May 2013

Glorifying God at work – no matter the job

May 15 2013 by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The first question of the 350-year-old Westminster Shorter Catechism asks: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” And many of you may be saying, “Yes, the weekend is almost here and I can start glorifying God and enjoying Him.” But, there’s also that word “forever.” Many think it means “into eternity.” It does mean that, but it also means “at all times,” including Monday through Friday.

While the Westminster Catechism is a document written by humans, it captures many important biblical themes. The answer to this first question is a good example. The Bible tells us: “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) and “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4).

Yet, many of us can’t quite wrap this counsel around our jobs. We just don’t see how our jobs can possibly be part of this glorifying and enjoying thing. It’s funny, when you think about that, because most of us probably prayed that God would help us find our job, and most of us probably thank God for our job.

Many Christians don’t think about their jobs as part of their calling to glorify and enjoy God because they don’t fully understand their purpose in life. Many of us think that glorifying God and enjoying Him means singing praises, reading the Bible, and praying. You know, that personal, contemplative stuff.

That is certainly part of it. In fact, that part makes it possible for God’s people to joyfully and effectively serve Him. But our jobs are actually places where we should also be glorifying and enjoying God. God made Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden to take care of it – sounds like work to me, and that’s before the Fall.

Part of our purpose as humans, created in God’s image, is to work. The Bible even has many unflattering things to say about people who are too lazy to work. Now, I know that for many people the workplace is not very conducive for worship or praise. Yet, when we understand that God made us to work, every workplace takes on new spiritual meaning.

The Apostle Paul even counseled the slaves of His day about how to think of their situation. He said, “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (Ephesians 6:7). I doubt many of us can say our situation is as dire as a slave’s in the first century.

To get to this place in our own lives, we have to start at the Garden. God made humans to be producers. Forget all this stuff about humans as consumers. We are not at our happiest when we are consuming things. We are at our happiest when we are making things, doing things – working. That’s because in working, we are fulfilling part of our divine purpose, and at a subconscious level, we know it.

Consider what you do by working. Yes, you have money to give to ministry causes, and you can support yourself and your family, and you have some walking around money. But you are also making a contribution to the lives of others. By your service, someone else’s life is made a little better. The restaurant worker helps someone relax and enjoy a meal. The businessperson provides a product that enhances lives. The sanitation worker removes the refuse that produces disease and sullies the beautiful. Every legitimate, moral form of work adds something to the benefit of humanity and helps God’s creation fulfill its purpose.

We are workers together with God in both gospel outreach and daily toil. Your job is part of God’s calling for you. It’s not merely a means to an end – a paycheck. It is an integral piece of God’s plan for your life as He seeks to extend His Kingdom and its influence throughout the world. You make a difference through your work. May God bless you as you serve Him today wherever you are and in whatever you do.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Barrett Duke is vice president for public policy and research of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)
5/15/2013 1:10:44 PM by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Effectual fervent prayer ‘the key to God-seeking revival’

May 15 2013 by Gregory Frizell, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Today’s church and society are in the midst of a unique phenomenon that has arguably never occurred in 2,000 years of church history. It is the phenomenon of an unprecedented 40-year explosion of books and emphases on prayer exactly coincided by an unprecedented collapse of morals and spirituality. In the past when most major prayer movements reached 10 to 15 years, God sent sweeping revivals and awakenings. So what is going on in a land so full of “prayer” yet careening ever faster into severe spiritual collapse and judgment?

In scripture and history, the answer always lies not just in “more general prayer,” but in more of a type of prayer and repentance that is God-seeking, Spirit-empowered and fervent. Yet concerning this point, there is hope. Today’s prayer movement is not only rapidly broadening, there are at least some signs of genuine deepening. More and more prayer emphases are calling for a deeper Kingdom focus as well as deep repentance and returning to God. Even if conditions soon get harder and judgments worsen, God’s remnant can and must intensify in fervent prayer! 

Unfortunately, surveys suggest many modern believers feel somewhat overwhelmed and unprepared for the more powerful levels of prayer. Yet, even in a hectic day God’s grace can enable believers to pray more effectively and fervently. In order to deepen our experience of God in prayer, two simple principles will make a major difference. 

First – embrace deeper spiritual cleansing and yielding

In James 5:16, the release of God’s power is conditioned on the sincerity and depth of one’s ongoing confession and repentance. In verses 17-18, James broadens the context beyond physical healing to praying for a flood to end God’s judgment of drought. It is no great leap to see a parallel with our current need for a mighty flood of God’s Spirit. For many modern believers, a missing key in revival-producing prayer is a lack of understanding of God’s holiness. For far too many, being “under grace” seems to mean “sin is no big deal anymore.” Of course, any such notion is utterly contrary to scripture and to God’s patterns in historic awakenings. Truly revived, empowered believers walk in a reverential fear of Holy God (Philippians 2:12-13).

God’s Word leaves no doubt that believers’ consistent cleansing and yielding is to be very specific and thorough (Psalms 66:18; 139:23-24; 2 Corinthians 7:1). When cleansing times are brief, rushed or overly general, issues invariably begin to build up and hinder the fervency and power of prayer. And then we experience what too often occurs today – thousands of “prayers” but little or no revival. Yet, by God’s grace there is hope for change and growth! 

Just daily adding a few minutes of deeper Spirit-guided surrender can make a huge difference. Currently, more and more tools are available that can help believers yield all areas of sin and self. Our prayer office offers a Bible insert called My Covenant to Walk in Daily Cleansing. Most other conventions have similar tools. When we ask for wisdom, God surely guides His people into deeper yielding without falling into rote ritual or legalism. At least periodically, more extended times of personal cleansing also prevent hidden hindrances from building up in our lives. When believers learn to more consistently “perfect holiness in the fear of God,” fervency will not be a problem. Daily fullness of the Spirit produces supernatural fervency and it does not require exorbitant amounts of time. By God’s grace any believer can pray effectively and fervently! 

Second – commit to pray with specific Kingdom-focus

Another powerful principle of fervency is to pray Kingdom-focused prayers we know God wants to accomplish (Matthew 6:33; 1 John 5:14-15). Best of all, powerful Kingdom prayers do not have to be long or overly complicated. Thankfully, we are now blessed by practical Biblical guides to pray effectively for such issues as lost people, missions, revival and spiritual awakening. Our prayer office provides a simple Bible insert called My Covenant to Pray for the Lost, Missions and Spiritual Awakening. Most state conventions have similar guides that focus and intensify even brief prayers throughout the day. It is very encouraging to report that Kingdom prayer is on the rise! 

Even though societal conditions are dark, let us keep our eyes on the God of glory. Believers must not let busy schedules convince them they cannot pray effectively or fervently. By a little more cleansing and sharper Kingdom focus, our prayers can deepen. Before long, we are truly seeking the “Reviver,” not just revival. Whether we soon see sweeping revival, greater judgments or some of both, let every believer trust God for the effective fervent prayer of a yielded heart. Let us pray for a “surprising work of grace” and a genuine return to God in our day. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gregory Frizell is the prayer and spiritual awakening specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.)
5/15/2013 1:01:51 PM by Gregory Frizell, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Welcoming newcomers to your neighborhood

May 14 2013 by Diana Davis, Baptist Press

INDIANAPOLIS – At least one-fifth of all Americans move one or more times each year, according to the U.S. Census. A study by LifeWay Research indicates that 82 percent of unchurched people are likely to attend church if invited. That number might be even higher for people who recently moved. Statistics like these reveal a staggering mission field of new move-ins, right there in your church’s neighborhood.

Why not make a church plan to welcome, serve and invite newcomers to your town?

First, establish a church-wide “Moving Van Alert.” Every single church member is part of the team. You’ll be amazed at how effective watchful church members can be. The assignment? To be constantly on the lookout for a moving van unloading in their neighborhood or community, and then immediately text, call or email that address to the church office. That call triggers the entire action plan, and the new resident may be welcomed before the moving van leaves the driveway! 

A church may also obtain additional new move-in contacts through a newcomer service or weekly list of sold homes.

Your church’s action plan could include two or more of these welcome ideas:
  • “Nearly Neighbors” contact. At least two or three church members who live near the newcomer receive an email or call, requesting they walk, bike or drive by the newcomer’s home before Sunday. They merely introduce themselves as neighbors and invite them to Sunday worship. To simplify these assignments, Google Fusion Tables, a free resource, can be used to plot a map of church members’ addresses. 
  • “The Pizza Posse” or “We Take the Cake” team makes a quick delivery, on short notice. A church may purchase gift cards for a pizza delivery, or a church member who loves to bake could prepare a homemade dessert. The pizza card or dessert is presented with a church brochure and a note: “What’s even better than pizza [or homemade cookies] on moving day? The warm welcome you’ll receive when you worship at Living Faith Church this Sunday! Hope to see you there.” 
  • Welcome Basket delivery. A team of friendly church members prepares and delivers a newcomer basket containing a well-designed church brochure, area map and community info, and a small gift. The gift might be a Bible, a local product (i.e. Smuckers jam in Orville, Ohio), or a handmade gift, such as a “God bless this home” plate or “Welcome to Wilkesboro” ornament. 
  • Welcome note. A pre-prepared welcome note from the pastor is addressed to “our new neighbors at....” It will be one of the new resident’s first pieces of snail mail. 
Timing is critical, but with planning and delegation, your church may greet new residents within days or hours of their move. Those brief, personal contacts may establish friendships and meet needs. God could use your invitation to impact eternity! 

Now that’s worth baking cookies. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Davis is author of “Fresh Ideas” and “Deacon Wives” (B&H Publishing). She is an author, columnist and wife of North American Mission Board’s vice president for the south region, Steve Davis.)
5/14/2013 3:19:41 PM by Diana Davis, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Reader’s Digest polls Americans on ‘trust’

May 14 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – Reader’s Digest recently released the results of a poll the publication conducted on the subject of trust. The Trust Poll “compiled a list of over 200 American opinion shapers and headline makers from 15 highly influential professions.” 

Next, the well-known periodical “polled a nationally representative sample of over 1,000 American adults, asking them to rank each person on trustworthiness.” Reader’s Digest not only published “The 100 Most Trusted People in America,” but the magazine also looked at trusted professions and why trust occurs. 

Seven of the top ten in the Trust Poll were from the field of entertainment. The top four were Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep. Coming in at six was film director Steven Spielberg. Numbers eight and 10 were Alex Trebek, host of the game show “Jeopardy,” and actress Julia Roberts. 

Maya Angelou, author, poet and college professor came in at number five in the Reader’s Digest poll, and Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, finished at seven while his wife, Melinda, came in at number 10. Ms. Gates is the co-chair of the philanthropic Gates Foundation. 

I found interesting a few others who made the top 100 most trustworthy list. Tim Tebow, professional football player, finished at number 40. President Obama came in at 64 and evangelist Billy Graham made the list at 67. 

Examining why people place their trust in someone, Reader’s Digest listed six characteristics that seemed to matter the most. These are: integrity/character; exceptional talent/drive for excellence; internal moral compass; message; honesty; and leadership. 

Reader’s Digest did an analysis of the results, and its first deduction was that “we trust people we know more than anyone famous.” So why the apparent conflict with the Top 10 list, which was full of entertainers? That’s because the magazine said it removed the “three highest scores” from its list, which were “your own doctor” (77 percent), “your own spiritual adviser” (71 percent), and “your own child’s current teacher” (66 percent), “to focus on the public figures who resonated with everyone.”

It is good to know that most Americans put more stock, more trust, into the people they actually know and have contact with than they do in celebrities and people with whom they have never met. 

Another of Reader’s Digest’s conclusions from the poll was “tweeting does not earn trust.” According to the magazine, “Folks with large social media audiences ... drifted to the bottom of our list of 200. Some, like Sandra Bullock (#2) do not even have official Twitter accounts.”

There were other deductions by Reader’s Digest on the Trust Poll worth noting. Among them: “You can recover from mistakes, and we’ll still trust you.” In other words, if trust is tainted or even lost, it can, over time, be recovered. Another conclusion is that for trust to occur “we have to perceive that you’re genuine.” 

Among the most trusted professions in America, according to the Trust Poll: doctors, teachers/educators, movie stars, philanthropists, spiritual leaders.

In his book The Speed of Trust, business ethics author Stephen M.R. Covey examined 13 principles he viewed as necessary to establish trust or to re-establish trust. Among the principles he cited that create trust are: Talk Straight; Demonstrate Respect, Create Transparency; Right Wrongs, Show Loyalty; Practice Accountability; Keep Commitments.

I could not agree more. Trust is the key that opens the door for effectiveness and success in every area of life. The lack of trust is a toxin that can cause the death of every relationship and every endeavor. 

The Reader’s Digest poll also underscores that trust must be perceived. A reputation of trust is earned over time and, can influence people you have never met. An absence of trust will have the opposite effect. 

In a story known as the “Parable of the Talents,” Jesus, the consummate Teacher, taught that a person who is faithful over a few things will be faithful over many things. In other words, trust is earned by faithfully fulfilling minor tasks and/or giving attention to details. Small things matter when it comes to trust. 

Jesus also taught, “Therefore, whatever, you want others to do for you, do also the same for them…” Put simply, we are to treat people the way we want to be treated. 

Applying Jesus’ teaching to the subject of trust, we can extract the following. 

Trust is earned over time. It requires patience. 

Little things make a big difference in establishing and maintaining trust. 

In order to gain, keep or regain trust, you must treat people the way you would want them to treat you. Be honest, be respectful and if you mess up, confess and seek forgiveness. 

“You can have all the facts and figures, all the supporting evidence, all the endorsement that you want,” observed Niall Fitzgerald, former chairman of Unilever, “but if you don’t command trust, you won’t get anywhere.” 

There is one thing that forms the foundation of all relationships – personal and professional. It is trust.

(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.)
5/14/2013 3:15:42 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



7 things pastors’ wives wish they had been told

May 13 2013 by Thom S. Rainer, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – I am especially grateful to have the opportunity to hear from pastors’ wives since much of my focus is on pastors. Our recent, informal survey simply asked the open-ended question: “What do you wish you had been told before you became a minister’s wife?”

Thank you to the pastors’ wives who were willing to give us such great feedback. And thanks to Chris Adams for doing the survey and to Amy Jordan for assembling the data.

The responses are in order of frequency. A representative comment follows each response.
  1. I wish someone had told me just to be myself. “I am a people-pleaser by nature, so for me, not being prepared to handle being a pastor’s wife with my personality was a heavy burden to carry early in our ministry.”
  2. I wish someone had prepared me to deal with criticism of my husband and me. “It was hard to deal with negative experiences, conflicts, or criticisms, especially in relation to my husband and our area of ministry. So I would harbor feelings of resentment when it came to ministry and my man.”
  3. I wish someone had reminded me that my husband is human. “I wish someone had told me that my husband could not be God for me. I was disillusioned at first to find out that he indeed is just a man.”
  4. I wish someone had told me that others were watching us (the glass house syndrome). “Even though they are watching us, we don’t need to be controlled by what they expect of us.”
  5. I wish someone had told me there are some really mean people in the church. “I was really surprised. I had to learn not to pay too much attention to them or they would get me down.”
  6. I wish someone had told me how much my husband needs me to build him up. “I need to be his cheerleader. Dealing with critics in the church is difficult. He needs to hear that I respect him now more than ever.”
  7. I wish someone had told me that my schedule will never be normal again. “Your husband will be very busy. Expect that. But come alongside him in the areas of time management and organization.”
One pastor’s wife told us that her role was like getting a job for which she never applied. She wrote this funny script in her response:

Husband: “Honey, I got you a job today.”

Wife: “Really? Okay, but I wasn’t looking for a job. I have plenty to do here running the household and raising the kids. That was our plan, right? Me stay home with the kids so you could fully dedicate yourself to the ministry.”

Husband: “Yeah, yeah. But I really need you take this job for me.”

Wife: “Well, okay, just tell me what to do and when it needs to be done by, and I will do everything I can to make it happen.”

Husband: “Well, right now there are no specific responsibilities. Basically, it’s just doing anything at church that no one else steps up to do or wants to do.”

Wife: “Oh my, that is a tall order. Okay, I’ll do it. I guess we could use the extra money anyway. Things are always tight around here on a pastor’s salary.

Husband: “Well, actually honey, there is no salary ...”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared on his website, www.ThomRainer.com.)
5/13/2013 4:09:45 PM by Thom S. Rainer, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Is your hobby a ‘gift’ or a ‘god’?

May 13 2013 by Kyle Worley, Baptist Press

GROVES, Texas – The moment I walked into the dorms, I was greeted by a barely clothed 19-year-old guy with an Xbox controller in his hand. He looked at me and asked, “You play Halo?”

So began my undergraduate degree at a Baptist university. I had come to study the Bible and philosophy, but it seemed that many of my peers had come to enjoy four years of practicing and perfecting the art of hobby. Dedicated intramural teams, obsessive gaming, competitive fantasy football brackets, and weekends to shoot skeet or play golf were just a few of the options that college opened up for me and hundreds of other young men.

When I graduated, the hobbies just got bigger and more expensive. With salaries and full-time jobs, young men are given the resources to take their hobbies and obsessions to new levels. They often have a hard time being able to enjoy their hobbies in a restful way, without immersing themselves headfirst in a world of distraction. The young seminarian might obsess over his blog, the undergraduate student might be chest deep in video games, the father is dedicated to watching every game or being out on the links every weekend, and the grandfather is hoping to re-read all his favorite Grisham novels this spring at his lake house. Like Aristotle might have said, had he had the chance to update the slang in his Nicomachean Ethics, “It’s hard to fiddle in the middle.”

Are hobbies evil? Absolutely not! But when hobbies become obsessions, they flip the created order, where man exercises God-given authority and dominion over creation (Genesis 1:27-31), and instead places man in subjection to the creation (Romans 1:21-25). So, the question before us is, how do you enjoy God’s goodness in creation without making your hobby a hindrance to your faithfulness to God’s mission in your home, church and community?

I want to state three things that we must do, truths we can’t abandon in enjoying hobbies, and two things that we can do to shape our practice of hobby.


What we must do

In order to be faithful as men of God while enjoying God’s creation, we must:

1. Be self-controlled.

Paul tells Timothy that those who aspire to the office of overseer “desire a noble task.” These men, the overseers, are to set an example of the lifestyle of a Godly man. Paul exhorts Timothy that these men, the standard set before the men of the church, should be “sober-minded” and “self-controlled (1 Timothy 3:2).”

What is self-control? It is the ability to restrain oneself from one thing so that one might be cast headlong into something better. Paul goes on in 1 Timothy 4:12-15, saying, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.”

As C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, “We are far too easily pleased.” We refrain ourselves from immersion in hobbies so that we can immerse ourselves in communion with God. We practice self-control in our hobbies so that we can practice reckless abandonment in our pursuit of Christ.

2. Redeem the time.

Above my desk, in my office, I have a framed picture that my wonderfully creative wife made for me that has pictures of books, coffee beans and a few quotes. Knowing that my hobbies are reading, writing and the quest for the perfect cup of coffee, in the middle of that picture is a quote from Jonathan Edwards. The quote from his Resolutions, says, “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.” Underneath this quote is Paul’s admonition to the church in Ephesians 5:15-16, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

Is it lazy that I occasionally enjoy reading fiction while I watch a rack of ribs smoke on my pit? Is it sinful that my brother and I have fun attempting the maddening challenge of placing a small white ball into a hole 400 yards away? No, but there is a difference in delighting in the good gifts of God and engrossing myself in the realm of distraction.

If I look to use the “first fruits” of my time for any hobby or practice other than advancing the Kingdom in my home, church and community, then my hobby has stolen my heart.

3. Possess a gospel urgency.

Paul encouraged Timothy and others to “Practice these things” – scripture reading, teaching, exhortation, etc.] – and to “immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:15). Paul goes on, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Vacations, hobbies and rest do not exempt us from the ongoing mission of God in our home, church and community. If your hobby is an escape from living under the Lordship (authority) of Christ, than your hobby is a remnant of your sinful desire for autonomy. When you are enjoying fishing on the lake ... you belong to Christ, the water belongs to Christ, and the fish belong to Christ. Like Kuyper once proclaimed: There is not one square inch in all of our human existence over which God does not cry, “Mine!”

Yet the world and the spiritual forces of evil at work in the lives of unbelievers oppose Christ’s Lordship over all of creation. Our hobbies must become a platform upon which we stand to proclaim “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1).

If our hobbies are lacking an urgency to know and enjoy Christ and to make him known, than they are becoming less than they were created to be.


What we can do

To encourage and challenge ourselves to remain faithful as men of God while enjoying our hobbies we can:

1. Serve our wives.

I love writing, so I operate a blog. My wife knows that I love to write and that if I am not blogging, I will be working on a sermon, book, article or paper. What does it say about my heart if I write a thousand blog posts and never once use my gift of writing to honor, serve or celebrate her? It says that I believe my hobby is from me, through me, and to me. Does that phrase sound familiar?

So I attempt to serve my wife with my writing. I write her poems and “choose your own adventure story-dates.” I am also sure to speak well of her in my writing.

Maybe you love to cook; cook her a meal. Maybe you love to work with your hands; make her something. Maybe you love to golf; take her out to Putt-Putt. Be creative, put as much thought into including her in your hobby as you do in practicing your hobby.

2. Include others.

You are not the only guy who likes playing Madden 2013. There is a high school guy in the student ministry at your church who can destroy you; invite him over and let him teach you a few things. You are not the only man in your church who enjoys watching the games on Sunday afternoon, so invite them over and mute the TV during the commercials. You would be surprised at how excited that young man would be to get invited to your senior adult men’s domino game.

Bring other people into your hobby. Use your hobby to develop relationships with your neighbors and church family. When you see a gift as a gift, and not as an entitlement, then you will share that gift.

The real question is, “Is your hobby gift or god?”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column first appeared at CBMW.org, the website of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Kyle Worley is a student pastor at First Baptist Church of Groves, Texas.)
5/13/2013 3:58:23 PM by Kyle Worley, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Preaching while sitting

May 10 2013 by Steven Smith, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – It became clear that things were not right. I could not walk straight, there was a tingling sensation in my hands and feet, and I had limited use of the muscles in my face.

Multiple doctors but no answers.

I remember sleeping on the couch, trying to get comfortable and telling God that I was ready for whatever He had to tell me. During all of this I shared my symptoms with my brother, who casually mentioned them to a member in our church. She was a doctor who formerly worked at a neurological hospital. She called him late on a Saturday night and woke him up to tell him she knew what I had and exactly what hospital to go to.

While I was sick of doctors, I begrudgingly went the next day. Within 10 minutes, the doctors had diagnosed me with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder where your immune system begins to eat away at your nerves, or in my case, the myelin coating around your nerves.

The next day I was in the hospital receiving some of the best care possible. In the hospital for six days, physical therapy for a few months, and now I’m on the back end of what they predicted would be a yearlong recovery. It appears that I will have no long-term effects. How God healed me and delivered me is something for which I will always be grateful. How my wife maneuvered heaven and earth, managed the family, enlisted an army of pray-ers, and wrangled the health care world is an amazing story in its own right.

But for now, I want to talk about what God taught me during all of this.

The truth is He did not teach me much during all of it, but after. About three months into recovery and rehab I began to make a list of all the things I thought I needed to change and even employed a counselor friend to help me change them.

“Well Steve,” he began, “I have to know one thing. Are you ruined?”

It was off putting, but I knew what he was saying. He was asking if I was to the place where I was broken enough that I would receive counsel. I was not sure. Who really is so self-aware that they know they are humble? If you are, then are you really humble?

He did help me but not so much with those specific things. He helped me with something much greater. He helped me understand Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The poor in spirit are not those whose circumstances are worse than others; the poor in spirit are those who realize that all of our circumstances are bad! We are all wretched and needy. We are all lost. The healthy, the sick, the rich, the poor, we all lack the ability to have what we really want – acceptance in God’s Kingdom. We can’t have that because we are broken. The poor in spirit are not worse off. Rather, they are the ones with enough spiritual vision to see the truth. The poor in spirit are advantaged because they are honest. They see their sin so they can actually follow the rest of the Beatitudes. They can go further to mourning and further still to being meek – the final place of abandonment where we give all of our energies in service of God.

So, what I guess God taught me is how weak I really am. How vulnerable. How shallow. How insignificant. Now that sounds like a bad thing. But it’s not. It would only be a bad thing to know if it were not true. But since it is true, it’s good to know. Any strength, depth or significance will have to be supplied from another Source.

Outside of the gifts of my salvation and my family, perhaps this debilitating illness has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I’m so grateful.

Before the diagnosis, when we were still scrambling for some answers, I went to an ER late on a Saturday night. After four hours they sent me home exhausted, weak and fatigued, and we still had no diagnosis. I got up a few hours later and went to my preaching assignment where I was forced to preach while sitting down. My dependent posture reflected the fact that I had no choice in either matter: the matter of preaching or the matter of sitting. I had to preach and I had to sit. I had to preach, and I did not have the ability to preach. I had to proclaim, and I had to depend. Both of those things were always true, however much I was aware of it. I must preach, and I can’t without God’s power. I’m always preaching dependent. And He always supplies. I’m always resting. He is always supporting. Because I am that weak and He is that strong. And, it’s good to know.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Steven Smith is dean of the College at Southwestern with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and professor of communication. This column first was posted at www.TheologicalMatters.com, a Southwestern Seminary website.)
5/10/2013 11:13:43 AM by Steven Smith, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The power of focused prayer

May 10 2013 by Roger S. Oldman, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – In his short Epistle, James gave the example of Elijah’s prayer for rain as an example of focused prayer. He opened the illustration of Elijah’s prayer with this declarative statement, “The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect” (James 5:16b).

An expositional study of this passage leads me to paraphrase the verse this way: “The energetically applied, focused prayer of one who has been declared righteous by God can do much!”

The word translated “urgent” forms the basis for our English word “energy,” what one commentator calls “an inworking prayer.” As a middle voice participle, the word refers to the deep, urgent energy expended by a person who devotes more than a passing moment to his or her prayer. It is an energetically applied prayer.

When Elijah prayed for the rains to come, his prayer was very focused. Six times he prostrated himself before God in deep prayer. Following each focused prayer, he commissioned his servant to look to the western horizon for a sign of rain. Each time, the response was the same – not a cloud in sight. Undeterred, Elijah prostrated himself a seventh time, earnestly beseeching the Father for rain. Upon hearing his servant’s report of a “cloud as small as a man’s hand coming from the sea” after the seventh season of prayer, Elijah dispatched him to warn Ahab that the rains were coming!

Of the five most common words for prayer in the New Testament, the word in this text refers to a “particular” prayer – a specific request as opposed to a general request. So many of our prayers are general in nature; and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, general prayers are, in many ways, untrackable. We never know when or whether God answers.

Specific prayers, on the other hand, are clearly trackable. We know when and if God answers. We will know whether His response is a Yes, a No, or a Wait and See. Perhaps we fear that our prayers will have little impact on our circumstances, so we generalize. But, focused prayers, energetically applied, move God to action.

The presence of the word “righteous” in this text causes many of us to cringe. We feel unworthy of the term. We know we are not spiritual giants like Abraham and Elijah or Paul and James. We are just ordinary people. How refreshing to hear that Elijah was a man” with a nature like ours” (James 5:17). His righteousness, like ours, was an imputed righteousness.

Lot, too, was a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7-8). While Abraham had power with God (Genesis 18:16-33), Lot squandered his power with God. Rather than engaging God in focused prayer for his family and his city, he squandered his witness through a compromised lifestyle! Imagine the difference that could have taken place if these two men, both of whom were declared righteous by God, had shared the same passion for connecting with God in prayer. Abraham prayed to the potential sparing of the city of Sodom; Lot contributed to the destruction of the city. He failed to reach even his own family for the Lord! Though righteousness is necessary to have power with God, righteousness alone does not move God to action on behalf of His people.

How focused are we in our prayers for the salvation and well-being of our family and friends, for effectiveness in our church ministries, for revival in our nation? Do we earnestly beseech the Lord for spiritual awakening?

Let us pray as never before – more energy, more focus, more surrendered righteousness, and more expectation. Let us believe – and practice – the words of this verse: “The energetically applied, focused prayer of one who has been declared righteous by God can do much!”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger S. “Sing” Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.) 
5/10/2013 11:09:09 AM by Roger S. Oldman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Mother’s Day: Honoring God’s indispensable gift

May 9 2013 by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BP) – “God couldn’t be everywhere, so He made mothers.” While not theologically accurate, this old Jewish saying describes beautifully the significant role mothers have in our lives. 

Motherhood is one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity. A loving, committed mother is an indispensable person in our development. Just imagine a world without mothers. It would be a sterile place indeed. Mothers instill powerful social and nurturing characteristics in each generation. It is principally from their mothers that children learn the virtues of sacrifice, sharing, valuing others, compassion, community and a host of other interpersonal values and skills that enable humans to live together in peace.

Biologically, women are designed for self-sacrifice. When pregnant, a woman’s body focuses its primary attention to nurturing that new, growing life developing within her. Her body will automatically prioritize the needs of her unborn baby. And this inherent gift for self-sacrifice isn’t only biological. After her children are born, a mother will continue to sacrifice herself for the needs of her children. She will do whatever she can to assure her children have what they need.

Mothers are also designed by God to nurture. There is just no greater nurturing power on the planet than a mother. When the apostle Paul was describing his love for the church at Thessalonica, he used the metaphor of a mother’s love to describe how deeply he cared for the Thessalonians. He reminded them that he was like a “gentle” mother who “tenderly cares for her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). When God described His love for Israel, He did so with a motherhood metaphor. He told Israel that He would comfort them like a mother comforts her children (Isaiah 66:13).

I am reminded of the closing chapters of the great biblical book of wisdom, the book of Proverbs. The book that has helped billions of people through millennia live better lives closes with a great testimonial tribute to women. That’s right; the last words of the book of Proverbs don’t extend praise to God, or exalt manhood. They speak of the beautiful, indispensable role that women play in God’s creation. After 30 chapters of directions on living the good, godly, noble life, the great book of Proverbs closes with these words to the godly woman: “Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying, ‘Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all.’ Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:28-31).

The best of all that God designed a woman to be is expressed in motherhood. Not one of us came into this world without a mother. And in these days of abortion on-demand, motherhood is a conscious, deliberate decision by a woman to enter into that noble, God-like act of loving self-sacrifice to participate with the God of all creation to bring a new life into the world – you. 

This Mother’s Day, I hope you will take the time to say thanks to your mother in a special way. No she isn’t perfect, and no she didn’t do everything right, but she gave you life. And if she is like most mothers, she sacrificed for you and did what she could to prepare you to be a loving, caring person. And to mothers, I say thank you for all you have done to prepare your children to be the good men and women of the next generation. Our world cannot make it without you. Thank you for all you do. Happy Mother’s Day.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Barrett Duke is vice president for public policy and research for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)
5/9/2013 3:28:06 PM by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Mental illness & the church

May 9 2013 by Jeremy Pierre, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky.  – The pain is unspeakable, I’m sure.

Many grieved with Rick and Kay Warren over the loss of their son Matthew to suicide. And many are paying attention to something we typically find hard to think about. Mental illness in the church has taken the headlines.

But to have a productive conversation, we’ll need to avoid a couple of unhelpful ways of talking about it. The most obvious one, I think, is to discuss the private state of Matthew’s mind or surmise what condition he suffered from. I imagine those closest to Matthew are suffering enough under the why question, and they don’t need all of us to figure it out for them.

Another unhelpful way to go about this conversation is to lob generalities at the church regarding its failure to adequately care for those with mental illness. I’ve never seen generalities change anything except people’s blood pressure.

Maybe we’re not quite sure what the church addressing mental illness even means, although we’re hitting on some important aspects of it. Swirling around in the discussion so far are two separate, but closely related, issues. The first is the shame of those struggling with mental illness and the pressure to keep it secret. And the second is what we actually mean when we say mental illness – its nature as physiological disease. While we cannot separate these two issues, distinguishing them for the sake of discussion may help us move forward in a productive way.


Shame and secrecy

Everyone knows the unpleasant impulse to hide something about himself that others wouldn’t approve of. For those who experience overwhelming emotions or find themselves caught in patterns of unusual behavior, this impulse is more than unpleasant – it’s terrifying. We are aware of the general standards of normalcy around us, and when we don’t measure up to those standards, we feel shame. The easiest way to stay included is to hide those things about us that don’t measure up. Lest we demonize the church, let’s admit that this is true in any sphere of relationships – the neighborhood, the workplace, the rec league.

Nevertheless, it’s right to recognize that the church should be different. And, at least in some churches, it’s not. Sometimes it’s worse because the standards of normalcy are mixed with standards of morality, and the stakes get even higher. The thought of a guy at work finding out you take meds might be unpleasant to you, but the thought of your pastor finding out might be downright distressing. In your mind, your coworker might think you’re a little screwy, but your pastor might think you’re screwy and sinning. And so you may be more tempted to hide stuff from your pastor than from your coworker.

And this is a tragedy. Christians should know two things better than anyone else in the world: the deep insanity of the human heart and the patient grace of the redeeming Lord. This insanity includes both spiritual and physical corruption – so the human heart responds to life in a convolution of virtue and sin, of ability and disability. And this grace is God’s undeserved favor resting on such convoluted heaps. The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that grace, not shame, is the solution for both weakness and sin.

So, before we even figure out the equation of what we mean by mental illness, we know that the way we are compelled in Scripture to approach a struggler is with the grace of Jesus Christ. Shame leading to secrecy is toxic in the church, and the only way to undermine this is to work toward a culture of grace.


The nature of mental illness

In many of the discussions I’ve read so far, there is a presumption that there is widespread agreement on what mental illness actually means. Even among mental health care professionals there is disagreement about the nature and causes of mental illness, some emphasizing underactivity of the various neurotransmitters, others focusing on developmental or social causation.

Some have challenged the legitimacy of symptom-based diagnoses, proposing more empirically-based means through advanced imaging and brain mapping. The DSM-4, the reference manual almost universally used to make mental illness diagnoses, has always been controversial. And the soon-to-be-released DSM-5 has significant changes to it that are even more controversial. The definitions of mental illness are far from conclusive, but shift with the changing times. Add to this the wide variance in quality of care in assessment and diagnosis, and we are left with many uncertainties regarding what mental illness actually is.

If that all sounds skeptical, I don’t mean it to be purely so. Thoughtful Christians, who insist on understanding human beings according to Scripture, should have a healthy mix of skepticism and appreciation of the various types of diagnoses of mental illness.

We should be skeptical because the paradigm of mental illness is built without the basic building materials of a biblical view of people. Absent is any consideration of moral agency as Scripture defines it: an active heart responding dynamically to God and His creation with every thought, feeling and choice. Such an absence of the spiritual aspect of the person results in a critical misunderstanding of the person as a whole. And the care offered is inadequate for the ultimate troubles of the soul.

But we should also appreciate that these diagnoses at times accurately describe physical symptom clusters and could lead to medical interventions that offer some level of helpful influence over them. In other words, because we recognize humans as corrupted in body as well as in soul, we can appreciate medical ingenuity that helpfully addresses the potential neurobiological aspects of people’s trouble.


A culture of grace in the church

Various folks have been pointing out the need for the church to pull its head out of the sand on the issue of mental health care. By this, we can be saying something very good or something not-so-good.

Let’s start with the not-so-good. We should not mean that the church should just accept that extreme emotional, mental, or behavioral troubles are merely physical problems with physical solutions. Of all people, Christians must insist that we were created spiritual beings with the dignity of moral agency. Our thoughts and actions are not merely the product of our biology. We have freedom to act out of our nature as the image of God. And so, wisdom for living from the Word of God is always necessary in the ongoing care of a person, which includes addressing mental, emotional and behavioral troubles.

Now let’s get to the good. What we should mean by the church pulling its head out of the sand is that Christians should acknowledge that the corruption of the fall warps not just our souls, but our bodies as well. The influence of bodily corruption on the soul is powerful, and the church needs to recognize those suffering under it in a way that points them to help – for both body and soul.

Extreme mental, emotional or behavioral problems are not either spiritual or physical. They are both, though we recognize a sliding scale of influence. Some troubles may be more neurologically engrained, thus requiring closer medical attention. Others may be less so. But, whether it’s more or less, a spiritual heart is always actively in need of the grace of the Lord Jesus.

Here are a few pairs of insight that may help establish a culture of grace toward those who suffer from some of the more extreme cases of physiological trouble:

Pair 1
  • On one hand, medical intervention, including psychotropic medication, does not heal the ultimate problem of a person’s disordered desires, beliefs or choices. Medical intervention does not reverse the results of sin and corruption. Only the power of the Gospel of Jesus does this. Visiting a doctor apart from considering how your spiritual responses are involved in your condition will not lead to an ultimate solution.
  • On the other hand, medical intervention often allays the effects of sin’s corruption of the body, including the brain. And so we should affirm the value of medical treatment and should encourage our people to seek medical attention when necessary. The need for medical intervention is not in itself anti-spiritual. Visiting a doctor does not necessarily mean you are failing to trust the Lord.
Pair 2
  • On one hand, people who are languishing under extreme mental and emotional problems do not always have the capacity for immediate control over them. We should not instruct them as if they do, but instead should acknowledge the overwhelming nature of what they’re experiencing.
  • On the other hand, a person’s lack of immediate control does not imply he has no control at all. The control is eventual rather than immediate. It is imperfect rather than complete. But it is nevertheless significant. People as spiritual beings can respond in faith within their physiological incapacities. So pointing them to the Word does not make us "faith healers." The Word of God brings life.
Pair 3
  • On one hand, not all physiological trouble will be healed this side of heaven, no matter the amount of biblical counsel given. This is clearest in those conditions that are most demonstrably physical: You can’t counsel someone out of Down syndrome or autism, for instance.
  • On the other hand, by establishing patterns of response that submit to God’s ways within their incapacities, people often experience significant change. In fact, they often grow in subtle and surprising ways. A Christian diagnosed as bipolar can respond to their physiological troubles in the obedience of faith. These healthy responses may not eliminate the struggle, but they often alleviate it.
Ultimately, our suffering in this life is meant to make us groan for the life to come, when all creation will be set free from corruption. And we will, too. Body and soul. I’ve noticed that people who suffer with the most extreme physiological effects of the fall often groan the best. They experience the insanity of the human heart doubly: Their own sin works against them, and so do their own brains. And they long for redemption for both their souls and their bodies. And both are exactly what Jesus promises for all those who trust in Him (Romans 8:18-39).

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column was first posted at the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Grace & Truth blog site http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/blogs/ and is re-posted here with permission. Jeremy Pierre is assistant professor of biblical counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)
5/9/2013 3:23:47 PM by Jeremy Pierre, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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