November 2015

A healthy heart

November 27 2015 by Vicki Heath

Don’t you love it when science and medicine catch up with the Bible?
Health and exercise-conscious people have been saying for years there is a connection between a healthy body and a healthy spirit. Now there is clinical proof alongside the Bible’s affirmation of people who give thanks and praise to God.
Psalm 103:1-5 says:
Praise the LORD, O my soul; / all my inmost being, praise his holy name. / Praise the LORD, O my soul, / and forget not all his benefits / who forgives all your sins / and heals all your diseases, / who redeems your life from the pit / and crowns you with love and compassion, / who satisfies your desires with good things / so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (NIV).
I have been meditating on this psalm in recent weeks. What sparked my interest is the phrase from verse two “praise the Lord O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” and the connection to verse five “who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
A number of studies in recent years have shown how gratefulness indeed can enhance your health in a variety of ways.
The peer-reviewed Heart International journal, for example, published a study revealing that heart patients who had a positive and thankful outlook on life had much better results than those who did not. The study suggested that grateful people tend to make more money, sleep better, adhere to exercise commitments and are less likely to get infections.
Another fascinating study, in the peer-reviewed Journal of Happiness Studies, said this is also true for children and adolescents. The study surveyed 1,035 high-school students and found that teenagers who were most thankful had more friends and higher GPAs.
Just the opposite was true of those showing materialistic values. They had lower grades, less satisfaction with their life and higher levels of envy and jealousy. Wow – a really good reason to get your kids to tell you at least one thing they are grateful for before they get out of the car.
For me personally, an attitude of gratitude is something I have to practice daily, not just during the week of Thanksgiving. We know we should take time and thank God for His many blessings and “forget not.” The catch is I don’t think gratefulness comes naturally. We have to train ourselves to be thankful. Here are a few disciplines encouraged by the First Place 4 Health wellness ministry of which I’m a part:
Write it down
Listing the things we are grateful for will help us remember to be thankful. We tend to forget His benefits and blessings. Just the very act of putting pen to paper does something to cement the act of thanksgiving in my heart. Keeping a journal may be what you need to boost your health and lower your blood pressure.
Use your words
My son Mark took a while to speak. He really did not have any need for words since his two older siblings spoke for him. We finally got to the point that his pointing and funny sign language was not enough. I started telling him to use his words. The words were in his mind, and he might have been thinking “thank you” but he needed to learn to say it out loud. And so do we.
I stopped a stranger in the restaurant the other day wearing a “Vietnam Veteran” hat. My dad served two terms in Vietnam and did not receive much of a thank you when he returned. I took time and thanked this gentleman for his service to our country. I could tell it surprised and blessed him. It did not take much effort on my part. Don’t let grateful thoughts go unspoken for another minute. Call that friend. Write that letter or card you have been putting off. Words have the power to bring hope but have to use them.
Choose gratefulness
We have more control over our thoughts than many of us realize. Even in the hardest times we can find a reason to be grateful. Being grateful is a decision you make, not necessarily something you might feel. I have a longtime pastor’s wife friend who is always smiling. Someone asked her once “why are you always smiling?” Her answer? Because I decided to.
The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (NIV). It certainly is not easy to give thanks in the mist of hard times, but the more we practice giving thanks in the good times, it will certainly come quicker in the hard times. Thank You Lord, thank You Lord, thank You … .
I want to have a happy healthy Thanksgiving. I want to focus on my friends and family and not so much on the food. I want to express genuine gratitude to our Lord. The health benefits are just a bonus! Proverbs 17:22 is true, “A cheerful heart is good medicine …” (NLT).

(EDITOR'S NOTE – Vicki Heath is the national director of First Place 4 Health, a wellness program for balance in spirit, soul, mind and body based on a giving Christ first place. The FP4H movement began in 1981 as a ministry of Houston's First Baptist Church and became a separate nonprofit ministry in 2010. FP4H counts groups in 12,000-plus churches, fitness centers, offices and homes, with more than 500,000 participants.)

11/27/2015 9:58:43 AM by Vicki Heath | with 0 comments

8 things I’m thankful for

November 25 2015 by Erich Bridges, IMB

It’s Thanksgiving season. Around this time of year, I try to make a list of things I’m thankful for. Here’s my list for 2015:
1. I’m thankful that my wife has come through breast cancer surgery and treatment after being diagnosed last year. We have learned anew that God is faithful. We will trust Him one day at a time.
2. I’m thankful that a number of churches in my town welcome immigrants and refugees in the love of Christ. These churches understand that the nations have come to us and are making the opportunity count for the gospel. What about your church?
3. I’m thankful for International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries who continue working faithfully in some of the most difficult places on earth. While many Christians are giving in to fear and anger because of the terrible events happening around the world, missionaries – who are often the closest to real danger – serve with joy and courage. They know the One who has called them. Is it safe? Not necessarily. Is it obedient? Yes!
4. I’m thankful for the missionaries and IMB staff members who have decided after much prayer (and many tears) that God is calling them to accept the current voluntary retirement incentive. Funding realities make a reduction of 600 to 800 workers unavoidable, but that doesn’t make it easy. I’ve had the privilege to work alongside some of these folks for more than 30 years and to help tell their stories of God’s wonderful works. He will honor their service. We should do the same.
5. I’m thankful for the missionaries and staff who have decided to stay at their current tasks. They, too, have shed tears as they have sought God’s direction, and they will face challenges in the days ahead. Pray for them – and join them in the global mission of God.
6. I’m thankful for the people, churches, associations, state conventions and other Southern Baptist institutions that have offered everything from vehicles and housing to jobs and strategic mission assignments in the United States to missionaries who have accepted the voluntary retirement incentive. What an expression of love and support. If you want to pitch in to help returning missionaries, email
7. I’m thankful for the people and churches increasing their giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions during a challenging time (goal: $175 million). You and your church play a vital role.
8. I’m thankful for the 35 new IMB missionaries appointed Nov. 8 to serve around the world. Why send new missionaries when others are coming home? Because God is still calling people out of local Southern Baptist churches to reach the nations. Because nearly 3 billion people worldwide still have no realistic access to the gospel, including thousands of unreached people groups. Because the Great Commission still stands.
“Retreat from the Great Commission is not an option for us,” writes IMB President David Platt. “IMB is working to ‘reset’ for a future marked not by a decreasing mission force, but by an exponentially increasing mission force taking the gospel to the nations. What does that ‘reset’ look like? It is still a work in progress and will be for several years to come, but I can tell you this: It’s all about connecting Southern Baptist churches to the nations. When you look at the pages of the New Testament, you don’t see global mission boards like the IMB, but you do see local churches active in global mission …
“No church is too big or too small to be a part of a global mission. I was talking with one pastor recently who has 30 members in his church.
“They don’t yet have a building in which to meet. However, they have already adopted an unreached people group, and the Lord has set apart one family to move and work for the spread of the gospel to that people group. I praise God for pastors who believe global missions is more important in the local church than even having a building, and I pray that God will continue to raise up thousands of churches like this across the SBC. Further, I pray that thousands upon thousands more men and women will answer God’s call to take the Gospel to those who have never heard it.”
That’s a vision to be thankful for – and to follow.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board's global correspondent.)

11/25/2015 11:07:26 AM by Erich Bridges, IMB | with 0 comments

Waiting in your ‘Saturdays’

November 23 2015 by Erica Wright,

Have we become a generation that gives up too easily?
I was talking with a friend about dreams and desires. About how we have yet to see them come to pass. The waiting, the frustration, the failure. We voiced our doubts, we cried over our failures, and we opened up about the temptation to give up entirely.
My friend likened our waiting to the Saturday after Jesus was put to death. Dead on Friday; alive on Sunday. But Saturday? Saturday was a big fat pile of waiting.
On a larger scale, this isn’t far off, considering that we are awaiting Christ’s return, for Him to usher in the newness of all things. No more tears, no death, no mourning, no crying or pain (Revelation 21:4, Romans 8:19-25), only good.
And in similar form we wait for the good that could come tomorrow in the smallness of our lives. The resurrection and fulfillment of our hopes, our dreams and our longings. We believe God is good, that He does the impossible (Luke 1:37, Matthew 19:26), so we pray God’s will and Word over the dreams He has given us. Yet we wait in what seems like an eternal Saturday for the good the Lord has promised.
Although Christ foretold His resurrection, first-century Christ followers found themselves in the midst of human uncertainty. They mourned the death of their Savior, in their humanity not knowing what tomorrow would, or wouldn’t, bring. Did they have doubts? Did they feel hopeless? Did they choose to believe? Did people call them crazy?
Noah built a boat on his Saturday, waiting and trusting for the rain to come. Job saw Saturday as an opportunity to remain steadfast in his faith, waiting and trusting his earthly circumstances to God. Hannah cried out to the Lord on Saturday, waiting and trusting for the desire of her heart to find fulfillment. While their experience seems to far exceed my comparatively measly circumstances, I’m with them. Saturdays are hard, and many times, there is work in the wait.
Anyone with God-given wants or dreams can surely relate, having walked a similar timeline. First, Friday’s death. We put to death the things that our flesh wants, but our faith requires wait. We put to death our very selves, telling Jesus to have His way, not our own. We entrust our hearts to God, and though He is ever loving and ever faithful to us this side of fulfillment, it feels like death. Death of our control and our firm grasp on the circumstance in our lives.
But here’s what is beautiful about Saturdays, they refine us. Our desperation becomes His glory. Let’s not miss the beauty of Saturday because we’re paralyzed by Friday. And let’s remember it even when we see the joy of Sunday. Saturdays are an opportunity for hope and belief to be cultivated.
The resurrection gives us hope for Sunday. Sunday WILL come. Jesus rose from the grave and that is our basis for hope in what we can’t see, in what we wait for. When our hope is in Him, rather than the reality of what is before us, we have every reason to hope in the goodness He has for us.
So why are we frustrated in the wait? Is it because Saturday takes much longer than we plan or prefer? We wait for days, months, years, and too often we give up. We reconcile the reality of what we see with our eyes to the seeming deadness of God-given dreams. Our world is engulfed in instant gratification, making things happen, achievement and success. But God says to wait on Him, to bank on His ability, to pursue Him and trust Him (Lamentations 3:25). He is not slow to fulfill His promises (2 Peter 3:8-9). The moment we give up is the moment we truly miss out. We miss out on seeing the miracle; we miss out on seeing what only God can do.
My friend and I ended our conversation with a prayer. A prayer that God would allow this generation to see dreams fulfilled, to see people who are broken and bound set free. That He would burden us for His desires to the point that it is impossible to let go. That our faith would be ignited to wait and believe.
What has God told you (Jeremiah 33:3)? What is the Spirit leading you to wait and believe God for, trusting in the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20)? Stay in it, believer. Saturdays are hard. Let’s ask for help to be faithful in the wait, in what God has put in front of you today, believing Him for tomorrow.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erica Wright serves on staff at 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas, and blogs at She holds a master of arts degree in Christian education with a concentration in women’s ministry from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Adapted from Southwestern’s Biblical Woman website,

11/23/2015 10:40:15 AM by Erica Wright, | with 0 comments

Who’s praying for you?

November 20 2015 by Mark Snowden, Snowden Ministries International

While I was leading a Bible study on spiritual warfare, one woman spoke up and said, “I don’t have to worry about spiritual warfare. I don’t witness, so Satan leaves me alone.”
What blessings this lady was missing in seeing others have a personal relationship with Jesus. To their credit, those who were in the Bible study stifled their shock.
For the past 15 years, a dozen prayer warriors have committed to pray for me at least once every week. Some are in my immediate family; a few are work colleagues; and a couple of them are prayer leaders I have known over the years. And, yes, they pray every week for my family because I send out an email the first day of each month asking them to pray for Mary Leigh, my wife, and me. I’m detailed and specific. Sometimes I give the exact date prayer cover is needed. They are partners in God’s mission in my life.
Ask any missionary what they need most and usually they will say, “Prayer!” Southern Baptist missionaries are always grateful that the giving from our churches provides their financial support through the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program and missions offerings. The missionaries don’t have to raise money, but they still have to do “friend-raising” for volunteers to augment their work on the field and especially to provide prayer cover for them.
What did the early church do when facing persecution? They prayed! And they prayed not for delivery or to have it easier, but specifically for boldness and then acted in obedience: “And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that Your slaves may speak Your message with complete boldness, while You stretch out Your hand for healing, signs, and wonders to be performed through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus” (HCSB). When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness (Acts 4:29-31).
The apostle Paul solicited prayer support on a regular basis, such as in Ephesians 6:20. Paul knew that prayer was essential to his ministry because of spiritual warfare. When he wrote to the church at Ephesus, he reminded them that our battle is not one of flesh and blood, but against Satan and his demons. We need to stand firm in facing those attacks, wearing God’s spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:10-17). Paul knew that soldiers of the Roman Empire wore nothing on their backs: If they turned to run, they would be more vulnerable than facing the enemy head-on.
When we have all that armor on, what do we do? Paul advised that we are to pray for boldness (Ephesians 6:18-20).
A prayer leader at the International Mission Board once said, “Prayer doesn’t get you ready for missions. Prayer IS missions.” Prayer doesn’t force God to do anything and prayer is not a Santa wish list. It is a supernatural way of connecting with God and aligning with His will and purposes.
Involving others – even a dozen people or more – in what God has called you to do blesses you and them too. How do you mobilize effective prayer? Here are two ideas:

  1. Paint a word picture by telling your story. When we say, “Pray for the XX number of Navajo who are lost,” that’s rather generic. It’s another thing to say, “Pray for my wife and I working with Sally. Sally is 14 and being pressured into sex trafficking. Pray that she will hear the Good News of Jesus.” It’s specific, urgent and yet warm.

  2. Don’t forget that sharing answers to specific prayer requests encourages more praying as the focus increasingly brings glory God. It’s not bragging, but allowing prayer warriors to celebrate with you.

The lady who was scared of Satan focused too much in the wrong direction. Boldly recruit prayer supporters who will engage in spiritual warfare alongside you. They’ll help you stay focused on Jesus and Him alone.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Snowden, through Snowden Ministries International (on the Web at, assists small groups, churches and organizations in using Bible stories relayed orally for evangelism and disciple-making. He has previously served through the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board and the Missouri Baptist Convention. This article first appeared in The Pathway at, newsjournal of the Missouri convention.)

11/20/2015 11:33:08 AM by Mark Snowden, Snowden Ministries International | with 0 comments

Why evangelicals are torn over admitting Syrian refugees

November 19 2015 by Trevin Wax, Religion News Service

Evangelicals may be united that the Bible is the ultimate source of authority, but they are divided on how the Bible would lead us to respond to the growing crisis of refugees fleeing from Syria.

  • What is the best way to show Christian love and compassion?

  • How is the church’s role different from the state’s?

  • How do we show wisdom and prudence in securing the safety of our neighbors and nation?

These are just a few of the questions that evangelicals are grappling with. One evangelical pastor today told me, “My church members are all over the place on this!”
The situation in Syria is dire. More than 300,000 people have died. Half the country is now homeless. Millions are fleeing. The plight of the refugees came to national attention in September with a picture of a 3-year-year-old boy whose body washed up on shore in Turkey. Many evangelical Christians sprang into action, making plans for welcoming and serving the refugees.
I’ve seen evangelical compassion firsthand. I once served a church in a small town where hundreds of Somali refugees, the vast majority of them Muslim, were resettled.
Our church opened its doors and hosted fellowships; we devoted space to ESL and other citizenship classes. The makeshift mosque in our town may have been closed off to us Christians, but we made sure the doors of our church were open to the Muslim refugees. At their best, evangelicals are on the front lines of “welcoming the stranger.”
It’s no surprise then that evangelical leaders have been calling for Christians to receive and serve refugees. A Christianity Today editorial this fall called Christians to embrace the “unparalleled opportunity to love neighbors here and abroad, and to showcase the beauty of the gospel that proclaims good news to the poor, liberty for those stuck in refugee camps, and a new life for those fleeing from oppression.”
Evangelicals recognize that many of these men, women and children are “brothers and sisters in Christ” who are leaving behind the cradle of Christian civilization.
But since the terrorist attacks in Paris last week, the debate over whether and how to receive refugees has intensified.
On the one hand, there are evangelicals calling for “prudent compassion,” the idea that we need not choose between accepting all refugees or no refugees, but through rigorous screening (understandably heightened in a time of war against terror), we can and should receive refugees.
Similarly, Ed Stetzer, vice president of LifeWay Research, urged believers to distinguish between our response to “the immigrants streaming across Europe to escape the radical Islamists” and our response to potential terrorists.
Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, called the church to love and serve the refugees even if it “goes against our instincts.”
“We want to protect ourselves from those who might hurt us,” he wrote. But he added: “Jesus asks us to love our neighbors – regardless if there may be enemies among them.”
Matthew Soerens, director of mobilization for World Relief, explained the rigorous process for receiving refugees and why the potential for admitting a terrorist is minimal.
“I think it’s a tragic decision for states to attempt to thwart efforts to resettle a small number of carefully vetted refugees from Syria,” he said.
But there are concerns that this process is not rigorous enough. And there are doubts about the ability of our government to properly screen out potential terrorists.
“Ineptitude” is a word I’ve heard a lot lately, applied to our government’s ability to ensure our safety.
Commentator Cal Thomas, in a column for the evangelical publication World Magazine, argues for closing the borders, because “there is no way to be certain who is a jihadist and who isn’t. What we do know for certain is that ISIS has bragged openly about including jihadists among those who have fled to Europe, and only a fool would believe that same strategy is not being applied to America.”
In the same vein, Franklin Graham in a Facebook post said “we must reform our immigration policies” to ensure that Muslim immigrants do not “come across our borders unchecked while we are fighting this war on terror.”
Many evangelicals agree with those sentiments and support the efforts of several Republican presidential candidates and two dozen governors to place a moratorium on any new refugees. These calls for closing the border represent the only way to ensure that we do not inadvertently let in terrorists who are posing as refugees.
Congregations are divided. World reported that U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina asked Secretary of State John Kerry to halt plans to settle refugees in his district. Meanwhile, the evangelical church Gowdy attends was one of several that expressed interest in helping with the refugee program.
Some evangelicals are opposed to all refugees; others say they do not know the best way forward. In a widely shared blog post, Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in Lansing, Mich., a church with an international ministry to immigrants, decried both the “harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric” and “broad appeals to compassion” that fail to take into consideration the complexities of our situation.
“Christian charity means loving the safety of the neighbor next door at least as much as loving the safe passage of the neighbor far away,” he said.
At BreakPoint, a site begun by the late Chuck Colson to provide a Christian perspective on news, Gina Dalfonzo writes: “I don’t know what the answer is. I honestly don’t.”
I asked Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, whether he believes Christians should support or resist efforts to bring Syrian refugees to American soil.
“The screening of refugees is a crucial aspect of national security, and we should insist on it,” he said. “At the same time, evangelicals should be the ones calling the rest of the world to remember human dignity and the image of God, especially for those fleeing murderous Islamic radical jihadis.
“We should remember the history of the 20th century, of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust and refuseniks from the Soviet Union who were largely ignored by the world community. We can have prudential discussions and disagreements about how to maintain security. What we cannot do is to demagogue the issue, as many politicians are doing right now. An entire generation of those fleeing genocide will be asking, is there an alternative to the toxic religion they’ve seen. Will they hear evangelicals saying ‘Jesus loves you’ or ‘Who then is my neighbor?’ There are massive implications for both answers.”
My pastor friend was right. Evangelicals are “all over the place” on the issue. That’s why, for the foreseeable future, they will continue to debate the best way forward while showing both prudence and compassion.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project and author of multiple books, including “Clear Winter Nights: A Journey Into Truth, Doubt and What Comes After.”)

11/19/2015 11:42:31 AM by Trevin Wax, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

Spirit of giving is a heart in tune with God’s love

November 18 2015 by Frank Page, Guest Column

One of the most-often quoted and best-known verses in the entire world is John 3:16. I remember witnessing to a young man years ago who stated that this was the only Bible verse he knew. He had seen it so many times on signs at sporting events that he actually looked it up. That was a great launching point to share the gospel with him. It truly is one of the greatest verses in all of God’s Word.
One of the things I love about the verse is its message that God is the great Giver. It begins by saying, “For God so loved the world that He gave …” Our God demonstrated to us that giving is a great way to express love.
For the believer, giving is a great spiritual discipline that expresses the very heart of God. Our giving should also express our heart. The Week of Prayer for International Missions is designed to remind us of the urgency of giving. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (LMCO), which is promoted during the week of prayer, Nov. 29-Dec. 6, is certainly an opportunity for us to express our heart of concern for billions of people who have yet to hear the gospel.
When I was a child, I remember watching my family as they opened presents. It was a joyful time, but I thought there was something odd about my father’s actions. He would get a few gifts, as we all did, but he never wanted to open them. In fact, he was most pleased by watching his children open their gifts. At the time, I thought this was a very unusual reaction. However, as I became a father and later a grandfather, I began to understand why my father acted that way. He simply loved to give and watch the recipient open the gift. It is a great way to express one’s heart of love.
In my role with the Executive Committee, I have the opportunity to travel extensively. I like to tell people that I am the luckiest man in the Southern Baptist Convention because I have a front row seat to see what is happening. As we give, we provide the means for ministry and missions to take place in powerful ways.
Do you love people? Do you love the lost? Do you love those who have not yet heard? God does, and we should as well. One of the greatest ways to express our love is by giving as Jesus did. Let us give of our resources, our time and our prayers. Let us be great givers like God is.
I encourage you to do your part to make this year’s offering the greatest by far. I ask you to join me and my family in a recommitment to being givers. What better way to be an example to others than through a sacrificial offering to the LMCO? Let’s make sure we give more than ever before so that the gospel can go further than ever before.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank S. Page is president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.)

11/18/2015 11:48:22 AM by Frank Page, Guest Column | with 1 comments

Mizzou, a key juncture for empathy

November 16 2015 by Daniel Woodman, Baptist Press

Racism will not end until God returns. I hear it all the time. It is not an incorrect statement, but it is an incomplete one. Racism will not end until God returns, but we have an obligation to fight racism around every corner until the trumpets sound.
That is why the protests at my university have been so monumental; they show that humans from diverse backgrounds can come together peacefully to bring about change. Do I completely agree with everything the protests have stood for? No. However, I also realize that racism is still a much larger problem than we like to admit and that we have an obligation to do something about it.
As Christians, we are called to empathize. I am well aware that many Christians don’t agree with the protests at the University of Missouri, but that should not be grounds to avoid empathy. I understand not agreeing with the motives behind a student going on a hunger strike. I do not understand how anyone could demean or joke about a student willing to starve himself to bring about change. I understand not agreeing with Tim Wolfe’s resignation as the university’s president. I do not understand how anyone could not have a broken heart when black students on campus are the subject of threats of violence.
Satan still roams the earth, and it is my firm belief that he hates empathy.
Empathy is the bridge that connects two sides of an issue. As a student on campus, I can assure you that there is a divided feeling about recent events. However, I am proud of my fellow students because when terrible, senseless threats were made to black students, the campus came together in a moment of unity to help get through a very rough moment. That is how empathy works; it breaks down the barriers of fear and allows us to see each other as the creations of God that we are and it helps us see beyond our differences in opinion.
I am also convinced that Satan hates what is happening right now. Racism is under attack. Empathy is being generated here on campus and, amidst all the controversy, there is still a consensus that we are all extremely blessed to be attending this college despite its shortcomings.
I would ask that you continue to pray for our campus. There is still a long way to go. Future administrators will fail to meet our expectations. It is inevitable. If we place all of our hope in the battle against racism on ourselves, we will always fall short. We must learn to turn to Jesus when our fellow man fails us. He is the only one who can wipe away the tears formed from years of oppression and He is the only one who can truly see past the color of our skin and judge us by the nature of our soul.
Please pray for Mizzou, but realize that the fight against racism doesn’t stop when you leave our campus.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Daniel Woodman is a journalism student at the University of Missouri who served as Baptist Press’ 2015 summer intern.)

11/16/2015 11:04:24 AM by Daniel Woodman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Do housing choices affect Christian community?

November 13 2015 by Keelan Cook, Center for Great Commission Studies

David Roberts, a blogger at recently wrote an article titled, “How our housing choices make adult friendships more difficult.” For a secular piece, Roberts is rather prophetic in his tone about the shape of society and its relationship with relationships.
Now, I want to be clear that this is a secular work. I am not recommending it wholesale. Roberts uses evolutionary theory and other things to ground his conclusions, and I am not with him on some of that. However, I point out this article because it provides an excellent look into the culture around us. Pastors, church planters and even local church members can benefit from reading this, as they try to engage the community around them.
Here are some insights from the article:

  • American adults have a real problem making friends. The article points out that most people rarely develop significant friendships after college, and if they do, they are based in scheduling time together. Once people get married, they tend to atomize and isolate. Roberts points out that this state of affairs is fairly new in human history, or our own making, and “unnatural.”

  • Our choices in housing and land use have changed our culture. With the development of the automobile, single-unit housing, suburbs, and the lot, our society has collectively chosen a living arrangement that impedes real relationship development. Roberts writes, “Each of us living in our own separate nuclear-family castles, with our own little faux-estate lawns, getting in a car to go anywhere, never seeing friends unless we make an effort to schedule it – there’s nothing fated or inevitable about it.”

  • But people crave genuine community. The fact that Roberts even wrote this article decrying the situation points to the desire for real community. In fact, Roberts’ “solution” is found in a physical restructuring of communities to force relationship. In this Roberts joins a flood of people calling for new city planning that creates walkable spaces and shared living areas. Our society is sick with isolation, and in many instances, sick of isolation.

  • Relationships are formed through “repeated spontaneous contact.” Again, Roberts calls for a reshaping of communities to foster spontaneous contact. Whether that is valid or not, the premise about contact is sound. Here is a long quote from this section:

When we marry and start a family, we are pushed, by custom, policy and expectation, to move into our own houses. And when we have kids, we find ourselves tied to those houses. Many if not most neighborhoods these days are not safe for unsupervised kid frolicking. In lower-income areas there are no sidewalks; in higher-income areas there are wide streets abutted by large garages. In both cases, the neighborhoods are made for cars, not kids. So kids stay inside playing Xbox, and families don’t leave except to drive somewhere.
Thus, seeing friends, even friends within “striking distance,” requires planning. “We should really get together!” We say it, but we know it means calls and emails, finding an evening free of work, possibly babysitters. We know it would be fun, but it’s so much easier just to settle in for a little TV.
Those of you who are married with kids: When was the last time you ran into a friend or “dropped by” a friend’s house without planning it? When was the last time you had a spontaneous encounter with anyone who was not a clerk or a barista, someone serving you?
So what? Here are some key takeaways.

  • The gospel speaks loudly to the deficiencies in our culture. In the US, we live in a world that is increasingly devoid of real relationships. We wall ourselves off into our little castles and do not even know our neighbor’s names. Now, more than ever perhaps, people long for and struggle with any kind of genuine relationships, but the gospel is the good news of a relationship restored. Furthermore, Christ does not merely save us out of our sin, but he saves us into a community. The church, rightly understood, is the truest human community on the planet.

  • Unfortunately, the church often looks just like the culture on this issue. I wish I could say the majority of churches stood as a shining, counter-cultural example of rich community in a sea of isolated people, but I would be lying if I did. For most of us, we drank the Kool-Aid when it comes to isolated lifestyles. We are often pretty terrible at developing relationships inside our own local church, and our track record with lost people is even worse.

  • Local churches have an unprecedented opportunity to speak to their community, but it will take intentionality. When the culture around us starts crying out for community, we must make sure the gospel is authentically displayed. For most of us, this means changing our habits. Roberts is right that our communities are set up for isolation, but Christians have a compelling reason to push against this. We must put the gospel community on display to the greater culture around us. This means local church members loving one another well in front of others, and it means meeting our neighbors.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keelan is working on a PhD in Missiology at Southeastern and works in the Center for Great Commission Studies. He spent time as a church planter in West Africa with the IMB and doing ethno-graphic research in Washington, DC with NAMB. Keelan is currently one of the pastors at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C.)

11/13/2015 11:50:53 AM by Keelan Cook, Center for Great Commission Studies | with 0 comments

Can we talk about the gospel without telling it?

November 12 2015 by Matt Queen, SWBTS

Words such as gospel, Great Commission, evangelism and mission are popular these days. Influential blogs, books and conferences alike utilize these terms and their cognates (e.g., gospel-centered, missional, etc.) in their titles and themes.
With as much excitement and encouragement as this trend brings, believers must guard against the temptation of talking about the gospel to those who know it best without taking the gospel to those who need to hear it most.
Whatever meaning believers ascribe to being “gospel-centered” should incorporate an understanding that our conversations with unbelievers should center on the gospel as much as, if not more than, our conversations with believers.
To ensure we do so, believers should employ a standard measure by which we test ourselves – a gospel Shibboleth, so to speak.
The concept of a Shibboleth is derived from Judges 12:1-6, which recounts how men from the tribe of Ephraim stridently confronted Jephthah over his defeat of the Ammonites. A fight ensued between the men of Ephraim and the Gileadites who were led by Jephthah. Jephthah and his army prevailed, positioning themselves at the fords of the Jordan River that led to Ephraim. Fugitives of the defeated tribe of Ephraim came to the fords in order to return home. The Gileadites asked, “Are you from Ephraim?” If they replied, “No,” the Gileadites instructed them to say “Shibboleth,” testing whether or not they were fugitives. When men from Ephraim said, “Sibboleth,” because they could not pronounce the word correctly, they failed the test and were executed.
The intentional and consistent practice of personal evangelism serves as the Shibboleth by which we should evaluate our gospel verbiage.
The true test of our gospel-centeredness isn’t that we merely talk about the gospel among sympathetic groups of believers; rather, it encompasses our telling the gospel to apathetic, even skeptical, unbelieving audiences.
Whereas the men of Ephraim had trouble with pronunciation, our trouble tends to lie with proclamation (or, rather, the lack thereof).
The gospel enterprise is not hindered by our inability to pronounce words like gospel, evangelism and Great Commission (we can and do articulate them quite well); however, the work of the gospel will be hindered if we fail to proclaim intentionally and consistently the Word of the Cross to those who have yet to receive its message.
The men of Ephraim were victimized when they failed the Gileadites’ test. In contrast, those of us who fail the test of the gospel Shibboleth at one time or another will not become victims. Instead, the victims of our failure to evangelize are the souls of unbelieving men, women, boys and girls on a trajectory toward hell. For this reason, we must evaluate whether we spend most of our time talking about the gospel with believers or telling the gospel to unbelievers.
Utilizing evangelism as a believer’s gospel Shibboleth isn’t a new concept; it is simply a new way of saying it.
On August 22, 1903, Henry Crocker published a poem in a Chicago Baptist newspaper. In it, he conveyed through the term “watchword” the same idea as a gospel Shibboleth. His challenge to his readers in the 20th century rings true for believers in the 21st century:
Give us a watchword for the hour,
A thrilling word, a word of power;
A battle-cry, a flaming breath,
That calls to conquest or to death.
A word to rouse the church from rest,
To heed her Master’s high behest;
The call is given: Ye hosts arise,
Our watchword is Evangelize!
The glad evangel now proclaim,
Through all the earth, in Jesus’ name;
This word is ringing through the skies,
Evangelize! Evangelize!
To dying men, a fallen race,
Make known the gift of gospel grace;
The world that now in darkness lies,
Evangelize! Evangelize!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Matt Queen is associate professor of evangelism and associate dean for doctoral programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Roy Fish School of Evangelism & Missions. He holds the school’s L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism - “The Chair of Fire”.)
11/12/2015 12:18:44 PM by Matt Queen, SWBTS | with 1 comments

Human hearts abhor a vacuum

November 11 2015 by Erich Bridges, IMB Correspondent

The pace of change in all spheres of modern life is accelerating so quickly that no person, group or institution can keep up with it.
Pick a topic: politics and government, science and technology, education, marriage and the family, morality, faith. Any national consensus that once existed about the purpose and direction of these social building blocks seems to be gone. Factions scream at each other from the margins and try to persuade – or compel – the wider culture to submit to their agendas.
We sometimes think this is a recent thing, but it isn’t. The disintegration of unifying social principles has been underway for a long time. And it’s not just national; it’s global. Trend analyst William Van Dusen Wishard made that point in his 2000 book, Between Two Ages: The 21st Century and the Crisis of Meaning.
“[Y]ou and I are living in the midst of perhaps the most uncertain period America has ever known – more difficult than World War II, the Depression or even the Civil War,” Wishard wrote.
“With these earlier crises, an immediately identifiable, focused emergency existed, an emergency people could see and mobilize to combat,” he noted. “But the crisis today is of a different character and order. For America is at the vortex of a global cyclone of change so vast and deep that it is uprooting established institutions, altering centuries-old relationships, changing underlying mores and attitudes, and now, so the experts tell us, even threatening the continued existence of the human species. It is not simply change at the margins; it is change at the very core of life. Culture-smashing change. Identity-shattering change. Soul-crushing change....
“Until a new order of perception, value and meaning is achieved, we shall be between two expressions of social organization, cultural definition and spiritual experience – between two ages,” Wishard wrote.
The passing of the old age saw the decline of Christianity as the “inner dynamic of Western culture,” Wishard observed. It was replaced first by materialism and the exaltation of the individual as modernism took hold, followed by postmodernism. Now, cultural elites attack any notion of absolute truth, the existence of God or transcendent meaning.
So we are left with meaninglessness. Or are we? Human hearts abhor a vacuum.
Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker, an admirer of Wishard, thinks the time is ripe for a new sense of meaning.
“For now, things aren’t looking so good,” Parker writes. “From the decline of Western civilization to the rise of fanaticism, to the greatest religious metamorphosis in history, to a rapidly expanding information environment that confuses as much as it informs, Wishard says we’re in the midst of a global crisis of identity, meaning and spiritual displacement.”
The immediate challenge, Parker continued, “is to recognize and address the reality that the West has lost its collective myth or story to live by.... Who are we? Do we have the courage to lead? Do we let the future happen, or do we help shape it? ... What we need is a great, big, beautiful story, told by someone with the vision, imagination and wisdom to get the great big picture.”
What we need, I would suggest, is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only in the West but everywhere else.
The fact that “Christianity” as a social and cultural tradition has been torn from its historical moorings in the West – first in Europe and increasingly in America – isn’t entirely a bad thing. Cultural Christianity is not the gospel. Religion tied to a political program is not the gospel. And a Christian faith too culturally connected to the West can’t be a truly global faith. The gospel transcends any one culture; it is ultimate truth for all cultures.
The world needs a collective truth, not myth, to live by – a true story told with vision and imagination. The world is hungry for truth in an age of meaninglessness. That’s why people in unreached cultures believe the gospel and follow Christ when they have the opportunity to hear and understand it. We must go to them. We also must re-evangelize the West, including America, in our generation.
Meaninglessness is a hollow faith. People want more.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. His WorldView column appears twice monthly in Baptist Press.)

11/11/2015 10:54:14 AM by Erich Bridges, IMB Correspondent | with 0 comments

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