October 2014

Houston subpoenas: Miranda rights for Christians?

October 31 2014 by Gary Ledbetter, Baptist Press

Based on nothing but a decent imagination, I believe Houston Mayor Annise Parker was surprised at the blowback she received for her administration’s effort to intimidate pastors who have spoken against that city’s ordinance giving preferred status to homosexuals.
She doubtless knew that some disagreed with her, but I think she underestimated the level of outcry that followed the subpoenas issued for the sermons and other communications of five pastors who’d disagreed with her campaign to normalize what is not normal. She may not have intended, as she says, to issue such broad subpoenas, but I cannot believe she had any regrets prior to the bipartisan clamor.
Houston’s mayor is one of our current crop of liberal politicians who sincerely do not understand religious liberty. To these leaders, we have the freedom to worship in the privacy of our homes and church buildings, but our freedom to live as transformed people in our weekday life is more inconvenient to a pluralistic culture. Freedom of worship makes more sense to them than actual religious freedom.
It seems we have been Mirandized – read our rights.
Are we willing for anything we say to be used against us in a court of law? We should be, and we should position ourselves for more direct threats than the one we see in Houston.
One author I’ve been reading suggests that “homophobia,” which may be defined in our culture as “disagreeing with popular culture about sexual morality,” could one day be classed as a psychopathology. Tyrannical regimes of the 20th century used such a diagnosis broadly against dissenters of any sort. They were drugged, re-educated or just locked up until they were no longer a threat to the state dogma.
So how do we prepare; how do we behave wisely in an age when unpopular sermon topics are reasonably seen as actionable by some public officials?
Be wise as serpents. One thing that can make trouble for us is foolish talk. Can you adopt the discipline of speaking in email, social media, prayer meetings, sermons and Sunday School lessons in a way that you’d be willing to see it in the public record? Because it is part of the public record and available to those who do not like what you stand for. This wisdom is James’ counsel in James 3:1.
Carefully draw your lines in the sand. We all need convictions but sometimes boast of too many – more than we’ll actually stick to. Avoid boasting of more courage than you have as Peter did in John 13:37. Think about your priorities. Which of your beliefs are more important than your wealth, comfort, physical freedom or even your life? The list will likely be pretty short. Stand on those.
Be innocent as doves. 1 Peter 2:20 says there is a difference between suffering for the gospel and suffering because we forgot or refused to pay our taxes. Not everything is a conflict over religious liberty. Peter and John refused to stop preaching in the face of threats from the authorities, but they didn’t disdain law and courtesy generally.
Be at peace with all people, if you can. Some of us love a fight and others fear it above all things. Both the bellicose and the irenic among us must stifle the urge to always respond as we prefer, with a fist or a hug, as the case may be. Peace with others should be our intent, not at all costs but in most cases.
Pray God’s best on would-be enemies. That’s not the same as praying that they will get what they want or succeed at what they attempt – we should be careful about praying those things for anyone – but God’s best may be conviction, judgment or prosperity. Those determined to oppose righteous things you do, by the way, cannot make you hate them. They can hate you, but you have the power in Christ to love them.
The current situation in Houston is not the big test of our era, I predict. It’s startling to see the disdain of public officials expressed toward Christians in Houston, but this is an early birth pang.
To me, it’s a warning to get my own house in order – to consider the trials of those like imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran, even as that situation seems remote. If persecution intensifies in the U.S. or if it does not, we are foolish to be too comfortable or feel too safe in a world that hates our Lord and His righteousness. This is not our home, and we are blessed to be reminded of that.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Gary Ledbetter is editor in chief of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

10/31/2014 10:30:18 AM by Gary Ledbetter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Quarantine fear

October 31 2014 by Erich Bridges, IMB Global Correspondent

There’s a disease on the move that’s even deadlier than Ebola.
It is invisible and highly contagious. It spreads with lightning speed and paralyzes its victims. It turns people, communities and nations against each other.
The disease is fear.
Anxiety and dread seem to permeate our nation – and many of our churches – at the moment. Threats abound: Ebola, ISIS, mindless violence, multiplying enemies. There’s a general sense that the world is spinning out of control and no one knows what to do about it – certainly not the institutions and experts we once looked to for guidance.
“The Ebola crisis has aroused its own flavor of fear,” observes David Brooks of The New York Times. “It’s not the heart-pounding fear you might feel if you were running away from a bear or some distinct threat. It’s a sour, existential fear. It’s a fear you feel when the whole environment seems hostile, when the things that are supposed to keep you safe, like national borders and national authorities, seem porous and ineffective, when some menace is hard to understand.”
Some threats are real; others are the product of hysteria and saturation coverage of death and destruction. But we aren’t sure which is which. So we hunker down behind locked doors and dire predictions of worst-case scenarios. 
“There is no doubt that we will stop this [Ebola] outbreak, end the deaths, and, if done right, build the tools to prevent another large outbreak like this,” writes epidemiologist Larry Brilliant in The Wall Street Journal. “But it won’t be easy. Fear, panic and politics have gripped Americans, with the potential to do untold damage to our nation and the global economy. Our real enemy is a hybrid of the virus of Ebola and the virus of fear. As the famous World War II British poster reads, we need to keep calm and carry on.”
Easier said than done. Instant media spread facts and knowledge as well as rumors, misinformation and doubt. Many Americans now apparently fear anyone coming from Africa, even if they arrive from countries nowhere near the West African region affected by the Ebola outbreak. Some African immigrants who came to America years or decades ago report being ostracized or treated with suspicion since the Ebola scare began.
Eighteen Oklahoma high school students reportedly stayed away from class recently when their parents heard rumors on social media about three students who had just returned from a mission trip to Ethiopia, thousands of miles from the Ebola zone. “Our students were not exposed to Ebola,” Inola school superintendent Kent Holbrook assured a local TV news reporter. “There was no person that was sick on the trip. There was no person sick [in] Ethiopia while they were there. There was no person [sick] on the plane.”
T.J. Helling, a local youth pastor who helped organize the mission trip, told the TV reporter the three students “did more in the last 10 days [during the mission trip] than most people do in their lifetime for other people. We need to remember that we’re here to encourage them and support them, not beat them down.”
I called First Baptist Church of Inola, where the three students attend and talked to an adult member there. She said the fear in the community “shows that the world is lost. But our reaction to the fear shows Christ in us. I’m telling our students, ‘It’s easy to show love and grace to a kid in Ethiopia on a mission trip, but you need to show the same grace to the kids you see every day at school who are fearful of death. God may be building character in you.’
“The church can’t react in fear,” she added – at home or abroad.
Amen, sister. First Baptist of Inola is an example for us all in these uncertain days.
Fear is real. Don’t deny it or mock others who feel it, even when their fear seems irrational. That would make us hypocrites, because we all struggle with it. A friend of mine who did Southern Baptist mission work for many years in the Middle East currently mobilizes churches in the United States. He regularly interacts with Christians and church groups who fear all Muslims, fear everything happening in the Middle East, fear even the thought of going there – or befriending someone coming here from the Muslim world.
“I acknowledge the fear. It’s real; I get that,” my friend said. “But we’ve got to look at it through God’s eyes. If God can turn a terrorist named Saul into [the apostle] Paul, He can turn some of the hearts of the people in ISIS. Jesus is the only solution.”
Jesus calls us to look at the world through His eyes – and to look at Him, not the dangers and troubles that terrify us. Matthew 14 describes the night He came to the disciples walking on water.
“When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ And He said, ‘Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’“ (Matthew 14:26-31 NASB)
If bold, impetuous Peter, who walked with Christ Himself, experienced fear when He looked at the world, don’t be surprised if you do. Acknowledge it. Confess it to the Lord. Then look into His eyes, not at the fearful circumstances of our times. Step out of your safe, cramped boat. Befriend a lonely immigrant. Cross a border – and challenge some friends to go with you.
Jesus is already there, even in the darkest places, waiting for you to follow.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board’s global correspondent. To explore ways to follow Jesus into a dark world, visit http://imb.org/go/serving.aspx.)

10/31/2014 10:19:53 AM by Erich Bridges, IMB Global Correspondent | with 0 comments

Floyd: 28 things I wish I had done better

October 30 2014 by Ronnie Floyd, President of the Southern Baptist Convention

Twenty-eight years ago last week, my family and I responded to God’s calling to accept the pastorate of the First Baptist Church of Springdale, Ark. With the opening of our third campus four years ago, we changed our church’s name to Cross Church. Today, our 144 year-old church offers 10 worship services each week through our five campuses.
I know that anything good that has happened here has not happened because of me. Through the years, I have done more things wrong than right. I hope you can avoid some of the many mistakes I have made in my 28 years serving the same church. I thought I might list some of them – for my benefit as much as anyone else’s. While I list them numerically, it is only for reference, not in any sequence of importance.
Let me get started…

  1. I wish I had walked slower through the crowd.
  2. I wish I had enjoyed the special moments longer.
  3. I wish I had celebrated the victories in a greater way.
  4. I wish I had stayed out of the ditches of leadership in the journey.
  5. I wish I had traveled more extensively in ministry and mission endeavors.
  6. I wish I had begun an intentional strategy to invest in pastors and spiritual leaders much earlier, including future pastors and leaders.
  7. I wish I had never bought into many of the trends in ministry that have proven ineffective again and again.
  8. I wish I had not believed some of the things I read that led to me altering various strategies of ministry.
  9. I wish I had taken longer to hire some people.
  10. I wish I had not listened to many of my staff members.
  11. I wish I had listened to some staff members more.
  12. I wish I had encouraged some staff members who were just not right for the job or not right for our church to move on to other ministries quicker.
  13. I wish I had dealt with more staff and church problems head-on through the years.
  14. I wish I had permitted more people into my life personally and my journey as a leader.
  15. I wish I had discovered more ways to use lesser buildings to do more for the Kingdom of God.
  16. I wish I had been more Kingdom-focused through the years, regardless of what my peers thought or said about it.
  17. I wish I had never believed all the bad things people said about me.
  18. I wish I had never believed all the good things people said about me.
  19. I wish I had never swayed from leading my congregation, denomination, or anyone else to fulfill the Great Commission.
  20. I wish I had better discernment through the years as a Christian leader and pastor.
  21. I wish I had taken care of myself more effectively through the years physically, emotionally, mentally and relationally.
  22. I wish I had enjoyed more replenishing relationships through the years.
  23. I wish I had walked away quicker from some relationships that continually depleted me personally and professionally.
  24. I wish I had seen myself as a “lifer” in Northwest Arkansas early on, rather than a probable “transient” here.
  25. I wish I had led my church to be much more generous toward others through the years than we have.
  26. I wish I had slowed down more through the years and enjoyed the journey a little more.
  27. I wish I had pursued leaders who were greater than I would ever be, endlessly asking them to pour their lives into my life and leadership intentionally.
  28. I wish I had lived with such wisdom and discernment that I would have disappointed fewer people through the years.

I will stop with listing only twenty-eight things I wish I had done better through my 28 years here in the same church. Trust me, I know this list is really endless!
Where do I go from here?
From here, I realize that as long as I have life within me and leadership entrusted to me, I can go forward toward the future. I can learn from my past failures and move forward, committed to greater leadership in and through my life. At this point, I cannot go back, but only forward!
Therefore, forward is my destination! Whether I stay here another few years, another 28 years, or even longer, I want to be the man of God He wants me to be and lead with the highest level of trust extended to me from the people of God.
Pastors and church leaders, learn from my mistakes and do not create your own. I am committed to do so and I hope you will join me. I have so far to go, but I am going forward.
Yours for the Great Commission,
Ronnie W. Floyd

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column was originally published on Ronnie Floyd’s blog, http://www.ronniefloyd.com/blog/)

10/30/2014 12:15:49 PM by Ronnie Floyd, President of the Southern Baptist Convention | with 0 comments

Monopoly Millionaires’ Club

October 28 2014 by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have devised a new scheme for fleecing their residents – it’s called Monopoly Millionaires’ Club.
When we think of a club, we usually think of some kind of gathering in which people meet together to accomplish some common good. This club, however, is not a club at all. It’s the latest deceptive marketing campaign to entice people to give up some of their money for the empty promise of easy riches.
This latest multistate lottery effort joins others, like Powerball and Mega Millions, already actively promoted across the country with one goal: to take as much money as possible from desperate people in order to fund the bottomless pit of government spending.
Altogether, 44 states plus the District of Columbia now have their own lotteries. On top of that, these states participate in various multi-state lotteries. States promote them as a means to raise additional money for various needs, including public education costs, college scholarships and various infrastructure needs. These are worthwhile causes, but of the nearly $70 billion spent on lottery tickets every year, payouts and administrative costs consume more than $45 billion of lottery receipts.

Redistribution of wealth

When lotteries were reintroduced in the states in 1964, they were limited to the individual states that started them. That initial misguided venture into government-sponsored gambling has produced what is now a massive system of wealth redistribution, principally from the poor to the middle class. It is established fact that the poor spend a higher percentage of their income on lotteries compared to other income groups and that the states’ lottery revenue tends to benefit higher income groups. Just consider states that provide college scholarships through their lotteries. While the poor spend a higher percentage of their income on lotteries, more middle class children receive the lottery-funded scholarships because more of them attend college.
Now the states have a “millionaires” club lottery. At least the creators of this latest form of irresponsible government-sponsored gambling are being honest about their marketing message dangling in front of their “customers.” This lottery isn’t masking itself as a little entertainment, nor is it wrapping itself in a cloak of public good, like education funding, or anything else so noble. It is appealing to covetousness for material gain and escape from desperation.
The name of this game says it all. It promises to make the player an instant millionaire. He can join the “club” of the wealthy. For some, the game offers a chance to have all the things they want if they’ll just buy a ticket or, better yet, many tickets to increase their odds of winning. For others, the appeal is a chance to escape the despair caused by poverty.

The common good

Our state governments are losing sight of their biblically-mandated goal of serving the public good (Romans 13:1-7). Its divine mandate is to reward good and punish evil. How can it possibly be good to be engaged in a massive scheme to profit from desperation and greed and to hurt the most desperately poor in the process? This hardly sounds like what God had in mind for government when He appointed it as His own instrument on earth to help humanity fulfill its purpose.
By sponsoring gambling, our state governments have become part of the problem its citizens must overcome rather than a partner to help them flourish. Because state governments have chosen this path to their own easy riches, their citizens are more impoverished. After all, the game is designed for most of them to lose. That’s the only way the states, the stores and the operators get their cut. In the end, the poor, who grasp at their tickets as a way out, feel more hopeless, while the greedy, who imagined all they were going to buy, feel more resentful.
State-sponsored gambling is a national embarrassment. It’s disgraceful that so many of the people we elect resort to the regressive nature of gambling rather than the hard work of promoting and empowering the public welfare through responsible governance. We need our elected leaders to demonstrate courage, not cunning, in solving our problems.
It is my prayer that we will soon see a wave of responsible citizenship across this country that will rid our governments of this predatory behavior. The citizens rose up nearly two centuries ago to end the national disgrace of lotteries. Many were so disgusted by the mismanagement, corruption and social costs that they banned lotteries in their state constitutions in the early 19th century. It can be done again. May God help us return our governments to His design for government as a servant for good.
(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Barrett Duke is vice president for public policy and research for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared at the ERLC's www.erlc.com website.)

10/28/2014 10:40:31 AM by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Comebacks: Kansas City Royals & a local church

October 23 2014 by Mark Clifton, Baptist Press/NAMB

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Kansas City Royals began play in Major League Baseball’s World Series Oct. 21 against the San Francisco Giants. It is the first time the Royals has been in the series – or post-season play – since 1985. Kansas City church planter Mark Clifton draws parallels between the Royals’ resurgence and the re-launch of the Kansas City church he has led.)
Most of us who call Kansas City home never thought we’d see another day when our city would host a World Series game. For a decade, from 1976-85, the Royals were one of the dominant teams in baseball. Seven times in 10 years they went to the playoffs. Thanks to a future Hall of Famer, George Brett, and a great cast of supporting players, they were relevant nearly every year.
But the last time the Royals even made the playoffs was 1985, the year my son Trenton was born. This year, 29 years later with the Royals back in the fall classic, his son, my grandson, Jackson, was born.


Mark Clifton


Yet the 2014 Kansas City Royals almost never happened. In 2002 Major League Baseball’s owners, looking to shore up the sports’ financial situation, actively discussed the possibility of contracting (disbanding) two teams. The Royals were among the teams rumored to be on the list.
Who could have blamed owners if they had done it? The Royals were at the tail end of eight consecutive losing seasons. After a slight rebound the following year, they’d go another nine losing seasons before having a winning season in 2013. In 2002 only three teams drew fewer fans. Only eight teams had lower player payrolls. The Royals looked done in 2002.
But the team didn’t die. And the revitalized Royals now sit four wins from the pinnacle of their sport.
Most evangelical churches in North America have much more in common with the 2002 Royals than the 2014 version. You’ve likely heard the depressing stats. Seven out of 10 Southern Baptist churches are either plateaued or declining. Most haven’t seen a “winning season” in more years than they can count. Southern Baptists alone close more than 900 churches each year, 90 percent of them in metro areas.
Kansas City’s Wornall Road Baptist Church was one of those churches about to close in 2005 when I was asked to become its pastor. At one time it was not only one of the most influential churches in our city, but it was one of the most influential in the entire country. But by the time I came, only 18 people called it home. The church had lost touch with its community and forgotten the primary purpose of its existence.
Like the Royals, Wornall Road’s best days seemed to be over. When I would attend Royals games, I would see the sign in the outfield celebrating the 1985 World Series champions. Rather than making me proud to be a Royals fan, they reminded me that greatness had not been part of this team for a long time. When we began the replant at Wornall Road, you could find memories of the great days of the past all over the church. But those great days seemed so long ago. Rather than serving as an encouragement, they served as a constant reminder of how far the church had fallen.
I knew accepting God’s call to replant Wornall would not be easy. (Any idea how many managers the Royals have gone through since their last playoff appearance? Ten. Losing seasons – whether in baseball or in ministry – tend to devour leaders.)
But God had other plans. The remaining people of Wornall made the extraordinary and all too rare decision of repenting for our past mistakes, praying with passionate focus and embracing meaningful and biblical change. Over the next several years the church began to grow. We became relevant to our community and we planted new churches. Today Wornall has become a church that many across North America have looked to as a model of how a dying church can live again.
Actually, the revitalized Kansas City Royals have much in common with Wornall Road. For example:


  1. We both built using the Farm System. In one of the smallest markets in Major League Baseball, the Kansas City Royals could never rely on signing a high-priced free agent. The team’s most important players – like Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez – came up through the Royals’ minor league system. Same was true for Wornall. We discipled the young people God brought our way. God turned them into leaders.

  2. We both focused on what we did best. No team in Major League Baseball had fewer homeruns than the Royals. What the Royals lacked in power, they made up with speed, defense and pitching. When you have only 18 people in the church, you can’t do everything. We weren’t going to compete with the regional mega-churches in the area. We didn’t even try. Instead, we focused on doing what a small neighborhood church could do best. We served our community with radical abandon.

  3. We both used what we had. The Royals still play in the same stadium that I visited as a boy. The stadium has been renamed and upgraded in parts, but it hasn’t changed much. In fact, the Royals considered moving downtown a few years back but instead decided to renovate the stadium they had. Our church building was constructed for a church three times our size. We chose not to move into a different existing church building nor build a new one. Instead we sought to redeem the building for Kingdom ministry. Today we use every bit of our building. We use it as an incubator for new churches – nine and counting. It’s also home to a maternity ministry and a children’s placement ministry. We’ve opened up the building for the entire community to use it, as well.

When you watch the World Series this year, you’ll see a completely different team than the 1985 version of the Royals. The 1985 team had power and big-name superstars. The 2014 team has neither. But again, the Royals are relevant in the baseball world.
Today’s Wornall Road Baptist Church doesn’t look much like the 1940s version. We don’t do ministry the same way. We don’t serve the community in the same manner. And we certainly don’t have the same cast of leaders. But we’re relevant and reaching our community once again. The power that enabled the first generation of Wornall members is again empowering this present generation, the power of the gospel as revealed and lived out in the lives of our members.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Mark Clifton (@johnmarkclifton) is the North American Mission Board’s lead strategist for church revitalization. In September, Clifton resigned as pastor of Wornall Road Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., to help transition the church to younger leadership. For information about NAMB’s church revitalization ministry, visit namb.net/revitalization.)

10/23/2014 11:44:13 AM by Mark Clifton, Baptist Press/NAMB | with 0 comments

Earthquakes – what good are they?

October 22 2014 by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press

The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 changed everything. In minutes, this thriving, affluent city was brought to its knees. Roughly 50,000 people died. The sky turned black. Fires raged. Then tidal waves washed over the port, drowning hundreds more.
Later, Voltaire wrote a poem challenging the prevailing view that this was a divine act of judgment. “Whilst you these facts replete with horror view, will you maintain death to their crimes was due?” he penned, adding, “Can you then impute a sinful deed, to babes who on their mother’s bosoms feed?”
Voltaire did not challenge the existence of God. He simply asked what kind of deity would create a world with such design flaws. It’s a question other thinkers of his day dared to ask as well – a question taken up by today’s ardent atheists and carried to the extreme conclusion that God does not exist.
The earthquake and tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia in 2004 and similar disasters that struck Haiti in 2010 and Japan in 2011 are more recent examples of what may be described as natural evil. While many atheists concede that moral evil exists in the world, the idea of natural evil seems to prove either that God does not exist or, if He does, He is not a compassionate all-powerful God worthy of worship.
Not so fast.

Plate tectonics

It is only in the last century that modern science has discovered the cause of earthquakes: plate tectonics, or the movement of giant masses of rock beneath the surface of the earth and the ocean floor.
As these colossal plates move and bump into each other, they sometimes rupture the surface of the earth, causing earthquakes. When these collisions take place beneath the ocean floor, the result is seaquakes followed by tsunamis.
In their book Rare Earth, Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee observe that Earth “is still the only planet we know that has plate tectonics.” They further show that plate tectonics is a “central requirement for life on a planet.” It’s also largely responsible for differences in land elevation that separate the land from the seas.
But there’s more. Plate tectonics recirculates carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and without carbon dioxide we would not have life.
Dinesh D’Souza writes in What’s So Great About God?: “The whole tectonic system serves as a kind of ‘planetary thermostat,’ helping to regulate the earth’s climate and preventing the onset of scorching or freezing temperatures that would make mammalian life, and possibly all life, impossible.”
Plate tectonics also aids the formation of minerals deep in the earth and their availability near the surface.
Finally, the tectonics system contributes to the earth’s magnetic field, without which earth’s inhabitants would be exposed to cosmic radiation.
So, in a sense, we owe our existence to plate tectonics and the earthquakes it produces. Of course, earthquakes often cause great destruction and claim the lives of many people. These are real tragedies that must not be minimized.

Creation’s labor pains

However, to make the leap from tragic consequences of natural disasters to accusations that God is aloof, petulant or non-existent fails on numerous counts. People die of heatstroke and skin cancer but that doesn’t make the sun – or its Creator – our enemy. Fires often devastate property and take innocent lives, but without fire many technological advances such as smelting metals would not be possible.
In addition, floods and hurricanes cause tragic death and destruction, but these natural disasters would be impossible without water, without which no living creature could survive.
The point here for Christians is not to concede the atheist’s viewpoint, or to admit that God is fallible simply because natural disasters occur with great force and frequency.
It’s true that something is wrong with the created order – and this has been the case ever since the man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. The apostle Paul writes that “the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now” (Romans 8:22).
But it’s also assuring to know that God works through our unbalanced world -- and its tragic outbursts – to protect and preserve life. He may choose to use nature as an instrument of judgment, as with the sons of Korah (Numbers 16:32). But mostly He works through the sinful and fallen world in which we live to keep it in check for our benefit.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Rob Phillips is director of communications for the Missouri Baptist Convention, also with responsibility for leading the MBC’s apologetics ministry in the state. This article first appeared in The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri convention. Phillips also is on the Web at www.oncedelivered.net.)

10/22/2014 11:43:14 AM by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

You can help same-sex strugglers

October 21 2014 by Bob Stith, Baptist Press

After British singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching announced her homosexuality earlier this year, some Christians reacted angrily, others defensively regarding an artist whose compositions have been sung in their churches for years. Some have posted letters, articles and blogs to prove her wrong. For the record I have no doubt her theological beliefs regarding homosexuality are flawed.
But as I read her story, I was reminded of how many times I’ve heard similar things from same-sex strugglers growing up in a conservative Christian environment. I ached as I read her account of the pain, fear and alienation she felt as she silently dealt with her feelings. I imagined this young girl who loved God, who was terrified of allowing anyone to know of her struggle.
At times Ms. Beeching mustered the courage to seek spiritual guidance. This did not end well. Certainly her recollections may be colored by her subsequent experiences, but I’ve heard similar stories from many who have overcome same-sex attractions.
Her story reminds me again of how crucially important it is for Southern Baptists to carefully analyze our attitudes and responses regarding those who struggle with homosexuality. I don’t mean just the pastor. I mean the church as a whole. Are our people trained to deal with this issue? Would your church have made a different outcome possible?
Some ideas to consider:

  1. Develop an ability to empathize. Tim Wilkins of Cross Ministries has said, “One of the reasons evangelicals have not made much progress in reaching homosexuals with the gospel is their failure to empathize with the excruciating pain homosexuals experience.” This doesn’t imply acceptance of sin. It simply means you are willing to realize a fellow human being is in pain. The old saying “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is certainly true here.

  2. Be prepared to walk with them. Too often Christians are more willing to give advice than to come alongside strugglers. I once counseled “Gene”* who left a very good job and moved 200 miles away to get help in overcoming his same-sex desires. Gene said he once worked up the nerve to talk to a pastor at his church. The pastor listened compassionately but never followed up in any way. Later Gene saw him coming down the hall and when he spotted Gene, the pastor abruptly turned and went the other way. Conversely, several have told me that their journey out happened because someone in their life loved them, unconditionally and consistently walking with them toward Jesus.

  3. Be ready to give an answer for the hope you have. Ms. Beeching said in an interview that the problem is that we take the Bible out of context. She mentions the prohibition against homosexuality and against shell fish both in the book of Leviticus. She also says that God is a God of love who loves her just as she is. Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay questioned opposition to gay marriage, also earlier this year. “We often say, ‘Scripture is clear about this or that,’ but the very fact that so many people disagree or have alternate perspectives or interpretations of scripture, means that we have to move beyond simply quoting a scripture to prove our point,” Haseltine said. How well and how winsomely would your church members answer these claims? Several new books listed in this Baptist Press story can provide help.

  4. Avoid saying “It’s just a choice.” You will likely lose any possibility of ministry if you do. Sin is always a choice. The particular temptation we face is not. Along those same lines, avoid arguing “it isn’t genetic.” There is a difference in genetic determination and genetic predisposition. We are all predisposed to sin. The Bible says we are all by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). It shouldn’t surprise us if that nature presents itself in sexual brokenness. Additionally, I have known many strugglers who were sexually abused. They didn’t choose that.

  5. Don’t demand higher standards of discipleship from same-sex strugglers than you would others (i.e., those living together, those leaving their mates for someone else, etc.).

  6. Help make our churches “safe” places for those who struggle with any sin. Familiarize yourself with where help can be found. Don’t just recommend anything or anyone until you acquaint yourself with what their beliefs are. I’ve known of “Christian” counselors telling someone they should embrace their identity as a homosexual.

I am saddened by reports of others who have “come out” as a result of Ms. Beeching’s testimony. Far too many Christians have accepted these arguments because they simply didn’t know how to respond lovingly and with sound apologetics. Do your church members?
*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Bob Stith (bstith777@juno.com) is founder of Family and Gender Issues Ministries in Southlake, Texas, who formerly served as the Southern Baptist Convention’s national strategist for gender issues.)

10/21/2014 2:34:43 PM by Bob Stith, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Houston’s First Amendment ignorance

October 21 2014 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

The city of Houston’s decision to subpoena pastors’ sermons and other communications concerning a controversial “equal rights” ordinance reflects a misunderstanding of the First Amendment as well as ignorance about rules for non-profit organizations in relation to political activity.
Additionally, it shows a complete misunderstanding of the church’s role in society.
In May, Houston’s city council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). The law passed by a vote of 11-6 and included special protections for the LGBT community. Churches helped organize opposition to the ordinance and launched a petition drive to place it on a ballot so Houston residents would have an opportunity to repeal it.
HERO opponents submitted 14,000 more signatures than were needed to qualify the ordinance for a ballot. But city attorney David Feldman declared enough of the signatures invalid to prevent a vote on repeal.
In response to the city attorney’s decision, opponents filed suit, charging that the city “wrongly determined that they had not gathered enough valid signatures” to qualify for a repeal vote.
After the lawsuit was filed, the city issued subpoenas requiring that five local pastors turn over “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”
Reaction to the subpoenas has been mostly negative. As a result, Mayor Annise Parker, who is openly homosexual, and City Attorney Feldman have tried to backpedal from the issue and say the subpoenas may have been “overly broad.”
Regardless of what Parker or Feldman say now, they previously made statements that reveal their ignorance related to the First Amendment as well as Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules that apply to non-profits.
Parker stated via Twitter on Oct. 14: “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game.” Feldman told the Houston Chronicle, “If someone is speaking from the pulpit and it’s political speech, then it’s not going to be protected.”
The Chronicle also reported, “Feldman said the pastors made their sermons relevant to the case by using the pulpit to do political organizing. That included encouraging the congregation members to sign petitions and help gather signatures for equal rights ordinance foes, who largely take issue with the rights extended to gay and transgender residents.”
Someone needs to point out to Parker and Feldman that the First Amendment was introduced to protect speech, specifically unpopular political speech aimed at criticizing the government.
Houston’s mayor and city attorney also need to understand that while the rules regulating the political activity of 501(c)(3) organizations do not allow them to endorse or oppose candidates, the rules do not prohibit them from political activity in reference to legislation.
IRS guidelines stipulate that tax exempt organizations are allowed to expend “an insubstantial amount” of funds on advocating for or opposing specific legislation.
The church “is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state,” Martin Luther King Jr. said. “It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.”
The power grab by Parker and Feldman reveals their ignorance of not only the First Amendment and rules regulating political activity of non-profits; it also shows a complete misunderstanding of the role of the church in society.
(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 (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

10/21/2014 1:54:39 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Is gay marriage inevitable?

October 20 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court seems to be on a fast track to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. But that should not make believers abandon hope that America will uphold the historic definition of marriage – or stop working to that end. History and scripture are replete with examples of unforeseen reversals of cultural evil.
The Supreme Court has paved the way for expanded gay marriage by denying review of federal appeals court decisions overturning same-sex marriage bans in five states. The high court’s orders in the cases, issued Oct. 6 without comment, mean gay marriage will be legal in those five states and, presumably by extension, in six other states located in the same federal appellate circuits.
A federal appeals court decision a day later put gay marriage on a trajectory to become law in 35 states.
Some pro-family commentators responded to these actions by saying the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage is now inevitable. Others, like the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson, have taken a more optimistic tone, observing that the composition of the Supreme Court could change for the better before it takes up a case involving a gay marriage ban.
The procedural analysis on both sides has merit. However, there is also a spiritual analysis to be considered: God has brought corporate repentance and unexpected civic moral reversals before and could do it again.
In the Old Testament the pagan city of Nineveh repented at Jonah’s preaching and enjoyed God’s mercy for a season. The book of Judges recounts several instances of Israel crying to God after falling into sin and subsequently being delivered from powerful enemies. The kingdom of Judah enjoyed extended prosperity under King Josiah because he abolished pagan worship from the land and restored Temple worship (2 Chronicles 34-35).
In the New Testament Asia Minor’s idol makers feared they would go out of business because of the cultural impact Christians were having. One idol maker in Ephesus was so worried that he incited a riot (Acts 19:21-41). In Thessalonica an angry mob said of Christians, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (Acts 17:6).
In the 2,000 years since that time God has continued to use His church to effect periodic, and at times stunning, cultural transformations:

  • Within 300 years of Christ’s ascension, the Roman Empire went from being dominated by paganism to acknowledging Christianity as a favored religion.

  • In the fifth century, St. Patrick and other Christian workers helped transform Ireland from a pagan nation, where human sacrifices and public bestiality were practiced, to a land known for its monasteries and missionaries.

  • In 1807 the slave trade was abolished in the British Empire thanks in part to the tireless efforts of William Wilberforce, a Christian lawmaker motivated by his evangelical faith. Abolition came despite opposition from planters, businessmen, ship builders and even royalty.

  • Baptist missionary William Carey successfully campaigned to outlaw sati in 19th century India, a practice that involved widows incinerating themselves at their husbands’ funerals. Between 1813 and 1825, some 8,000 Indian women died through sati and few government officials opposed it.

  • Under the influence of missionaries, Hawaii was transformed from an animist nation (which worshiped nature) into a thoroughly Christian one within 50 years. Its 1840 constitution declared, “No law shall be enacted which is at variance with the word of the Lord Jehovah,” and Haili Church in Hilo became the world’s largest Christian congregation. Hawaii became a U.S. state in 1959.

  • Led by Christian ministers like Martin Luther King Jr., the American civil rights movement helped abolish legalized racial segregation in the nation.

Of course, many cultural evils have not been reversed. And Romans 1 identifies acceptance of homosexuality as a tipping point that can trigger God’s release of a nation to the consequences of its rebellion against Him. Still, scripture and history should drive Christians not to retreat or give up hope in the battle over marriage.
If God’s people pray persistently, preach biblically, vote wisely and make disciples faithfully, there is hope for another historic reversal of culture. It is still possible that America will define marriage legally as only a union between one man and one woman.
But even if such a reversal never comes and gay marriage becomes legal nationwide, Patrick, Wilberforce, Carey and King stand as encouragements for believers to resist ungodly cultural elites in the same way Peter and John did when they told Jewish authorities, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
(EDITOR’S NOTE - David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

10/20/2014 3:05:11 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Let’s thank our pastors

October 17 2014 by Kevin Ezell, NAMB/Baptist Press

Pastoral ministry can feel at times like a NASCAR race. Between preparing sermons, caring for hurting members and leading ministry efforts, pastors often run at breakneck speeds only to finish at the end of the week and do it all over again.
I talk to pastors all the time who are doing incredible work on Kingdom causes. They’re preaching Christ with boldness. They’re demonstrating God’s love to the neglected neighbors, communities and children around them. They’re mentoring young leaders and starting new churches in underserved regions of North America and around the world.
Yet many are desperate for refueling so they can finish the race God has set before them.
Before coming to the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in 2010, I served for nearly 25 years as a local church pastor in churches of every size. Obediently following the call to pastoral leadership can lead to much influence for Kingdom expansion, but it also can accelerate spiritual warfare.
Many pastors throughout North America are exhausted – and hurting. According to a LifeWay Research study in 2011, 55 percent of pastors say they feel lonely and discouraged at times.
For the North American Mission Board to complete the task with which Southern Baptists have entrusted us, we need healthy pastors. Healthy pastors are the fuel for healthy churches. Ultimately God didn’t give NAMB the responsibility for pushing back lostness in North America. That’s the job of local churches. As pastors lead in that effort, they need the rest of us to come beside them and lift them up.
We’re doing all we can at NAMB to help pastors and their families thrive. We’re hosting Pastors Roundtables where pastors can come and exchange ideas on topics of significance. We’re sponsoring marriage retreats to help pastors invest in their marriage. We’re partnering with First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., to bring pastor Johnny Hunt’s Timothy-Barnabas Conference to areas around North America where it has never been before. Recently we partnered with Focus on the Family to make a confidential pastoral care line available to all Southern Baptist pastors free of charge. The number is 1-844-PASTOR1.
Because pastors lead the churches we’ve been called to serve, I make it clear with our staff and missionaries that pastors are our number one customers.
But no matter what NAMB does to honor and support pastors, nothing compares to what local churches can do. Your pastor needs to hear from you about how God is using him in your life. He needs to know you appreciate all he does to care for, equip and mobilize your church for the mission of God.
October brings the observance of Pastor Appreciation Month and we’ve provided a variety of resources on our website to help your church show appreciation for your pastor. Some of these resources include:

  • A poster and/or bulletin insert with 50 Ways to Honor Your Pastor

  • Information about how to give your pastor and his wife a weekend’s stay at a bed and breakfast for 25 to 50 percent off and the ability to print off a certificate so you can award this to them in a worship service

  • Links to two smartphone apps that will help your pastor reboot his marriage and his spiritual life

No matter how you do it, make sure you take time to honor your pastor publicly. Let’s start the effort in October but keep cheering all year long.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Kevin Ezell (@kevezell) serves as president of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

10/17/2014 1:14:17 PM by Kevin Ezell, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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