May 2014

More than bread alone

May 14 2014 by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press

What is the meaning of life?

That’s a question only rich people have time to ponder, some folks say. The world’s poor are too busy struggling for survival to think about something as nebulous as the “meaning of life” – unless it helps put food on the table.

Not true, according to a recent study published in the academic journal Psychological Science.

The study analyzed Gallup World Poll data from more than 130 countries, including the bottom 50 in gross domestic product. Citizens of poorer countries actually ranked the importance of meaning in their lives higher than those in more prosperous nations.

The study looked at multiple factors contributing to this phenomenon, but in country after country, a common element emerged: faith.

“In part, meaning in life was higher in poor nations because people in those nations were more religious,” the study’s authors reported. “The mediating role of religiosity remained significant after we controlled for potential third variables, such as education, fertility rate, and individualism. As Frankl stated in Man’s Search for Meaning, it appears that meaning can be attained even under objectively dire living conditions, and religiosity plays an important role in this search.”

They meant Viktor Frankl, the renowned psychiatrist and author who said, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” As a survivor of Nazi death camps, he had authority to speak on the subject. Echoing [Friedrich] Nietzsche, Frankl wrote, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how.’”

I can hear the skeptics now: Faith is a rickety crutch the poor lean on – and an opiate the powerful use to lull the weak into accepting their lot. That might apply to certain lives or particular moments in history, but it can’t explain the power of faith in the human heart through the ages.

Even in affluent societies where secularism and materialism appear to be prevailing, people want something more, something deeper, so they look for God substitutes. “Instead of relying on religion to give life meaning, people in wealthy societies today try to create their own meaning via their identity and self-knowledge,” the study reported. Materialism and self-worship have become the “religions” of the rich, but they’re counterfeits of the worship of God.

When Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness, the devil challenged Him to prove He was the Son of God by changing stones to bread. Jesus answered from the scriptures: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4, NASB).

Humanity needs bread to sustain life. But bread isn’t enough. People crave the Bread of Life: Jesus Christ. That’s why the proclamation of the gospel of Christ and the making of disciples among all peoples are the primary mission of God for His church in the world.

There are many ways to carry out that mission – including feeding the poor, ministering to the sick and needy and seeking justice for the oppressed. Fair-minded observers who put aside stereotypes of evangelical Christians long enough to examine evangelical activities in the world quickly discover that they are doing all of those things (see some examples here: https://gobgr.org). The love of Christ compels them. Above all, however, the Great Commission command of Christ and the mission of God compel them. There is no artificial division between the Word of Christ and the love of Christ in authentic ministry.

“Every time Jesus sent out His disciples and apostles, He always told them to heal the sick and preach the gospel,” a missionary doctor said some years ago. “It’s not that we heal so that we can preach. … We heal and preach together in obedience to the commands of Jesus. It’s like a two-handled plow: You heal, you preach and you push forward – and God cuts the path so He can plant the seeds of the gospel through His power.”

It’s the gospel that gives hungry souls ultimate meaning.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board’s global correspondent.)
5/14/2014 9:46:07 AM by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



From Me to Them

May 13 2014 by David Jeremiah

Just as a frame of reference for this article, let’s step back from the American cultural forest and identify four distinct varieties of trees that have grown up in post-World War II America:
  • Baby Boomers: born from the mid-1940s to mid-1960s; grew up in a prosperous post-war society; sometimes referred to as the “Me” Generation.
  • Generation X: children of the Baby Boomers, born from the early 1960s to the late 1970s; raised in post-Vietnam, unsettled society; looking to find their way.
  • Generation Y: born from mid-1970s to early 2000s; raised in the early days of the digital-technology revolution; sometimes referred to as the “Millennials.”
  • Generation Z: born from early 1990s to late 2000s; raised with digital tools and toys; live a wholly connected lifestyle that transcends geography; digital information explosion has created awareness of and participation in causes at the local, national and international levels.

A Culture of causes

This culture of causes in which we live reinforces a solid biblical principle and causes us to evaluate our own contribution to causes. The principle is this: We do not live for ourselves. Our lives are to be others-focused. As those in whom God has made a deposit of His grace and the treasure of His gospel, we are obligated as stewards to be faithful to the causes of the Master.

Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) clearly teaches that we are accountable for the resources God has given us (to include time, talent and treasure). And the apostle Paul says that stewards have one overriding obligation: faithfulness (1 Corinthians 4:2). So if we have been blessed with resources, and our responsibility is to be faithful to God’s expectations, the logical question is, “What would God have us do?”

A Culture of Christ

This may disappoint you, but I’m not going to give you a list of causes to be involved in. However, I will say this: The more intimately we know the heart of God and spend time growing in awareness of His priorities, values and plans, the more likely we are to know how to invest our resources.

First, consider Jesus’ motivation for coming into the world: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45a). Those words of Jesus tell us immediately where our focus should be: on others. If we have been given a mission to go into all the world on His behalf, then we will go, like Him, with an others-centered focus. We will faithfully use the resources entrusted to us for the benefit of those Jesus came to serve.

Second, consider Jesus’ purpose: “For even the Son of Man [came] ... to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45b). Bound up in the word “ransom” is a Bible’s worth of understanding. Ransom is a price paid for those held captive to secure their freedom. So Christ came into the world for an eternal purpose – to free those held captive by Satan so they might be restored to a life of fellowship with their Creator not only during their tenure on earth but ultimately for all eternity. Christ did not come into the world to say, “Chin up, everyone! Things are getting better!” He did not come first as an example but as a Redeemer. And as His faithful stewards, eternal redemption must be the foundation of our concern for others.

Third, consider Jesus’ heart: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5). Jesus, who is God, literally put Himself in a subservient position. On purpose, He chose to invest Himself in meeting the needs of others when He came to earth. He sacrificially did without in order that others might be supplied.

Just from those three examples we can see a bit of the heart of God – surely enough to help us know how to narrow the focus of our own lives. God came to earth to serve others in a sacrificial manner that would have eternal, redemptive consequences for their lives – now and for eternity.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is the founder of Turning Point for God and pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. For more information on Turning Point, go to www.DavidJeremiah.org.)
5/13/2014 10:02:53 AM by David Jeremiah | with 0 comments



The privilege of praying for your pastor

May 12 2014 by Redunda Noble

Our church recently completed a study based on Thom Rainer’s eye-opening book I Am a Church Member. In the book, Rainer shared practical insight for developing the right attitude about the part we play as members of the Body of Christ. I breezed through the first few chapters with an air of superiority. As the wife of a pastor for more than 15 years, I was completely proud of myself for being a “model” church member. After all, I was already obeying most of the principles articulated in the book. I kept thinking, “It sure would be great if ‘brother and sister so-and-so’ read this book.” (Be honest. You know you have thought this too!)

I gleefully stood on my pedestal – until I got to chapter four.

The title, “I Will Pray for My Church Leaders,” hit me on the head like a ton of bricks, knocking me off my pedestal and down to my knees.

The moment I read the title, it struck me that I was the one who needed this book. I was not spending quality time daily in prayer for my pastor (who is my husband) and the other leaders of our church. (Bear with me while I confess.) I prayed daily like most Christians. I prayed for my family, my health, my needs, my wants, my desires, my struggles ... my, my, my. My. All about Me! Oh My! How selfish I was in my prayers! Nowhere in my prayers did I petition the Lord specifically for the needs of my pastor and leaders.

We mistakenly think our pastor doesn’t need our prayers because when we see him, he is in the pulpit, often wearing a tailored suit and always a smile. We never want to think that our pastors and leaders might be struggling and desperately need our prayers.

Rainer challenges us to pray five minutes a day for our pastor. Only FIVE minutes. Who doesn’t have five minutes, right?

Jesus is the Son of God; yet he understood the importance of prayer in ministry. In Luke 6:12, the Bible records Jesus going to a mountain to pray. He stayed there and prayed ALL NIGHT. As Christians, we should follow Jesus’ example by spending ample time in prayer. While most of us understand we should pray, we have difficulty finding the time to pray. After looking at my own prayer life, I found that I struggled in three areas:

Prioritize prayer

How often do we get up in the morning, get dressed, eat breakfast and rush out the door, certain that we will have time to pray later? But later never comes. By 10:30 p.m., I was exhausted from the busyness of the day, managing to whisper only a few words to the Lord before drifting off to sleep. To prioritize prayer, I had to prioritize my morning and designate a specific time to pray.

Learn what your pastor’s needs are. Pray for his needs the way you pray for your own. It does not matter when you pray as long as you do pray. Put a daily reminder in your smartphone and take the time to pray for your pastor.

Persevere in prayer

You will find that when you decide to pray regularly for your pastor and the leaders in your church, many things will challenge your commitment. You may choose to start with prayer early in the morning, but on the day you begin, the baby wakes up crying at the same time. You may decide to pray on your lunch break at work, but find that other employees constantly interrupt. You may plan to pray in the evening, but your child’s teacher sends extra homework that requires your help. Whatever the challenge, recognize that prayer honors God. Don’t give up. Although you may struggle in the beginning to pray, what joy you will find when you persist.

Prayer is a privilege

What is your attitude toward prayer? Do you see prayer as just another chore added to your to-do list? Attitudes are important to God. View prayer as a privilege. See it as your opportunity to spend time with the One who loves you most. Ask God to give you a desire to pray.

I have struggled to be consistent. But I find that as I continue to pray, my love for the Lord, His church, and my spiritual leaders grows deeper. I hope you find this to be your experience as well.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Redunda Noble leads a women’s Bible study, sings at church and serves alongside husband James Noble, pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn.)
5/12/2014 11:26:08 AM by Redunda Noble | with 0 comments



Mother’s Day: What your love does for your wife

May 9 2014 by Kathy Ferguson Litton, Baptist Press

As you live with your wife in a climate of understanding, your love will be demonstrative and tangible.
  • Your love will work hard to learn her ways.
(NOTE: I didn’t say understand her ways, because she doesn’t always understand herself.) You don’t need to be able to explain her, but actively study who she is, her unique personality, her love language and her soul. Know her wounds and vulnerabilities. Her spiritual life is the foundation of building intimacy and should be your top priority as a shepherd. When you learn her, you will be able to love, serve her and shepherd her well.
  • Your love will say, “You are my priority.”
People will look into your life as a man, father, pastor or community leader and pretty quickly assess your priorities. Do not underestimate this. People know how you spend your time. What do you do that clearly demonstrates she is your priority? People know the order of your priorities. So does she.
  • Your love will take the time to listen to her.
Yes, we wives ramble a bit. You are looking for the CliffsNotes version of our issues so that you may give us a quick fix. That is your preferred painless option. (Women, we would do ourselves a favor and edit details. Attention spans may wane.) Your wife feels very loved and significant when you make eye contact and engage her. You value her ideas. If you have small children, this item gets moved up higher on list.
  • Your love will provide the sacrificial leadership she longs for.
Ironically it’s a sad secret that it’s tempting to lead well at work or church but coast at home. And we get it. You come home tired, drained and wanting a respite from the demands of leadership. We want and can fill many gaps in the demands of your life, but it is not good for anyone if we get this area reversed even in a well-meaning way. Your kids will figure out pretty quickly that dad shepherds at work or church but not at home. Pastors, it’s a confusing signal to your children if you are bold in the pulpit but passive at home.
 
It must be hard to lead women. It has to be tricky. We probably send many confusing signals, but we want you to lead.
  • Your love will free her.
Your wife is mommy, mate, lover, CEO of day-to-day operations of your household enterprises, serves at church and community and perhaps works 40 hours a week elsewhere. What blows wind in her sails? (If you don’t know what blows wind in her sails, skip back to my first point.) Free her to do all she does. Encourage her to pursue life-giving relationships with other women, or give her space for refreshing experiences. If she has nothing to refresh or recharge herself, help her find such opportunities.
  • Your love will pursue personal holiness.
This should occur not because it’s your duty as a husband, but because of your critical, authentic and vibrant walk with Christ, and because your personal holiness is essential to your wife and the sanctity of your marriage. Your wife needs to see in you an authentic faith. Especially, you should demonstrate a strong sexual ethic, behaving appropriately with other women, resisting pornography and monitoring what you read, view and allow into your home.
 
I have been married to two men – the late Rick Ferguson and now Ed Litton. These are things I knew about these men – that they would struggle in their personal holiness like any other man and that they feared God.
 
Does your wife know that you genuinely, internally fear God? Such knowledge strengthens marital trust.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kathy Ferguson Litton is the North American Mission Board’s national consultant for ministry to pastors’ wives. Her husband, Ed Litton, is pastor of First Baptist North Mobile in Saraland, Ala.)
5/9/2014 12:40:11 PM by Kathy Ferguson Litton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Everything is in decline

May 8 2014 by John Bisagno, Baptist Press

Missiologists say the church may become unable to fulfill the Great Commission within 12 years. Hundreds of unfunded missionaries wait in Richmond. Pastors are quitting. Churches are closing. Islam is the fastest growing religion in America. Baptisms have spiraled downward for 14 years in a row. Our children are shot down in grade school. Gangs are the new family. Homosexuality is celebrated. Politicians are scandalized. Most marriages end in divorce, while more young adults choose to cohabitate. Terrorism threatens.

Answers?

The government hasn’t a clue. 

Do we?

You bet your boots we do. 

Society is comprised of millions of individuals. It can only be changed from the inside out, and nothing changes anything except the transformation of the heart by the unchanging power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Sadly, America is virtually devoid of gospel preaching. 

Jesus was seeker-friendly.

He intentionally drew people. He healed them. He fed them. And they crawled on their knees to touch the hem of His garment. With open arms and a great big smile, He said, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

If they don’t like stained glass and pipe organs, get a warehouse and bongo drums. If they can’t get in for the crowds, get a ladder and cut a hole in the roof. If you get out of church too late to make the cafeteria, break out those loaves and fishes. If the wedding reception goes flat, turn some water into wine. 

Do what it takes to get people to church. But don’t change the message when they get there. 

The Apostle Paul said, “I’ve become all things to all men that I might by all means win some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Whatever it takes – anything – everything. 

But he also said, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Are we ashamed of the Gospel? Do we worship the god of success? Is it about crowds or conviction? Success or salvation?

I fear we may have taken our seeker-friendly methods too far into seeker-friendly messages. 

The number one theme of the New Testament is the gospel of salvation, and understanding what it means includes understanding why you need it. They’ll never understand how good the Good News is until they understand how bad the bad news is. 

Jesus began His public ministry by contrasting the devastation of sin with the joy of salvation. His first sermonic words were, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

We need to preach the gospel. All of it:
  • What I’m saved from, and what I’m saved to.
  • What happens if I do, and what happens if I don’t.
I wonder if we’ve forgotten half the message, let alone the call to respond to it – right now. 

How long has it been since you’ve heard a sermon on:
  • The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
  • Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish (Luke 13:3).
  • Whosoever’s name was not written in The Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
  • The Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).
  • The unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:31).
  • Today if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts (Hebrews 3:7-8).
  • For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36)
The most seeker-friendly sermon ever preached was the Sermon on the Mount. It’s a classic. It’s the gold standard. It is the constitution of the Kingdom of God, and its introduction is a preamble of happiness. “The Beatitudes: Nine ways to be happy.” Advertise a nine-week sermon series on nine ways to be happy and you’ll pack ‘em in. 

The first words of the body of the sermon – Matthew 5:13, “You’re the salt of the Earth” – are at once a stirring challenge and beautiful compliment. 

The highpoint is the incomparably beautiful Lord’s Prayer in chapter 6. Beautiful. Inviting. 

The glorious conclusion of the sermon is the sweetest phrase ever penned, The Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12).

Does Jesus then simply pronounce the benediction, make the announcements and invite folks to the lobby for coffee? No. He gives the most strident, straightforward, in your face, get saved and do it right now invitation in the New Testament:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’“ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Whereupon He sets forth two options and demands that a choice be made.
  • Make the wise choice – the right choice: live, thrive and be blessed. “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).
  • Make the foolish choice – the wrong choice: fall, crash and burn. “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall” (Matthew 7:26-27).
I rest my case.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Bisagno is the retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Houston.)
5/8/2014 11:16:17 AM by John Bisagno, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Floyd: Putting his money where his mouth is

May 8 2014 by Tim Rogers, Guest Column

In 2006, many were pushing for elected leadership to come from churches that gave 10 percent of their undesignated funds to missions through the Cooperative Program (CP). The Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) was entertaining a motion to come before the convention calling for trustees of entities to be from churches that give 10 percent to the CP.
 
A small group met in Memphis calling for public repentance and holding trustees accountable to the convention’s sacred trust. This call was more loudly voiced by one of their own who was making a mockery of the trustee system by publicly releasing private information from International Mission Board (IMB) trustee meetings. The trustee responded by arguing the information, while private, should not have been and he felt vindicated by making it public.
 
These three unrelated squalls created the perfect storm in the months leading up to the annual meeting. Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Woodstock, Ga., was rumored to be in the running for president. However, Hunt contacted Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Springdale, Ark. (now Cross Church), and asked him to pray about being nominated. Floyd agreed and Hunt announced he was making the nomination. When Hunt made the announcement, bloggers went into action. Some complained that Floyd was hand-picked behind the scenes, and they were tired of the president being chosen by a select few.
 
An ad hoc committee of state convention executive directors planned to present nine recommendations on CP giving. The ninth recommendation called for a definition of the CP. It was not passed until 2007. It called for churches to give to CP through the state conventions. In 2008 Floyd was leading his church to give through the convention-approved definition of the CP.

With all of the talk about CP, someone looked at the Annual Church Profile (ACP) of Floyd’s church. It revealed that in 2005 the church reported undesignated gifts of $11,900,000 and forwarded $34,000 to CP. In fairness the church actually gave $222,000 to CP causes that year. The $34,000 was given through the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and nearly $200,000 was sent directly to the EC. This is a pattern many churches follow. But because Floyd’s church did not give through approved channels, it appeared to be much less. It seemed that Floyd’s nomination was doomed before the 2006 convention started.
 
Other candidates were placed before the convention. Frank Page was the go-to person for those who were disgruntled with the SBC. Regardless of the reasons behind the movements of the convention Floyd was defeated. I understand he was disappointed and discouraged about the misrepresentation of his church. He viewed this personal disappointment as God’s Will. It was not the season for him to be the convention’s president.
 
Because he loves missions and working with others to fulfill the Great Commission, Floyd stayed engaged and participated in the SBC. His prayer was just to be used as God saw fit.
 
Some quiet years from Floyd followed. He encouraged Hunt to pray about allowing his name to go before the convention as president. Hunt was elected in 2008 when Page’s term ended. Hunt’s crowning legacy focused on the Great Commission Resurgence, which called for leaders to increase CP giving and for state conventions to move to a 50/50 split. Floyd was tapped as the chairman of that committee. Their report to the convention in Orlando, Fla., had seven components. After the report was passed Floyd said he was going to reposition his church to give more to CP.
 
In 2011 Floyd led FBC Springdale to change her name to Cross Church. Records show that as early as 2008 he was leading the church to increase giving. That year they reported $14,700,000 in undesignated funds and forwarded $324,000 through the 2007-defined CP giving.
 
Within three years Floyd led his church to move from giving $34,000 through the state to giving $324,000. That is a huge increase. He also led the church that was giving $54,000 to Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions in 2005 to giving $107,000 in 2008. This is a significant increase and shows that Floyd was more committed to the SBC.
 
The record shows his heart for reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has made a conscious decision to do this through the SBC.
 
In 2012 the Cross Church budget was $15,900,000. Their CP gifts totaled $616,000. For this article I asked Floyd to forward to me the 2013 totals from his state’s records. According to the Arkansas records the church gave $716,826 through the state convention for CP causes. That amount should place Cross Church in the top 15 churches in CP giving. Floyd has led the church to invest major funds in church planting above their CP, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong gifts.
 
They are working through Send North America to advance church planting. In 2012 they mobilized 750 of their church to serve in mission projects in North America and around the world.
 
In summary, Floyd has led his church to increase their CP giving from $34,000 to $716,826 in less than 10 years. When was the last time one has seen that kind of increase? According to their 2013 figures Cross Church gave 5 percent of their undesignated funds to CP.
 
It is clear that Floyd has placed his money where his mouth is. He said he would increase his CP giving and he did. Wow, did he ever! Thank you, Ronnie Floyd for your leadership in giving and your leadership in prayer gatherings. I pray God will continue to use you in your endeavors as a leader in the SBC. Your leadership is uniting people, and you have led Cross Church in financing and finishing the task well.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Rogers is senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Indian Trail. R. Albert Mohler Jr. is planning to nominate Ronnie Floyd for SBC president during the annual meeting.)
5/8/2014 11:11:38 AM by Tim Rogers, Guest Column | with 0 comments



Made for intimacy, not promiscuity

May 5 2014 by Rob Pochek, Guest Column

I am a pastor, and I am concerned. Increasingly the dominant issues in my pastoral counseling sessions and inquiries from church members revolve around sexual issues. A mother finds porn on her son’s tablet. Parents are not sure how to respond to their child “coming out.” A wife contemplates divorce due to her husband’s indulgence in pornography.
 
Because I want to be better equipped to respond to these issues in a biblically informed and pastoral way, I recently attended the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) Summit on Human Sexuality in Nashville, Tenn. I anticipated the primary focus would be on the issue of same-sex marriage since this topic dominates much of the news. What I received instead was a well-rounded, biblically-based theological framework for applying the gospel to all matters related to human sexuality.

In reflecting upon the event, there are a few things that stand out to me, particularly as I consider how to apply the lessons to the flock to which I have been called.
 
The first subject that gripped my heart was the issue of pornography. Once relegated to seedy bookstores, back alley movie houses and “that” uncle’s garage, today pornography is as easy to access as a few keystrokes on a computer. And apparently, it is accessed often. The average age of the first viewing of hardcore pornography is 12-years-old. Twelve. That’s a sixth grader.
 
I had understood pornography as a struggle for many men and an increasing number of women. But, I had not realized the extent of its destruction. At the Summit, we learned about the global scourge of sex trafficking and the destruction of women for the sake of so-called entertainment. My heart broke hearing about the women in these films who are often beaten or drugged in order to “perform.” Afterwards they have to deal with the inevitable effects of the behavior they are forced into – sexually transmitted diseases.
 
Not only are the “performers” abused and mistreated, but the viewer is not exempt from the painful and inevitable results of consuming this “product.” Men who engage in pornography over long periods of time are often unable to experience a real-life, intimate relationship.
 
As a pastor my heart breaks at the thought of an entire generation of men (and women) who have been raised in a porn-saturated culture. When the debilitating effects of prolonged pornographic exposure are fully realized, it may be too late to recover genuine intimacy in human relationships. Indeed, we may be raising a generation that does not even know what it is like to experience a genuine, intimate human relationship. 
 
The second thing that gripped my heart was the way in which we have devalued marriage. By “we” I am not referring to those in our culture who approve of same-sex marriage. Rather, I mean those of us in the church who prioritize college education, job security and financial stability over God’s good gift of marriage. Consider how often we encourage our young adults to finish college and get a job before they consider marriage. The point is that we – evangelical Christians – have devalued marriage, and in so doing, we have sent a mixed message to our students. We rail against same-sex marriage, yet we treat marriage as a capstone of a life well lived, rather than a cornerstone to build a life upon. 
 
The final observation that stands out from the ERLC Summit is the need to speak with both conviction and kindness on matters of human sexuality. We speak with conviction because we have been given a message by God that we must share. It is not “our” message as if we had made it up. Fundamentally, God’s design for human relationships is neither culture specific nor culture limited, but it is a message that must be shared as concomitant to the gospel.
 
But we must also speak with kindness. Whether we are speaking to the man (or woman) caught up in pornography use, the parents of a child who has “come out” or those with whom we disagree on the issue of same-sex marriage, we must do so with a kindness that emanates from a heart that knows God’s grace is sufficient for their struggle, just as it is sufficient for our own. Indeed, there is no place for arrogance, condescension or a lack of empathy in such discussions.
 
Although my heart breaks for where our culture is headed regarding human sexuality, I am encouraged. I am encouraged that men like Dr. Russell Moore speak to these issues on behalf of Southern Baptists. I am encouraged that pastors like J.D. Greear, David Prince, Matt Carter, Jimmy Scroggins and many others speak with a consistent and helpful voice on the gospel and human sexuality. But, mostly, I am encouraged because God has woven human sexuality into our being in such a way that every deviation from God’s design for sexuality allows us an opportunity to point people to the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rob Pochek is the pastor of Raleigh Road Baptist Church in Wilson, N.C.)
5/5/2014 1:27:56 PM by Rob Pochek, Guest Column | with 0 comments



The church needs philosophers & philosophers need the church

May 2 2014 by Paul Gould, Baptist Press

“Who cares what Aristotle thinks about a severed hand,” an exasperated philosophy student retorted on a wintery night in a Midwestern university.

My lecture screeched to a halt. As the class stared at me, enjoying the showdown, the subtext of my student’s comment was not lost on them or me: “Aristotle’s view of substance provides me with no ‘real-world’ benefit, so it is useless knowledge.”

The student’s comment highlights a widely held misconception about the discipline of philosophy and those of us who like to think of ourselves as philosophers – philosophy provides no “worldly good,” no “non-cognitive benefit.”

Those of us who are both Christians and philosophers risk further marginalization, often viewed with suspicion by the church as well. Like Socrates and his uneasy relationship with Athens, Christian philosophers can be seen by the faithful as unwanted “gadflies” who ask annoying questions in Sunday School and cause doubt in the minds of young believers.

As we navigate an increasingly pragmatic university setting and the suspicious gaze of the church, permit me to plead my case: The church needs philosophers and philosophers need the church.

I offer three reasons why the church needs philosophers.

First, opposing perspectives to our faith – what we might call defeater beliefs – rear themselves in every day and age. Christian philosophers are well-suited to identify, dissect and rebut these defeater beliefs. In the fourth century, for example, a defeater belief for the pre-converted Augustine was the idea of there being an immaterial (divine) substance. It took the so-called Platonist books to open Augustine’s eyes to the reality of an unseen world of forms and substances.

All these centuries later, that debate seems largely irrelevant. Now, in 21st-century Western culture, prevalent defeater beliefs include the idea that God is a moral monster, that science has disproved God, that evil makes God’s existence unlikely, and that there are many paths to God. Christian philosophers are uniquely qualified to address the logic and philosophical underpinnings of such claims as well as the structure of arguments erected around such defeater beliefs. Given the rampant anti-intellectualism of our day, the reality is that all too often the layperson in the pew no longer is equipped to grapple with arguments mounted against Christianity by her adversaries. Neither are many pastors in the pulpit, especially given all the directions they are pulled.

The solution is not avoidance. Rather, it is a disciplined discipleship program that helps the average person in the pew think carefully about these challenges to orthodox faith, for which Christian philosophers can help.

Second, Christian philosophers can lead the way in spiritual formation and discipleship by highlighting the key role of the mind in loving God and man. As a culture, we are no longer guided by right thinking. We have shifted from being attentive to our feelings to being driven by them. But we are, as Aristotle puts it, rational animals, and in this entertainment-driven culture – a culture full of empty selves who mindlessly grope from one sensual experience to another – we betray our God-given identity. When Jesus stated that the greatest commandment is to love God with all one’s heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37), He was in effect saying, “Love Me with all of your being. Love Me in all the ways I have created you.”

Never – in Jesus’ mind or in Scripture – is there a splitting of head and heart; they are always meant to go together. Similarly, the apostle Paul puts the mind front and center in the process of spiritual formation when he urges believers to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Christian philosophers can help the church understand how to think well, and in thinking well, to live well under the banner of Christ.

Finally, Christian philosophers play a vital role in the contribution to “shalom” – human flourishing – of those within the church and in the broader culture. This may sound odd – how can teaching one to think well really make the world a better place? Isn’t it the engineer who builds bridges, the minister who feeds the poor, the politician who institutes programs to lift the downtrodden, and the lawyer who convicts the sex trafficker that make the world better? Yes! But, the engineer, minister, politician and lawyer all do so by virtue of their beliefs – their views on human nature, moral obligation, personal responsibility and vocation -– which are philosophical doctrines, one and all.

Knowledge about God, the world and self is the beginning of wisdom and provides the rails for faithful Kingdom service in a fallen world. Let us Christian philosophers help the church to awaken her curiosity, strengthen her conviction, inspire her creativity and bring clarity to her calling to be salt and light to the world.

At the same time....
Just as the church needs philosophers, we Christian philosophers need the church. We need to be reminded daily that western intellectual history is not our “real food.” To paraphrase Jesus, “Man does not live on Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant alone, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

We need to be reminded of the Great Commission. Reminded that Jesus, and not a solution to the problem of universals, is the world’s greatest need. Push us to live for Christ and experience His grace, that our life in Christ is more satisfying, more exhilarating than getting a book published, a journal article accepted, a good teaching evaluation or even coherently articulating an important idea.

We need to be daily pulled down from the heights of the Areopagus, where philosophical problems lurch around every corner, and be bothered by the mundane problems of relating with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We need good biblical exposition and sound theology to remind us of the limits of our discipline and that reason provides us with a tool, but not the only tool, as we wrestle with ideas and their implications. And we need the prayers and encouragement of our fellow believers in Christ. Our temptation is to go it alone, to be disconnected from the broader body of Christ. Lead us to Christ, keep us from intellectual snobbery, remind us of our need for each other.

If history teaches us anything, it is that people are fickle. We are too easily tossed to and fro by the winds of popular culture, base appetites and short memories. We need to take the long view, and now, because of the influence of prominent Christian philosophers such as the late Dallas Willard, alongside Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, it is a good time to remind the church of the usefulness, indeed the necessity, of philosophy in service to Christ.

So, what did I say to my erstwhile student who thought learning Aristotle’s theory of substance was a waste of time? I told her that Aristotle was interested in understanding what unites things – what it is that makes people whole people, or trees whole trees, or the cosmos one cosmos. He taught the importance of finding unity to his student Alexander. Years later, this student became a warrior-king and set out to unite the world under his authority. This king, known to us as Alexander the Great, was moved by the idea of unity – an idea he learned from his teacher and misapplied to geo-political matters – to conquer and unite most of the known world of his day under his leadership. Ideas have consequences; that is why we ought to care about Aristotle’s view of a severed hand.

In my mind that night, I had won a small victory for philosophy. I had demonstrated the importance of ideas to this student and to my class. Minimally, philosophy helps us to analyze ideas and spell out their implications. Some ideas are great. Some are not. Some are harmless and some can be deadly. But all matter.

Reflecting on that night, I now realize I should have gone further. For at the end of the human quest to make sense of our universe, we will find many of those great ideas of the western world – goodness, truth, beauty, justice – and unity. And standing before every great idea is Jesus Christ Himself, in whom are “hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). The world’s truly great ideas were God’s ideas first! And the church, the bride of Christ, must become experts at identifying and pursuing ideas that are good, true and beautiful, for in doing so, we are running hard after God. Help us Christian philosophers serve the church in this endeavor, as the church leads us.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Paul Gould, on the Web at www.paul-gould.com, is assistant professor of philosophy and Christian apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He is the editor of four books including Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J.P. Moreland (Moody 2014) and blogs at www.paul-gould.com. This article first appeared at The Gospel Coalition website, www.TGC.org.)
5/2/2014 11:36:03 AM by Paul Gould, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The ‘C’ word

May 1 2014 by Terry Dorsett, Baptist Press

I have been blessed to be a fairly healthy person and rarely have gone to the doctor over the years. I walk a lot and enjoy hiking the mountain near my home in Hartford, Conn. Some people think I am 10 years younger than my actual age.

Imagine my shock upon learning I have cancer.

Recently I had to go through a battery of medical tests to check out something that seemed minor. Returning to the doctor to hear the results, I assumed he would say everything was fine. Somewhere in the conversation he used the “C” word for the first time. As he kept talking, I realized what he had said and stopped him mid-sentence. “Are you saying I have cancer?” was my shocked question. “Yes, but we think we caught it in the early stages,” he replied.

And suddenly, my whole life changed.

In the weeks since then, I have been poked, prodded, stuck and tested more times than the rest of my life combined. I have had to drink gross-tasting liquids to prepare for various procedures, swallow more pills than I imagined possible, and meet with doctor after doctor after doctor. Then came major surgery to have part of my colon removed, five days in the hospital and, now, a lengthy recovery at home.

Being a planner who schedules out his life months in advance, this has played havoc with my carefully-made plans. I had to cancel my participation in two back-to-back important conferences and adjust a whole month on the calendar to make time for recovery.

Though I did all that I could to prepare, I became extremely mindful that I was not in control of this situation – which makes the whole experience overwhelming since I like to be in control. But one thing that keeps coming back to me is that God has this whole thing under control. God has not had to cancel any meetings or change any plans because this whole thing was on His schedule since before the foundation of the world.

Everything God does has a purpose and a plan; therefore, I know this is part of that purpose and plan. Romans 8:28 continues to come to mind: “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” All things, even cancer, work together for our good when we love God and are following His purposes for our lives.

I do love God, not because I am some super spiritual person but because God first loved me (Romans 5:8, John 3:16). In God’s wonderful grace He called me to Himself (Ephesians 1:4-5, 2 Thessalonians 2:13). How could I do anything but love God back once He opened my eyes to His amazing grace, love, forgiveness and divine plan?

Since I love God and am called to His purposes, then God has committed Himself to making sure that everything that happens in my life ultimately works out for good. That brings a lot of comfort and peace into this very chaotic situation.

Though there may be pain in the process, ultimately this will all work out for good. I do not know exactly what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future, so I face cancer, and all that follows, with a confidence that it will be good.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Terry Dorsett is a church planting catalyst with the North American Mission Board based in Hartford, Conn., and the author of several books including Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church.)
5/1/2014 12:13:26 PM by Terry Dorsett, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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