October 2011

Want to reach young people? Better be on Facebook

October 31 2011 by Terry Dorsett, Baptist Press

BARRE, Vt. – The Facebook post popped up on my screen. It was a young adult friend who needed to talk about some things going on in his life. We talked via instant message for a while and then later that evening we chatted by phone. We talked through his immediate crisis and I reminded him of the role his faith should play in his life. The Lord used that conversation to help him find the strength to endure that temporary crisis and refocus on other more positive aspects of his life.

Less than a week later, I had a similar Facebook conversation with another young man going through his own difficult experience, which resulted in us getting together the next day and meeting face to face. And less than 48 hours after that, a young lady needed a listening ear as well, so we talked through Facebook and through text messaging for most of the evening until she was able to sort through her issue.

Though I am not a professional counselor, such discussions with young people in crisis happen quite often in my life and they almost always begin with a Facebook post or a text message.

Though I suspect there are many reasons why young people contact me when they are having a bad day, I think one of the main reasons is that I am accessible to them via the technology that they are most comfortable with. Long ago I decided to embrace Facebook and other social media as a medium for ministering to others. Though it was uncomfortable for me at first – I prefer a face-to-face discussion – I have found that many young adults prefer to discuss what is going on in their lives through electronic media.

Perhaps they feel it would be difficult to talk about such those things face to face. But behind the safety of their computer screens and smart phones, they let down their guard and share what is going on in their world. Though I seldom have “easy answers” for them (because I am not a trained counselor and also because I do not think easy answers exist for many issues), I do have a listening ear and know how to pray earnestly. I will often meet with them in my office or at McDonald’s for lunch or for a soda to follow up on whatever we talked about electronically. They seem much more comfortable talking in person after they have already had an initial conversation about their situation via some social media.

Though this kind of ministry is relatively new and is still evolving, I think we need more of it if we hope to connect with the next generation. Social media is how they communicate. They ask each other out on dates through instant messages and then break off significant relationships with a simple text message. They tell intimate details about their lives on Facebook and invite anonymous people to ask them questions on Formspring. Social media is a communication method that they are comfortable with.

Christian leaders who want to minister to this age group would do well to learn how to use these tools. It opens up a whole new world of pastoral counseling, and though it takes some getting used to, it can be used effectively.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Terry Dorsett is director of the Green Mountain Baptist Association and the author of “Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church.” For information, visit VermontBaptist.org. Visit his blog at TerryDorsett.com.)

10/31/2011 1:48:19 PM by Terry Dorsett, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



What to do when God seems distant

October 28 2011 by Diane Montgomery, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – She was sitting there contemplating what to say. She had so many thoughts running through her mind. Her feelings seemed to change with every thought. He’d been so part of her life that she couldn’t imagine life without him but she also couldn’t deny the spark was gone, everything had changed. Where was the passion that had been so pervasive in the beginning? Where was the excitement that each new day used to bring? She had to wonder: “Am I still in love with him?” “Is this worth it anymore?”

Our relationship with God is similar to a marriage or dating relationship. In the beginning you’re on a spiritual high with spiritual endorphins shooting through your heart and mind, but after time the high sometimes goes away. That’s when the questions begin: Do you love God? Does He love you? Do you want to keep being a Christ-follower? So what do you do when the sizzle has fizzled with God?

Find out who’s changed
In marriages, people change and feelings of “like” and “love” sometimes change, too. Sometimes those changes end up hurting the relationship. So, to figure out how to get your spark back with God, you need to figure out who and what has changed. Ask yourself: Whose behavior has changed?

God always acts the same and has the exact character since the beginning of beginnings. (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8) His love for us never changes (Deuteronomy 7:9), never diminishes, never goes away (Psalm 37:28; Romans 8:37-39) It’s the strongest, deepest, most unbelievable love you’ll ever experience (John 13:34-35, Romans 5:8). So it can’t be God who’s changing in the relationship.

If your relationship feels different, more than likely it’s because your behavior has changed. We’re the ones whose love changes, whose hearts stray, who must continually recommit ourselves to the relationship. People have wavering emotions, continually changing personalities, behaviors, habits and hearts. That’s why we must continually keep repenting of our straying hearts and go back to the God we first loved.

If you’ve lost that loving feeling, find out what habits, attitudes or behaviors have changed in your life. Have you stopped reading Scripture and praying? Have you been trying to control your own life? Have you given God’s place in your heart to someone else?

All relationships go through highs and lows, even friendships, but you keep plugging through; you stay committed. Every marriage goes through stale or difficult times but you’ve got to stick it out. God is your anchor through the storms – and riding out the storms is what makes your faith stronger. The “low” times in your relationship with God shouldn’t make you doubt His goodness but should prove that no matter how you change, or how much you stray, God is always faithful to you! (Matthew 28:20) It should strengthen your faith, not sever it.

Remember why you fell in love
When you’re in the beginning of any new relationship you want to spend all your time together and want to know everything about the other person. What were you like when you first fell in love with God? You read His Word constantly, consistently talked to Him, and got to know Him. Go back to the beginning. Set aside daily time to spend with Him, talk with Him, and find out more about His amazing qualities.

The best way to revive your relationship is to remember why you started loving God. You fell in love because Christ died on the cross so all your sins would be forgiven and you could have an eternal relationship with Him! (Romans 5:17, 6:4). Christ suffered an excruciating death because of His great love for you, so that through faith in Him you could be together. We all owe Him our lives, our love, our complete selves.

But isn’t it amazing that the God of the universe loves you so much He gave you the opportunity, through Christ’s death on the cross, for an eternal union with Him? He gave you new life (John 3:16-21), free from the chains of sin’s darkness (Romans 6:9, 23). That should definitely make you swoon over Him again!

So, if you’re feeling like God’s been distant and things aren’t like they used to be, look at what’s changed since you last felt excitement for Him, and that will help you know what needs to change. For true believers, the love and excitement will come back again – but it’s up to you. If you spend time with God, ask Him to show you His love for you, and commit to Him. Then you’ll begin to notice those “butterflies” coming back. You will get back the excitement in your relationship with God.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diane Montgomery is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a freelance writer who lives in Fort Worth, Texas. This column first appeared at UnlockingFemininity.com.)

10/28/2011 1:35:13 PM by Diane Montgomery, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Yes, son, we are rich

October 27 2011 by Chuck Bentley, Baptist Press

GAINESVILLE, Ga. – When my oldest two sons, Hank and Todd, were small boys, we took a family vacation to the Colorado mountains with two other families. Both of the other families had far more money than the Bentleys. In my opinion, if we were to compare bank accounts at that time, theirs were probably 100 times larger than mine. Based on income or net worth, I could have been considered poor in this mix of families.

For some reason during the vacation, 8-year-old Todd became aware of this. We’re not sure how this came to his attention; perhaps the other children had more options when spending their pocket money. Regardless of the reason, one morning the adults were all sitting around a table outside a café, enjoying the morning conversation over a cup of coffee when Todd appeared.

He crawled up into my lap and began tugging on my arm just as I was making some point or other with the adults. I paused and excused myself to allow my curious son to ask his question. He had my full attention and, as I would soon regret, the attention of everyone at the table. All eyes were on Todd.

“Dad, are we rich?” Todd asked matter-of-factly and loud enough for everyone to hear.

I could not believe he was asking me about such a private matter, especially in the presence of the very people who had so much more money than we did.

I blushed and thought about how I was going to answer him. It got very quiet around the table.

“Well, yes, Todd, we are rich.”

He beamed with pride as a smile broke out across his face. I thought that would end the conversation and he would get back to playing with the other kids. He wasn’t quite satisfied, though.

“How rich are we Dad?”

His eyes locked on mine and I could hear a few folks chuckling from behind their coffee mugs as they waited to see how I would handle this one. This question drew more interest than the first!

“Todd, well, uh ... we are very, very, very rich.” My son had to ponder this one for a few seconds. It also raised a few eyebrows on the faces of our friends who were aware of the vast difference in our incomes.

“Richer than Ross Perot?” Todd shot back.

He was not letting go now. He wanted some real answers. I have no idea how an 8-year-old even knew of Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot, or why he would want to compare our humble family with this icon of the mega-rich of Texas where we lived at the time. He was not going to let it go, however, even as I silently prayed for him to go back and play like the other good little children.

“Todd, I’m going to have to tell you the truth. Son, I don’t know Ross Perot so I can’t be certain, but I believe I am the richest man on the face of the earth.”

“Wow!” Todd’s eyes looked up and beyond into the sky as if he were trying to imagine just how vast my financial holdings might be. I let it hang there for a few seconds as everyone around the table enjoyed this spontaneous moment of intimacy between father and son. There were some quiet smiles on the faces of our friends who thought that this was finally the end of the conversation. Ann, however, was giving me a look that I knew meant, “Tell him the truth!” Perhaps I would have, but Todd had one more question before his curiosity would be satisfied.

“So, does that mean I can spend whatever I want on anything I want?” Now I finally knew what all this was about.

“No, Todd, you can’t spend money on whatever you want, because our riches have nothing to do with how much money we have. I wasn’t thinking about money when I answered you.”

“Oh, Dad, I thought we were really rich!” he said loudly as he jumped out of my lap and headed back to playing with his friends.

Everyone got a chuckle out of this exchange, knowing that I was on the spot answering such an unexpected question in front of a group of friends. I was about to get back to the regular chitchat with the adults when one of the other men looked at me and said, “Great answer.”

My friend, who had considerable money, went further. “You affirmed to him what is really true. Money and wealth are not the same.”

That story has always reminded me of Proverbs 16:16, “How much better it is to get skillful and godly wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.”

As believers, we are rich, richer than all others regardless of how much money they have accumulated, because the root of riches is found in Christ.

We abide in Christ and experience supernatural peace and security. God promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. That promise enables the believer to live without fear, without constantly worrying about not having enough money, or things or status. That believer has already been made rich in every way in God’s economy.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This is an excerpt from Bentley’s new book, “The Root of Riches: What if Everything You Think about Money Is Wrong.” Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries and host of Crown’s My MoneyLife radio feature and MoneyLife podcast. To learn more, visit Crown.org or call 1-800-722-1976. Crown Financial Ministries is an interdenominational ministry dedicated to equipping people with biblically based financial tools and resources through radio, film, seminars, small groups and individual coaching. Based in Georgia, the ministry has offices in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Africa, Europe, India, Asia and Australia.)
10/27/2011 1:29:54 PM by Chuck Bentley, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



How to have a God-honoring Halloween

October 26 2011 by Eugene Curry, Baptist Press

GRANADA HILLS, Calif. – There’s an old British prayer that I’ve always found rather charming: “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, good Lord deliver us.” As we move toward Halloween, I imagine that many Christians might be harboring thoughts somewhat along these lines.

Each year, on Oct. 31, children (dressed as ghoulies and ghosties and even the occasional long-leggedy beastie) tramp from house to house pestering homeowners by ringing doorbells and expecting a handout that will rot their teeth. More seriously though, the holiday itself just doesn’t seem entirely wholesome to many – what with its occult themes and so forth. Wouldn’t it be better, some Christians ask themselves, if Halloween would just go away?

For those who perhaps sympathize with that feeling, I encourage you to look at Halloween a bit differently this year.

Yes, Halloween does indeed have a pagan background, developing out of Celtic festivals such as Samhain in the British Isles in which the spirits of the dead figured prominently. But while Oct. 31 may have a rather dubious lineage, like other formerly pagan holidays, this day has undergone a process of Christianization. As the gospel moved into the British Isles, the ancient church recognized both the danger and the opportunity that Samhain presented. As such, early Christians took the day and reinterpreted it, instituting the feast of All Saints on Nov. 1: a day on which believers looked back to all the heroes of the faith whom had left a good example for us to follow. All Saints, sometimes called “All Hallows” (as in “hallowed” ground, meaning “holy”) was preceded by a vigil of prayer which began on the evening before All Hallows – All Hallows Eve (as in “Christmas Eve”), the day from which we get our Halloween.

Of course, Halloween has lost much of its distinctly Christian significance. The day is now far more about eating Pop Rocks than saluting Paul, and gobbling Almond Joys than remembering Augustine. But so what? If ancient Christians could turn Oct. 31 to Christian purposes, surely we can do the same in our own time.

Consider that evangelism normally involves taking the initiative: It rests with the Christian to shake off his inertia and actually go up to someone, somewhere, and tell them about the Lord. But not on Halloween. On Halloween dozens, sometimes hundreds, of children and their parents will come to your door. They’ll extend their costumed arms and present you with a basket or bag and wait patiently until you place something inside. Now, of course, they’ll be hoping for candy, but nothing prevents us from giving them a little something extra too: the gospel.

Each year volunteers at my church, First Baptist Church of Granada Hills in California, do just that. We set up a table on the church’s property adjacent to the sidewalk outfitted with two big bowls. One bowl is filled with candy; the other bowl is filled with children’s gospel tracts. And every child that passes by receives something from each bowl. Many of these children don’t attend church. Some of them have never even heard of Jesus. But because they came our way on Halloween, each of them will have a chance to learn the story of salvation in terms that they can understand.

It’s simple, it’s non-threatening, it builds rapport with the community, and most importantly it brings the Gospel to those who need to hear it. LifeWay offers a number of tracts that can be used, even one or two that are specifically themed for Halloween. Let’s not let this opportunity pass us by; let’s not waste another Halloween that could be dedicated to the glory of God.

Halloween can be an excellent example of what Jesus taught in Luke 11. After parrying criticism that He was merely casting out demons by the authority of the prince of demons, Jesus said, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils” (Luke 11:21-22) In this parable Satan is the strong man, the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) guarding his own territory, who is overpowered by the Spirit of the Lord, the “someone stronger” (1 John 4:4). What’s so remarkable about this parable is that Christ tells us that not only are the strong man’s possessions taken from him (presumably lost souls), but that he’s stripped of even the armor he trusted in, even those things which he had hoped would allow him to retain control over his domain.

Now Christians have seen the power of God accomplish precisely this impressive feat over and over again, taking the very institutions that perpetuated the spiritual darkness of the world and redeeming them to aid in its salvation. The pagan festivals of Yule and Saturnalia with their feasting and evergreen trees were transformed into Christmas, and the springtime worship of the pagan goddess Eostre with its colored eggs and so on was transformed into Easter.

With all this in mind, let’s offer up a somewhat different prayer this year as we look out on streets filled with trick-or-treaters: From apathy for the spiritual well-being of youthful ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties, good Lord deliver us.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Eugene Curry is pastor of First Baptist Church of Granada Hills, Calif.)
10/26/2011 3:41:28 PM by Eugene Curry, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



10 revival meeting tips

October 25 2011 by Jake Roudkovski, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – Even though the number of revival meetings in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has been declining, a significant amount of churches continue to use revival meetings for evangelism and revitalization.
 
According to a study conducted by the Georgia Baptist Convention in 2001, 58 percent of the churches in the state conducted a local church revival. In a 2010 survey by LifeWay Research, revival meetings were among the five most often used evangelistic events in Southern Baptist churches.
 
Let me suggest several practical ways that may help churches benefit from a revival meeting:
 
• Purpose. When church leadership begins to sense that God is leading them to schedule a revival meeting, they need to ask what the purpose of such an event should be. Will it be primarily for evangelism or revitalization of a local congregation? The purpose will dictate a strategy for preparation. If the primary purpose is evangelism, the strategy may differ from that one if the primary purpose is revitalization. Even though a church selects the primary purpose as evangelism, it may experience a spiritual renewal among the membership. In turn, a church with the primary purpose as revitalization may reach people for Christ along the way. A clear purpose will enable church leadership to be more proactive in matching the purpose with a strategy for preparation and resources.
 
• Be aware of perceived ineffectiveness. Churches must be aware of the reasons that have caused some Christian leaders to assert that revival meetings are “dead.” The first reason for the perceived ineffectiveness is the spiritual condition of many churches. At times, Christian leaders tend to blame methodology but fail to understand that Western Christianity is in need of spiritual awakening. The church must pray for an awakening and cleanse herself from sin and live the life of holiness. The second reason for perceived ineffectiveness of revival meetings is cultural trends. Pastors cannot overlook the fact that during the golden era of revivalism, the entire community gathered around revival meetings.
 
Those meetings might have been the only major local event going in the community and the lost people came to it. The third reason for the perceived ineffectiveness of revival meetings is the proliferation of other evangelistic methodologies. When revival meetings in the SBC experienced their golden era, the revival meeting was the prevalent methodology for evangelism. Today churches employ a diversity of methodologies for evangelism.
 
• Personalities. Once the primary purpose is established, the church leadership should select prayerfully a revival team. I have to confess for the first 10 years as a pastor, I invited my pastor friends to preach revival meetings. However, I came to a conclusion that if I really believed that an evangelist was God’s gift to the church, I should be willing to employ vocational evangelists in churches God allowed me to serve.
 
Many evangelists have developed proven themes and formats and they have used them effectively in many churches. The church leadership should be open to what the revival teams may bring to the table in regard to theme and format. One year, I was sharing with an evangelist that the main purpose of the meeting would be evangelism when I found out that one of the themes he used frequently was an emphasis on the family. Further, a format the evangelist employed was a Saturday through Monday meeting. Previously, the more common formats for me were Sunday through Wednesday or Thursday through Sunday meetings. After prayerful consideration, we agreed to conduct a revival meeting with a theme of “focusing on the family” while employing a Saturday through Monday format. God blessed that event with over 40 people giving their lives to Christ.
 
• Preparation. After the church leadership establishes the purpose and secures a spiritually gifted revival team, they are ready to develop a strategy for preparation. Many state conventions publish manuals on revival preparation. The North American Mission Board has an excellent resource: “Revival Preparation Manual: Practical Suggestions for Planning a Revival in Your Church” (available at NAMBstore.com).
 
Revival manuals provide concrete ways to involve church membership in preparation for and participation in revival meetings. The attempt should be made to involve as many church members as possible in various tasks associated with revival preparation and the revival meeting itself.
 
• Publicity. One critical aspect of revival preparation is publicity. The most effective publicity is a personal invitation to attend. A business card with information about the event could be printed and distributed to church members to use in inviting their family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. Church literature such as newsletters, worship guides and websites should provide pertinent information about the event.
 
Depending on the budget allocated to publicity, the church could publicize the event via a local newspaper, television, yard signs and billboards. Publicity via Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other viral marketing strategies by the church and church members can generate a buzz in the community and beyond about the event.
 
• Personal evangelism. From my personal experience and observation, personal evangelism is the most productive way of preparation for revival meetings. Even though throughout the year as a pastor I was cultivating relationships with the lost, revival meetings provided an impetus for greater prayer and contacts with those without Christ.
 
• Program for children. One often neglected aspect of revival preparation is what to do with children. In one church I served as pastor, I became concerned about an apparent lack of participation by young couples. When asked, they responded by pointing to the fact that the church did not have anything for children during the revival week. From that day forward, in addition to a typical childcare, we provided a specialized program for children during revival services. When young couples knew that their children were taken care of spiritually, they were more inclined to participate and to invite their lost friends and family members to attend.
 
• Possible meals. Another response the young couples gave me for their lack of participation was that they did not have time to prepare a meal and get to the worship service after work. As a result, we began to provide catered meals during week nights. We offered tickets for a nominal price with a major portion of the meal subsidized by our church budget. Church members were more predisposed to invite people to their church when their invitation was accompanied by an invitation to a nice meal before the service during a busy week.
 
• Post-event follow-up. In preparation for revival meetings, post-event follow-up should not be overlooked. Billy Graham once commented that the most difficult part of his crusades was not what happened before the crusade but what happened after it was conducted. The same is true of local church revival meetings. As soon as the revival meeting concludes, names of those who made spiritual commitments can be distributed among deacons and/or Bible study group members for further follow-up.
 
• Prayer. The most significant aspect of revival meetings must be prayer. The genuine revival can be brought only by God. Only God can save individuals through His Holy Spirit. As the church leadership and membership engages in prayer, they acknowledge their dependence on God. From establishing the primary purpose of the revival meeting to seeking right individuals for the revival team, from publicity to personal evangelism, from taking care of spiritual needs of children to post-event follow-up, the church leadership and membership must prioritize prayer. Church leaders should set aside personal time to pray for genuine revival as well as provide opportunities for church members to pray for God’s movement in their church.
 
In identifying causes of perceived ineffectiveness of revival meetings, church leaders become more equipped to address challenges. By employing simple ways such as prayer, purpose, publicity and preparation, churches place themselves in the position for God to bring a harvest of souls. Let God grant us more souls for His glory as we employ revival meetings in our churches!
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jake Roudkovski is assistant professor of evangelism at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. This column is a summary of an article published in the book, Mobilizing a Great Commission Church for Harvest.)
10/25/2011 2:29:05 PM by Jake Roudkovski, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Is Mormonism Christian?

October 21 2011 by Phil Roberts, Baptist Press

KANSAS City, Mo. – Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas touched a very sensitive nerve when he referred to the Mormon church and faith as a cult. People have raised the issue and the question, “What, in fact, are evangelicals’ attitudes towards Mormons?” That has been the focus of much of the inquiry thrown at Jeffress.
 
It is important for us to remember that the question here is much broader than just evangelicals. Virtually every self-confessed Christian movement in America rejects Mormonism as a true expression of biblical or traditional Christian faith to the point that ex-Mormons are generally asked to be baptized again when joining a non-LDS church. This fact is true both of the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Presbyterian Church USA, and a variety of others. The United Methodist Church in 1995 included a report and a study document done on Mormonism which stated that the LDS church is not “a part of the historic, apostolic tradition of the Christian faith.” The important issue for us is that this raises a concern, not only in terms of Mormonism, but in terms of how a cult is defined.
 
When I was director of interfaith evangelism at the North American Mission Board, we generally approached the idea of a “cult” as a religious movement which claimed to be the only true expression of the Christian faith and yet had altered or changed one or more of the essential doctrines of the faith. Using this as a working definition, Mormonism is clearly, absolutely, completely, and thoroughly a “religious cult.” And while the word “cult” may be less than academic, it still carries popular meaning when used in a doctrinal sense as Jeffress has done.

While there may be other ways to define a cult both ethically, sociologically and psychologically, our primary concern is the essence and nature of the Mormon movement in terms of its contrasts and comparison with biblically based Christianity. When I am asked the question, “Is Mormonism a cult?,” I generally respond by saying there are three elements that everyone must be clearly aware of when it comes to Mormonism. These elements make it an aberrant expression of the Christian faith – i.e., a “cult.”

1. Mormonism radically redefines and doctrinally reconstructs the Christian faith. There is no major doctrine of the faith, whether it be God, Jesus, salvation or inspiration of the scriptures that Mormonism has not severely and completely altered and changed from its original intent. These alterations include:

– The Bible has “plain and precious parts” missing from it. The Book of Mormon, and the LDS volumes “Pearl of Great Price” and “Doctrine and Covenants” comprise the truly trustworthy scriptures.

– The doctrine of god and of humans – believing that there are an infinite number of gods in the universe and that the temple worthy males among them may become gods. Lorenzo Snow expressed this view in a well-known couplet: “As man is, God once was – as God is, man may become.” God himself is confined to a body of flesh and bones.

– Jesus was a procreated child of God and his wife in the spirit realm. He is also God’s son “in the flesh.” Smith maintained that the Holy Spirit was not involved with the conception of Jesus. The issue, then, is figuring out how Mary became pregnant and how she “contributed 23 chromosomes to Jesus while God contributed 23,” to quote a BYU professor.

– The fullness of salvation is “not easy,” but it is “possible,” as Mormons work to be worthy of celestial exaltation in an ultra-legalistic system of religious acts.

These concerns are just scratching the surface of the doctrinal errors of Mormonism.

2. Mormonism radically redefines and reconstructs the Christian worldview. If one understands the Mormon faith clearly, their position would maintain that:

– Native Americans are true descendants of Jewish people.

– There once flourished a major Jewish civilization in the western world.

– There was a language that existed called Reformed Egyptian which was the dominant language at one time in the western world and the Book of Mormon was written in it.

– The millennium will be a Mormon millennium with millennial headquarters established in Independence, Mo., with the temple work for the dead and genealogical research being done across the world in order to ensure proxy baptism for virtually every human being who had ever lived.

– The Mormon faith alone will dominate and guide the world after Christ’s return.

– Joseph Smith is the true prophet of God who reestablished God’s one true church on the earth.

3. Mormonism is disingenuous in its approach to proselytization. While claiming to be true to the Christian faith, Mormonism has seriously redesigned and recreated it. The whole basis of the church is built on the words of Jesus which are canonized in Joseph Smith’s religious autobiography. Joseph Smith claimed that God and Jesus commanded him not to join any church because “they were all wrong ... their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors (members) were all corrupt.” Mormonism, in fact, has set itself apart from main-stream Christianity. It has insisted that in order to join and be a part of God’s one true church, as well as to enter into the fullness of his salvation, one must become either a temple-worthy Mormon in this life or proxy baptized and temple-worthy in the life to come.

No matter how Robert Jeffress may be viewed by the general public, the main essential issue is that Mormonism has been, is, and probably always will be a radical departure from Biblical faith.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phil Roberts is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.)

10/21/2011 1:12:34 PM by Phil Roberts, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Evangelism or justice – which do we choose?

October 20 2011 by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Some evangelicals talk as though personal evangelism and public justice are contradictory concerns, or, at least, that one is part of the mission of the church and the other isn’t. I think otherwise, and I think the issue is one of the most important facing the church these days.

First of all, the mission of the church is the mission of Jesus. This mission doesn’t start with the giving of the Great Commission or at Pentecost. The Great Commission is when Jesus sends the church to the world with the authority He already has (Matt. 28:18), and Pentecost is when He bestows the power to carry this commission out (Acts 1:8).

The content of this mission is not just personal regeneration but disciple-making (Matt. 28:19). It is not just teaching, but teaching “them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20).

This mission is not inconsistent with what we have seen already in the life of Jesus. His mission is defined by Old Testament expectation (for instance, Ps. 72), and in the gospel accounts in terms of redemptive love for the whole person, both body and soul. From the literally embryonic moments of the Incarnation, such terms are present in Mary’s prayer about the coming of her Messiah (Lk. 1:46-55), and then in Jesus’ own inaugural words about His Kingdom’s arrival (Lk. 4:18-19).

This mission is summed up in the gospel as a message of reconciliation that is both vertical and horizontal, establishing peace with both God and neighbor. The Scripture tells us to love neighbor “as yourself” (Lk. 10:27-28).

This is not simply a “spiritual” ministry, as the example Jesus gives us is of a holistic caring for physical and economic needs of a wounded person, not to mention the transcending of steep ethnic hostilities. As theologian Carl F.H. Henry reminded evangelicals a generation ago, one does not love oneself simply in “spiritual ways” but holistically.

Of course, Jesus’ ministry would be about such things. After all, the Bible shows us, from the beginning, that the scope of the curse is holistic in its destruction – personal, cosmic, social, vocational (Gen. 3-11) and that the Gospel is holistic in its restoration – personal, cosmic, social, vocational (Rev. 21-22).

Moreover, the biblical prophetic witness consistently speaks in such terms. Is Ahab’s acquisition of Naboth’s land (1 Kings 21:1-19) a matter of personal sin or social injustice? Well, it was both. Was the sin of Sodom a conglomeration of personal sins or societal unrighteousness? It was both (Gen. 18:26; Ez. 16:49).

The prophets never divided up issues of righteousness as neatly as we do in the “personal” and the “social.” Isaiah speaks of God’s judgment both on personal pride and idolatry (Is. 2:11) and the “grinding” of the faces of the poor (Is. 3:14-15). Onward to Joel and Micah and Malachi right through John the Baptist the witness is the same.

The new covenant church continues this witness. Even after the public ministry of Jesus, His apostolic church continues a message of both personal justification and interpersonal justice. James directs the churches of the dispersion both in terms of their personal speech (James 3:1-12) and the unjust treatment of wage-earners (James 5:1-6).

James defines “pure and undefiled religion” as that which cares for the widows and orphans (James 1:27). Of course he does. His brother already has (Matt. 25:40).

For those who might seek to pit James against Paul, the New Testament allows no such skirmish, either on personal redemption or on ministry to the vulnerable. When they received Paul, the apostles, Paul says, were concerned, of course, that he proclaims the correct gospel but also that he remember the poor. This was, Paul testifies, “the very thing I was eager to do” (Gal. 2:10).

So how does the church “balance” a concern for evangelism with a concern for justice? A church does so in the same way it “balances” the gospel with personal morality. Sure, there have been churches that have emphasized public justice without the call to personal conversion. Such churches have abandoned the gospel.

But there are also churches that have emphasized personal righteousness (sexual morality, for instance) without a clear emphasis on the gospel. And there are churches that have taught personal morality as a means of earning favor with God. Such also contradicts the gospel.

We do not, though, counteract legalism in the realm of personal morality with an antinomianism. And we do not react to the persistent “social gospels” (of both Left and Right) by pretending that Jesus does not call His churches to act on behalf of the poor, the sojourner, the fatherless, the vulnerable, the hungry, the sex-trafficked, the unborn. We act in the framework of the gospel, never apart from it, either in verbal proclamation or in active demonstration.

The short answer to how churches should “balance” such things is simple: follow Jesus. We are Christians. This means that as we grow in Christlikeness, we are concerned about the things that concern him. Jesus is the King of His Kingdom, and He loves whole persons, bodies as well as souls.

Christ Jesus never sends away the hungry with, “Be warmed and filled” (James 2:16). What He says, instead, as He points to the love of both God and neighbor, to the care of both body and soul, is: “You go, and do likewise” (Lk. 10:37).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell D. Moore is dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at The Gospel Coalition website. It was cross-posted at Moore’s website, RussellMoore.com.)

10/20/2011 2:08:42 PM by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



4 keys to keep people in church

October 19 2011 by Thom S. Rainer, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – I had an extended conversation with a pastor of a church this past week. The topic was not that different from those I’ve had with church leaders for nearly 25 years. The pastor’s words were similar to those I’ve heard repeated hundreds of times: “We have a pretty good front door with a healthy number of guests. And we’ve had a steady increase in our number of new members. Our problem is really not the front door; it’s the back door. If we could just keep a fourth of all those who become involved in our church for a few months or more, we would be triple our size.”

He then asked the questions I was anticipating: “So how do we close the back door? What do we do to keep people from leaving our church or just becoming inactive?”

In our research of thousands of churches, we have found four common characteristics of congregations that have effective assimilation by almost any metric. But these churches that have effectively closed the back door are few in number, suggesting that the solution is easier said than done. Look at the four keys to effective assimilation. They are obviously not mutually exclusive.

Key No. 1: Membership high expectations. More is expected of members in high assimilation churches. Church discipline is more likely to be exercised in these churches as well. These churches typically have required entry point or membership classes. Becoming a part of these congregations is more than completing a card or walking an aisle. Members are expected to be involved and stay involved.

Key No. 2: Small group involvement. A concerted effort is made to get members and attendees involved in small groups. The form of the group may be a Sunday School class, a home group or a small group meeting elsewhere. The key is to get people connected to others, typically in weekly groups. The majority of small groups study the Bible or biblically related material.

Key No. 3: Ministry/missions involvement. High assimilation churches encourage people to be involved in ministry. A few even require ministry involvement prior to accepting someone into membership. Members who are involved in missions and ministry feel connected to the church. The Millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 2000, will not likely stay with a church at all if they are not involved in the ministries and missions of the church.

Key No. 4: Relational connections. In any organization, people stay connected more to other people than the organization itself. We are relational creatures. Local congregations are no exceptions. People are more likely to stay connected to the church if they have developed meaningful friendships and relationships with others in the church.

If these four keys are the solution to assimilation problems, why do relatively few churches practice them? Simply stated, the solutions require hard work. Often getting people in the front door is easier than keeping them from leaving through the back door.

Also, some churches have established traditions of low expectations. Changing almost anything, particularly expectations of members, can be a challenge. Members who came into the church with low expectations often resist the change. Their desired comfort is greater than their concern for the overall health of the congregation.

Our most recent research indicates that the American population as a whole is not resistant to visiting a church. The potential for an open front door is good. The greater challenge may be closing the backdoor.

And that challenge can only be met if congregations are fundamentally willing to change their attitude of “we’ve never done it that way before.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources. This column first appeared at ThomRainer.com.)
10/19/2011 3:09:10 PM by Thom S. Rainer, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Keep God in the driver’s seat

October 19 2011 by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press

EL CAJON, Calif. – “Hey, lead foot, are you sure the speed limit is 95?” “Are you waiting for some particular shade of green?” “Are you tailgating or is that car towing us?” Backseat drivers feel the need to be in control.

Here are the truths we should be learning and affirming daily to keep us from becoming backseat drivers to God on the days life gets dangerous:

1. Remember Who’s been driving the longest.

“From of old” describes all of the following: God’s compassion and loving kindness (Psalm 25:6); the throne from which He rules (Psalm 55:19; 93:2); His kingship (Psalm 74:12); the time His ordinances have been in place (Psalm 119:52); the time He has been the only God (Isaiah 45:21); the time He has been our Father and Redeemer (Isaiah 63:16); the time Jesus has existed (Micah 5:2).

Is there any danger, any trouble, any situation or circumstance that God has not seen in His existence “from of old”? Isn’t that a good reason for you to trust Him today?

2. Remember Who knows the best route.

When God rescued the children of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt, He did not lead them by the short route. It went right through “the land of the Philistines,” and God knew the Israelites would have retreated to Egypt in fear if they encountered these seafaring warriors. So He led them through the desert – and we have no evidence that God ever explained His actions until Moses wrote the Book of Exodus.

Have you learned that the path God chooses for you is the best one – even if He doesn’t explain why?

3. Remember Who has been down this road before.

The Book of Hebrews tells us that everything you and I experience in life has first been experienced by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). In fact, we are told that, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).

If Jesus stayed obediently on every road the Father sent Him down, can He not help you learn obedience on similar roads?

4. Remember Who has never been lost.

On the night before Jesus’ crucifixion He said to His Father, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). Jesus was sent into the world for a purpose (Mark 10:45; John 20:21; I John 3:8), and He never got lost along the way. In spite of severe obstacles, He reached His destination – the cross of Calvary.

Could not One with such singular focus guide you when you feel lost?

5. Remember Who never falls asleep at the wheel.

You and I might fall asleep at the wheel – but God never has. Elijah chided the prophets of Baal when their false god failed to show up on their behalf: “perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). Even when we grow weary, God’s eyes are always on the path (Matthew 26:36-46).

Are you willing to relax and enjoy the trip knowing that God is forever alert to your safety?

6. Remember Who has the perfect driving record.

All of God’s work is perfect (Deuteronomy 32:4); His way is perfect (2 Samuel 22:31); His knowledge is perfect (Job 37:16) – indeed, God Himself is perfect (Hebrews 4:15b). Never – not even once in the infinity of His existence – has God made a mistake or taken a wrong turn in the universe. And He will not mar that perfect record when guiding you.

Do you really believe you are going to be the person with whom God makes a wrong turn?

God is always with us, offering His perfect and all-knowing words of direction and correction. Let’s keep Him where He belongs – in the driver’s seat.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. For more information on Turning Point, go to www.DavidJeremiah.org.)

10/19/2011 3:03:02 PM by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Somebody’s got it harder than you do

October 17 2011 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) – Checked my retirement fund the other day. Nearly choked. Guess I’ll be working a little longer than I had anticipated – like, forever.

I’m not complaining, though. I’ve still got a job. I know plenty of people who’ve lost their jobs and their homes, who can’t find work anywhere, who wonder how long they’ll be able to provide for their families. You know some, too, I’m sure. You might be one of them.

The great economic recovery-that-wasn’t seems to be settling in for the long haul. Maybe years. It’s global in scale, and even a coordinated international response – which world leaders seem to be stumbling toward in agonizingly slow motion – will take time to produce results.

One thing is for sure: No matter how bad you’ve got it, somebody else has it worse. While many struggle to pay bills, others are fighting to stave off hunger. In places where hunger was already a daily reality, the ongoing global economic crisis has made survival even more tenuous.
 
A national survey a few years ago revealed that lower-income folks give more generously to help the needy than the rich do. Maybe they give more because they know what it’s like to need a helping hand themselves. It reminded me of the Apostle Paul’s tribute to the selfless givers of the early Macedonian churches. They looked past their own struggles with poverty and anti-Christian persecution to give a sacrificial offering for the desperately needy Jewish followers of Christ in Jerusalem:

“In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us” (2 Corinthians 8:2-5).

Paul shared that motivational nudge with the relatively affluent believers in the church at Corinth, whom he also hoped would contribute to the offering for the poor in Jerusalem. It’s a timely message for us, too, as Southern Baptists observe World Hunger Day Oct. 9. (For more information, visit http://www.worldhungerfund.com or http://www.imb.org/worldhunger.)

Regardless of the harder times Americans now face, this is no time for us to forget people in far greater need.

People such as Najia Khatun,* age 17. Najia and her 14-year-old sister, Amila,* began studying at the Light of Hope Center in Bangladesh when it opened in 2006. Today the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund helps support the center. Najia, Amila and the other 12 girls who come to the center live in slum shacks, but the landlords expect rent. Najia’s father comes and goes; her mother doesn’t work. One older sister is sick. Najia and Amila are expected to bring home money, however they can get it.

Some of the girls at the center were raised by beggars to become beggars. Others have mothers who work as prostitutes. But inside the center, they eat a healthy breakfast, take showers, put on clean school uniforms, hear Bible teaching and sing Christian songs, then begin their studies. Before they go to their places of work as paid apprentices or trainees in jobs arranged by the center, the girls eat a lunch of rice and lentils with vegetables, eggs, fish or meat.

“Before, there were a lot of problems in my family. There was no money for food,” Najia said. “Now I have a job, and I am able to help my family. I am the main breadwinner in my family.” (Read Najia’s story at asiastories.com/features/ starting Oct. 10).

She also loves and serves Christ. That’s effective ministry. Southern Baptist World Hunger giving helped fund such projects in some 70 countries in 2008. Yet Southern Baptists donated just $4.3 million to the World Hunger Fund in 2010 – only two-thirds of what they gave through the World Hunger Fund in 2000 and less than half of what the IMB received in total contributions for world hunger during a 12-month span a decade earlier.

“We are now at a ‘red alert’ time for our human needs funding,” said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization, in July. “The overseas hunger relief fund is down to $4.1 million – enough to meet the needs of Southern Baptist international hunger projects for six months. These projects help the poorest of the poor, the most neglected and marginalized and some of the most lost people groups in the world. We are approaching a baseline where we are going to have to start denying funds to critical projects.

“Last year was the lowest donations to the World Hunger Fund have been in 20 years. This is very disturbing, seeing the huge need of the crisis looming in the Horn of Africa (where millions face famine). Our Southern Baptist avenue of seeing the lost, last and least be helped both physically and spiritually is about to dry up.”

Hunger and malnutrition remain the top risks to health worldwide, according to the World Food Programme. Every day, nearly 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. Right here in America, 49 million people struggle with chronic hunger and malnutrition, including 17 million children, reports the Feeding America relief agency. An estimated 35 percent of poor American families are forced to choose between buying food and paying their rent or mortgage.

Twenty cents of every dollar given to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund goes to the North American Mission Board to support hunger projects in the United States. Eighty cents of every dollar goes to the International Mission Board to support direct hunger ministry, well drilling, agricultural education, water purification and other efforts that help create independence from reliance on food aid. Every cent goes toward ministry. Mission personnel are already in place; administrative and promotional costs are provided for through Cooperative Program contributions and by other budgets.

The Good News of salvation through Christ is shared whenever possible.

The Macedonian believers in Paul’s day had it a lot harder than we do. Yet in “their extreme poverty … they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” for the hungry brethren in Jerusalem. Let’s do the same for hungry people all over the world today.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Goldie Frances, an IMB worker based in South Asia, contributed to this column. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column. Listen to an audio version.)
10/17/2011 2:25:29 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments