October 2013

Should you believe in ghosts?

October 31 2013 by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Ghosts star in major motion pictures from “The Shining” to “Scary Movie 2.” Some ghosts are friendly (Casper) and some are frightening (Bloody Mary). Television shows like “Ghost Adventures” use the latest technologies to “prove” that spirits of the dead are all around us and want to make their presence known.
But is this true?
The short answer is no. As Christians, we must gauge all truth claims by the Bible, the ultimate and unchanging measure of reality.
Some people argue that the apostles believed in ghosts and even thought Jesus was one when He walked toward their boat on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:22-33).
Later, after Christ’s resurrection, the apostles once again mistook Jesus for a ghost. He assured them that “a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have” (Luke 24:39).
Let’s be clear on two points: First, scripture teaches that all humans possess both physical and non-physical properties – the body and the soul/spirit, the second of which survives physical death.
Second, nowhere does the Bible support the notion that spirits of the dead (“phantasma” or “pneuma” in the Greek) are free to return to the physical realm.
In other words, the departed are just that – departed.
The souls of the dead either are in the presence of God in heaven or separated from Him in torment in Hades.
In Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man, the righteous beggar at death is carried by the angels to Abraham’s side and is comforted there while the unrighteous aristocrat finds himself in torment beyond the grave. The rich man petitions Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, but Abraham makes it clear that is not permitted. “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them,” Abraham explains (Luke 16:29).
The apostle Paul reminds us that when Christians die, their souls/spirits go directly into the presence of God (2 Corinthians 5:8).
The appearances of the righteous dead on earth are brief and rare exceptions to the rule. For example, Moses and Elijah appear briefly on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus and His inner circle of apostles (Matthew 17:1-9).
In the Old Testament, we read the story of Samuel, who appears on earth after his death. King Saul has gone to the witch of Endor, seeking to engage her in necromancy – communicating with the dead, a practice denounced in scripture and banished by fiat from the land of Israel in Saul’s day. The appearance of Samuel shocks the witch as much as it surprises Saul. As Bible teacher/broadcaster Hank Hanegraaff describes it, “When the departed Samuel appeared to the living Saul, the witch of Endor immediately recognized the occasion as a non-normative act of God – a divine display of judgment rather than a haunting.”
In other words, God called the witch’s bluff. She dabbled in deception and demonic activity to ply her trade but had no real power to bring back the spirits of the dead.
So, what are we to make of reports of modern-day hauntings?
First, understand that ghosts – the spirits of the departed – do not roam unseen among us; they are with the Lord in heaven or apart from Him in Hades.
Second, avoid fascination with modern-day “ghost adventures.” They rob you of your time and, worse, they draw you into demonic deception. While Satan has no power to raise the dead or create human flesh, he and his demons play on the field of superstition.
Third, stay armed. Paul exhorts us to put on the full armor of God so we can evade Satan’s fiery darts (Ephesians 6:18ff).
Finally, measure all experiences by the scriptures, “which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3:15).
Who you gonna call? The Word of God is the ultimate ghostbuster.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rob Phillips is director of communications for the Missouri Baptist Convention with responsibility for leading MBC apologetics ministry in the state. This article first appeared in The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)
10/31/2013 3:28:31 PM by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Are horror movies for Christians?

October 31 2013 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – It’s that time of year when haunted houses spring up in communities across the country and when cable networks run classic fright flicks, “Halloween” rip-offs or new made-for-TV offerings in the macabre and grotesque.

Should we Christians put this stuff in our heads?

Thought-provoking thrillers are few and far between, amid tales of conflicted wolfmen, alien space invaders, zombie flesh-eaters and other vile things that go bump in the night.

A few months ago I was offered a press junket trip to Los Angeles to view “The Conjuring.” Despite the fact that The Conjuring portrays a Christian couple doing an exorcism, I decided to skip the screening of this R-rated horror film about demonic possession. I’ve already seen several, including “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” “The Rite” and the godfather of this genre, “The Exorcist.”

But the subgenre of horror movies about demons bothers me spiritually. It’s important for people to be aware of the existence of demonic spirits but I feel uncomfortable viewing such subject matter for entertainment purposes.

The horror film has undergone more transformations than Katy Perry’s musical career. In the 1930s and ’40s, spooky movies such as “Frankenstein” and “The Wolf Man” were actually morality plays, where good was triumphant over evil. Because of restrictive decency codes during that era, studios mandated that their filmmakers not offend the church-going public. So when you view “The Bride of Frankenstein” or “The Cat People” or even Bella Lugosi’s “Dracula,” you can detect a moral message amid the jars and jolts.

In the ’50s, most horror films were goofy, the Saturday matinee screen being bombarded with giant lizards and ants and even a 50-foot woman. The ’60s saw classic creeps resurrected by Hammer Studios (“Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed,” “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave”) and its penchant to use vivid color to captivate, especially a thick red liquid that looked more like candy apple syrup than gushing blood.

During the ’70s and ’80s, horror films became gruesome showcases for studio special effects. Malevolent and apparently indestructible ghouls such as Freddie Kruger of “Nightmare on Elm Street,” Michael Myers of “Halloween” and Jason of “Friday the 13th” returned sequel-after-sequel to kill as many randy teenagers as possible in 96 minutes.

The ’90s once again unearthed the original vampire, but with a twist. In Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” his child of the night was an omnipresent creature who, rather than turning away from the significance of the cross, contemptuously stared down crucifixes until they burned. Ever since Bela Lugosi first put on a set of fangs, crucifixes had trumped blood suckers. This gothic reversal changed the entire theme of the Dracula legend. No longer was God the conqueror of the devil; now man alone was in control of his fate.

I once wrote an appreciative critique of M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller “Signs,” about alien beings coming to take over the earth. In Signs, suspenseful Hitchcockian elements served to unnerve the audience. Added to the unsettling atmosphere, the story’s subtext concerned a man losing and regaining his faith. The film also had an intriguing take concerning coincidence in our daily lives: Do things happen by chance or do they intentionally develop our nature? Shyamalan’s film was about finding our way – or finding our way back. I guess you could say it’s a thinking man’s (or woman’s) horror movie.

I’m not sure any of us realize the true effect of horror movies on our psyches. We are bombarded by a great deal of media influence, much of which doesn’t feed the soul. Still, some will defend the escapist value of the horror film, while others steadfastly maintain that it is a genre with a satanic impact. Here’s something we should consider: Like all living things, the spirit of man needs to be nourished.

I couldn’t possibly say it any better than the following quote, and it came from a movie, Miramax Films’ “I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing.” You might keep it in mind when attending any new release.

“Your head is like a gas tank. You have to be really careful about what you put in it, because it might just affect the whole system”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org. He is also a regular contributor to “The World and Everything in It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.)
10/31/2013 3:21:37 PM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Why zombies matter

October 30 2013 by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Zombies are everywhere. Ever since the classic “Night of the Living Dead,” the undead have shown up in movies. Zombies now are featured in top-rated cable TV shows, and in apocalyptic novels and survival guides. An entire genre has ignited around the concept of adding zombies to classic literature (“Pride and Prejudice with Zombies,” etc.). But why are we drawn to these gruesome figures?

In The New York Times, columnist Amy Wilentz reminds us why zombies scare us, and why we can’t help but watch through our clenched hands covering our eyes. The zombie myth is rooted in something quite real, and quite terrifying. The zombie stories emerged in a Caribbean context of brutal slavery. The zombie’s horror is that he is, she writes, a slave forever. After all, if even death cannot free you, you can never be free.

That’s exactly the point, and here’s why it should matter to Christians.

Zombies are horrifying not simply because they’re mean and aggressive. They are horrifying because they represent what ought to repulse us: the rotting decay of death. But they still walk. And, beyond that, they still crave. In their search for human brains, they are driven along by their appetites, though always under the sway of a slavemaster’s will.

That’s our story.

The biblical story of the Fall of humanity is one of a humanity that comes under the sway of death by obeying the appetite. God places a fiery sword around the Garden of Eden, Genesis 3 tells us, so that the primeval humans wouldn’t eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. Why? It’s because God didn’t want to consign humanity to a never-ending existence of this kind of walking death. He sentences us to the curse of death so that, ultimately, we can be redeemed.

The gospel tells us that, apart from Christ, we were walking in the flesh, that is slavishly obeying our biological impulses and appetites without the direction of the Spirit. As such, we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). But we weren’t inert. We instead, though dead, “walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). We were walking dead slaves.

And, in our death, our appetites weren’t silenced but instead drove us along. This walking death, the Apostle Paul writes, was driven along as we “carried out the desires of the body and the mind” (Ephesians 2:3).

Caribbean people could resonate with the horror of zombies because they knew what it was like to be enslaved by evil people, with no hope of escape. And maybe our culture pays attention to zombies because we know what it is like to be dead inside, but unable to find peace, unable to stop walking.

The gospel doesn’t just extend our lives forever into eternity. That’s what we, left to ourselves, think we want. The rich young ruler asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life, but Jesus points out that he wants to eternalize his present state rather than to be hidden in the life of Jesus Himself. That’s a zombie walk, and Jesus loves us too much for that.

Jesus offers instead life, and that abundantly, as we eat of His flesh, drink of His blood, share in His triumph over the accusing slavemaster.

So let’s have some sympathy for the zombies. And next time you see the trailer for a zombie film, or see the picture of a walking corpse on the cover of a novel, remember that that was your story once, too.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He wrote this column while he was dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. It was posted by Baptist Press Oct. 31, 2012.)
10/30/2013 2:25:04 PM by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

What’s a Christian to do with Halloween?

October 29 2013 by Stephen Douglas Wilson, Baptist Press

MAYFIELD, Ky. – Halloween in some form or another has been around for a long time. What we call Halloween originated in two other autumn festivals – the ethnic Celtic celebration of Samhain and the Christian All Saints Day.

The Celtic harvest festival of Samhain (Gaelic - perhaps “Summer’s End”) possessed multiple facets in Celtic folklore that celebrated harvest, the dead and even the Celtic new year. Samhain probably derived from an earlier pagan celebration. Following custom among early and medieval Christian churchmen, Christian leaders often placed their holidays near popular pagan celebrations to wean their converts away from the pagan festivals. Hence, Pope Gregory III moved All Saints Day from May 13 to Nov. 1. Although never stated in any source that Gregory’s motive in the move was to counter the popular autumn festivals with pagan roots, his decision seemed to conform to previous practice.

All Saints Day, and its variants, All Hallows Mass and Hallowmas, never entirely disassociated itself in the popular imagination from the earlier association with pagan fall festivals and superstition. Much to the chagrin of church leaders of the medieval ages, popular observances preserved some of the older pagan features of the holiday, such as manifestations as autumn bonfires (from “bonefires”), maintaining links to the occult, folk magic and superstitions concerning the dead. These features were thought to be deployed most prominently on the evening before All Hallows – therefore the modern name Halloween or “All Hallows Evening.” The term itself originated in Scotland.

In addition, new customs evolved that had little direct connection to the church-sanctioned holiday of All Saints Day (or the later All Souls Day on Nov. 2). For instance, some burned candles or used lighted hollowed-out turnips (“jack-o-lanterns”) to drive away the malevolent spirits of the dead on the eve of All Hallows. The custom of adults and children disguising themselves to fool these spirits and beg for food and coins on or near All Saints Day (“guising”) emerged as the origin of “trick or treating.” This popular custom of adults participating in guising even drew the negative comment of Shakespeare in his play “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” when the character Speed accuses his master of “puling [whining or whimpering] like a beggar at Hallowmas” (Act 2, Scene 1).

Not at all unlike many Baptist pastors today, both Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders of the Reformation era condemned the survival of pagan, occult and superstitious customs observed around All Saints Day and Halloween. Later, some Protestants eventually encouraged their people to observe instead a “Reformation Day” as a replacement for Halloween since Martin Luther started the Reformation on the eve of All Saints Day in 1517. This practice simply continued the long trend of supplanting questionable popular holidays with Christian observances.

In the early United States, some success in eradicating the pagan and occult practices associated with Halloween occurred. Many of the Christian groups who settled America like the Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers and Baptists refused to observe All Saints Day – let alone Halloween.

Nevertheless, Halloween was rekindled as Celtic immigrants from Scotland and Ireland poured into the United States in the 1800s. They substituted the American pumpkin for the turnip to make their jack-o-lanterns; thus the most prominent decoration of the holiday became fixed in American culture.

Furthermore, as Irish politicians, policemen and fireman became dominant in the larger urban cities, they revived the old medieval custom of guising, but this time limited the practice to children. Reacting to their large Irish populations, big city mayors (often Irish themselves) of the 20th century declared an official “trick or treat” day usually on Halloween itself. Since many urban neighborhoods were thought unsafe for children, the Irish-dominated police and fire departments often provided Halloween costume parties or trick or treat stations at police precincts and fire stations. These and other Halloween customs among Scottish and Irish Americans quickly became accepted in mainstream American culture and even spread to rural areas of the South and West. By the mid-20th century Halloween was well on its way to joining Christmas in becoming the two top holiday events in the American cultural year.

Yet, even as most Americans, including its evangelical Christian community, found little harm in such Halloween customs as trick or treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, yard and home decorating or even costume parties for adults and children, a darker side of the holiday traced its genesis to the 1960s. The counterculture that emerged in that decade expressed some sympathy for genuine occult and pagan practices associated with the holiday. Groups that claimed pagan or satanic connections celebrated the holiday as their own. Real and exaggerated reports of trick or treat candy tampering (most reports usually turned out to be false) originated during this decade, and many parents questioned the wisdom of allowing their children to participate in civic-sponsored trick or treat observances. Although Halloween possessed a long history of largely harmless pranks, the 1960s witnessed outbreaks of “hell night” or the “devil’s night” in some communities that took human life and millions of dollars in fire damage. This destructive phenomenon largely was identified with Detroit and other large cities. The introduction of “gore” into Halloween culture, costumes and makeup owed much to George Romero’s 1968 film “The Night of the Living Dead.”

By the early 1970s many Christians had soured on these features of the Halloween holiday and they began an internal discussion about the holiday, asking themselves, “What do we do with Halloween?”

Since the 1970s the evangelical Christian and Baptist community have answered this question with diverse responses. Some Christians overlook Halloween’s excesses and allow their children and young people to participate in community and civic events, while other Christians have remained adamantly opposed to the holiday and renounce all features of the festival. Other Christian community leaders have used the time around Halloween to conduct “Hell Houses,” “Operation Nightmare” and similar events. These are designed as evangelistic events with the purpose of revealing to young people the reality of hell and a life without Christ. Although these are provided with the best of intentions, Hell Houses remain controversial and even many Christians have lamented that evangelistic efforts like these may lead to questionable conversion results.

The most emergent contemporary response to Halloween in the evangelical Christian community is to provide a Christian alternative to the popular holiday. Under such names as “Fall Festival,” “Holyween,” etc., many churches now offer the church itself as the focal point for providing a Halloween alternative. These festivals may provide some or all of the following: “trunk or treat” or a trick or treat alternative for young children, a fall décor for the church, costume parties for both children and teens, fall-themed games and amusements, seasonal foods and refreshments, bonfires, and other related seasonal activities. Generally, these churches discourage costumes with occult, pagan or “gory” themes and they refrain from calling these events Halloween parties. In addition, these churches also offer prayer and devotion before their festivities and also pass out evangelistic tracts to visiting community members.

Pastors who favor this response believe that it is better to embrace this option rather than allowing their people to participate in the popular but largely secular Halloween activities of the general culture. Ironically, this approach mirrored historic and contemporary efforts by Roman Catholics and Protestants to provide alternatives for the unpleasant associations of the autumn holiday. It is doubtful that “Fall Festivals” will replace Halloween on the calendar, but the churches that provide these Halloween alternatives serve a useful function. Parents of children and teens like the idea of a safe and Christian-themed environment for their Halloween alternative.

However Christians respond to Halloween, two certainties remain: Halloween will survive and Christians, following a centuries-old tradition, will offer alternatives to the festival’s worst features.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Stephen Douglas Wilson is dean emeritus and chair of the history department at Mid-Continent University in Mayfield, Ky. This column was published by Baptist Press Oct. 31, 2012.)
10/29/2013 2:12:56 PM by Stephen Douglas Wilson, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Football, a 91-0 loss & bullying?

October 28 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – What do you do when your son’s football team is defeated by a score of 91-0? One thing I would not recommend is filing a bullying complaint against the other team.

To say that Fort Worth Western Hills was outscored by the undefeated Aledo High School Bearcats would be an understatement. The No. 1 team in Texas’ 4A classification crossed the goal line 13 times during the Oct. 18 contest.

It is worth noting that in seven games this season Aledo has outscored its opponents 485 to 47, which averages to a score of 69-6 per game. The Bearcats have two games where they scored 84 points and one in which they scored 77.

According to everyone involved, including the head coach of Western Hills, Aledo did everything it could to keep the score down. The Bearcats’ first team only ran 21 plays in the game.

Yet one Western Hills parent took umbrage to the defeat and promptly filed a bullying complaint against the Bearcats coaching staff.

The CBS affiliate for Dallas/Fort Worth, Channel 11, obtained a copy of the compliant and included it in a story on the station’s website. The perturbed parent wrote: 

“My son plays for western hills football team on [F]riday night we all witnessed bullying first hand; it is not a pretty sight. Picking up my son from the field house after the game and taking him home was tough, I did not know what to say on the ride home to explain the behavior of the Aledo coach for not easing up when the game was in hand.... During the game the Aledo players showed respect to my son, and I thank them for their good sportsmanship....” 

I feel for the parent who wrote the complaint. I, too, have had to console my children after lopsided losses. One of my daughter’s soccer games was a 13-0 defeat. If the game were scored according to the rules of football, it would have been a 91-0 loss.

So how does a parent address a sports loss, especially a lopsided one? Allow me to suggest some ways to approach a defeat in such a way as to mitigate the humiliation factor. 

First, you need to be prepared. What happened to Western Hills was not unexpected. After all, Aledo had twice scored 84 points. As a parent, I would remind my son that Aledo is a formidable opponent and encourage him to play his best. 

“But each one must examine his own work,” the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Galatia, “and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.”

The best is all a player can ever give. Sometimes an opponent is just better. When this is the case, I would look for any positive and point it out. 

Next, I would I want to help put things in perspective to lessen the impact of the loss as much as possible. A quick Google search will reveal that in 1927 a football game between two Kansas high schools resulted in Haven defeating Sylvia 256-0.

In a 2007 baseball game, Dallas Lake Highlands defeated Samuel High 53-0. The game was called after the fifth inning due to a Texas high school baseball mercy rule. 

I would use these examples to lighten the mood a bit and indicate, with a smile, others have been beat by bigger margins. I would also point out that my son’s team had fared about as well as others had.

I would also remain positive. I would make sure my child understood that in life a person’s self-worth is not determined by athletic performance. Character counts more than winning a game.

“Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing,” Paul told the Thessalonian believers. If ever someone needed encouraging, it would be a child after a lopsided sports loss.

I would point out that a person’s character is revealed by how one reacts after a loss. I would encourage my son to pick himself up and look to the next opponent, which is likely to be more mortal than the team he just played. 

Finally, I would practice patience. I would allow a good night’s sleep to take away some of the sting of the lopsided loss. I would certainly wait until the morning after the defeat before deciding to file a bullying complaint, which I would refrain from doing.

Everyone must be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger,” the Bible says in the book of James, “for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.”

The complaining parent was upset after his son’s team was drubbed. However, his complaint did not help the situation. Some would argue it made it worse by calling undo attention to the loss.

What do you do when your child’s team is defeated 91-0? You do everything you can to mitigate the sting of defeat and point them to the future. One loss, no matter how lopsided, does not define a person’s life. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
10/28/2013 1:39:28 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Appreciate one another

October 25 2013 by Marshall Dean Whitaker, Baptist Press

RIVERTON, Wyo. -- Members of my pastorate celebrate each October, Pastor Appreciation Month, by bringing cards and gifts to honor me as their pastor.

I have always tried to conceal this commemorative marker, because I have had the honor of pastoring two churches that have always shown me appreciation throughout the year.

Therefore, I want to emphasize the appreciation that any member can express towards their pastor at any time, rather than just during this particular month.

One of the ways my churches have shown me appreciation is through their constant prayers for my family, my ministry and me.

The prayers of the people are truly the source of life and health of the pastor and the ministry. Through faithful prayer, pastors are given spiritual strength for the ministry ahead and direction for the work God has prepared. The faithful prayers of the people are one of the most genuine expressions of appreciation anyone can offer their pastor.

A second way my churches have shown me appreciation is through their friendship.

Many pastors have struggled with developing relationships with their church members, but the willingness of pastor and people to build lives together is a true picture of appreciation. Friendship is one of the greatest gifts that can be shared and provides a wealth of comfort, strength, support and help as the pastor navigates the waters of life. While I have made many mistakes in ministry, allowing myself to accept the gift of friendship from willing members of my pastorate has not been one of them.

One final way that churches have shown me appreciation is through their willingness to work cooperatively with me in ministry. I am proud that I have always had members who were willing to share the burden of ministry, whether in committee meetings, outreach events or community activity. I am thankful that the members of my churches have been faithful to join in the work of ministry with me and with each other.

In each of these things my churches have demonstrated their true appreciation. These gifts, which cost no money and require no special occasion, are the greatest displays of appreciation I have ever received.

If you are a church member, please do not hesitate to share such gifts often with your pastor. If you are a pastor, please do not neglect the joy and benefit of these glorious gifts.

I am thankful for the churches I have been honored to serve and I pray that God will continue to bless me with many more years with them in presence, work and appreciation.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marshall Dean Whitaker is pastor of United Baptist Church in Riverton, Wyo.)
10/25/2013 1:28:15 PM by Marshall Dean Whitaker, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

If a church leader has viewed pornography …

October 24 2013 by Jay Dennis, Baptist Press

LAKELAND, Fla. – Much too often it happens. A pastor, staff member or volunteer church leader has been viewing pornography.

So what should a church do if a leader has viewed pornography? Let me suggest a 10-step process:

1. Have specifics written down, proof or a credible suspicion that he has looked at pornography.

When confronting a church leader, approach him with specific instances when there is reason to believe he has looked at pornography. Whether someone actually saw it on his computer, the history was checked and there was a porn trail or some other way, share specific instances or valid suspicions. Gather the facts first.

For instance, when a staff member at our church had been looking at pornography on a church computer, it was discovered by one of our assistants. She confronted him and shared it with me. The reality is, we must do everything possible to prevent this from happening. That is why it is essential for churches and families to have the conversation about pornography. Credible suspicions often come through a spouse, friend or co-worker who has a deep concern. The more our leaders address the problem, an atmosphere is created where questions such as, “Do you ever struggle with pornography?” can be asked more easily. From that question there may be an admission of a struggle.

Further, if suggestions to a staff member or church volunteer to be in an accountability relationship and have filtering software installed on all computers is met with resistance, in my mind, that indicates a credible suspicion. Why wouldn't they? We must choose volunteer and church elected leaders wisely, but obviously we cannot monitor what they do on their computers. We also must rely on the Holy Spirit to make known the truth in relation to those who are committing this sin. Recently a pastor friend of mine took his staff on a retreat. There he asked them with genuine concern, “Do any of your struggle with pornography?” He was shocked to discover the number of staff who were battling the temptation to look at pornography. Being proactive on this issue with church leaders is absolutely essential in this sexualized culture.

2. Have at least one other trusted leader with the person who confronts the staff member or leader.

You need someone who can be there with you to demonstrate grace and, yet, the severity of the situation. The staff member or leader must know this is not a personal vendetta against him, but a serious breach of trust.

3. Confront in a private place where confidentiality is sacred.

You do not want to unduly embarrass the leader. Approach him in the privacy of an office or home where there is no risk of someone overhearing the conversation. The goal is redemption, not embarrassment. You need uninterrupted time with no distractions, since the confrontation may entail an extended amount of time.

4. Communicate what you know and how you know it.

When confronting a leader, rehearse what you are going to say and how you will say it. This is not the time to lecture or be angry. This is about redemption. Make sure you have bathed this in prayer prior to the confrontation.

5. Give the person an opportunity to share and confess.

Inform him that this would be the very best and redemptive opportunity to come clean and to begin the road to restoration. He needs to know that excuses and denials only make the situation worse. Redemption begins with confession and brokenness.

6. Insist that he tell his wife.

In the process of confrontation, the leader must understand the importance of coming clean with his wife. Help him to formulate a plan as to when and how he will make this confession to her.

7. Require immediate accountability.

For the confrontation to be redemptive, a personal accountability plan must be established, which may include a leave of absence from his leadership role. Determine who would be the best person for him to have an accountability relationship. Without accountability, failure is almost certain. Also insist that he place filtering software on each of his computers. Suggest a Christian counselor for him.

8. Specifically communicate the restoration process.

You need to have a specific and written plan for the path to restoration. Each situation is different, but if possible, give a path to restoration. This should include specifically what is required for restoration in order to return to a ministry role; the time involved; steps that must be taken; and how he will keep you informed so you will know when restoration for a ministry role is reached.

9. Express your love for him and his family.

You must communicate your love and God's love for him. Remember Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). No matter what happens, the leader needs to understand that you, the church and, most importantly, God loves him unconditionally. Your confrontation in love can be the beginning of freedom.

10. Share specific consequences of failing to keep the pornography-free commitment.

Once you have laid out the path to restoration, communicate the consequences of breaking the commitment to live free from pornography. If you choose to keep the person on staff or in a volunteer leadership position, the consequence must be the immediate termination of his job.

Should you terminate the employment of the pastor or staff member who is guilty? I believe much of that depends upon how deeply immersed in pornography he had become, his response and how his wife responds when he tells her. If he demonstrates a genuine brokenness, repentance and willingness to follow the path of restoration, then healing grace should be an option. However, where there is obvious denial and blame or if his wife decides she can no longer live with him, the church is left with little choice.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jay Dennis is pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla, and founder of Join 1 Million Men, a movement challenging 1 million Christian men to commit to living a pornography free-life and challenging 1 million Christian women to pray for 1 million Christian men to live pornography-free lives.)

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10/24/2013 2:53:01 PM by Jay Dennis, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pastor: Five ways to encourage your wife

October 23 2013 by Ken Whitten, NAMB

LUTZ, Fla. – Ever wondered how you know when someone needs encouragement? Let me give you one simple test. It works every time. Check and see if they have a pulse.
Pastor, one of the members in your congregation whose heart beats regularly for you is your wife. She’s your number one fan and your number two responsibility (after your relationship with Jesus). She needs encouragement. Here are five practical ways you can do that:
  1. Pray with your wife. One of the most important and encouraging activities you can do with your wife is to pray with her. When she hears your struggles and sees your vulnerabilities, she knows you trust her with your heart. She also knows the man behind the pulpit not only needs God’s power and grace, but he also needs his partner in ministry.
  2. Publicly praise her ministry. Many times a pastor believes that to praise his wife publicly shows favoritism and a sense of entitlement, but it truly demonstrates a spirit of gratefulness for her calling and recognition for the sacrifices she makes every day for your ministry. Keep in mind, her greatest ministry may be in the home and not in the church, which is even more reason for fulfilling Proverbs 31:28, “Her sons rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also praises her.”
  3. Put her second in your life. After your relationship with Jesus Christ, your bride is your highest priority. One of the ways you encourage her and show her she has value is to dialogue daily, date weekly and depart quarterly. In your conversations, make sure you’re talking with her about her spiritual walk, the kids, her dreams. If you do talk about the church and ministry, make sure she brings up the subject first. She cares as much about the church as you do, but she just wants to know she is more important to you than the church. Pastor, Jesus has a Bride, and you do, too. So go home to yours. He’ll take care of His.
  4. Permit her to be a member, too. Some of your best ideas for sermons and ministry are from members. Why not get ideas from your favorite member – your wife? She loves you the most and knows you the best. Being a member also means that sometimes the family takes priority over the church. While you may have to be there, allowing your wife the freedom to watch your son or daughter participate in a sporting or school event on a Wednesday evening not only encourages her, but your family as well.
  5. Persuade her to get involved in the Flourish.me community. Flourish is a place to connect with other ministry wives. Hearing stories and receiving inspiration from other ministry wives will encourage her. Flourish provides great reading resources, devotionals and inspirational messages, just for women, written by women who have been and are pastors’ wives. They understand what it means to be married to a pastor and married to a ministry at the same time.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ken Whitten (@kenwhitten) serves as the senior pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla. This article originally appeared in the Fall 2013 edition of On Mission. October is Pastor Appreciation Month and you can find ways to encourage pastors at www.namb.net/pastor-support.)
10/23/2013 3:21:33 PM by Ken Whitten, NAMB | with 0 comments

Your children & church planting

October 22 2013 by Terry Dorsett, Baptist Press

HARTFORD, Conn. – We live in a self-obsessed culture in which children are bombarded with messages from media, peers, and sometimes well-meaning adults to take care of themselves first.

While a certain amount of self-care is needed for physical, emotional and spiritual heath, clearly our society has gone overboard with the issue and we are producing a generation of narcissists who think the entire world revolves around them.

As a church planting missionary for nearly 20 years, I have often pondered how we might help our children go against our self-centered culture, focus on something other than themselves, and learn to care for missionaries in general and church planters in particular.

Here are 10 ways families with children can help plant churches:
  1. Adopt a church planting missionary with the same age children so your children can become pen pals with those missionary children.
  2. Make two posters with the missionary family’s picture and various prayer requests on it. Hang one in a prominent place in the house so your family remembers to pray and hang the other one in your child’s Sunday School classroom so that other children can be praying too.
  3. Encourage your children, akin to tithing to your local church, to use some of the money received for birthdays and Christmas to send an age-appropriate gift for a missionary child, along with a card.
  4. Plan a vacation near the area where the church planter serves. Offer to take their children (or perhaps their whole family) with you to a nearby amusement park for the day as an expression of your appreciation for their parents’ missionary service.
  5. Invest one day of your vacation helping the church planting missionary family with some type of ministry project (clean a park, paint a porch for an elderly person, serve in a soup kitchen). Make sure it is a project the children can fully participate in.
  6. When parents do their “Back to School” shopping, consider sending a “tithe” of the amount spent in a gift card to a church planting family so they can do the same type of shopping for their children.
  7. Request a list of small items the missionary needs (office supplies, Sunday School supplies, etc.) and have your child become the advocate for collecting the items in a “Christmas in August”-type promotion.
  8. Learn all about the missionary and volunteer to teach a missions class at your church’s annual Vacation Bible School. Have the children pray each day for a current prayer request from the missionary. Have the children make cards to mail as a group to the missionary. Have them bring in change each day for a love offering to send to the missionary. Make prior arrangements to Skype with the missionary and his family one day during VBS so the children can interact with them.
  9. Select one thing your family enjoys but is willing to “fast” from for one month (going out to eat, going to movies, bowling, etc.). Each night before bed, pray for the missionary family. At the end of the month send all the money saved by not doing whatever activity you fasted from to the missionary and suggest they use the money to enjoy the very thing you fasted from. In other words, your family skips going to the movies for a month so a missionary family can go the movies, or some other similar activity.
  10. Consider paying for a missionary child to join your own child at his favorite summer camp. This will not be feasible for all families due to cost, but imagine how cool it will be for those who can do it.
I could keep listing ideas, but the key to all of them is teaching our children to pray for church planting missionaries, to advocate that others pray for those missionaries and to give up something in order to bless someone else.

Some may ask why focus on church planting missionaries in North America over missionaries in other nations. As we look at what is happening around us, we clearly are losing our nation. And the reality is that if we lose America, we will not be able to send missionaries to other nations. That means we need a wave of missionaries right here at home, and church planters are on the front lines of that effort. So be passionate about those who go to other nations, but do not forget to be just as passionate for our North American church planters.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Terry Dorsett is a church planting catalyst with the North American Mission Board based in Hartford, Conn., and the author of several books including Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church.)
10/22/2013 11:52:16 AM by Terry Dorsett, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

When dying is gain

October 18 2013 by Raleigh Sadler, Baptist Press

NEW YORK – It has been one year to the day since I moved to New York with the desire to fight human trafficking and lead the local church in recapturing a passion for freedom.

The funny thing is three years ago I made it known publicly that I would NEVER 1) visit New York City or 2) raise support. So how did I end up raising support to serve as a Christian abolitionist in NYC?

The quick answer would be that one of my best friends, Davin Henrickson, paved the way for me. Davin was the first person that I met at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003. Soon, we became friends and then roommates. Davin and I consistently challenged each other to grow closer to Christ.

Davin was a renaissance man of sorts. I mean the guy could do anything he put his mind to. For instance, at my 30th birthday party, as we began to grill hamburgers, I realized “we” forgot the spatula. By “we,” I really mean “I.” Regardless, here we are at the park – raw hamburger meat, a grill and people, but NO spatula. I paced around for about 10 minutes and then returned to find Davin holding a spatula. But this was not an ordinary kitchen utensil. No, Davin had built it out of a few twigs and a red bull can; that was Davin!

Contributed photo
North American Mission Board missionary Raleigh Sadler, right, shares precious moments with his friend Davin Henrickson as he struggled with terminal beta cell lymphoma. “As I saw my friend in his last moments singing with every ounce of strength that he had,” Sadler writes, “I was reminded that each one of us has an expiration date.”

Also, I remember one evening he and I were talking through a struggle that I was going through and “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman came on the radio. As these words played, Blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering. Though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be Your name, Davin stopped and looked at me and said “this is what it’s about.” He understood that suffering pushes us to depend more and more on the gospel, and he challenged me with those lyrics. That was my friend, “MacGuyver the theologian.”
Following our graduation from seminary, he and I took different directions, but that didn’t keep us from staying in touch. We celebrated the big events in each other’s lives. I came in for his wedding; he came to my ordination while I was serving as a collegiate evangelism director in West Virginia. As Davin began to make his way back home, he told me that he was finally going to Idaho to plant a church. He was finally pursuing his dream and his calling.

However, a week later Davin called and told me he felt a mass in his abdomen during his trip and that he was going to the doctor to have it checked out. The doctor confirmed that it was beta cell lymphoma.

The chemotherapy regimen was launched immediately. Davin’s dream of being a pastor had been put on pause. I just knew that God had led Davin into this season of life so that God could be glorified through his healing. But days turned to weeks and weeks to months, with no marked improvement in his condition.
The treatments began to take their toll on Davin’s body, as he continued to try new treatments at various hospitals. Our conversations began to change. No longer were they light and jovial. Now, we talked about “dying well.”

I’ll never forget one day as we were headed to lunch, Davin looked at me with a face of solemn bewilderment and simply stated, “If God decides to heal me for His glory ... I understand that, but what if His plan is for me to die? I don’t understand that.”

I tried to respond with a deep theological answer that would satisfy his question. But I struggled to find the words. All I could do was point to the Cross.

During this time, I found that my position at the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists was being phased out. So without a clear sense of direction, I began traveling, praying and looking for a new vocational ministry position. I was returning from a church planting vision trip when I read this email from Davin’s wife, Lauren:

“We received the results of Davin’s CT scan yesterday, and the cancer has spread throughout his abdomen. Any future treatments (chemo, radiation, etc.) are more likely to cause discomfort than to help, so now our treatment focus is on pain management. We are meeting with some staff from Hosparus tonight, to help Davin decide if he wants to try to remain at home for this time of waiting or if the hospital would be better. The doc said he isn’t in the business of guessing, so we don’t really have a guess as to how soon God will take Davin to be with Him. For now, we wait. It is bittersweet, but we can rejoice that Davin will be free from suffering soon. Praise God for the perfect healing to come! ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ – Philippians 1:21.”

I was speechless. Paralyzed by grief, I sat there trying to gather my thoughts. I was so overcome by shock that I couldn’t move. I tried to pull myself together enough to drive home so that I could make plans to visit Davin in Louisville, Ky.

“The night before I went to visit Davin for the last time, I preached Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength” was no longer a pithy saying from a Christian T-shirt. It was a promise that I needed. Believing this promise, I made my way to Louisville.”

I knew that I needed to challenge one of my best friends to die well and, truth be told, I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to face the fact that I was losing my friend.

Actually, I wanted to turn my car around and pretend that this wasn’t happening. But God gave me the courage to walk into the house where I sat with Davin. I grabbed a Bible and began reading Philippians 3:8-11:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

I reminded him that the gospel not only saves us but also motivates us to live in such a way that we desire to know Him in an intimate way through our sufferings. Looking into his eyes, I told him, “Davin, I don’t know what’s coming around the corner, but I do know that this is when you seek to glorify God like you have never done before.” He agreed.

I stayed with my friend the next 5 days. During this time, I wrestled with God. I realized that I wanted to be in control of my life, but I wasn’t. I was enslaved to my own fear. I discovered I was afraid to die. I was afraid to take risks for God. I now saw that I wasn’t walking by faith, but rather I was drifting from one comfortable job to the next.

Davin was about to die, without ever fulfilling his dream of ministry. How would I respond to that? Realizing that I had an expiration date, I purposed to trust God even if the next step would be uncomfortable.

Despite my fears, God led me to New York. In faith, I sold everything I had and moved without any guarantee of success. As I stepped out, God upheld me. I found a job and God showed me the weak and vulnerable. I now know that God has called me to be a voice for those whose voice is not heard. In my own suffering, God opened my eyes to care for those who are being exploited.

Ultimately, the gospel sets us free that we may seek the freedom of others. God calls us to walk in faith even though we will face suffering. That was Davin’s journey.

Three days before Davin passed, his family and friends sat in the living room and sang together. Though Davin could barely speak, he sang these words from Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons:”

“And on that day when my strength is failing, the end draws near and my time has come. Still my soul will sing Your praise unending, 10 thousand years and then forevermore.”

As I saw my friend in his last moments singing with every ounce of strength he had, I was reminded that each one of us has an expiration date. Christ suffered and died to set us free. This freedom from death, fear and sin drives us to see others set free, both spiritually and physically.

What will you do with the freedom God has given you?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Raleigh Sadler is a North American Mission Board missionary and college pastor at Gallery Church in New York City. Follow him on Twitter here.)
10/18/2013 10:59:26 AM by Raleigh Sadler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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