflex. 

Some may say, “But that’s Oklahoma – it’s the Bible Belt.” Yet, after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I was struck by the comment made by Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy referencing our collective religious heritage:

“In the coming days, we will rely upon that which we have been taught and that which we inherently believe: that there is faith for a reason, and that faith is God’s gift to all of us.”

Many are embarrassed by this national identity – until it is time to grieve. Then, politicians, celebrities and reporters can unashamedly say they are praying for those affected. News networks will show church bells ringing in memory of those lost. Nightly news shows feel the need to broadcast excerpts from sermons delivered by pastors in the area. Journalists interview religious leaders about how God can help us through. 

And yes, that is where the discussion often begins. We consider why this would happen. Some people representing faith groups may speak quickly (and unwisely), assuming they can connect the dots between something in our culture and the most recent tragedy. 

Others simply ask the question, “How could God allow this to happen?” These are hard questions and there are no easy answers. For me, I can say that moments like this remind me that I am desperate for a Savior, and they show me a world crying out for rescue. 

Yes, Americans remain a religious people. It is not simply personal observations that bear this out. A closer look at the statistics demonstrates the staying power religion has in America, especially during difficult times.

LifeWay Research found that people tend to be more open to matters of faith during tragedies. After a national crisis like the terrorist attacks of 9/11, 38 percent said they were more open. More than 30 percent said a natural disaster would do the same, while 25 percent said the start of a war or international tension would cause them to be more receptive to religious considerations. 

Even speaking broadly outside of tragic moments, Americans maintain a faith-based outlook. Of the 20 percent in the Pew poll who were religiously unaffiliated, 68 percent believe in God and 58 percent classify themselves as “religious” or “spiritual.” In a 2011 national poll by LifeWay Research, 88 percent agreed “there is more to life than the physical world and society.” 

Frank Newport of the Gallup organization recently published God Is Alive and Well: The Future of Religion in America. In it, he explains how religious we are:

“In the 1950s and 1960s, more people said that religion can answer all or most of the day’s problems than say that today. But over the last 25 years, there hasn’t been a lot of change. About six in 10 Americans consistently say that religion can answer life’s problems. When we put it all together, we get the image of a basically religious American population whose underlying religiousness has not changed a lot in recent decades.”

Times like this show that America still has faith. Yes, there is evidence of secularization in our culture. Yes, the “Nones” are on the rise. When tragedies strike, however, those deep and abiding religious convictions shared by so many in our country rise to the surface and reveal what was thought to be discarded. We still cry out to God because we, as a nation, still believe God is the one who can help.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ed Stetzer is president of LifeWay Research. This column first appeared in USA Today.) 
5/24/2013 1:23:01 PM by Ed Stetzer, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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