October 2019

Taking every thought captive

October 10 2019 by Robin Lee Covington, IMB

Controlling my thoughts. Oh, how I’ve struggled through the years. Then God took me by the hand and taught me the importance of taking every thought captive. Honestly, I didn’t believe I could do it. But I learned that in His strength, it was possible.

But it wasn’t easy.
As a brand-new missionary, I basked in the glow of living out my dream of ministering overseas in Russia. I knew many faithful people were praying for me. Praying the prayer, “God bless and protect the missionaries.”
Suddenly that glow shattered when two colleagues, a husband and wife, were murdered. Brutally and cruelly. I’ll never forget the face of the young man who came to tell us that these precious servants had been found dead in their apartment.
My gut reaction was immediate. “God if this is what you sent me here for, I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t come here to die!” And instantly, shame shattered my heart. I was appalled at my thoughts. 
Goodness gracious, I had devoured missionary biographies as a youth. I’d forgotten that many of those stories spoke of hardship. Lottie Moon starved to death. William Carey’s two wives both died in India, with his first wife suffering a complete mental breakdown. Jim Elliot died at the hands of the people he went to reach. Somehow, I’d skimmed over the stories of suffering and focused on the excitement. The excitement of how people’s lives were changed as they came into a relationship with Jesus.
The truth was I didn’t want to learn about the struggles.
God had another plan.
Within a few weeks, my family moved into the apartment where our colleagues had been murdered. And God taught me a lesson about taking every thought captive.
We moved into the furnished apartment. We walked the floors and sat on the furniture of our martyred colleagues. After we moved in, the local Russian police visited and said they couldn’t protect us if we insisted on living there. But God gave our family an overwhelming peace about living in this apartment. We knew He put us in this home for a reason.
Most of the time, I didn’t dwell on the murders.
Until nighttime.
Every night, I would sit down on my side of the bed and stare at the carpet under my feet. You see, I knew that spot was where the body of the murdered wife was discovered.
I’d lie down, and horrific images would flood my mind. Different scenarios of how this missionary woman struggled and fought her attacker replayed over and over in my thoughts. In my imagination, I felt her pain. Sleep evaded me. Sometimes I could barely breathe.
At the same time, my 9-year old daughter also struggled with her own fears. Learning a new language and culture, riding public transportation, missing America, all those things had already impacted my daughter’s life.
As I searched for a way to help my daughter, God brought Philippians 4:8 to my mind.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (NIV)
My daughter and I began following the suggestions in this verse. Whenever frightening thoughts filled our minds, we would turn our focus to truth, the truth of God’s Word. To lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy things. Most importantly, our hearts turned to God, our light in a dark world.
Finally, I once again slept peacefully. Scenes of violence no longer occupied my dreams. With God’s help, I controlled my thoughts and dwelt on heavenly things.
Several months later, while stripping off wallpaper in my son’s bedroom, I noticed tiny pink splatters on the wallpaper. I realized; it was blood. The blood of the murdered husband.
I know that contentment comes from a shift in attitude, not a change of circumstances. Oh, how I ached to change this circumstances. Yes, I would have preferred to live in a lovely, new apartment without bloodstains. But instead, God allowed me to walk where martyrs had walked. He used a painful circumstance to teach me a lesson about contentment and taking my thoughts captive.  
Oh, the blessings God sent our way.
Out of that blood-stained apartment, many students came to know a Savior who shed His blood for their salvation.
And I learned the truth of Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Even taking every thought captive.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Robin Covington, robinleecovington.com, is a former IMB missionary and wife of Alaska Baptist Convention executive director Randy Covington.)

10/10/2019 11:10:20 AM by Robin Lee Covington, IMB | with 0 comments

7 myths about sex abuse in churches

October 8 2019 by J.D. Greear, SBC President

For most Southern Baptist pastors, the idea that their church might harbor an abuser is horrific. Almost every Southern Baptist pastor I know got into the ministry to serve and protect God’s people. They are genuinely heartbroken by this.

Yet we are still here, and that’s in part because of a few myths that are all too commonly believed in our churches.

ERLC photo by Karen McCutcheon
J.D. Greear

Myth 1: Sexual abuse in the church is not really a problem, but simply the latest leftist-attack on the church.

The problem of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) did not begin in February with the publication of an article in a newspaper. Survivors and advocates have been calling our attention to this for years.
Believing this myth has caused us, as a convention, to miscategorize the words of people like Christa Brown, Tiffany Thigpen, Mary DeMuth, Anne Marie Miller, Dave Pittman, Jules Woodson and so many other victims as attacks from adversaries instead of warnings from friends.
It is wrong to characterize someone as “just bitter” because they raise their voice when their important warnings were not heeded. Anger is an appropriate response in that circumstance, and it’s doubly bad when we use their anger to reaffirm our myths.
LifeWay’s recent research survey on abuse uncovered that 1 in 10 churchgoers under 35 have left a Southern Baptist church because they felt abuse was not taken seriously. When we fail to take reports seriously, or try to save face by minimizing it, not only do we put more people in harm’s way, we create obstacles to faith for those affected.
Dealing with this issue is not a distraction from the mission; it is the mission.
Myth 2: Abuse only happens in Catholic, liberal, complementarian or “fill-in-the-blank” churches.
For years, many evangelicals believed this was a Catholic problem because they have what we consider an unbiblical view of clergy marriage. The danger of this myth is that it is naive. It fails to recognize that wherever people exist in power without accountability, abuse will fester.
Abuse is not an ideological problem as much as it is a depravity problem. Ideas matter, and certain worldviews most certainly exacerbate our depravity, but to brush this aside as only a problem for those who believe differently than we do inevitably makes us turn a blind eye to those in our midst.
Of all people, we evangelicals should have known this. Jesus said there would be wolves in sheep’s clothing, and that there would be shepherds who would not guard the flock.

Myth 3: The church is best equipped to handle this internally.

I have heard this myth repeated: Doesn’t Paul say in 1 Corinthians that we shouldn’t take other brothers and sisters to court? Doesn’t he say that’s a bad testimony?

The language of 1 Corinthians 6 most properly refers to civil lawsuits, like property cases, not criminal violations.

1 Corinthians 6 must be read alongside Romans 13, which says we must submit ourselves to governing authorities because God has given the responsibility to execute justice. If we are dealing with a criminal issue, we disobey scripture by not involving the proper authorities.

Myth 4: A posture of grace requires giving the benefit of the doubt to those accused and offering the convicted a second chance.

There is a charitable impulse in us to give the benefit of the doubt to someone, especially when it is someone we know and love. But what about “benefit of the doubt” for the one bringing the accusation?
We must ask, if I or one of my children had been abused by a trusted leader, how would I want those in authority to respond to their cries for help? I’m not saying we throw out due process and rush to judgement, just that we err on the side of offering protection and compassion for the abused, as we allow due processes to run their course.

Furthermore, the Christian understanding of grace never means naively enabling abusers a second chance to perpetuate abuse. Christian teachings on grace and forgiveness never mean covering up sin in ways that expose others to harm.

Myth 5: Enduring abuse in marriage is part of learning to love like Jesus.
Another version of this myth is expressed when someone says, “You know, people will always let you down, but Jesus never will, so deal with it.”
Would you say the same thing about the robbery of your home? Does learning to endure suffering mean saying or doing nothing when you are robbed, or not taking steps to ensure it won’t happen again?
We say, “God hates divorce.” Yes, but God also hates abuse. And we don’t enable one thing God hates to try and prevent another.
We are pursuing what God loves – helping the vulnerable find protection. Our hope is that in so doing the abuser will come to repentance. But if the offending party will not seek repentance, that is not on us or the abused spouse. Their abuse is ending the marriage, not our steps toward protection. Being casual or deferential in relation to abuse in an attempt to avoid divorce is like saying, “Let us do evil that good may come.”

Myth 6: We would know an abuser if one was in our church.

This is a very dangerous, though often believed, myth.
Abusers are often very likable. That’s part of what makes them effective. They can be disarming and downright charming. They thrive in environments of naive assumptions and no accountability. If abusers are easy to identify, how did prominently known abusers get to their positions of power and influence?
The majority of abuse happens in private, where abusers have enormous power over their children, spouses, or students. If we expect abusers to feel ominous, then we add to the isolation and sense that “no one will believe me” that survivors often feel.

Myth 7: Updating our policies will take care of the problem.

New policies will not, by themselves, fix this problem. However, they are an essential step toward fixing it, which is why we have focused so much on better equipping local churches to change their policies. That’s why we developed the Caring Well Challenge.

But those policies must be paired, voluntarily, in our local churches by changes in attitude and culture. Local churches have to decide that they are going to be places that prioritize the safety of victims and respond immediately to reports entrusted to them.

We need to foster cultures of openness and protection in our local churches, where people feel like they know and are known enough to feel safe disclosing something, and even where people are close enough to one another to sense when something is wrong and ask questions.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – J.D. Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. This column is adapted from a talk he gave at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s 2019 national conference, Oct. 3, in Grapevine, Texas.)

10/8/2019 11:57:00 AM by J.D. Greear, SBC President | with 0 comments

10 ways to show love to your pastor, church staff

October 4 2019 by Carolyn Tomlin, The Alabama Baptist

During October many churches recognize Pastor Appreciation Month as an intentional time to honor their pastors and church staff.
The history of appreciating those ordained by God goes back to Bible times. The apostle Paul writes that "the elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching" (1 Timothy 5:17). In 1 Thessalonians 5:12–13, Paul suggests those whom God has chosen to work among believers should be held in the highest regard in love for their work.
Most important: do something. Involve as many people as possible. Don't neglect to say "thank you" to the pastor and church staff who are always there for your congregation.
Here are some practical ideas:
1. Circle of prayer. Ask the pastor, pastoral staff members and their families to come to the front of the auditorium. Invite members to surround them and pray for them.
2. Write letters. During October distribute stamped envelopes addressed to the pastor and church staff. Ask members to write a short letter to each expressing their appreciation of staff leadership. Thank them for ministering to you in both good and not-so-good times.
3. Plan a church-wide meal. What are your staff members' favorite dishes? Plan a luncheon or dinner honoring them with food and fellowship. Ask several members to share a time when a staff member was there for them or their family in a time of need.
4. Purchase Christian books by favorite authors, Bible commentaries or other study aids appropriate to the individual's role and interests.
5. Gift a day. Ask Sunday School classes or other church organizations to work together on an appreciation calendar. Each day in October, the pastor and/or staff members will receive one small item or gift, such as a gift card for coffee at a local coffee shop, a homemade cake, a car wash or theater tickets.
6. Decorate office doors of the staff. Ask children to draw "happy" pictures or use balloons to decorate.
7. Give a plaque stenciled with a Bible verse (Numbers 6:24–26 for example) as a prayer for God's blessings.
8. Share with the media. Let others in your community know you appreciate your pastor and staff.
9. Remodel the church office. How long has it been since the church office was updated? When visitors stop by what is their first impression? Work with the pastor to determine the best way to do this and be willing to help raise the funds.
10. Random acts of kindness. Think of ways to show kindness to your pastor, church staff and their families. If they have young children can you offer transportation when they are occupied with church duties? If a staff member's family has a pet can you provide a safe home for the dog or cat when they're on vacation?
Most important: Pray for your pastor and church staff. Support them by your attendance and commitment. Tell others about the pastor and church staff God has chosen to lead your church. Be cooperative and loving toward others. Honor God by honoring His servants.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Carolyn Tomlin is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist, thealabamabaptist.org, news journal of the Alabama Baptist Convention.)

10/4/2019 10:46:33 AM by Carolyn Tomlin, The Alabama Baptist | with 0 comments

COOPERATIVE PROGRAM: A missionary’s gratitude

October 2 2019 by Paul Chitwood, IMB

As I near the first anniversary of being elected president of the International Mission Board, I am incredibly encouraged about so many aspects of the Great Commission work of Southern Baptists.

At the top of the list are our missionaries. Over these months, my wife Michelle and I have met with more than half of our 3,700 Southern Baptist missionaries and their 2,880 children.
I recently received a message from one of them that communicates the sentiments I’ve found in all of them. The missionary wrote:
“Dr. Chitwood, I am leaving language class and am so humbled as I type this. There are so many people who allow me the opportunity to study at the seminary, serve, and now share the gospel here in this country. I am so appreciative of the SBC faithful who sacrifice so I can follow Jesus here. ‘Thank You’ for being a mouthpiece for the gospel so faithfully and stressing the importance of CP & LMCO [Lottie Moon Christmas Offering] giving so [unbelievers] can hear the Good News. I love you and I am forever grateful to be a Southern Baptist. To God Be the Glory!”
Not only does this missionary’s message communicate the deep appreciation of all of our IMB personnel, it also communicates how the Cooperative Program provides for a holistic Great Commission effort.
For example, this brother mentions language class. Language learning is essential for the effectiveness of most cross-cultural mission efforts. So are things like a place to live, a means of transportation, a ministry budget and immunizations – all provided by the generosity of Southern Baptists who give their tithes and offerings to the Lord in a local church that is committed to cooperative missions.
The missionary also mentions the privilege of studying “at the seminary.” By God-given wisdom, Southern Baptists not only have established six seminaries delivering the highest quality of theological education and ministry training, but they also have supplemented each seminary budget with Cooperative Program scholarship dollars.
This generous investment by Southern Baptists keeps the cost of tuition low enough even for students hailing from lower socio-economic backgrounds to have access to a seminary degree without accumulating a mountain of debt that would, at the end of the day, prevent them from going to the mission field. Though not a cross-cultural overseas missionary, I’ve personally benefited from three degrees paid for, in part, by “the SBC faithful who sacrifice so I can follow Jesus” where He calls me to serve and lead.
What I also know about this particular missionary is that he went out from a healthy church where he served under a pastor whose ministry was blessed and strengthened by state convention staff members. The ministries of the state convention, funded by the Cooperative Program, helped equip and encourage the pastor, his staff and the church family as they sought to be effective witnesses in their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
No wonder he’s grateful to be a Southern Baptist. And so am I. To God be the glory ... among the nations!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Paul Chitwood is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board. October is Cooperative Program Emphasis month in the Southern Baptist Convention. Learn more about CP here.)

10/2/2019 6:00:26 PM by Paul Chitwood, IMB | with 0 comments

Confronting sickness & death

October 1 2019 by Paul Kim

A hospital chaplain is called to minister to the sick and to give spiritual care along with the clinical care provided by doctors, nurses and medical technicians. The reality of life is that, like the poor, there will always be among us those who suffer from illness and disease.

Luke, himself a physician, wrote in his gospel about a woman suffering from bleeding for 12 years who spent all her money on doctors but could not find a cure.
By faith she approached Jesus from behind, touched the hem of His robe and was instantly healed. Although the crowd was oblivious to what happened, she knew it was a miracle of God. Even with all the advancements in medical care and technology, medical professionals are humbled before God, who is the Great Physician.
After I finished my seminary education, I returned home to the Big Island of Hawaii to start a new house church in a nearby beach community. Soon after, I began a second house church plant across the campus of my alma mater, the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
It was during this time that I felt the conviction to serve as a hospital chaplain, so I began my studies in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) for pastoral care and counseling in the fall of 1977. I spent one year in CPE at Memorial Hospital Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif., and at South Carolina Baptist Hospital (now, Palmetto Health Baptist Hospital) in Columbia, S.C.
I remember vividly when the wife of a patient came by the hospital chaplain’s office of Memorial Hospital Medical Center one afternoon in October 1977.
She wanted a chaplain to visit her husband who was in his late 60s. She told me that he had refused to take any medicine and had not eaten for a few days. She wanted me to convince him to change his mind, but that he was not up for any religious dialogue.
At her request I went to his bedside and quietly introduced myself. I just wanted to listen. He shared with me that he was afraid he was going to die. As I listened to his emotional pain, I encouraged him to have hope. I prayed for him silently on my own. I found out later that he was discharged from the hospital. Sometimes all we can do is show that we care – and pray.
On another night when I was on call at South Carolina Baptist Hospital, the phone rang in my room. It was from the operator who received an urgent request to have a chaplain visit a patient who had a second heart attack.
I hurried to the ICU to see a man in his mid-50s. He was so scared as he kept watching the heart monitor over his bed. I listened to his worries and I shared a few Bible verses that could speak to his heart and provide comfort. After a few days he was discharged. A few months later, the man came to visit me to say thank you, saying how my presence helped him so much on that night. I gave thanks to God for using me to be a source of encouragement to that man.
I may not have fully realized it at the time, but my residency as a hospital chaplain taught me lifelong lessons in pastoral ministry. Until then I had never experienced sickness and death so closely. In fact, I had never seen a person dying with my very own eyes.
But over time I learned how to be in the presence of the sick and dying, to listen to them and just be with them and their family members. With their permission, I offered many tearful prayers of biblical hope and comfort, especially Psalm 46:1: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Confronting the reality of suffering and death as a hospital chaplain helped me to grow emotionally, spiritually, theologically and professionally.
And as a survivor of quadruple bypass heart surgery, I know that God has numbered each one of our days, and I cannot take for granted even one more day of good health. We will all succumb to death one day, but we who trust in Christ do not fear because He has overcome death on the cross.
That is why we can always take courage and hope in the resurrection. As 1 Corinthians 15:55 says: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” We have ultimate victory in Jesus Christ our Lord.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Paul Kim is the Asian-American relations consultant with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee and pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist Church in Cambridge, Mass.)

10/1/2019 11:33:04 AM by Paul Kim | with 0 comments