October 2017

Remember that Jesus wept

October 5 2017 by Michael Kelley, Baptist Press

This year has had no shortage of tragedy. We have born witness to natural and man-made disasters, disasters formed in the ocean and disasters formed in the sinful hearts of men. Disasters that have destroyed property and disasters that have destroyed lives. Disasters that have stirred at least a semblance of unity and disasters that have brought out the already present division among us.

Michael Kelley

Given the recent pace at which all these things have taken place, we have been living in constant “response” mode, because just when something tragic happens and runs a few days in the news cycle, there is another disaster to take its place.
It seems, at least to me, that we are living in a period where the foundations are shaking and, in some cases, cracking. So how does one respond to this? How does a Christian respond to these tragedies?
When the foundations shake, we can return to what is true regardless of circumstances. We can know, for example, that the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord. We can know that Jesus is still the authoritative ruler of heaven and earth. And we can know that God, even now, is still working all things for the good of those that love Him and are called according to His purpose.
We know these things. But let’s be careful how we wield our theological truths.
In a culture when news is made and reported at a breakneck speed, all of us seem to feel this overwhelming compulsion to respond.
Respond, respond, respond. Post, post, post.
Now as Christians, we do have all kinds of things we might say in the midst of tragedy. Many of these responses are actually true. But in our constant need to respond, it might profit us to ask ourselves what our motivation is.
Is it that we want to offer a word of hope? A consolation of truth? Or in some instances, are we so uncomfortable with deep, real, gut-wrenching pain that we are trying to make ourselves feel better amid the muck and mire?
I’m not saying that the gospel should not be proclaimed at funerals. And I’m not saying there is never a time to point the grieving back to the words God has given us for comfort. I am saying, however, that truth like this must be wielded carefully and thoughtfully. Lest we bring it down onto the heads of the grieving like a theological sledge hammer, when we compelled by the insatiable need to respond, act as if the circumstances around us are not wreaking real havoc in the real lives of real people.
I think Jesus knew this. He knew that sometimes the best thing you can say is actually nothing. And He knew it better than we do. So when He came in John 11 to the grave of His friend and the grief of Lazarus’ sister Mary, He offered no theological treatise, no simple explanation for death.
There would be another time for that. But not right then. Right then, in His great compassion and wisdom, Jesus offered something equally right and yet infinitely more helpful:
Jesus wept.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Kelley, @_michaelkelley, is director of groups ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and author of Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life. He is online at michaelkelley.com, where this article first appeared.)

10/5/2017 9:07:04 AM by Michael Kelley, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Talking to your kids about the Las Vegas shooting

October 4 2017 by Phillip Bethancourt, Baptist Press

Your kids likely woke up to news on Monday of the horrific mass shooting overnight at a country music concert in Las Vegas. In the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, conversations surrounding guns, hate and seemingly random attacks are inevitable. At school, other children may comment on the attack and even perpetuate fear and anxiety.
How should you talk to your kids about the mass shooting in Las Vegas? There are five factors to consider when shaping how you talk with your children about a tragedy like this.

First, consider the facts.

Because children may have limited access to reliable information sources, it’s commonly the case that they are uninformed or misinformed about difficult topics, especially when they unfold as breaking news. Children are also still developing the ability to effectively process complex information in limited time frames.
As you seek to provide insight for your children when tragic events occur, it’s helpful to read articles from reliable sources that can enable you to be familiar with the details surrounding the shooting and the ongoing investigation. Of course, the level of detail you use when talking with your children will depend on their age, the priority of the issue in your home, and your parenting approach. Helping your child to consider the facts establishes an essential foundation for the rest of the conversation.

Second, characterize the field.

If the first factor helps your children understand what is going on, this one equips them to understand who is involved. That could include explaining the major players, such as the attacker as well as first responders and even the country music festival’s attendees. For those who can understand the more complex aspects of the situation, you can explain the role of the attacker’s motive and ideology when they become clearer as the investigation unfolds. Enabling our kids to understand who is involved helps to personalize the attack so that it doesn’t seem like an abstract tragedy disconnected from their experience in everyday life.
One of the long-term benefits of candid discussions with your children is that tragic events like Las Vegas often provide teachable moments because of the stark expressions of good and evil, courage and cowardice, love and hate. By providing insight into the character and behavior of the main actors in the situation, parents can better equip their children to display Christ-like character in their daily lives.

Third, confront the fears.

When children encounter significant tragedy such as a mass shooting, it often induces anxiety. As a parent, you need to be the one who can anticipate and respond to doubts and questions that arise in your child’s heart. It’s a natural part of fallen humanity for people to respond to senseless violence with fear and anxiety. That is no less true for our children (and, often, parents) when it comes to the aftermath of a tragedy like Las Vegas.
Parents must be willing to directly address such questions as: Will it be safe to go out in large crowds? Will a shooter attack people in our town? Will my cousin who is a police officer die if he encounters an active shooter? These are a small window into the fears that may pop up in our children’s hearts. Parents have the unique opportunity to shepherd our children through their fears. When you respond to them in honest and age-appropriate ways, you can signal how we follow a God we can trust, even in life’s most difficult circumstances.

Fourth, coordinate the flow.

One of the most important factors parents must consider when discussing difficult topics with their children is how to coordinate the flow of conversation and information our children receive. What should they learn? When should they hear it? How should they learn it? The key to coordinating the flow of information on a sensitive subject is to be intentional. Many parents find themselves reacting to a conversation they are thrust into rather than proactively anticipating the right opportunity to engage their children on the issue.
In the case of Las Vegas, coordinating the flow of conversation and information is critical. Surrounded by a 24-hour news cycle, social media and a heightened apprehension by their peers, your children are going to be confronted by the latest developments in the tragedy. The question is: Who is going to shepherd your children through it? Will it be the talking heads on TV, the chattering peers in their class, or will it be you? As parents, we can’t always pick the topics we need to engage our children on, but we can coordinate the flow of how we do it.

Fifth, contend for the faith.

When difficult situations arise, it creates amazing opportunities for parents to reflect on the implications of the gospel for even the most horrific tragedies in our culture. Don’t miss the opportunity to help your kids learn how to apply the gospel to everyday life. You can help them learn more about how God is at work in the world when you faithfully equip them to process the difficult effects of living in a fallen world.
There are many insights children can gain through candid conversations about what happened in Las Vegas. As you explain the senseless violence and evil perpetuated by the attacker, you can enlighten them to how the Bible shapes our response to evil in a Romans 13 world. As you walk them through why a man is willing to take a bullet to protect his wife, you can show them how the Bible has much to say about loving others in a John 15:13 way. Perhaps most importantly, as you address the hate of the attacker and engage the fears in their young hearts, you can equip your children to pray for peace in a Philippians 4:6-7 way.
Parents don’t get to pick the topics that occupy the news cycle. But you do get to shape the way your children think about them if you are intentional in your efforts to have gospel-shaped conversations with your children about the Las Vegas shooting and any other complex cultural issue.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phillip Bethancourt is executive vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared at the commission’s erlc.com website.)

10/4/2017 10:22:55 AM by Phillip Bethancourt, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The Cooperative Program – then & now

October 3 2017 by Randy L. Bennett, Baptist Press

It failed. Then it worked out far better than anyone could have imagined.
Here’s the story of what befell Southern Baptists in the 1920s, yet ultimately emerged in a different form and succeeded as the Cooperative Program.
Back in the mid-1980s Southern Baptists tried an interesting but questionable stewardship campaign called “Planned Growth in Giving.” Instead of challenging believers to tithe – the biblical practice of giving 10 percent of their income to the local church – the campaign suggested that new givers start with a lesser percent and gradually move toward 10 percent. After only a few years the campaign was dropped. Pastors and members alike simply did not believe that advocating anything less than a tithe was biblical.

File photo
The Memphis and Shelby County Auditorium was the site of the 1925 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting when the Cooperative Program was approved; 5,600 messengers were in attendance.

The best thing that came out of the campaign, however, was a book titled Cooperation: The Baptist Way to a Lost World by father-daughter Cecil Ray and Susan Ray. The book, which is still available on Amazon, tells the history of Southern Baptists from their beginning as they struggled to find a way to give money to Baptist causes in order to create a well-rounded and functional foundation for missions and evangelism.
To recap the book, it describes the convention’s use of the 19th-century pattern known as “society” type giving in which individual churches and individual believers pledged various amounts of money to mission societies. These societies, stemming from the work of missions pioneer William Carey, were organized around specific causes. Our Southern Baptist colleges and seminaries fell under the category of a society as did the Foreign Mission Board and Home Mission Board.
The best speakers who represented the most interesting projects received the highest pledges, yet they came with a cost. In 1883 the Home Mission Board, for example, reported that 53 cents of every dollar went to pay the solicitors’ salaries and expenses. Although society type mission giving was better than previous attempts to fund God’s work, it fell far short of creating a sustainable foundation for a worldwide missions program.
Since 1925, the Cooperative Program has allowed Southern Baptists to work together in ministry and mission at home and around the world.

In 1919 the convention’s missionary enterprise was in dire straits. The Foreign Mission Board was millions of dollars in debt with no real way to pay it off. Church members and pastors alike were weary of the constant appeals for money from across Southern Baptist life. Society type mission giving simply was not consistent enough to support the Southern Baptist missions vision. It was fine for smaller, regional works but not for a worldwide work.
So that year, in spite of having a reputation for internal bickering, Southern Baptists voted to enter a new fundraising campaign, the Seventy Five Million Campaign. This five-year pledge campaign challenged every Southern Baptist to give a consistent amount of money to the funding plan.
Everyone got behind the initiative. L.R. Scarborough, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was granted a leave of absence to serve as general director. He traveled across the country promoting the campaign. Every church and association had a campaign director. Part of the campaign was finding those God had called to missions and the ministry – 20,000 people volunteered! When all the pledges came in, $92,630,923 was pledged. Everyone rejoiced across the country. When the dust settled, $58,591,713 was actually given – $34 million short of the pledges and $17 million short of the goal.
What was the short-term effect of the Seventy Five Million Campaign? Many Baptist entities had borrowed against the promised pledges and were in worse debt than before. Although many Baptists declared the campaign a failure, the Holy Spirit had taught Southern Baptists some key lessons. The Home Mission Board received $6.6 million compared to $8.1 million received in its preceding 74 years combined. The Foreign Mission Board received $11.6 million compared to $12.5 million in all the previous years. Colleges, associations and other organizations received millions of dollars.
What was the lasting effect of the Seventy Five Million Campaign? The true success of the dramatic experience was in the transforming discovery of cooperation. Baptists learned the power of cooperative giving and the power of working together as a whole.
The 1920 minutes of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, for example, called the campaign “a glorious success,” saying, “It cracked a shell” over the standard way of giving “and new resources have broken out among us for our Lord’s work. It demonstrated the power of the unified appeal to our Baptist work. We shall never be afraid to depend upon that in a large way from now on.”
A few years later at the 1925 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting, messengers adopted a radical new approach – the Cooperative Program – based on the lessons learned from the Seventy Five Million Campaign, with a goal of each church giving 10 percent or more to fund state, national and international missions and ministries. The term “undesignated giving” is used to encompass the tithes and offerings received each week for the church’s ministry, personnel and upkeep expenses, for the Cooperative Program and for the local Baptist association. Designated gifts for things such as building funds or love offerings were not included in the Cooperative Program giving total.
With the advent of the Cooperative Program, churches would no longer be inundated by constant appeals for money from mission societies and other entities. Now, only four “society type” offerings remain to help advance Southern Baptist causes: 1) the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, created in 1888 and named in honor of the pioneer missionary to China in 1918, 2) the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, created in 1895 and named for the first leader of Woman’s Missionary Union in 1934; 3) state missions emphasis offerings each fall and 4) Baptist association emphasis offerings each May.
Consistent giving through the Cooperative Program in tandem with the special offerings has led to 90 years of unimaginable growth among Southern Baptists, providing the basic budget for each SBC entity and advancement money for church planting and church strengthening at home and around the world.
Here in the 21st century, we need to embrace the Cooperative Program now more than ever. Amid a movement toward independent giving by a number of our churches, we need to undergird and broaden the overall impact of our mission to reach people for Christ around the world.
Not only do we need to support the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists need to rediscover the whole concept of cooperation. There needs to be a three-way “cooperative” partnership between the Southern Baptist Convention, the state conventions and each area’s Baptist association. At the core of the Cooperative Program is a 400-year-old truism: “We can do more together than separately.” As Baptist pastors gathered in London for prayer and fellowship at the time, they eventually came to this truth. As a result of this new understanding, the Baptist association was developed followed by the state and national conventions.
What does the local church need to do in response to the need for cooperative giving? Consider three things for starters: 1) Create a unified budget every year that includes both local church spending and missionary giving goals. 2) Train people to be generous givers and to tithe. Tithing needs to be preached from the pulpit as well as modeled by the pastor and all church leaders. Tithing, along with money management, needs to be taught in small groups and special training seminars. 3) Help people learn how and why we support the Cooperative Program. Invite SBC associational, state, International Mission Board and North American Mission Board missionaries to your church on a regular basis to convey a clear picture of what is involved in mission giving. Assign some group in your church the task of educating the church on the SBC way of doing missions.
From the largest to the smallest church, consistent giving reaps great rewards for our state, national and worldwide missionary work as Southern Baptists. The key is to start where you are and build from there for the glory of God and the redemption of lost souls.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Randy L. Bennett is director of missions for the Kern County Southern Baptist Association in Bakersfield, Calif., and immediate past president of the California Southern Baptist Convention. Cooperation: The Baptist Way to a Lost World by Cecil Ray and Susan Ray, published by the SBC’s former Stewardship Commission in 1985, remains available on Amazon. October is Cooperative Program Month in the Southern Baptist Convention. The Cooperative Program is the Southern Baptist Convention’s giving channel for missions and ministry.)

10/3/2017 9:48:11 AM by Randy L. Bennett, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Child beggars fed, taught at GHR-supported ministry

October 3 2017 by Lindsay McDonald, Baptist Press

As the early morning sunlight backlit their frail bodies, small hands stretched outward through the metal airport gates in South Asia.
Child beggars.
Instinctively, I reached for my camera; I wanted to document every moment of this trip. In praying and preparing over the last year, the Lord had captured my heart for this people group and I loved them.

But I paused and allowed the scene to unfold before me, to sear into my mind all the while gripping my heart.
Desperation, grumbling bellies, hollow eyes – visible, urgent and physical needs that seemed to overshadow their greater need: hope in Christ.
Yet, after journeying more than 18 hours, our team’s mission was still to bring them the Bread of Life.

Desperate conditions

When hunger meets you face to face, you quickly realize our “American lives” are vastly different than most of the rest of the world. We must meet both the physical and spiritual needs. During this trip, I would see firsthand that by meeting their physical needs we would gain their trust and ears to share about their spiritual need – and then leave the heart work in the Lord’s hands.
This South Asian country is about the size of Illinois, yet it has around 163 million people sandwiched into its borders – comparable to more than half the U.S. population.
Around 77 percent of people live on less than $2 a day – the international poverty standard – yet 40 percent live on less than $1 a day. As a result, many South Asians’ diets consist of rice. Rice is inexpensive and easy to prepare. Add a blend of vegetables and curry and you have a typical meal.
Though many live in poverty, there are glimmers of hope. Two centers for girls are shining light into the slum areas where girls are often at risk for human trafficking.

Beacons of hope

Young girls from the slums dashed up the steps into one of the centers, meeting our team with smiles.
Bright hues of blue and green fluttered around the room. Each school day the girls dress in a clean school uniform, changing out of their “street clothes” after a shower.
Giggles and sweet conversation filled the room as they sat down to eat breakfast provided by the center. Global Hunger Relief (GHR), a partnership of seven Southern Baptist organizations, aids the center in the purchase of the food for these young girls.
Church gifts through the Cooperative Program provide a global infrastructure so that 100 percent of GHR donations help feed those who live with constant hunger.
As our team played Old Maid, Phase Ten and Twister with the girls to teach them their colors, animals, numbers and occupations, the smell of curry filled the air. Lunch was placed before us; a large pile of white rice topped with curried lentils and green chilies melded beautifully with potatoes and green beans. Filling those empty bellies with warm food showed our love and compassion, and their hearts became a bit more open.
As the two ministry centers meet the girls’ daily needs of nutrition, they share the Bread of Life and how Christ has come to redeem each of them. They are also teaching them to sew so they can obtain a job one day.
Within these walls, there is life, as beggars become beacons of hope.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lindsay McDonald is a pastor’s wife and photographer, residing in central Illinois with her husband John and their two children. On Global Hunger Sun., Oct. 8, Southern Baptist congregations will address hunger concerns across North America and around the world by receiving donations channeled through globalhungerrelief.com, which uses 100 percent of each gift to meet hunger needs.)

10/3/2017 7:54:10 AM by Lindsay McDonald, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The Reformation & Baptist life

October 3 2017 by David Dockery, Baptist Press

First in a series
The Lord blessed me with the wonderful privilege of growing up in a Christian home – a faithful, Baptist home. Sundays included Sunday School, church services, afternoon choir practice as well as Bible Drill, Discipleship Training and Sunday evening after-church fellowship. It was generally a very busy day. Wednesdays included church suppers, prayer meetings, mission organizations, committee meetings and choir practice.
During the week there were opportunities for outreach visitation, Woman’s Missionary Union and other activities. Summer calendars were built around Vacation Bible School, church camps and other church-related events. My family planned weeks and seasons around church activities. Our heroes were Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong and Bill Wallace of China.
But apart from a world history course as a high school student, I do not recall ever hearing stories about the Reformation, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin or other early 16th-century Protestant leaders in any church-related activity.
My guess is that my experience parallels that of many other Baptists. Why, then, should Baptists pay attention to the many events and programs taking place this year to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, for we are not Lutherans nor Anglicans nor Presbyterians. Yet, whether we realize it or not, many of our core convictions as Baptists have been influenced or shaped by those 16th-century thinkers.

What was the Reformation?

Many people across Germany and Switzerland over a period of several decades contributed to the wide-ranging movement of theological and spiritual renewal in 16th-century Europe known as the Reformation. But the most visible event according to tradition took place on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther (1483-1546), a monk and university professor, nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was concerned with papal abuses and the selling of indulgences in the Roman Catholic Church, along with what he considered to be faulty understandings of justification by faith, biblical authority and other important doctrinal matters.
Philipp Melancthon, one of Luther’s colleagues who knew him as well as anyone, called Luther the Elijah of Protestantism and compared his influence to that of the apostle Paul in the first century. Luther roused the church from her slumber, reopened the fountain of God’s Holy Word for many people and was responsible for directing a generation to know Jesus Christ as their Lord. When one thinks of the Reformation period, one reflects on the titanic force of Luther, the good sense and preaching ministry of Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) in Zurich, Switzerland, as well as the biblical exposition and theological articulations of John Calvin (1509-64) in Geneva. Among these three important leaders of the Reformation, there is general agreement that the one with the greatest influence was Martin Luther.

What have Baptists inherited from the Reformers?

For many people who grew up in a home or church with experiences similar to mine, we somehow had a sense that our parents, grandparents and pastors had received an understanding of the Christian faith as if it had come directly to them from the first-century apostles. We were naively unaware of what went on in between then and now. By and large, Baptists do not know very well our heritage, our history or our theological identity.
The reality is that while we are “a people of the Book,” shaped, formed and informed by Holy Scripture, we also have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us who stood on the shoulders of others.
Such a debt to those who have gone before us was recognized by seventeenth-century Baptists who, in the Orthodox Confession of 1678, acknowledged that they stood with and affirmed with all Christians everywhere the teachings of the Nicene Confession, a fourth-century document that clearly maintained a commitment to the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ as well as Trinitarian orthodoxy.
Francis Wayland, a most significant Baptist leader in the 19th century, wrote these words in “The Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches” (1861):
“I do not believe that any denomination of Christians exists, which, for so long a period as Baptists, has maintained so invariably the truth of their early confession. The theological tenets of the Baptists, both in England and America, may be briefly stated as follows: they are emphatically the doctrines of the Reformation, and they have been held with singular unanimity and consistency.”
While most of us have not been directly influenced by the Reformers, our Baptist heritage and beliefs have been informed by the teaching of the Reformers as we will see in part two of our series.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David S. Dockery is president of Trinity International University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. This article first appeared in the Illinois Baptist, news journal of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Dockery, the author or editor of more than 30 books, is the former president of the Tennessee Baptist-affiliated Union University and former chief academic officer and professor of theology and New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

10/3/2017 7:41:17 AM by David Dockery, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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