November 2016

Our national idolatry: contest of competing faiths

November 15 2016 by Mark Creech

“Golden calves are built in every generation,” said Tim Walter, in a sermon titled “Filled with God’s Grace and Power.” Walter is a Christian minister according to  The Complete Guide to Christian Quotations.
We tend to think of idolatry as something long abandoned to the past. But just as sure as the gods of the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Romans of yesteryear clashed with the bearers of true religion, it is no less true today.
Recently, we’ve witnessed an unprecedented assault on religious liberty. It’s not an assault on religion in general, but an attack on particular religious beliefs. Those who hold to traditional religious convictions are being punished.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a California law that requires pregnancy resource centers to promote abortion or face the wrath of the state.
In Iowa and left-leaning Massachusetts, churches have filed lawsuits challenging new transgender non-discrimination laws that require them to allow persons of the opposite sex to use a restroom, shower or locker room that is opposite their biological sex. The law singles out and penalizes churches if they won’t comply.  
A lay minister in Georgia, who filed a lawsuit on the grounds of religious discrimination after losing his job with the Georgia Department of Public Health, is now being compelled by the state’s attorney general to hand over his sermons. His problems started after being hounded by LGBTQ activists for preaching what the Bible says about homosexuality.
The situation is appalling and leaves many Americans scratching their heads and wondering how we got to where we are. Certainly this is something they never thought they would see in their lifetimes.
In her book, It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and its Enemies, Mary Eberstadt, explains our nation’s descent into the abyss.
“For more than a half century now, at least since the invention of the birth control pill, men and women of the West, especially secularists and progressives, have collectively assembled … an orthodoxy, thinkingly or no. In place of the Judeo-Christianity of yesterday, and mimicking its outlines to an uncanny degree, this new body of belief has by now a well-developed secular catechism. Its fundamental faith is that the sexual revolution, that is, the gradual destigmatization of all forms of consenting nonmarital sex, has been a boon to all humanity …
“It follows … that traditional moral codes represent systems of unjust repression. In the new dispensation, traditional restrictions and attitudes are viewed as judgmental, moralistic – even as forms of socially sanctioned aggression, especially against women and sexual minorities. In this profound and still-unfolding transvaluation, yesterday’s ‘sinners’ have become the new secular saints; and yesterday’s ‘sins’ have become virtues, as positive expressions of freedom …
“[I]mperatives are that whatever contributes to consenting sexual acts is an absolute good, and that anything interfering, or threatening to interfere, with them is ipso facto wrong …
“Note the absolutist character of these beliefs as they play out in practice. For example, it is precisely the sacrosanct, nonnegotiable status assigned to contraception and abortion that explains why – despite historical protestations of wanting abortion to be ‘safe, legal, and rare’ – in practice, secularist progressivism defends each and every act of abortion tenaciously, each and every time … this new faith will not even draw the line at what is known as ‘partial-birth’ abortion … It is only if we understand the quasi-religious impulse behind the tenacity with which each and every abortion is defended that the otherwise puzzling, resolutely uncompromising character of the ‘pro-choice’ position makes sense …
“Christianity present, like Christianity past and Christianity to come, contends with many foes and countervailing forces. But its single most powerful enemy now is not the stuff of the philosophy of the common room. It is the sexual revolution – and the current absolutist defense of that revolution by its adherents and beneficiaries …
“The followers of this newfound code further accept as the equivalent of Holy Writ a canon of texts and doctrine – a body of literature and commentary that cannot be questioned without risk of excommunication … ‘if you are against abortion, therefore you are anti-woman’; ‘if you believe in Christian teaching, therefore you hate people who endorse same-sex marriage’ …
“Foundational to today’s secularism/progressivism is the doctrine that the Pill and its back-up plan, abortion on demand, have liberated humanity – first, by freeing women from the chains of their fertility; and second, by having broken down the door to the fortress of traditional morality, after which one sexual minority after another has also been liberated. This, in a nutshell, is the new secularist faith, and in various influential quadrants, it is the culturally dominant narrative of our time …
“The so-called culture war, in other words, has not been conducted by people of religious faith on one side, and people of no faith on the other. It is instead a contest of competing faiths: one in the Good Book, and the other in the more newly written figurative book of secularistic orthodoxy about the sexual revolution.”
Billy Graham has written, “When a nation turns from the true and living God of its Christian heritage, then it substitutes false gods.”
This new secularist faith is, in essence, idolatry. Its face is as dark and bloody as Moloch of Israel’s later days, demanding her children for sacrifice.
It is as aberrant as the deities of ancient Rome and the licentious rites associated with them, referenced by the apostle Paul in Romans 1. Its objective is to overthrow traditional Christian teaching, making it subordinate to abortion and LGBTQ rights.
It is the war of the ages. It started in Genesis 3:5 when the serpent tempted Adam and Eve to reject God’s sovereignty and be their own gods, and it ends with the declaration of Revelation 21:8, “Idolaters … shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.”
No matter how much this idolatry advances, like all false gods, its destiny is the ash-heap of history.
God will spare from judgment the repentant. There’s still time to turn to Him and receive His grace and mercy in Christ. Religious liberty cannot be separated from its Christian roots and survive. Moreover, religious liberty is at the heart of all other freedoms. It’s still not too late to save freedom.

About Christian Action League

The Christian Action League’s (CAL) predecessor, The Allied Church League, was birthed in 1937 as a response to the repeal of prohibition. It was formed by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) with the intent of creating a statewide interdenominational organization that would address the state’s alcohol policy.
In 1958, the organization’s mission was expanded to address other issues of public policy affecting the religious culture of the state. With the change in the charter, the name was changed to the Christian Action League.
In addition to the alcohol issue, today CAL addresses issues such as religious liberty, the definition of marriage, gambling, pornography, abortion, and many other critical social issues.
In addition to educating Christians on important issues and motivating them to action, one of the most important aspects of the ministry is my interaction with the North Carolina General Assembly as executive director of the Christian Action League.
CAL is still funded by gifts from churches, individual contributors and an annual contribution of $10,000 from BSC’s Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee.
CAL is grateful for the continued support of North Carolina Baptists and stands ready to help churches as they engage our culture in these times of unprecedented societal change.
(EDITOR’S NOTE  – Mark Creech is executive director of the Christian Action League.) 

11/15/2016 9:50:06 AM by Mark Creech | with 0 comments

Sunday morning expectancy

November 11 2016 by Diana Davis

5 – 4 – 3 – 2 - the countdown on the screen ticked downward before the Sunday worship service began. I could sense the anticipation in the room.
Do you feel great eagerness as you look toward Sunday’s worship? Whether you’re a new Christian or a longtime Jesus-follower, a child or a senior adult, a leader or a participant, a few easy steps can help make Sunday worship a focal point of your week.
– Anticipate Sunday worship. Throughout the week, think about the worship celebration. Chat with others about the joy of worshipping God. Invite guests. Look forward to seeing other Christians there. Help your children look forward to worship. “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1).
– Prepare. Get plenty of rest on Saturday night. Plan breakfast, prepare clothing, gather Bibles and offerings ahead of time. Listen to Christian music en route. Pray for God’s direction and blessing on your pastor, musicians and other leaders as they prepare. “Because of your unfailing love, I can enter your house; I will worship at your temple with deepest awe.” (Psalm 5:7).

Diana Davis

– Be there. Can your pastor count on you? Attend worship faithfully. Carefully plan your personal, business and family schedules to prioritize Sunday worship. Have you ever thought, “No one will notice if I’m not there?” God notices. Be faithful. “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together. ...” (Hebrews 10:25).
– Come joyfully. Genuinely enjoy Sunday worship. Smile. A scowl is inappropriate for this great day; let your face reflect joy. Hum a Scripture song. Help your family members catch the joy of Jesus by your attitude. “A glad heart makes a happy face” (Proverbs 15:13).
– Arrive early. You certainly wouldn’t arrive late for a meeting with the governor. Today’s appointment with the Creator of the universe is much more important! A mad dash into worship isn’t appropriate. Early arrival demonstrates awe for God. Visit with people as you enter – those who are lonely, children, guests, fellow Christians. Settle your children, find your seat, pray for those around you, enjoy pre-service music and commune with God. “Zeal for your house consumes me” (Psalm 69:9).
– Worship. Really worship. Worship isn’t a spectator sport. Merely sitting in the building does not constitute worship. It’s not about how “good” or “bad” the worship service is; it’s about God receiving your worship. Be intensely aware of God’s presence, His glory and majesty. As you genuinely worship, you won’t be tempted to look at your watch or emails, gather your things, or slip out early.
Fully participate in every moment of the worship service. Keep your focus on the front, absorbing each word – even announcements. Pray when it’s time to pray. Give your offering as worship. Sing every word of every song directly to God.
During the sermon, allow God to speak to you. Open your Bible to the text, listen attentively and take notes. Pray fervently during the invitation time. Truly worship. “You must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
Now the countdown has begun. The Lord’s Day is approaching, and our great God is worthy of our true worship. Will you intentionally anticipate Sunday’s worship service? 5 – 4 – 3 – 2.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Davis is online at Her newest book, co-written with her daughter Autumn Wall, Across the Street and Around the World, New Hope Publishers, is a resource for an array of “going” ideas for churches, small groups and individuals.)
11/11/2016 10:00:43 AM by Diana Davis | with 0 comments

After election: The Christian response

November 10 2016 by Steve Gaines

Today Americans have a new president – Donald J. Trump. As Christians, it is Scripturally incumbent upon us to pray for him and for all our political leaders (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-2). It is also mandatory for us to honor all people, even those with whom we disagree (cf. 1 Peter 2:17).
If we disagree with someone’s opinions, we must do so without attacking the person. There has been far too much inflammatory rhetoric coming from Christian leaders throughout this election. That kind of speech is divisive, ungodly, uncalled for, and sinful. May we heed Paul’s warning when he said, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). May we also sincerely pray the prayer of the Psalmist who said, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).

Steve Gaines

Our nation’s greatest need is for Christians to repent and return to Jesus. May we as Southern Baptists lead the way by praying like it matters, sharing Jesus like it matters, making disciples like it matters, giving like it matters, loving like it matters and preaching the gospel like it matters. These disciplines are things all followers of Jesus Christ should be able to agree on.
My prayer is that Southern Baptists will lead the way for another Great Awakening among God’s people in America and around the world. May we repent of our sins, walk in humility and love lost people enough to tell them what the Bible says about Jesus, seeking to win them to Him.
May we be responsible and mature in our comments on social media posts, blogs and articles. The world is watching us. May they see Jesus in us.
Great days can be ahead if the Lord blesses us. He only blesses people that pray. Let us pray until His face shines on us afresh and His presence fills to overflowing both us and all the brothers and sisters in our congregations.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Steve Gaines is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church.)

11/10/2016 1:18:32 PM by Steve Gaines | with 0 comments

President Trump: Now what for the church?

November 9 2016 by Russell Moore

The 2016 presidential election is now over, and, in what very few could ever have imagined, Donald Trump is elected President of the United States. No matter what our differences politically or religiously, surely we can all agree that this campaign has been demoralizing and even traumatizing for most of the country. So what should evangelical Christians do now?
The first thing, of course, is to pray for our soon-to-be President Trump. The Bible commands us to pray for “all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Moreover, the scripture tells us to give “honor to whom honor is due” (Rom. 13:7). Many of us have deep differences with our new president, and would have no matter which candidate had been elected, but we must pray that he will succeed in leading our country with wisdom and justice.

Russell Moore

The sort of conservatism that many of us had hoped for – a multiethnic, constitutionally-anchored, forward-looking conservatism – has been replaced in the Republican Party by something else. On the one hand, there’s a European-style ethno-nationalist populism, opposed by an increasingly leftward progressive movement within the Democratic Party. In both of these movements, moral concerns – certainly personal character and family stability questions – are marginalized. We now have a politics of sexual revolution across the board. This means that conservative evangelicals are politically homeless – whether they know it or not.
That is not the worst situation we could be in. Political power – or the illusion of it – has not always been good for us. Such influence has led us to conform our minds to that of the world about what matters, and who matters, in the long-run of history. We should, as missionary Jim Eliot put it a generation ago, own our “strangerhood.”
What can we do now? We can, first of all, maintain a prophetic clarity that is willing to call to repentance everything that is unjust and anti-Christ, whether that is the abortion culture, the divorce culture, or the racism/nativism culture. We can be the people who tell the truth, whether it helps or hurts our so-called “allies” or our so-called “enemies.”
Moreover, no matter what the racial and ethnic divisions in America, we can be churches that demonstrate and embody the reconciliation of the kingdom of God. After all, we are not just part of a coalition but part of a Body – a Body that is white and black and Latino and Asian, male and female, rich and poor. We are party of a Body joined to a Head who is an Aramaic-speaking Middle-easterner. What affects black and Hispanic and Asian Christians ought to affect white Christians. And the sorts of poverty and social unraveling among the white working class ought to affect black and Hispanic and Asian Christians. We belong to each other because we belong to Christ.
The most important lesson we should learn is that the church must stand against the way politics has become a religion, and religion has become politics. We can hear this idolatrous pull even in the apocalyptic language used by many in this election – as we have seen in every election in recent years – that this election is our “last chance.” And we can hear it in those who assume that the sort of global upending we see happening in the world – in Europe, in the Middle East, and now in the United States – mean a cataclysm before which we should panic.
Such talk is not worthy of a church that is already triumphant in heaven, and is marching on earth toward the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ. Will we face difficult days ahead? Yes. The religious liberty concerns will continue. The cultural decline we have warned against is now part of every ideological coalition in the country. But the question we must ask is who “we” are.
We are not, first, Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or progressives. We are not even, first of all, the United States of America. We are the church of the resurrected and triumphant Lord Jesus Christ. We have survived everything from the rage of Nero to that of Middle Eastern terrorist cells. We have, in fact, often done best when we are, what one historian calls, the “patient ferment” of a church alive with the gospel.
The church must be, as Martin Luther King Jr. taught us – the conscience of the state. But we do that from a place of gospel power, not a place of cowering fear. That means that we – all of us – should see this election as important for our country, but not ultimate for our cosmos.
We should be ready to pray and preach, to promote the common good and to resist injustice. We will pledge allegiance to the flag, but we will pledge a higher allegiance to the cross. We can pray and honor our leaders, work with them when we can, while preparing to oppose them when needed. We do not need the influence that comes from being a political bloc. We have more than influence; we have power – the power that comes through the weakness of the crucified.
Our rallying cry is not “Hail to the Chief” but “Jesus is Lord.” Perhaps this electoral shakeup means that President Trump will lead America to be great again. I hope so. But regardless, whatever happens to America, we must seek the Kingdom first again.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. This article was originally published at Used with permission.)

11/9/2016 9:25:36 AM by Russell Moore | with 0 comments

Nov. 8: Christians should vote

November 8 2016 by Steve Gaines

One of my favorite movies is an old classic starring Gary Cooper called Sergeant York.
The story is about a Tennessee mountain man named Alvin York, a poor farmer who kept running into bad luck. But along the way he became a Christian. When World War I broke out, he designated himself as a conscientious objector because he believed the Bible taught people not to kill.
While he was in basic training, he excelled as a marksman. He came to a crisis during his early days in the military. During a long period of meditation and prayer he read this verse: “Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s’” Matthew 22:21, NAU).

Steve Gaines

In the movie he mulled over Jesus’ words and came to the conviction that a follower of Jesus could also be a patriotic citizen of the United States and could fight to defend his country.
My father, Edgar Gaines, was a lot like Alvin York. No, my father did not receive the accolades York did. But when World War II broke out, my father left his farm in Lauderdale County, Tenn., and went to war to fight in the United States Navy. He had never been out of his county, much less America, but he went all over the world on a warship fighting for our freedoms.
One of the freedoms men and women like Alvin York and Edgar Gaines fought for was the freedom to vote. Many brave men and women have died so we can have the privilege to choose our own leaders. They fought and died so we could have a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
I believe voting is my patriotic duty as a citizen of the United States. I love my country and I thank God that I live in America. Is it perfect? No. But neither am I, and neither are you. Does America need to repent and turn afresh to Jesus? Yes. And so do I, and so do you.
The greatest issue in our land in my opinion is abortion. Sixty million babies have been slaughtered via abortion in America since Roe v. Wade in 1973. That is 10 times as many Jewish people that were killed by Hitler and the Nazis in the Holocaust. I have four children and 10 grandchildren. I cringe when I think that there are people in America who believe it would be alright to take a baby’s life when it is only a month, a day or a week away from being born. We have not only lost our morals, we have lost our minds if we think that is right.
I believe that New Testament marriage – one woman married to one man – is an issue all Christians must stand for in America. The only marriage that the New Testament supports is heterosexual, monogamous marriage (cf. Matthew 19:5; Ephesians 5:31).
I also believe Christians must champion the fact that racism must stop in America. There is only one race – the human race. Bible-believing Christians believe that we all come from the same biological parents – Adam and Eve, thus we are all biologically related to one another. All lives matter because God created all people, God loves all people, Jesus died for all people, and anyone can be saved!
Christians should vote and we should carry our Christian convictions into the voting booth with us. Find out what candidates believe and vote for or against them based on your biblical principles.
Christians, do not sit this one out. Do not stay home and avoid voting on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Stand in line five hours if you have to, but make sure you register your vote. People have fought and died to give you the privilege of being salt and light in this sinfully dark world.
Vote and pray on Tuesday. In other words, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Steve Gaines is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of the Memphis – area Bellevue Baptist Church.)

11/8/2016 10:23:26 AM by Steve Gaines | with 0 comments

A life changed on a college campus

November 7 2016 by Lee Clamp

It’s hard to believe that a bowling match could change your life.
It was my first week of college. I was out from under my parents’ supervision, and it was time to party. However, the party I went to that first night of freedom was pretty depressing and I left early.

Lee Clamp

Then some guys I met at my dorm invited me to go bowling with a Christian organization on campus. There was something different about these guys. My roommate, whom I had just met, read his Bible the first night in his bunk. There was a brotherhood among the older guys down the hall from my dorm room that was subtle but attractive. They talked about Jesus like they actually knew Him, and they were … normal.
Now don’t get me wrong, I knew a lot about Jesus. My only “drug” problem was induced by my parents when they drug me to church every Sunday. Len G. Corder was my pastor and my grandfather. But I didn’t realize that knowing about Jesus was not the same as knowing Jesus.
And so I sat in the bowling alley with about 50 college students. I watched the joy that came out of them, the smiles on their faces and the energy in the room, which was captivating. Many upperclassmen took the time to come and ask my name. Others cared enough about me to find out my story and to listen.
As the weeks went on, I hung out with them, went to the weekly campus organization and heard the gospel. After two months of struggle, I surrendered my life to Jesus and began to live the life I had observed them living.
Here in South Carolina, there are more than 250,000 college students in the universities and technical schools. The Cooperative Program funds missionaries on 28 of our largest campuses. Twelve of those missionaries are dedicated fulltime to equipping college students to love and disciple students just like me. State Baptist conventions across the country engage in similar ministries on their campuses as well.
The college campus is filled with our future. Possibly, our only hope at shifting our culture is investing in the next generation in these critical times in their lives. Get outside the walls of your church building, and go to them. They are longing for someone to care for them and love them. The local collegiate missionaries can’t do it by themselves. They need you, and they can connect you with collegiate students who need you.
So, to Jeff, Dow, Lopez, Jack, Hugh, Witney, Ryan, Alan, Tommy and Luke: Thank you for your investment in me. A special thank you also goes out to adults I’ve never met who invested time and resources in a campus ministry. This side of heaven, they will never know the multiplication that God did with their investment. On the other side of eternity, we will party together and give Jesus glory for transforming lives.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lee Clamp, @leeclamp on Twitter, is evangelism group director for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. For contact information for Baptist Collegiate Ministry nationwide, go to or Google search for Baptist Collegiate Ministry or contact your state convention.)

11/7/2016 8:32:04 AM by Lee Clamp | with 0 comments

Only Jesus can clear our name

November 4 2016 by Owen Strachan

It is no secret that American culture in 2016 is rife with hostility.
The glittering technoculture that supposedly heralded a new era of transparence and good feelings has instead fostered new platforms like Instagram on which people trade ad hominem putdowns via words and emojis.
What are Christians to think about our current moment? More urgently, how should we handle such invective when it comes our way?

Owen Strachan

The stories of two public figures have made me think of late. They are an unlikely pairing: LeBron James and Alexander Hamilton.
NBA rookie Ben Simmons shared with The New York Times recently that he has learned from LeBron not to respond to critics. “I’ve learned a lot just being around LeBron,” Simmons said. “People say things about him all the time, but he would never say anything back. That’s what I learned from him: Don’t retaliate to articles or pieces or to things that are said about me.”
Maybe LeBron doesn’t always follow this policy, but hearing about it took me aback. The amount of criticism that a megastar like James takes would boggle the mind of a normal person. His advice to a much younger athlete was, however, not to prove everybody wrong by one’s words, but to take the hit, essentially. As Simmons said, “Don’t retaliate.”
Other celebrities take a different approach. I recently finished Ron Chernow’s excellent Alexander Hamilton, the book that spawned the now-famous musical. Chernow’s study of the architect of the American financial system shows that when it came to taking fire, Hamilton often shot back at his critics. He penned missives, newspaper pieces, and challenged numerous adversaries to affairs of honor, episodes that could easily lead to dueling – literally, the two opponents shooting pistols at one another.
This, in fact, is how Hamilton met his earthly end. Aaron Burr, grandson of Jonathan Edwards, killed Hamilton with one shot in 1804. Hamilton’s beloved son Philip had died a few years before him in a duel, leaving an almost impossibly tragic stamp on the house of one of America’s greatest statesmen.
Christians today may not fight a duel, but many of us will not fail to find our honor besmirched, our name taken in vain. This is particularly true for leaders. The best way to raise opposition to one’s views is to hold them publicly. Leadership in Christ’s church, then, will mean weathering many storms, including many instances when one’s character is impugned and one’s doctrine is reproached. Too often, those who disagree with us will declare us guilty without a trial.
Many of us will be grieved at the disagreements and criticism we must face in a fallen world. We will be tempted to lash out at those who seek to wound us. In this sense, we at a human level know very well what Alexander Hamilton felt as he tried, over and over again, to clear his name. Sometimes he acted rashly, but in other cases, his opponents spread malicious falsehood against him. Reading his story, such attacks troubled him greatly for as long as he lived.
We understand why. But we also recognize that, in Christ, we are offered something better than a hot-take opportunity. By his blood, Jesus Christ makes us His own, adopting us into his Father’s house, clearing our guilt and giving us a new name. In Christ, we no longer need to perform image maintenance and reputational management. The world may hate us, but if we are held secure by Jesus – and every believer is (John 10:27) – that is enough, fathoms more than enough, for us.
This does not preclude any response to critics. At times, one must speak up. There are real falsehoods that deserve a response. But we will never be able to undo opposition in a total and final sense by our own strength. Important as it is for us to engage in select discussion, there simply is no ultimate vindication of ourselves we can accomplish. Only Jesus can clear our name. Only Jesus can overcome our enemies. Only Jesus can quiet hate, and destroy evil, and right every wrong ever done to His people (and every wrong we ourselves have done, sadly).
We need this. Living in a sin-cursed world means that the wind is often in our faces. If we doubt this, we should engage a member of Christ’s church who lives in a country without religious freedom and find out their perspective on the matter. Bare-knuckled opposition may be a new experience for many American Christians, but it is not a new experience for the global church, let alone the historic church.
You can be the best athlete in the world, like LeBron James, and you will still draw unending criticism. You can be a key architect of American politics, and you will often be roasted, not celebrated (as Hamilton was). The same is true for every believer, impressive or not. Every person must reckon with an angry, divisive, tear-you-down world. The question before us is this: In such moments, will we allow insecurity and worldly fears to rule us?
Is Jesus our reputation, the custodian of our image – or are we?
The good news is this: If Jesus is our all, we can take the heat, for we will soon gain the world. Somebody tell Instagram, because that is a truth worth creating an emoji over.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Owen Strachan is associate professor of Christian theology and director of the Center for Public Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., where this column first appeared at its website. Used with permission.)

11/4/2016 9:54:36 AM by Owen Strachan | with 0 comments

Something to be excited about

November 3 2016 by David Holmes

I learned an important lesson from an association of churches several years ago that had recently admitted a new congregation. On the Sunday following a weeklong conference, I was invited to preach to this new congregation.
My wife and I arrived early and discovered that this very small congregation was particularly excited that morning. I joined in some of the conversations and discovered that the members had learned about a new idea that was a revolutionary concept to them.
There was something called "The Cooperative Program" and they were going to be able to help send missionaries all around the world.

David Holmes

Having grown up in Baptist life, I did not remember a time when there was not a Cooperative Program. I took it for granted. To me it was not a revolutionary idea but rather something that was always there, quietly doing its work without requiring a lot of attention.
On that Sunday morning I was reminded that the Cooperative Program absolutely was something to always be excited about. No matter how small or large, every congregation could be a part of work all around the world.
Now, several years later, I have the privilege of serving a church as the global missions pastor with responsibilities for missions across our country and the world. My perspective has matured from just knowing I should be excited about how the Cooperative Program helps every church send missionaries around the world to, now, a place where I depend upon the resources of the Cooperative Program to facilitate my work.
As we participate in planting churches here in the United States, I do not have to vet potential church planters. When a potential church planter sits down at my desk, I have the resources of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) at my disposal. NAMB assists with vetting, training, counseling and placing these church planters while allowing me to focus on helping these new church plants with finances and personnel.
Imagine the resources we would have to expend to do the work NAMB does for us. The Cooperative Program helps fund NAMB. NAMB does for us the tasks they can do best. We can focus on applying the talents and gifts of our congregations to the work of planting churches. Ultimately, the Cooperative Program provides efficiency and excellence that would be difficult to obtain otherwise.
Internationally, the Cooperative Program helps fund our International Mission Board (IMB) which partners with my local church in our efforts to serve around the world. Today’s ever-changing geo-political situations necessitate wise decisions about how to apply our physical and personal resources. Our IMB personnel are a critical resource in making those decisions.
Wherever we may work in the world, it is critical that teams serve with an understanding of the unique culture and how to interact with locals. Becoming an expert on all these cultures would be an enormous job that would require a great deal of resources. Our Cooperative Program-funded field personnel are our local experts and trainers. They equip our teams to serve more effectively.
Not only is our return on investment of time and money multiplied by Cooperative Program resources, we also know that the work we do is part of something that continues when we are not present. These field personnel are not tour guides who accommodate something my church wants to do. They are local experts on the needs and opportunities in their areas. They can present their strategy and together we can apply our congregation’s abilities to help them move forward with their strategy and achieve results far beyond what we could do separately.
I am grateful that because of the Cooperative Program, I do not have to do my work "separately." If you are not deeply involved in the nuts and bolts of your church’s mission planning and effort, you may not know how critical the entities and resources funded by the Cooperative Program dollars are to the work your local church does. I can promise you that the Cooperative Program is something you should be excited about.
It may have been around for a while quietly doing its work, but it is worthy of celebrating. It is as relevant to what we do today as it was when God planted the idea with Southern Baptists a long time ago. Celebrate it, support it and take advantage of the resources it provides.
By the way, the Cooperative Program does a lot more than what I have mentioned. I imagine that if you would take time to check it out, you would be amazed at all the things your dollars are doing – cooperatively.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Holmes is the global missions pastor for Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, Tenn. This column first appeared at the website of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.)


11/3/2016 9:48:46 AM by David Holmes | with 0 comments

Wisdom for when to stay quiet

November 2 2016 by Michael Kelley

We are loud people.
We might not be yelling all the time, but most of us are broadcasting almost all the time – broadcasting statements, pictures, videos to any and all who darken the doorway of our social media accounts.
Perhaps, then, the exhortations we find in Proverbs regarding our speech are not just applicable to our literal mouths and words; perhaps they are equally applicable to all the ways we broadcast ourselves.
Take, then, what we find in Proverbs 21:23: “The one who guards his mouth and tongue keeps himself out of trouble.

Michael Kelley

Or Proverbs 13:3: “The one who guards his mouth protects his life; the one who opens his lips invites his own ruin.
There is wisdom in keeping your mouth shut. Certainly not all the time, but certainly more than most of us do. But doing so is much easier said than done. In a society of hot takes, in a world of instant opinion and reaction, and in a culture where the loudest voice seems to always win, the temptation is there to broadcast. Immediately. And loudly.
In thinking through the voice of wisdom in Proverbs, I see at least three spiritual reasons why it’s a good idea to keep my mouth shut more often.

1. To serve others.

Oftentimes, my quick speech betrays my self-focus. The only way, after all, I could speak so quickly after someone else is if I’ve been considering my clever retort while they have been speaking instead of actually listening to them. Conversely, if I consciously made the choice to keep my mouth closed, then I would find much more intellectual energy available to truly listen and process what someone else is saying.
My silence, then, is a way I can truly serve others, for true service is more than simply doing something for someone else; it’s thinking of someone as better than myself. Surely a great beginning point of that kind of service is actively choosing their words over my own.

2. To acknowledge my lack.

There is another verse in Proverbs that speaks well here: “Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent, discerning when he seals his lips” (Proverbs 17:28). My dad used to rephrase this Proverb as Abraham Lincoln did – “Better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” In other words, it’s smart to keep your mouth shut because if you open it, all you’re going to do is show your ignorance about a particular topic, person or issue.
But if I know this about myself – that I am not the smartest, most clever or most wise person in the room, then keeping my mouth shut is not some kind of savvy power play. It’s an actual acknowledgment on my part that I don’t have anything of value to add at that moment. And that’s OK. It’s far better, in fact, than opening my mouth just to try and prove myself to a room full of people.

3. To embrace the Spirit’s work.

One of other reasons I speak quickly is because I am uncomfortable with silence. I’m the guy that will always speak up in a room, not because I necessarily have anything of value to say, but because I’ll do just about anything to avoid the awkwardness that comes from silence.
This is a problem, because it’s during these pregnant silences when the Holy Spirit does good and eternal work. There are those moments when someone might be convicted of their sin. They might feel genuine sadness over a situation in their lives. They might contemplate questions of the highest order. And I might, in an effort to relieve the awkwardness of silence, stand in the way of that good and lasting soul work that needs to happen. Here, too, the wisdom of Proverbs hits home with me.
Quietness of speech, then, is not some kind of social awkwardness. Or at least it’s not when that quietness has been cultivated intentionally as a part of growing as a disciple of Jesus. Instead, this quietness marks the one who is confident in Jesus and His power, and simultaneously aware of their own great deficiencies. And that is a wonderful place to be, for this is where the gospel meets us again and again.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Kelley is director of groups ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and author of Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life. He is on Twitter at @_michaelkelley and online at, where this article first appeared. Used with permission.)

11/2/2016 9:06:57 AM by Michael Kelley | with 0 comments

Linking arms, marching together

November 1 2016 by Danny Akin

Southern Baptists are not your typical denomination. We are actually a convention of churches. The principle of local church autonomy is a part of our identity and means that churches are not subject to outside influence. They are self-governing. But that’s not all it means.
It means that there is no uniform standard of involvement in the denominational process. That puts churches and pastors in the position of deciding just how much – or how little – they will be involved at the various levels of partnership. 

Danny Akin

Hierarchy is not a word that describes the Southern Baptist Convention but cooperation is. We join together voluntarily because we believe that we can do more together than we can do apart. But that means more than just the bare minimum, or partnering in name only while we go about our individual interests.
This isn’t a “pay-for-play” system, where we each cast our lot in so that we can reap the benefits to pursue our own self-interests.
When we join hands, we do so for something greater than ourselves. We have a common set of values in the Baptist Faith and Message, a common goal in the Great Commission and a common hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we share our resources for the kingdom, we are investing in the future of our churches and the advancement of God’s mission in the world.
We have the responsibility to participate in our joint future. We have local associations that are reaching the communities around them, state conventions that are planting churches and serving people, and a nationwide convention of churches that is standing together to reach the ends of the earth. At every level we can share our gifts and talents, as well as a willingness to work together on mission.
What does this look like? Yes, it means we give financial resources. It also means we give our time. We give our time to know each other better.
We give our time to know the needs around us more. We give our time to sit in meetings that may not seem exciting to the world, but we value them because they are necessary to make decisions that set our priorities and the course of our future.
We sit in those meetings, we speak when we can, we vote when called upon and we prayerfully consider the possibility of serving in leadership for a season. If we give up the responsibility to participate in the process, we lose the right to criticize the outcomes.
The beauty of our system is that churches don’t serve associations and conventions, but rather associations and conventions serve churches to help them do what they cannot do alone. The danger is that we will be all too happy to receive but lack the motivation to give.
At that point, the word “cooperation” no longer applies. Southern Baptists at all levels cannot afford to stop actively linking arms as we obey the marching orders of King Jesus.
We have all been commissioned and commanded to go and evangelize the whole world. If we truly believe that doing so in collaboration is the best way – and I certainly do – then we won’t sit this one out. We will seize every moment for the Great Commission, and we will do it together.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Danny Akin is president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

11/1/2016 11:04:53 AM by Danny Akin | with 0 comments

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