November 2014

A creed ‘without compromise’

November 26 2014 by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press

Here’s a creed worth adopting – if you dare.
 
As a follower of Christ: I am called not to comfort or success but to obedience. Consequently, my life is to be defined not by what I do but by who I am.
 
Henceforth: I will proclaim His name without fear, follow Him without regret and serve Him without compromise.
 
Thus: To obey is my objective, to suffer is expected, His glory is my reward.
 
Therefore: To Christ alone be all power, all honor and all glory, that the world may know. Amen!




 
 

Those 83 words challenge a number of things we hold dear as modern Americans: personal independence, success, comfort, unlimited options. They comprise the creed, which is first memorized, then lived out, by students accepted into Fusion, a challenging year of mission training and action for college-age Southern Baptists.
 
Fusion, now in its 10th year, is a partnership between the International Mission Board (IMB) and Midwestern Baptist College, the undergraduate program at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
 
Fusion puts students through far more than an academic overview of missions. They spend the fall semester living and studying in a close discipleship community, participating in specialized training programs, doing ministry and evangelism in the Kansas City area – and holding each other accountable to their commitment. For the spring semester, they head overseas to join IMB missionaries in various locations. Fusion teams are trained to go to the least-reached people groups, so they often travel to physically challenging or high-security areas around the world.
 
Wishy-washy believers need not apply. Well, they can apply but they won’t stay wishy-washy for long.
 
Gwen Noonan* found that out for herself when she signed up. Noonan, now 20, entered the Fusion program in the fall of 2012. She was an enthusiastic 18-year-old from California searching for exciting ways to serve the Lord. In Fusion training, she soon learned that God seeks more than our service; He seeks our whole being.
 
“During our contingency training, we were put into scenarios that felt so real – even though they weren’t – that I really had to ask myself whether or not the gospel is worth my life,” she said. “Is Jesus, really knowing Him, worth all that I have to go and glorify Him in the nations?”
 
She also learned about Karen Watson, whose words and life helped inspire the Fusion creed.
 
Watson, another Californian, was one of four Southern Baptist relief workers killed by unknown gunmen in Iraq in 2004. Watson was a former law enforcement officer known both for her toughness and her passion for God. She knew the risks of working in Iraq and had willingly returned there shortly before her death after several previous close calls with death.
 
“When God calls there are no regrets,” Watson wrote in a now-famous letter found in a sealed envelope marked “Open in case of death.”
 
She left the letter with her pastor when she departed for the Middle East in 2003. “I tried to share my heart with you as much as possible, my heart for the nations,” Watson wrote. “I wasn’t called to a place; I was called to Him. To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory my reward, His glory my reward.”
 
Fusion training confronted Noonan with spiritual reality. “Learning more about Karen’s story helped me realize His Glory really is my reward and really is worth it,” she said. “Knowing the sweetness of Jesus even in the midst of these hard things, knowing Jesus even in His sufferings, was something I would be willing to lay my life down for.”
 
Noonan’s commitment deepened when she went to her mission assignment overseas, which involved developing friendships with Muslims in order to share the gospel. It wasn’t easy, but she found Christ already was there.
 
“I went through a time of loneliness,” she remembered. “Jesus was just so faithful during that time, and He used the creed to encourage my heart. [He said] ‘I am so worth it. I have suffered for you and to obey My Father. Abide in Me and know the sweetness of laying your life down.’“
 
During that time Noonan, a musician, also completed a song based on the Fusion creed that she had begun writing during training. When she returned to the United States, she recorded “The Creed” and participated in the making of a video featuring the song.
 
This year, Noonan has become a Fusion “advocate,” one of the alumni who return to help prepare the next generation of Fusion trainees – not only for their overseas assignments, but for a lifetime as disciples who make disciples. In January, 59 people now in Fusion training anticipate going in teams to North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia to glorify God. Noonan will lead a team of three young women back to the area where she served last year.
 
Her reward? His glory.
 
*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent.)

11/26/2014 12:13:52 PM by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Ferguson and the path to peace

November 25 2014 by Russell D. Moore, ERLC President

The mood in Ferguson, Missouri, is tense, after a grand jury decided against indicting a police officer for the killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown. The tension ought to remind us, as the church, that we are living in a time in which racial division is hardly behind us. That reality ought to motivate us as citizens to work for justice, but also as the church to seek to embody the kingdom of Christ.
 
We haven’t as of yet sorted through all the evidence the grand jury saw and we don’t know precisely what happened in this nightmarish incident. What we do know is that the Ferguson situation is one of several in just the past couple of years where white and black Americans have viewed a situation in starkly different terms. White Americans tend, in public polling, to view the presenting situations as though they exist in isolation, dealing only with the known facts of the case at hand, of whether there is evidence of murder. Black Americans, polls show, tend to view these crises through a wider lens, the question of whether African-American youth are too often profiled and killed in America. Whatever the particulars of this case, this divergence ought to show us that we have a ways to go toward racial reconciliation.
 
One of the things I’ve learned over the past year is that nothing brings out more hate mail, nothing, than when I say that too many black kids are being shot in America. Often this hate mail is accompanied by the sort of neo-Confederate rhetoric that I would have thought would have died out, at least in its explicit form, a long, long time ago. That’s just mail, with no real harm. I cannot imagine what it would be to worry about the physical safety of my sons. We have come a long way toward racial justice in this country, but we shouldn’t be deceived. The old zombie of Jim Crow still moves about.
 
So what should we do? In the public arena, we ought to recognize that it is empirically true that African-American men are more likely, by virtually every measure, to be arrested, sentenced, executed, or murdered than their white peers. We cannot shrug that off with apathy. Working toward justice in this arena will mean consciences that are sensitive to the problem. But how can we get there when white people do not face the same experiences as do black people?
 
The answer for the Body of Christ starts with a robust doctrine of the church lived out in local congregations under the lordship of Christ. The reason white and black Americans often view things so differently is because white and black Americans often live and move in different places, with different cultural lenses. In the church, however, we belong to one another. We are part of one Body.
 
The reason African-Americans tend to speak out against racial profiling and disparate sentencing is because often they can imagine their own sons or brothers or nephews in that place. As those in Christ, we have the same family dynamic at work, regardless of whether we are black or white, Jew or Gentile. In the church, a black Christian and a white Christian are brothers and sisters. We care what happens to the other, because when one part of the Body hurts, the whole Body hurts.
 
Consciences are not simply shaped by ideas. They are shaped by affections. As sociologist Robert Nisbet pointed out last century, soldiers aren’t motivated to fight chiefly by the patriotic speeches of their commanders but by their sense of unity and camaraderie with their fellow fighters. They are a band of brothers. The same should be true, except infinitely more so, within the church. That’s why the early church saw to it that they listened to the Greek widows who felt ignored in the distribution of food (Acts 6), and why the largely Gentile churches were included in an offering for the relief of the church in Jerusalem.
 
In order to get there, we will need churches that are not divided up along carnal patterns of division—by skin color or ethnicity or economic status. We will need churches that reflect the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10) in the joining together of those who may have nothing else in common but the image of God, the blood of Christ, and the unity of the Spirit. When we know one another as brothers and sisters, we will start to stand up and speak up for one another.
 
That doesn’t mean that every situation will have an immediate resolution. We will still live in a fallen world, in which the justice system will sometimes discover wrongdoing and sometimes won’t. But it will mean that we will go a long way toward reflecting in our churches the united kingdom of Christ more than divided states of America.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the Southern Baptist Convention. This article was taken from Moore’s personal blog, Moore to the Point.)

11/25/2014 12:44:20 PM by Russell D. Moore, ERLC President | with 0 comments



Thanksgiving: Gratitude completes the circle

November 25 2014 by Mike Glenn, LifeWay/Baptist Press

I was trained to write thank-you notes. Whenever someone gave me a gift or showed me an act of kindness, my mother would sit me down and watch as I wrote my thank-you note.
 
The penmanship had to be up to standard; the wording precise and sincere. Now, if someone gives me a gift, I can't enjoy it until I write a thank-you note.
 
Recently, my mom came to Nashville for some medical treatment. For part of her regimen, she had 28 straight days of radiation treatments for an acoustic neuroma. On most of those days, friends from my church picked her up and took her to Vanderbilt, and after her appointment they would usually go out to lunch. My mom thought she was a celebrity.
 
And I wrote a lot of thank-you notes: "Thank you for the kindness you have shown my mother. Your gift of hospitality will not soon be forgotten."
 
As I wrote those notes, I noticed something was different. I wasn't just writing notes because they were socially expected. I was writing to my friends. In some mysterious way, writing each note acknowledging their acts brought me closer to each person.
 
I have been pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church just south of Nashville for more than 20 years. I know these people. I know about the pressures on their time. I know what it meant for them to give up several hours to help my mom. So, when I wrote the notes, it ended up bringing me a little closer to those who had given us one of the most expensive gifts of all – their time. That's what gratitude does. It brings you back to the giver.
 
In Luke 17, Jesus healed 10 lepers by telling them to go show themselves to the priests to be declared clean so they could rejoin their communities. As the 10 began to run home, one of them circled back and thanked Jesus for healing him. Jesus was amazed. All 10 were cleansed, yet only one – a foreigner at that – came back to say thanks. Jesus said something very interesting to the man: "Your faith has made you whole."
 
Wait a minute. Hadn't all 10 been cleansed? Yes.
 
But only one was made whole? That's right.
 
Is there a difference between being made whole and being healed? Jesus used two different words in His conversation. There's one word for "healing" and another word for "whole." The word for "whole" is sozo. It's the Greek root word for "salvation" and gives this passage a new meaning. Can a person be healed but not saved?
 
Of course. My knowing that Jesus heals doesn't necessarily mean I surrender my life to Him as my Lord. Gratitude is the moment when we celebrate the gift and the Giver. Gratitude completes the circle by returning in thanks to the Giver.
 
An ungrateful life won't bring us back to Christ. We take in the good things around us and use them as if we deserved them. We take our lives, our relationships and our resources for granted. We go through the day and miss the everyday miracles in front of us. We never seem to notice the wonder of it all. The seasons change, the rains fall, the earth turns on its axis, and we rarely think about how finely tuned our world has to be in order to work.
 
When we take it all for granted, we never say thanks. Because we never say thanks, we never come back to Christ, and because we never come back to Christ, we never hear the rest of His conversation with us.
 
When a lover gives a gift to the beloved, the gift is a symbol of the lover giving himself. Without the love of the lover in the gift, the gift has no meaning.
 
Every gift we receive from Christ is saturated with His love for us. It's the relationship – not the gift – that has meaning. In returning to say thanks, we remember that it's Christ – not the gift – that matters. Gratitude completes the circle.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Mike Glenn is senior pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tenn., and executive editor of Mature Living, where this article first appeared. Mike Glenn's blog is at mikeglennonline.com.)

11/25/2014 12:40:35 PM by Mike Glenn, LifeWay/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Thanksgiving’s empty chairs

November 24 2014 by Michael J. Brooks, Baptist Press

I remember my boyhood pastor saying that Christmas always had a tinge of sadness since it was the time his father died. Little did I realize for Donna and me the same kind of memories would materialize around both Thanksgiving and Christmas.
 
It was Thanksgiving 1992 and we sat at the table with my in-laws in Birmingham, Ala. My father-in-law, Robert Bell, always a good-humored man, joked that afternoon about getting older. He’d been forgetting things and laughed that he’d missed his cup while trying to pour coffee a few days before.
 
A few weeks later the medical tests came back and revealed a brain tumor. He died that summer.
 
The next Thanksgiving, my mother talked about her medical ailments. She hadn’t felt well for some time. Still not feeling well at Christmas, she had to go lie down in the middle of our dinner. My wife and sister-in-law insisted on taking her to the emergency room.
 
The doctor found a spot in her lungs and suggested she go to a larger hospital as soon as possible. The doctors at St. Vincent’s in Birmingham found that cancer had started in her right kidney, had traveled to her lungs and possibly to her brain. She died in only seven weeks.
 
So, this Thanksgiving, while we enjoy family and friends, many of us think about those who won’t be there. But in our prayers, we can be grateful that God loaned us some special people along the way and enriched our lives through them.
 
As the apostle Paul wrote to his Philippian friends, “Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God” (Philippians 1:3, The Message Bible).
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Brooks is pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala., and adjunct instructor of speech at Jefferson State Community College in Hoover.)

11/24/2014 12:23:41 PM by Michael J. Brooks, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The gritty reality of freedom

November 20 2014 by J. Randy Forbes, Baptist Press

The American government is rooted in the fundamental truth that all are created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our Constitution was uniquely crafted as a democracy designed to protect us from the natural human impulse to crowd out those with whom we disagree.
 
Freedom was won with blood and sacrifice and has been continually defended with the same, but preserving it for future generations requires more than just physical defense. Each generation must be taught anew what our freedoms cost and why we must defend them for everyone.
 
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
 
The first clause of the First Amendment was born out of a deeply divided approach to religious freedom in the American colonies. Some colonies, like Pennsylvania, were founded with an open invitation to people from all religious traditions to be free to live out their faith without restraint.
 
Others had government-established churches consistent with many European traditions. In Virginia, citizens who were not members of the Anglican church could not hold public office, and religious leaders who dissented were required to notify the government and obtain a license before they could preach. The government held complete power over the amount and degree of religious toleration for dissenters.
 
This changed in Virginia in 1786, when the Virginia Assembly passed the Statute for Religious Freedom. Authored by Thomas Jefferson, this legislation protected the rights of citizens to freely profess and maintain their religious beliefs, and it became the model for the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.
 
Since the ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the government has been prohibited from interfering with what is taught in churches. It has also been prohibited from restricting an individual’s ability to fully participate in public life simply because of what he or she believes.
 
Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.
 
The founding of the American colonies brought with it the heritage of government censorship through the use of licensing orders for publications – censorship which poet John Milton opposed in his famous publication, “Areopagitica.” Early Americans knew all too well the dangers of a government empowered with the ability to silence speech, so special protection was provided to restrain such censorship.
 
Protections for speech on issues of public concern, including religious, social and political commentary, have been historically robust. Yet each generation has been tested in their commitment to protecting even the unpopular speech amid arguments that a social good would be achieved through silencing it.
 
Congress shall make no law ... abridging ... the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
 
The ability to express an idea is virtually useless without the freedom to associate with others who share that view. As the Supreme Court reinforced in 1984, protecting personal bonds that cultivate shared ideals and beliefs from “unwarranted state interference therefore safeguards the ability independently to define one’s identity that is central to any concept of liberty.”
 
Whether through churches, nonprofits, businesses, organizations or political parties, our ability to organize around and act on shared beliefs and ideas is fundamental.
 
Though each clause of the First Amendment protects a different freedom, there is a common denominator. Each clause protects the ability to act, reflecting that our exercise of these freedoms cannot reasonably be limited to an idea but must also encompass the way in which each American lives their lives in step with those ideas. The Constitution does not protect the right not to be offended by the expression or exercise of another point of view.
 
The government is obviously and explicitly restrained from infringing on our freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly – restrictions as obvious as the historical examples laid out here would have a difficult time surviving in modern American courts.
 
But attacks on our First Amendment rights are likely to be much more subtle, and restrictions on these freedoms in the name of tolerance or social benefit, while less obvious, are no more constitutional than their 18th-century ancestors.
 
The gritty reality of protecting freedom is this: It is hard work because a true commitment to defending these freedoms for all means you will need to defend the rights of others to express and live by views with which you may greatly disagree. Americans do not check their freedom at the door when they leave their home or place of worship and enter the public sphere.
 
We live in a country whose laws have historically sought to respect freedom and diversity, and our Constitution has always had robust protections for all Americans to live and work by their convictions. Yet we now are facing another test of how seriously we take these freedoms.
 
The question is, Will we rise as a nation to this challenge, or will we shrink from protecting these rights for everyone because our stand may come with an unpopular cost? Are these rights the prize of citizenship, or will we be asked to surrender them as the price of citizenship? To succeed, we must first accept the gritty reality of protecting freedom.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - J. Randy Forbes represents the 4th Congressional District of Virginia and is a member of Great Bridge Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Va.)

11/20/2014 11:33:18 AM by J. Randy Forbes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Our obligation to the nations: gospel & Great Commission

November 18 2014 by David Platt, Guest Column

Imagine over 6,000 people groups – spanning billions of individual people – who have yet to even hear that God loves them. Some of them have never even heard the name of Jesus.
 
Meanwhile, Jesus has given us, as His followers, a clear command: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, HCSB).
 
We call this command the “Great Commission” and the gospel the “good news” of what God has done in Christ. We owe this gospel to the world. As Paul said in Romans 1:14, we are “obligated” to tell the nations this good news. Believers this side of heaven owe the gospel to lost men and women this side of hell.
 
But do we really believe Jesus was serious in His commission to us? And do our actions, our decisions, our use of resources and our lives show that we are serious about getting the gospel to people who have never heard it?
 
“The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time,” Christian theologian Carl Henry said.
 
In order to get the gospel to people all over the planet on time, the [International Mission Board (IMB)] is focused on exalting Christ, mobilizing Christians, serving the church and completing the Great Commission.
 

Exalting Christ

More than anything else, we want to exalt Jesus Christ in everything we say, think and do. Jesus must be at the center of any mission strategy. After all, the beauty of the Great Commission is that Christ promises to be the One who will accomplish this mission through us. “Remember,” He said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, HCSB).
 
We exalt Christ when we trust His Word. God’s Word is the authority for what we believe and how we operate. Our aim in missions is not to come up with plans and ask God to bless them, but to align with the plan He has already promised to bless. That plan is to make disciples and multiply churches in all nations, and we exalt Christ when we obey His plan.
 
More than we want our own lives, we want the glory of Christ among all nations. We’re captivated by a vision of Him high and lifted up, receiving the praise He is due from all the peoples of the earth. His exaltation is what drives us in our mission.

 
Mobilizing Christians

In order to exalt Christ, we must see our lives as uniquely designed and ultimately blessed for this purpose. The reason why we have breath, and the reason why we have the gospel, is to make His grace and His glory known to the ends of the earth. That means that global mission is not a compartmentalized program in the church for a select few who are called to that. Instead, global mission is the purpose for which each one of us was created.
 
Throughout the history of IMB, 20,000 missionaries have been sent out – and we praise God for that! But we need 20,000 right now. And our task is too great not to be thinking like that. Such thinking is not idealistic. It’s imperative.
 
IMB desires to help followers of Christ with different skills and gifts, in different locations, with different jobs, all realizing that we have a role to play in the global mission of God.
 

Serving the Church

Biblically, the local church is the agent that God is going to use to accomplish the Great Commission. Therefore, our role at the IMB is to come alongside local churches to equip, encourage and empower local churches to complete this global task. We believe pastors are the primary global missions strategists – pastors who know they are created for this global mission and who will lead their church for the sake of global missions. IMB exists to help pastors fan a flame for God’s global glory in every local church.
 
Throughout the New Testament, we see churches sending missionaries, and we want to come alongside churches in order that they might do the same. Then, as churches send missionaries, the IMB exists to help the local church shepherd these brothers and sisters who are serving on the global mission field. We want to help churches care for their missionaries spiritually, emotionally, relationally and physically.
 
The force of over 40,000 churches working together specifically to take the gospel to unreached peoples is a powerful picture, to say the least! As churches send and shepherd missionaries to make disciples and multiply churches around the world, we begin to realize God’s plan for making His glory known among the nations.
 

Completing the Great Commission

All of the above means that the goal of the IMB is clear: we want to be a part of the accomplishment of the Great Commission. With tens of thousands of churches, we can play a significant part of reaching every single unreached people group with the gospel. I long to see this reality. I live to see this reality. I would love to be part of the generation that ultimately sees all nations reached with the gospel. Yet if I don’t see that day in my lifetime, I want to die trying.
 
As breathtaking as Southern Baptists mission work has been through the ages, I’m convinced that God has so much more for us. This is a critical time for the SBC and for the IMB. But let’s be clear. We are not fighting for the survival of our convention or our missions agencies. No, we’re fighting for the day when the IMB is needed no more because disciples have been made and churches have been multiplied in every nation.
 

Together in praying, giving

During this season of concentrated giving for international missions, a force of nearly 16 million Baptists has the opportunity to petition God with requests related to specific missionaries around the world, and to give to increase that force of missionaries serving in the world.
 
When you pray for specific missionaries, you are pleading to God for the [lost] people ... they will encounter.
 
Further, when you give through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, you are fueling and sustaining a missions movement with eternal ramifications. This is a mission worth praying for, and this is a mission worth giving to.
 
So let’s join together to exalt Christ as we work together to complete His Great Commission.
 
Let’s ask the people around us: Will you join me in this effort to reach the unreached with the gospel, in order that they might hear the gospel, believe it and give God the glory due Him? And let’s ask ourselves: With the individual gifts God has given me, how can I mobilize more people to be more engaged in praying, giving and going for the sake of global mission?
 
May God use your church, your life and our partnership together in the gospel to reach the nations in the days ahead for the glory of His great name!
 
For information about how you can get involved, visit imb.org/now.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Platt serves as IMB president.)

11/18/2014 9:28:14 AM by David Platt, Guest Column | with 0 comments



A place of grace for prayer

November 17 2014 by Ralph Tone, Baptist Press

My daughter has been serving God overseas for many years. When we see her after a long absence, it’s usually at an airport. When we say goodbye after a short visit, it’s usually at an airport.

We’ve started an airport tradition. We call it the Great Commission Prayer Corner. It began one day at the Nashville airport on a brown bench just outside security. There were pictures on the wall of coffee from Africa and Central America. It was a quiet corner in the midst of a sea of travelers.

A long flight awaited her followed by a quick plunge into the deep, turbulent waters of a distant world, and we had much to pray about. After we prayed together we watched as she went through security and headed to her gate.

Now, whenever I’m at the Nashville airport, I head for our “Great Commission Prayer Corner.” There are no signs or directions, but it doesn’t matter because I know the place by heart. These memorable places can only be found by heart.

The pictures from Africa and Central America are still there, and my two or three minutes of prayer on that brown bench for my daughter are rich. It is a special place.

At the Phoenix airport our Great Commission Prayer Corner is a nondescript round metal table under a WWI fighter hanging from the ceiling. Prayer has made that unremarkable place a special place as well. Any old place can be transformed by His grace. It’s not that the place itself is so special, as if it were a shrine where we lay flowers and light candles. It is the God we meet there that is special. It is He we venerate – not a space or place.

The Israelites gave these God-meeting places names. Jacob, for example, baptized his ordinary place transformed by God’s grace “Bethel,” which means house of God (Genesis 28:10-21).

Where is your memorable God Meeting Place? Is it the lawn in front of the kindergarten where you knelt and prayed for your little girl on her first day of school? Maybe it’s that kitchen table where you led your son in prayer to receive Jesus Christ.

Now, when you drive by that school or sit at that table, you cannot help but reach out in prayer for your child again.

Any old place can be a special place if we meet God there. And the truly remarkable thing is that God is in every place at all times. The place where you are. Right now. God is there. Right now. Why not take a moment and visit with Him. Invite those you’re with to join you. You just might discover a new favorite place, transformed by His grace. Thank you, Lord, for making any old place a place of grace.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ralph Tone is a Phoenix-based LifeWay church partner and blogs at ralphtone.com.)

11/17/2014 3:28:38 PM by Ralph Tone, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The rise & fall of walls

November 14 2014 by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press

Walls of the mind and heart are harder to tear down than walls of brick and stone.
 
The fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago brought great hopes of a new birth of spiritual and political freedom, not only in the communist orbit but around the world.
 
In many ways, those hopes were realized. Old tyrannies began to crumble. The Cold War ended after more than a generation of East-West conflict. Churches and believers long imprisoned by persecution and fear were released into the sunlight of liberty.
 
The collapse of the Soviet Union followed the glorious opening in Berlin. Waves of Christian workers from the West flooded into Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics to assist their brothers and sisters in the faith. An exciting era of evangelism and church planting began.
 
That era continues, despite the turmoil that has followed Soviet communism’s demise.
 
“The wall was an outward symbol of an inward reality,” Mark Edworthy, IMB strategy leader for Europe, told IMB writer Nicole Lee. “Communism had erected a spiritual barrier with its incessant denial of God’s existence and its cycle of cruelty. Spiritually, we eagerly took up a hammer and chisel to work against that greater barrier.” A quarter-century later, “we can see greater trophies than stone and mortar as the Lord has continued to build His church throughout the former Soviet sphere.”
 
But believers are working with urgency in Eastern Europe, Lee reported, “because no one knows how long the door to some of these countries will remain open. The ongoing war in Ukraine highlights the fact that, although the Cold War is over, communism and other secular philosophies are still at work.”
 
The social and economic chaos of the immediate post-Soviet years led to yearning – in Russia, at least – for a “strong hand” at the helm, which has resulted in new tensions with the West in recent years. Those tensions are pushing the world to the “brink of a new Cold War,” former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned at a Nov. 8 event in Berlin marking the wall’s fall. Gorbachev, whose reforms helped hasten the end of the Soviet empire, criticized global powers for failing to work together to end conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East and Ukraine.
 
For now, open ministry continues.
 
As a Christian worker based in Russia put it, “We really don’t see any comprehensive political pressure that hinders the advance of the gospel. Materialism and consumerism have replaced communism.” Still, he added, “Our time might be short. Have we planted an apostolic burden among Russian church leaders? There are some who [are passionate about reaching the lost] but we need many more.”
 
The message is one that has been repeated again and again throughout history: There are no guarantees – except for the presence and sovereignty of the Lord. Walls may fall, while others rise. In the political realm, the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing occurred in 1989, the same year the Berlin Wall came down. Yet the Chinese church, which suffered one of its darkest hours during the savage persecution of 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, continues to grow in size, vitality and passion for global mission.
 
“God may seem silent on occasion. At other times, people simply don’t trouble to hear his voice,” Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of history at Baylor University, noted in Christianity Today. “As an example, we might look at the experience of China, which over the past two millennia has remained the world’s most populous nation. The story of Chinese Christianity is a recurrent cycle of mighty boom years followed by what seemed like total annihilation at the time, an obliteration so absolute that on each occasion, it was quite clear that the church could never rise again.
 
“That cycle has occurred five times to date since the ninth century,” Jenkins wrote. “On each occasion, the Chinese church has reemerged far more powerful than at its previous peak. Each successive ‘nevermore’ proved to be strictly temporary.”
 
Today, the very existence of the church in the Middle East, the cradle of the Christian faith, seems threatened by the advance of Islamic extremists. But God will not leave Himself without a witness.
 
“Even when institutional churches vanish, believers persist in many different forms,” Jenkins writes. “As Anatoly Lunacharsky, the frustrated Soviet minister of education, complained in 1928, ‘Religion is like a nail: The harder you hit it, the deeper it goes into the wood.’ Sometimes it goes in so deep, you can’t even see it.”
 
One day that nail reappears, stronger than ever.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Erich Bridges is a global correspondent with the International Mission Board.)

11/14/2014 12:22:51 PM by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Mormonism: Joseph Smith & polygamy – a teachable moment

November 13 2014 by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press

Does it make any difference that Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), married as many as 40 women, some of whom already were married and one who was only 14?
 
Smith’s marital history has been the subject of much debate, but until the Mormon Church acknowledged the founding prophet’s multiple wives in a recent essay, it had maintained that Smith was happily married to one woman.
 
The essay explains that Smith was a reluctant polygamist, agreeing to multiple marriages only after an angel threatened him with a sword. Further, the essay notes that Smith was restoring the “ancient principles” of biblical prophets like Abraham, who took secondary wives.
 
The church disavowed plural marriages in 1890 under pressure from the U.S. government, although some LDS sects continue to practice it.
 
As some Mormon bloggers have commented, it’s good for the church to acknowledge as factual what any person capable of a Google search can discover. But a more important point is that the church attempts to appeal to scripture in admitting the inconvenient truth of Smith’s polygamy.
 
This is precisely where we have an opportunity to urge our Mormon friends to revisit the Bible, which LDS theology and practice relegate to a back seat behind the Book of Mormon and other church documents.
 
And for evangelical Christians, who see the gay marriage debate sliding down the slippery slope toward the redefinition of marriage, which includes multiple marriages, we should ask ourselves whether the Bible truly endorses the taking of more than one spouse.
 
To be sure: It does not.
 
Consider three biblical perspectives: 1) God’s creative intent; 2) His divine accommodation; and 3) His warning against polygamy.
 

Divine creation

Let’s begin with God’s design for men and women created in His image. In Genesis 2:18, the Lord says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is like him.” Adam acknowledges Eve as a perfect complement for him – “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” The scripture then says, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
 
When the Pharisees pressed Jesus about the legitimacy of divorce on any grounds, He took them back to this passage to emphasize God’s creative intent. “So they are no longer two, but one flesh,” Jesus said. “Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate” (Matthew 19:6).
 
When they asked why Moses allowed divorce, Jesus replied that it was due to the hardness of people’s hearts, but “it was not like that from the beginning” (Matthew 19:8).
 
It is clear that God’s ideal is a monogamous, lifelong marriage between a man and a woman.
 

Divine accommodation

Throughout the Old Testament, the Mosaic Law deals with such realities as divorce, which God hates, and polygamy, which He warns against. The Law is a great improvement over the pagan practices of Israel’s neighbors while making allowances for the fallen state of God’s people. It’s what some scholars call “divine accommodation.”
 
In his book Is God a Moral Monster? Paul Copan writes that the Law of Moses is “a gracious gift temporarily given to national Israel that bridged God’s ideals and the realities of ancient Near Eastern life and human hard-heartedness. Some of the troubling, harsh, and seemingly arbitrary Old Testament laws – though inferior and less than morally optimal – are often an improvement on what we see in the rest of an ancient Near East.... Much in the Old Testament visibly reminds us of God’s abundant grace despite human sin and fall-damaged social structures.”
 
While scripture nowhere instructs God’s people to engage in polygamy, the Law provides protection for women involved in polygamous relationships.
 

Warning against polygamy

In addition to God’s clear intention for monogamous marriage, and His divine accommodation to protect the victims of sinful behavior like divorce and polygamy, several passages of scripture tell us of the danger of taking multiple wives. Here’s a brief sampling:
 
From Lamech, the first recorded polygamist in scripture (Genesis 4:19, 23-24) to Abraham, Esau, Jacob, David and Solomon, wherever we see God’s ideal of monogamy ignored, the result is bickering, strife and often idolatry.
 
Leviticus 18:18 is a strong teaching against polygamy: “You are not to marry a woman as a rival to her sister and have sexual intercourse with her during her sister’s lifetime.”
 
In Deuteronomy 17:17, God prohibits Israel’s king from acquiring many wives for himself “so that his heart won’t go astray.” Solomon, of course, took 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3), often from foreign nations for political reasons. The result: They turned his heart away from God.
 
Finally, God models faithfulness in His relationship with His chosen people, loving them even when they depart and “marry” other gods.
 
Proverbs 5:15-18 offers wise counsel – a man should find delight and sexual satisfaction with his wife in a monogamous marriage: “Drink water from your own cistern ... and take pleasure in the wife of your youth.”
 
It also should be noted that just because Old Testament characters like David and Solomon took multiple wives does not mean God endorses the practice. We need to draw a distinction between what the Bible records and what it commands.
 
Those who point to the Bible to endorse their polygamous practices, or to ridicule scripture’s “outdated” and “archaic” teachings, need to study the passages in context and against the historical backdrop of the times in which they are given.
 
God’s creative intent remains the same: One man and one woman, becoming one flesh through marriage, until death. This is a teachable moment for all of us, including our Mormon friends.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Rob Phillips is director of communications for the Missouri Baptist Convention, also with responsibility for leading the MBC’s apologetics ministry. His columns appear regularly in The Pathway (mbcpathway.com), the convention’s newsjournal. Phillips also is on the Web at www.oncedelivered.net.)

11/13/2014 12:58:48 PM by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The ‘war to end all wars’

November 12 2014 by Jason K. Allen, Baptist Press

As home to the nation’s World War I Museum, Kansas City is ablaze with the centennial commemoration of the “war to end all wars.”
 
The world-class museum, prominently located in the heart of the city, is a constant reminder of the carnage of armed conflict, the heroism of American soldiers, and the triumph of American engagement.
 
Among my favorite World War I histories are Martin Gilbert’s “The Somme” and Philip Jenkins’ “The Great and Holy War,” but topping my list may well be Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August.”
 
In The Guns of August, Tuchman chronicles, blow-by-blow, the early weeks of “The Great War.” She unpacks how avoidable the conflict was, but how, once the gears of war began to turn, impossible it was to stop.
 
Tuchman begins with the funeral of Edward VII, which in spite of all its royal splendor, presaged a European system about to be shattered: “So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. ... The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again” (p. 1).
 
Throughout Tuchman’s narrative, she interweaves a factual accounting of the conflict with sage observations about warfare. She reflects:

  • “War is the unfolding of miscalculations.”

  • “Human beings, like plans, prove fallible in the presence of those ingredients that are missing in maneuvers -- danger, death, and live ammunition.”

  • “Arguments can always be found to turn desire into policy.”

The war not only brought conflict, but it also prompted cultural and religious realism. After all, nothing dispenses with the shallow expectations of the Pollyannish like the horrors of trench warfare.
 
The high tides of Edwardian-Era optimism – witnessed in the church in the form of postmillennialism – began to subside the moment the assassin’s bullet struck Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The carnage of World War I was proof positive that the world was not on its way to ushering in the Kingdom.
 
Throughout The Guns of August, one feels an eerie similarity between the global moment of the First World War and that of our own. Then, as now, free trade, human advance and the collective awareness of the human toll of armed conflict were to dissuade reasonable people from resorting to warfare. Then, it proved an illusive and insufficient deterrent; now, it appears to be the same.
 
Shortly after its release in early 1962, President John F. Kennedy read The Guns of August, and he instructed his cabinet members to do the same. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of the same year, he reflected on Tuchman’s cautionary tale about the unpredictable dynamics of war and the need for measured, calculated restraint in the Cuban showdown with the Soviet Union.
 
Tuchman’s prequel to The Guns of August, “The Proud Tower,” is also worth mentioning. The Proud Tower is a collection of essays that surveys different nations and themes, from 1890–1915, that created the nest in which World War I hatched. The interconnectedness of relationships and politics, treaties and trade of the European nations should have precluded the conflict, but actually brought it to pass. The Guns of August and The Proud Tower have since been packaged together, in one volume.
 
Tuchman portrays World War I as it was, a tragedy in most every way that ended in a pyrrhic victory for the Allies. By any estimation, so much more was lost than gained, even for the victors. Europe was left bludgeoned, shattered, fatigued and largely bankrupt. With over 16 million deaths and another 20 million wounded, World War I ranks as one of the bloodiest affairs in human history. And, sadly, the war’s end resulted in only a fragile armistice, which would be ruptured two decades later with another World War, birthed in Europe’s bowels.
 
In celebrating Veterans Day, we honor the many who have served our armed forces with valor. It is also fitting to reflect again on World War I and the devastation it wrought.
 
World War I reminds Christians of the fallenness of man, the necessity of confronting evil, and our collective desire for the day when, “He will judge between nations, And will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war” (Isaiah 2:4).
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Jason K. Allen, on the Web at jasonkallen.com, is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.)

11/12/2014 12:18:48 PM by Jason K. Allen, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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