September 2015

The mentally disabled & heaven

September 30 2015 by Keith Sanders, Southern Baptist TEXAN

For those of us who are parents of children with profound mental disabilities, one nagging question often lingers in our consciousness: What will happen to our child when we die?
 
We know that so long as we are living, our child will be loved and nurtured with the greatest of care. Once we are gone, however, our child will be dependent on those whose care, while well-intentioned, could never match that of a parent’s love.
 
So, we do our best not to worry about the future. We make financial plans as best we can, and make sure that our life insurance is current. We remind the siblings that one day they may be called on to be a caregiver to our special needs child. And we pray.

 
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Keith Sanders

As a Christian and a pastor, another question lingers: What will happen to my profoundly mentally disabled child when she dies?
 
The question of accountability is one that Christians in general and Baptists in particular have debated for centuries. In recent years the phrase “age of accountability” has given way to the more appropriately termed “state of accountability.” This change makes room for those of all ages with childlike cognitive ability. The truth is that the Bible has very little to say about what becomes of the souls of infants and children who die and even less to say about what becomes of the souls of the mentally disabled.
 
Some Baptists have appealed to the natural innocence of children and the mentally disabled as grounds for their entrance into heaven. In my opinion, there are two fundamental problems with that view.
 
First, our experience with even very young children is that they sin. They lie. They steal. They have unjustified anger. In short, they behave like their parents.
 
The second, and more significant problem with the innocence view, is that it would seem to come in conflict with scripture. In Romans 5:12 the apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.
 
Many Baptists have historically affirmed the concept of imputed sin. The idea is that all humanity is guilty because of our relationship with our federal head, Adam. In fact, some of the oldest Baptist confessions included overt affirmations of this doctrine. The first president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, J.P. Boyce, affirmed the doctrine of imputed sin.
 
Boyce wrote: “… at the very moment of birth, the presence and possession of such a nature shows that even the infant sons of Adam are born under all the penalties which befell their ancestor in the day of his sin. Actual transgression subsequently adds new guilt to guilt already existing, but does not substitute a state of guilt for one of innocence.”
 
So, if children and the mentally disabled are not naturally innocent but go to heaven when they die – and every Baptist I know believes that they do – what is the basis for such salvation? Many Baptists throughout our history have based the belief in the salvation of children and the mentally disabled on the mercy of God.
 
As Charles Spurgeon wrote, any other belief would be “utterly inconsistent with the known character of the Lord Jesus Christ.” We know that it was the Lord who said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of heaven.”
 
The answer that has been most satisfactory to me, the father of a profoundly mentally disabled child, is that those who die outside of the state of accountability go to heaven based on the election, redemption, regeneration and mercy provided by God in the saving work of Jesus Christ.
 
In short, I am much more confident of God’s mercy than I am of my children’s innocence. I know this because I know their dad, and he is a sinner in need of grace.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Sanders is pastor of First Baptist Church in Keller, Texas. This article first appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN at texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

9/30/2015 11:07:21 AM by Keith Sanders, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments



What do you see for the SBC?

September 29 2015 by Ronnie Floyd, SBC President

Last week I was in the Northeastern region of the United States. On Sept. 14, I was in Boston, giving the afternoon to meeting with pastors and leaders who are in the Greater Boston Baptist Association. After speaking briefly, I fielded their questions about the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) for over an hour.
 
That evening, I walked into a lecture room at the Harvard Law School, speaking to 200 students that filled the room to capacity. I had just received a tour of this historic campus that was founded in 1636 with the purpose to train ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. After having dinner in the Harvard Faculty Club, as guests of Daniel Cho and Rebekah Kim, both of whom are chaplains at Harvard and committed Southern Baptist leaders, I went to speak to these 200 students.
 
It was a surreal moment for Jeana and me – a boy, growing up in a Southern Baptist church of 30 to 40 people in a town of 5,000 people and a girl who was a preacher’s kid, whose mom and dad served Southern Baptist churches mostly in West Texas for 50 years.
 
Here we were at the Harvard Law School, walking into a lecture room filled with mostly Asian students from all over the world. Almost all were students at Harvard, but there were also a few from both MIT and Boston University.

 
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Ronnie Floyd, SBC President

Many of them had already completed their bachelor’s degree and are working on their master’s or doctorate. Why did they want to hear me? One reason alone: prayer and spiritual awakening. When I got up to speak on “Lord, Do It in Our Generation,” their computers and iPads opened, and they vigorously took notes, even Googling historic figures I referenced along the way. We ended our time with 200 students and leaders calling out to God for the next great move of God to occur in our land, praying mostly that it would occur at Harvard.
 
Early the next morning, we drove three hours to Bennington, Vt., to speak in the chapel service of Northeastern Baptist College, a newly birthed college now in their third year. One of our own Executive Committee members, Mark Ballard, left a pastorate by faith, following a vision and a dream to begin a college that would equip ministers and laypeople to reach the Northeastern part of the United States for Jesus Christ. All of the capital cities of the New England states are within three hours of the college. Twenty percent of the American population lives within six and one-half hours of their campus. Most missiologists would verify that in the New England states, only 10 percent of the population would testify as fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. According to Mark Ballard, in the state of Vermont alone, that 10 percent could be lower than 2 percent of the population of that state.
 
Within 20 minutes of their campus is Williamstown, Mass. After having lunch with the board of trustees of the Northeastern Baptist College, we drove to Williamstown.
 
Why there?
 

“We can do this, if we will.”

In 1806, there were five college students who had begun to pray twice a week for a mighty move of God to occur. The second Great Awakening had affected at least one of these five. College student Samuel Mills’ father had served as a pastor of a church that had been touched powerfully by this awakening. These five students of the Williams College in Williamstown had come together on a hot Saturday afternoon in August for their prayer meeting. They were going to discuss William Carey’s missionary manifesto, “An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians To Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.”
 
On their way to their prayer meeting, a major rainstorm began that was filled with wind, lightning and thunder. They ran to seek shelter and noticed a large haystack, which would provide them an opportunity to seek shelter from the wind, rain, and lightning. It was in that setting after discussing Carey’s missionary manifesto they went before God in prayer.
 
College student Samuel Mills proposed they would go on mission to India. While three of the five agreed with Mills to focus on reaching Asia, it was Harvey Loomis who believed deeply they must focus on reaching America first.
 
Listen carefully: From what is now known as the great Haystack Prayer Meeting, two years later in 1808 was the formulation of a group who became known as “The Brethren.” These five young men and others focused on praying and missions. After they had graduated, in 1810 they requested that a group send them to India as missionaries. The General Association of Massachusetts formed the first official missions organization in the United States in June of 1810. It was called the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
 
By the way, Adoniram Judson and his wife as well as Luther Rice were some of the first missionaries commissioned and sent across the ocean by this new mission board. It was Judson who became known as the father of Baptist foreign missions.
 

It all began in a prayer meeting under a haystack.

We must remember that it really all goes back to the Haystack Prayer Meeting. After praying, these five young men sang a hymn together. It was then that Samuel Mills said loudly over the rain and the wind, “We can do this, if we will!” That moment changed those men forever. Many historians would tell you that all mission organizations trace their history back to the Haystack Prayer Meeting in some way. Yes, these men turned the world upside down. And it all began in a prayer meeting under a haystack.
 
At the place where this meeting occurred, a monument stands today commemorating this historic God moment. At the top of that monument is the phrase, “THE FIELD IS THE WORLD.” Underneath those words is the following statement: “The Birthplace of American Foreign Missions. 1806.” It all happened from a prayer meeting.
 
This reminds me of the words written in Acts 4:31, “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness.” Prayer, the power of God, evangelism, and missions all go together. We need to get ourselves back under the haystack!
 
Over the rain, wind, lightning and claps of thunder when Samuel Mills declared to the other four young men, “We can do this, if we will!” he saw something before anyone else saw it. He saw that THE FIELD IS THE WORLD.
 

What do you see?

Let me ask you, “What do you see?” Do you realize that eight different times in scripture, we read the words: “What do you see?” King Saul asked this question to a woman and seven times, God asked this question to three different prophets. He asked Jeremiah, Amos, and Zechariah, “What do you see?” He asked it to Jeremiah before God’s people went into captivity and he asked it to Zechariah after the people left captivity.
 
1 Samuel 28:13, “But the King said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid. What do you see?’”
 
King Saul was out of order talking to a medium, but Samuel spoke from the dead to him, telling him that tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. By the way, they were.
 
Jeremiah 1:11, “Then the word of the Lord came to me asking, ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’”
 
Jeremiah 1:13, “Again the word of the Lord came to me inquiring, ‘What do you see?’”
 
Jeremiah 24:3, “The Lord said to me, ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’
 
All three times, Jeremiah saw exactly what God wanted him to see.
 
Amos 7:8, “The Lord asked me, “‘What do you see, Amos?’”
 
Amos saw a plumb line and God affirmed what he saw.
 
Zechariah 4:2, “He asked me, ‘What do you see?’”
 
Zechariah 5:2, “‘What do you see?” he asked me.
 
Both times Zechariah saw what God wanted him to see and then God explained it to him.
 
Why did God ask the question: “What do you see?”
 
Answer: God was going to give a vision to the prophets of God about what He was going to do.
 
This was a simple, clear, concise, and compelling question God asked them.
 
I am convinced this is the question God is asking us as leaders of our convention: What do you see? More specifically He is asking us, “What do you see in the future for the Southern Baptist Convention?” This is a question of vision. Vision is seeing it before you see it! We need to see it with our spiritual eyes before we will see it through our physical eyes.
 
As the president of our Southern Baptist Convention, how would I answer this question: What do I see in the future for the Southern Baptist Convention? I want to share with you some of what I see. It is time to see the need to:
 

1. AWAKEN AMERICA

Over these past 15 months as your president, I have gone from the Atlantic to the Pacific and even across the oceans, calling for us to pray for the next Great Awakening in America in an extraordinary way. While the ideologies and worldviews of our nation collide daily and the morality and character of our nation degrade daily, we must be more than faithful to call out to God for the next Great Spiritual Awakening. While the country sorts out the politics in the present battle for the presidency of the United States of America, we need to be faithful to always remember that our ultimate hope cannot be in the White House, nor the statehouse, nor the courthouse, but only in the work of God in the church house.
 
While each of us need to engage in each of these arenas in a way that honors God and our commitment to Holy Scripture, our greatest hope that we can bring in this hour is for us to see God awaken America. Many of our own would declare us hopeless and doomed. But as God reminded me this past Friday morning in my time with Him, the words of Jeremiah 32:17, “Oh, Lord God! You Yourself made the heavens and earth by Your great power and with Your outstretched arm. Nothing is too difficult for You!”
 
Before the awakenings and great movements of God in the past, many times God’s people have prayed as long as a decade or more before God moved mightily among the people. Therefore, I call upon us to return to the haystack!
 
We need to stop being so content doing ministry without moments under the haystack. We must return to the haystack, calling out to God extraordinarily, experiencing Him supernaturally, and exploding with a robust vision and commitment to advance the gospel exponentially everywhere. We also need to …
 
Renew our belief and commitment to the power of God!
 
It has always been a mystery to me how Baptists believe in the supernatural, miraculous experience of personal conversion; but after this occurs, we operate in our own power and knowledge naturally. I call upon every Southern Baptist, including our entity leaders, state convention leaders, pastors, church leaders and our laypeople to renew our belief and commitment to the power of God!
 
It is past time that we repent from our sophistication and pride and get back under the haystack. It is past time that we live and lead empowered by the almighty power of the Living God!
 
We not only need to pursue God, entreating Him with our all daily to awaken America, but we also need to:
 

2. REACH THE WORLD

Where is the vision to reach our own villages, towns and cities in America? This is the world we live in now. Sometimes we conduct ourselves like a bunch of theological Universalists who believe it will all work out okay for everyone. We must begin to believe in lostness again.
 
People need the gospel of Jesus Christ beginning in our own villages, towns and cities. Our pastors need to be injected with a vision and strategy to reach their own villages, towns and cities.
 
According to missiologists, we live in a nation where three out of four people do not have a personal relationship with Christ. We live in a world with 7.275 billion people. Of these 7.275 billion people, just over 3 billion of these people are unreached. There is an additional 1.25 billion of these people who are engaged nominally. If we even come close to understanding the spiritual condition of our world and the need for the gospel, we are facing a daunting challenge.
 
This is why we need to return to the haystack and come out from underneath it with a renewed belief and commitment to the power of God. Without His power, the task is overwhelming. Without His power, our insufficiency is exposed to the world.
 
It is time we emerge from underneath the haystack again and with the vision: THE FIELD IS THE WORLD. It is time we emerge from the haystack again with convictional, God-inspired leadership that declares as Samuel Mills did in 1806: “We can do this, if we will!”
 
With God’s power, we can reach America’s villages, towns, and cities. With God’s power, we can reach the world, penetrating the darkness of lostness globally. The field is the world … We can do this, if we will!
 
Imagine with me for a moment that someone walked up to you and told you that they wanted to give you $7 billion over the next 10 years so you can do whatever it takes to reach the 7.275 billion people in the world … reaching them for Jesus Christ. You respond, “Now you are telling me that you are going to give me over the next 10 years, $7 billion to do whatever it takes to reach the 7.275 billion people around the globe?” This person says, “Yes, but I am also telling you, I have the money committed to it already. It is in the bank and I will allocate it to you annually. And, as God provides and if you are effective in reaching the world for Christ, there may be more money I give you toward this vision, perhaps another billion or so. I also want to reinforce to you that all these monies must be used for this singular purpose of doing all it takes and whatever it takes to reach the world for Christ.”
 
Now you are thinking, “Ronnie, you have lost it out there on the road. This would never happen.” Oh really? It has already happened and prayerfully will continue to happen. Did you know that over this past decade and hopefully in the decade to come, through the Cooperative Program, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, and the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions, our 51,094 churches and congregations have given just over $7 billion?
 
They have entrusted just over $7 billion to our state conventions and our Southern Baptist Convention telling us just that: All this needs to go to reach the world for Jesus Christ! Whatever it takes, we trust you to allocate it where the need is greatest and it all must be allocated to the singular vision of reaching the world for Christ. They are telling us they believe that we must present the gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and make disciples of all the nations.
 
Listen very carefully to what I am about to say to you: Yes, our laypeople and pastors must give more personally; in fact, each of us need to practice giving no less than 10 percent of all God has entrusted to us annually, giving it through our local church. To give less is disobedience to God. God has called us to love Him, not rob Him; He has called us to be generous, not greedy. Pastors, stand in your churches and call your people to obeying God’s Word about giving the first-tenth and beyond to the Lord.
 
Additionally, our churches must give more collectively. Southern Baptists believe in the autonomy of the local church and cannot dictate what a church gives to the work of the Great Commission through the Cooperative Program. However, if we want to change the trajectory of bringing 600-800 missionaries home and begin aggressively deploying a new wave of missionaries, then our churches must find a way to give more money than ever before through our Cooperative Program. But state convention leaders and Southern Baptist leaders, I say to you in all honesty the following words: While tithing and generosity of our people to our churches needs to increase dramatically and our churches must learn again what it means to give sacrificially, we need to be humbled by the reality that our churches, at the pace of their giving today, are entrusting at least $7 billion to us already to truly reach the entire world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I personally believe when we get our heart right, our vision focused, and our leadership both strategic and optimistic, there may be another billion or more they will entrust to us in the future, IF we are truly reaching our world here in America in our own villages, towns, and cities, and advancing the gospel across the entire globe.
 
Yes, we could play number games with how much more we would receive from our churches if the individual members walked in personal obedience, practicing both tithing and generosity. We could continue to play number games, talking about how much more churches ought to give and yes, we should. But let’s start where we are right now. God is entrusting at least $7 billion to us over the next decade to reach the world for Christ. All evangelical and mainline denominations and other mission ministries in America wish they could say that. Therefore, let’s be overflowing with gratitude to God, thanking our churches, but also challenging Christians to practice tithing and generosity and churches to give more now than ever before.
 
What if we had a renewal in teaching biblical stewardship to our people, calling them boldly to 10 percent giving through their church and move forward beyond this onto the ramp of generosity? What if we had churches give more sacrificially than ever before, starting this as soon as possible annually, and give more each year through the year 2020? And what if each state convention went to 50-50 before the end of the year of 2020 or even before the end of this year? For the state conventions at this level already, what if you increased your giving at least 1 to 2 percent through the national Cooperative Program before the end of 2020? If we did these specific things simultaneously, I submit to you that we would see a mission explosion both nationally and internationally. THE FIELD IS THE WORLD! We would be sending more missionaries across the world aggressively. Listen carefully: “We can do this, if we will!”
 
I really believe if you give Baptists a choice of losing 800 staff members from our churches and state conventions and Southern Baptist entities versus losing 800 missionaries from the foreign mission field, they would choose losing personnel here versus there. Therefore, what God has given to us biblically and missionally, we need to refuse to lose it financially.
 
Yes, we need God to awaken America. Yes, we need to reach the world for Christ. And because of these great needs, there is one more thing we must do more than ever before. We need to:
 

3. GATHER OUR SOUTHERN BAPTIST FAMILY IN ST. LOUIS ON JUNE 14-15, 2016

Within hours of the conclusion of our 2015 Columbus convention, shots rang out in a church in Charleston, S.C., taking the lives of nine people. Within nine days of the conclusion of our 2015 Columbus convention, the United States Supreme Court redefined marriage. When you think of all that has occurred in our nation since these two tragedies, we do not even live in the same America that existed while we were in Columbus. The entire landscape has changed.
 
This is why we must gather more people than we have gathered in many years to our upcoming convention in St. Louis. We need to do all we can with all we are and all we have to gather them by the thousands.
 
With all that is at stake in America in 2016, from the ongoing battles we face regarding religious liberty, to the approaching United States presidential election, to the reality that over 74 percent of our own churches are plateaued or declining, to the deep need for revival in the church, to the racial violence in our nation, to the tragic killing of the unborn that has now been exposed publicly, to the persecuted Christians around the world, to the tragic growing refugee crisis globally with an estimated 7.6 million displaced in Syria and northern Iraq alone over the last five years, to the depth of the lostness of the world, and to the decreasing of our own mission force across the world in this most urgent hour, we need Southern Baptists to come to St. Louis. It is time to gather the family like never before. We are in a crisis and we must come home.
 
I cannot and will not walk away from continuing a strong call and leading forward toward the need for the Third Great Awakening in our nation and to reach the world for Christ.
 
Therefore, our theme for the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention will be: “Awaken America, Reach the World.” Yes, we need to also: “AGREE … UNITE … PRAY.” The logo for our 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis is done in midnight blue, indicating the midnight hour that we find ourselves in today and the urgency to see God awaken America and reach the world! You are thinking that this is very similar to last year’s theme. You are correct. It is. I am convinced it is God’s heart for us and we must agree, unite, and pray for God to awaken America and that we will reach the world for Christ.
 
Our Scripture for the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention is Acts 4:31, “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness.”
 
On Monday, Aug. 10, I met with approximately 200 pastors and leaders in Ferguson, Mo., for the purpose of casting the vision for our upcoming 2016 St. Louis convention. This was one day past the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown. This Monday was the very day that a state of emergency was declared in Ferguson and in all of St. Louis, but the pastors still came from across the region.
 
Later that afternoon, after touring the convention center, we shot a brief video that I hope each state convention, association, and SBC entity will show their trustees and others, calling them to St. Louis. Please help us. We need to show this video in every Southern Baptist church. Please help us get it out there on social networking. The call needs to be issued now all the way to June. The video and link will go on our own SBC website tonight and also on the website tonight at ronniefloyd.com.
 
I submit this entire presentation to you humbly. I surrender it to God fully. This is what I see. With this, I conclude. Pray for St. Louis. I will see you in St. Louis.
 
(EDITOR'S NOTE – Ronnie Floyd is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark.)

9/29/2015 11:02:59 AM by Ronnie Floyd, SBC President | with 0 comments



How God broke my goodness addiction

September 28 2015 by Christine Hoover, GraceCoversMe.com

I lived according to the goodness gospel for far too long. But God pursued me.
 
He used multiple people to reveal my goodness addiction and to show me both His true nature and the truth of what He had done for me at the cross. He used my husband most of all.
 
About a year into our marriage, Kyle and I got into a life-changing fight. I snapped at him about something trivial, and instead of snapping back, he just calmly left the room. As soon as he left, I felt ashamed. Why had I gotten so angry about something of such small consequence? Why would I choose to hurt my husband like that? With my tail between my legs, I went to him.

 
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Christine Hoover

“I’m sorry,” I said, pleading with my eyes for him to release me of what I’d done.
 
“I forgive you,” he said, and he meant it. He actually smiled as he said it.
 
That’s it? I thought. No penance required, no pouting, no silent treatment, no dumping on of shame, nothing? It’s just forgiven that easily?
 
My eyes must have revealed my uncertainty because he reached out for my hand and pulled me to his lap. Then he wrapped his arms around me, looked me in the eyes and reiterated, “I forgive you. I love you, Christine.”
 
As we embraced, the Lord whispered to my deaf heart true forgiveness and grace. I don’t keep a record of wrongs or hold your sin over your head. When you confess something to me, I forgive you. I delight in you.
 
God, through the book of Galatians, had begun showing me how little I truly understood of the gospel. Instead of the true gospel, I was living by what the apostle Paul called the “perverted” gospel, one of works and dead religion. My heart and mind were starting to wake up to the truth because my husband had become a pastor, and our new ministry life was shining a bright light on my self-sufficiency and attempts at self-justification. I could not meet ministry’s demands – and I certainly could not love according to bootstrap religion.
 
The beacon of light, simultaneously convicting and life-giving, was Galatians 5:4: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law.” That is exactly how I felt – like an outsider standing apart from Christ, nose plastered to the glass, trying desperately to earn my belonging. At the same time, I rejected any of Christ’s advances toward me out of shame over my failures and out of my stubborn self-determination.
 
This passage described how I’d felt most of my Christian life: entangled, weighed down under a heavy yoke, in bondage, in debt and, most of all, as if I were estranged from Christ. It also showed me why I felt that way: my obsession with goodness had nullified Christ’s work in my life. Because I hadn’t gone His way, I was on my own.
 
But He eventually got to me. He showed me that I sat in a jail cell with an open door but kept putting the chains back on myself instead of running free. He walked alongside me as I discovered the futility of trying to be good by myself, and He offered to rescue me, showing me what measure of grace He had already given me at the cross and at the moment I believed.
 
In time I realized that He loved me, not because of what I did but because of what He did through Christ on the cross. I finally ran wildly to His grace-filled arms, done with my chains. What had always felt like duty and obligation now felt like crazy freedom.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Christine Hoover is a pastor’s wife, stay-at-home mom and writer who blogs at gracecoversme.com. She and her husband Kyle serve at Charlottesville Community Church in Charlottesville, Va. This article is adapted from her latest book, “From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel” (Baker, 2015).

9/28/2015 11:16:13 AM by Christine Hoover, GraceCoversMe.com | with 0 comments



Care for new believers

September 25 2015 by Mark Snowden, Missouri Baptist Convention

When I accepted Jesus as my Savior as a 7-year-old boy, I walked the aisle at the end of a revival service. Someone filled out a card with my name and address and then the pastor presented me to the church. I was voted in as a member right on the spot pending my baptism.
 
Churches today are taking a closer look at how they receive decisions. Individuals who may still have a lifestyle contrary to biblical teaching are being received under a form of “watch care.” They don’t have voting rights and cannot hold office, serve on committees or be approved as a Bible study teacher. In some churches, implementation of watch care may require a change to bylaws and constitutions.
 
Church members who serve as decision counselors are on the frontlines of these special moments and of follow-up. Good preparation is crucial. Prayer for revival and spiritual awakening saturate everything that counselors do on behalf of the church. They must know how to lead someone to faith in Christ and use their own testimony when appropriate to do so.
 
It is important to be sensitive and security-minded to those who come forward. “Why have you come today?” is still the best question to use to greet people making spiritual decisions with eternal consequences. Yet, a child may have come on a dare. A college student may be looking for a place to meet a godly spouse. A man may want help paying his heating bill. An older adult may want to be in a church where their children belong.
 
Listening is the key. My wife was a decision counselor in a church when we lived in another state. A woman came forward and the pastor nodded to Mary Leigh to accompany her to a counseling room. The married woman was crying and upset. She soon confessed to having an affair but wanted to repent. My wife had been coached to listen carefully and to arrange a meeting with one of the church staff.
 
Children and students should not be escorted by a man alone into a private counseling room. All a minor has to say is “he touched me” and, well, it’s over. Despite having a godly reputation, it will be instantly ruined. Counseling with parents or with a decision team partner present is always advised. A front pew can work in a pinch.
 
When serving with the International Mission Board, I was angered to hear when pseudo-Christian cult groups learned of an evangelistic blitz and waited like the proverbial lion. After the followers of Jesus led hundreds to Christ, the cult groups pounced on the new believers. They had small group leaders ready to invite them into their homes and begin indoctrination. When the true Christians arrived to begin follow-up, most of the “converts” had slipped into a false faith. Because of stories like this, some Christian groups have avoided evangelism until follow-up is in place.
 
Most churches consider the first 48 hours as the most critical time in the life of the new believer. The sooner the better, having someone meet them to begin their spiritual development is key.
 
After the decision is made, and made public, new believers must be intentionally discipled. They may be carrying baggage from another religious background. New believers need training in five areas: abiding with Jesus in prayer and worship; obedience beginning with baptism by immersion and stewardship; studying the Bible; loving others as part of active church life in and beyond the church; and telling others about Jesus as He commanded in the Great Commission. Conduct a review of your church’s follow-up tools to ensure effective follow-up.
 
A “Personal Commitment Guide” from the North American Mission Board’s evangelism team is available free to help with follow-up at NAMBstore.com. In it, you’ll see training for salvation, baptism, assurance of salvation, rededication, church membership, discipleship and Christian ministry.
 
We keep praying for the Lord to send workers into His harvest field (Luke 10:2). What if the new believers are the answer to our prayer? Will you be ready?
 
Decision counselors must have that immediate relationship that enables follow-up. Invite new believers’ parents, spouses and friends join in, too. When you reinforce the decision and the Gospel message, they also may become followers of Christ.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Snowden is the Missouri Baptist Convention’s evangelism /discipleship strategist. This article first appeared in The Pathway at www.mbcpathway.com, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)

9/25/2015 11:39:19 AM by Mark Snowden, Missouri Baptist Convention | with 0 comments



Calling and being

September 24 2015 by Erich Bridges, Worldview Conversation

These are difficult days for the International Mission Board (IMB) family.
 
IMB President David Platt recently announced a plan to reduce missionaries and home office staff by 600 to 800 people over the next six months due to years of financial shortfalls. It will be painful, he acknowledged. It’s already painful, in fact. Missionaries and staff age 50 and over with at least five years of IMB service have begun praying about whether to accept a voluntary retirement package being offered during the first phase of the personnel cutback. A second phase will extend a voluntary departure incentive to all IMB workers, regardless of age.
 
Hundreds of people who have sensed a call to international missions – and followed it, some of them for many years – must now decide if they will keep at it, or if God is leading them to a different place of service. That’s a tough choice for them, for their families, for their co-workers and for the churches that send and support them. They need your prayers for wisdom, faith and obedience.

 
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Erich Bridges

As Platt wrote in a Sept. 4 letter to Southern Baptists, “‘600’ and ‘800’ are not just figures on a page; they are people around the world. For many of you, they are your family, friends and fellow church members. They are brothers and sisters whom I love, and brothers and sisters whom I want to serve and support. I not only want as many of them as possible to stay on the field; I want multitudes more to join them on the field. But in order to even have a conversation about how to mobilize more people in the future, IMB must get to a healthy financial place in the present.”
 
In the meantime, he has appealed to all of us connected with IMB to keep a spiritual “blank check” on the table – and let God fill in the amount, the date and the “to the order of” line. Most of all, he has reminded us that our ultimate calling is not to a position, or to a place, or even to missions, but to God Himself.
 
 As I pray about my own decision, the words of Paul David Tripp, a wise pastor and author, have helped me. Tripp recently wrote:
 
“I wish I wasn’t restless before bed, but there are nights when I can’t fall asleep because I’m concerned with what tomorrow will hold. … I wish I didn’t struggle with God’s sovereignty, but there are moments when I wish I could rewind time or rewrite the script to my life. Here’s the strange thing: I spent many years in seminary discovering what the Bible had to say about those issues. From a doctrinal standpoint, I have all the answers I need to believe in the power, presence and promises of God. … And yet, I still find myself fearful and doubting. … So once more today, I will remind myself of the truths of the Bible, not because my brain needs to be taught a new concept, but because my wandering heart needs to be ushered back into the throne room of grace.
 
“The Bible tells me that Jesus is Immanuel, which means, ‘God with [insert your name here]’ in every moment of every day. The Bible tells me that I’m never first to arrive in a situation, location or relationship. God was there before me, so I don’t have to fear the unpredictable. The Bible tells me that everything I’ll ever need to thrive will be supplied by God, in just the right quantity at just the right time. The Bible tells me that God has never fallen asleep at the wheel, and that everything I’ve been through in life was purposeful and under His control. Whatever you’re doing right now, stop and pray for the grace to remember today. Your Savior never gets weary of your requests. He loves to hear and answer.”
 
The Lord also has reminded me once again that being comes before doing. Our first and highest calling is to love Him and worship Him. Only then can we serve Him with power, regardless of our particular location.
 
In Luke 10, we read about busy Martha who was angry that her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha rushed around preparing to serve the crowd gathered in her home to listen to the Master. “But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:38-42, NASB).
 
Only one thing is necessary: to love and obey the Lord. He will do the rest. So let’s pray for one another, that we will be and do the one thing most necessary to glorify God.
 
A young mission volunteer I know has her priorities straight in these uncertain days. She hopes to serve on an overseas field one day soon. She is preparing for it, studying for it and anticipating it. But all that comes as an overflow of her first love: Christ.
 
“When I surrendered my life to Jesus I left no area that was off limits to Him,” she said. “I see my life and the purpose of my life in a new way. I desire to see the nations reached for Christ, and if that requires me to step out of my comfort zone and sacrifice everything – which is not really sacrificing anything compared to what Jesus sacrificed for me – then that is what I will do.”
 
If God still moves in young hearts and lives like hers, He will make a way for them to go.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent.)

9/24/2015 11:48:58 AM by Erich Bridges, Worldview Conversation | with 0 comments



How I started praying the Bible

September 23 2015 by Don Whitney, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

It was the first of March 1985. I remember where I was sitting when it happened.
 
I was pastor of a church in the western suburbs of Chicago. A guest preacher was speaking at a series of meetings at our church. He was teaching on the prayers of the apostle Paul in his New Testament letters, and encouraging us to pray these inspired prayers as our own.
 
Then, at one point he held up his Bible said, “Folks, when you pray, use the prayer book.”

 
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Don Whitney

In that moment I suddenly realized, “The entire Bible is a prayer book. We can pray not only the prayers of Paul in Ephesians, we can pray everything in the Book of Ephesians.”
 
So I started praying each day through one of the passages in my daily Bible reading. Soon I was reading in the Psalms and found it easy to make the words of the psalmist my own prayers.
 
For example, I read, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God!” (Psalm 36:7), and spoke King David’s exact words as my own prayer, immediately adding other thoughts prompted by David’s exclamation.
 
After I’d said all that came to mind from verse 7, I read verse 8: “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them to drink of the river of your delights.”
 
“Yes, Lord!” I prayed. “Let me feast on the abundance of Your house; let me drink of the river of Your delights. Feed my soul with Your goodness. Satisfy my thirsty heart with Your delights. Let me be immersed in the vast, deep, incomparable river of knowing You.”
 
I simply spoke to the Lord those things prompted verse-by-verse in my reading of the psalm. If a verse didn’t suggest anything to pray, I would go to the next verse. On and on through the psalm, praying as prompted by the things I read, I continued until I ran out of time.
 
I discovered that praying the Bible helped me stay focused and minimized the tendency of my mind to wander. I stopped saying the same old things about the same old things when I prayed. And yet, I found that I still prayed about the things I wanted to pray for each day, but I stopped using the tired, repetitive phrases I typically used.
 
Using this approach also gave me a much greater sense of conversing with God. Instead of the usual me-centered monologue that I hoped the Lord would hear, I read what He said in the Bible, then spoke to Him in response. When I finished, I turned to the words of God again, after which I spoke with Him about what He had just said in scripture. Throughout my time in prayer I kept alternating between God speaking in His Word and my speaking to Him in response – just like a real conversation.
 
Eventually I discovered that what I’d stumbled upon was in fact an ancient Christian practice. Jesus prayed psalms on the cross (see Matthew 27:46 and Luke 23:46). Followers of Jesus in the Book of Acts (4:23-26) prayed psalms. And many prayerful people since Bible times (such as George Müller) practiced praying the Bible. Regrettably, I’d never been taught this simple, satisfying method of taking the words of Scripture and turning them into prayer.
 
So March 1, 1985, was a day that forever changed my life, and changed virtually every day of my life since. And now, having prayed the Bible almost daily for 30 years, I can testify that there is nothing in all my devotional life that more quickly and consistently kindles my consistently cold heart like praying the Bible.
 
It is gratifying to be able to share with you something that has been so meaningful to me for so long. I hope you will find the practice of praying the Bible equally meaningful and helpful in your own prayer life.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Whitney is professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He is the founder of The Center for Biblical Spirituality at www.BiblicalSpirituality.org and author of seven books, including Praying the Bible (Crossway, 2015) and Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (NavPress, 1991; 2014).

9/23/2015 11:25:29 AM by Don Whitney, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary | with 0 comments



Helping the hungry: A picture of the Savior

September 22 2015 by Russell Moore, ERLC President

There is nothing quite as bleak as a city street the morning after Mardi Gras. The steam of the morning humidity rises silently over asphalt, riddled with forgotten doubloons, broken bottles, littered cigarettes, used condoms, clotted blood and mangled vomit. For the partygoers who embrace the hedonism of the night before, dawn brings little besides a queasy stomach, a pounding hangover and a throbbing conscience.
 
For most Americans, this isn’t a strange sight. Even for those of us who would pride ourselves on our conservative recreation, an instant connection between our appetite and satisfaction seems normal. We live in a culture of craving.
 
Perhaps that is why many Americans, even Christians, seem confused or embarrassed when the conversation turns to hunger and extreme poverty. Perhaps we are less able to articulate what the gospel says about those in desperate need of bread and water because we cannot imagine living in any other society than one with dollar menus and all-you-can-eat buffets.

We may be in our own bed with our spouses the night of Mardi Gras, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t unwittingly conforming to the spirit of the culture.
 
In our Western global culture, food is assumed. Disconnected from the agrarian and subsistence context that nearly every culture in history would have taken for granted, we more or less assume that the dinner on our tables just appeared there. That would have been a wild fantasy for the Israelite culture which our Lord knew. Bread wasn’t a matter of buying gluten free or not; it was the basic engine of economic survival. Without a daily glean of wheat, death was certain.
 
This is the kind of reality that still exists for many people around the world. If we as Christians don’t feel the weight of our Lord’s command to show compassion and mercy to those who need us, perhaps it is because we have unintentionally absorbed the consumerism of our culture.

Writing to Timothy, the apostle Paul did not flatly condemn all wealth or tell rich Christians to renounce everything they had. Rather, he commanded that they put their trust not on their wealth but on God. How do they do that? By being ready and eager to give to the poor and those in need (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
 
By seeing their wealth not as something to which they alone are entitled but as something given to them ultimately by Christ, to be used for good works, Christians stand apart from the appetite-driven values of the world and display a picture of the Savior who left the throne of heaven and became poor for our sake.
 
The church can take on the tyranny of the appetites not simply by pointing out what in our cultural milieu is inconsistent with the gospel, but by presenting a positive alternative, a counterculture in which the transitory nature of momentary self-satisfaction is transcended by a seeking first of the kingdom of God.
 
This isn’t easy. It’s the act of crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24). The temporary hunger we experience by resisting, through the Spirit, our immediate desires for more and more can cause us, like Jesus in the wilderness, to turn away from momentary satisfaction and toward the more permanent things of the kingdom.
 
The cooperative initiative of Global Hunger Relief (GHR) allows Southern Baptists to take aim at the critical hunger needs around the world. Thanks to the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program, all of the funds given to GHR go directly toward meeting real hunger needs – whether chronic hunger, or hunger precipitated by disasters or urban food deserts, or hunger faced by women rescued from sex trafficking. This is a blessing from Christ that allows Southern Baptists to do real, tangible acts of mercy for the cause of the gospel.
 
Let’s follow our Savior and empty ourselves of our rights and our appetites to live out our calling to be ambassadors of a King who promises feasts and treasure beyond any worldly imagination.

Mardi Gras may only last for a night, but Easter lasts for eternity.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Visit erlc.com.)

9/22/2015 12:04:53 PM by Russell Moore, ERLC President | with 0 comments



Make church policies clear, complementary, loving

September 18 2015 by Brian K. Davis, BSC Associate Executive Director-Treasurer

Following the June 26 action of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage, I developed a training seminar that I have conducted across the state with church and associational leaders. The framework for the conversation comes from 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (KJV).
 
Working through this important verse of scripture, I have written multiple articles for the Biblical Recorder about the power the church has to establish its own policies for weddings and the use of facilities. This is the last article to address the matter of policies. I offer several cautions as congregations begin the process of reviewing, revising, and as necessary, drafting wedding and facility-use policies.
 
First, policies should be clearly focused. Some churches are trying to address too many issues in a single policy, and as a result, the policy is difficult to understand and implement. For example, a wedding policy should focus on the wedding regardless of where it might take place in the church’s facilities. Some churches have weddings in the sanctuary, chapel, fellowship hall and even outside at other structures on the property.
 
Keep the focus of the wedding policy on the wedding; don’t try to address all of the details regarding the facilities being used. A separate facility-use policy may be necessary. The wedding policy should refer to the facility-use policy, but not repeat it.
 
In addition, some churches are placing statements in their wedding policies about employment matters. I’ve seen wedding policies that outline how ministers will be disciplined, even terminated, for participating in weddings in violation of the wedding policy. Matters regarding employment should be placed in the appropriate personnel policy, not elsewhere. Does the couple seeking marriage need to know how the church might discipline, even terminate a minister? Of course not, so make sure that policies are clear in their focus.
 
Second, policies should be complementary, not contradictory. As noted above, a good wedding policy will focus on the wedding and refer couples to the facility-use policy to address questions related to how the church expects facilities to be utilized in the wedding.  In this way the two policies complement each other. But make sure that a facility-use policy doesn’t make it impossible to actually conduct the wedding.
 
Some churches limit the use of the facilities to church members only, but also have a wedding policy that allows non-members to be married; contradictions between policies can create problems. This is a good time to review all policies, not only those concerning weddings and use of facilities, to determine if contradictions exist. Then take steps to address those contradictions before a problem arises.
 
Third, as I stated in the first installment of this series on the power enjoyed by the church to establish policies, make sure that policies do not contradict bylaws. Remember, the policies are legally binding and sufficient for guiding and protecting the church. However, any disagreement between policies and bylaws will be decided by what’s stated in the bylaws; bylaws trump policies when disagreement is found in these governing documents.
 
Fourth, do not make assumptions. Sometimes it seems obvious that everyone in the church knows a particular expectation exists for weddings or facility-use, but the hope is that the church continues to engage in ministry for many years. If that happens, people will come and go – including pastors and other church members. Make sure the language of policies, expectations and promises are clearly stated so those who come along in the years to come can understand the intention of the policy.
 
Here, we must make an important transition in this conversation from the spirit of power given by God to the spirit of love given by God. Even the language of the church’s official policies should be seasoned with grace and motivated by love. It is possible that well-crafted policies, implemented with loving compassion, can open the doors for gospel conversations. The church is in great need to enter into such conversations with those in our communities that have chosen to enter into relationships outside of the bounds of scripture; this is true for all couples living outside of God’s expectations, not just same-sex couples.
 
In the next article we’ll turn our attention more fully to the God-given spirit of love Paul proclaimed. We’ll discover how the actions of U.S. Supreme Court may be viewed as a great opportunity to engage in disciple-making in ways that we simply have not considered in the past.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian K. Davis is associate executive director-treasurer at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)

Related Stories:
Churches should not fear court action
Facing legal action, churches have a ‘spirit of power’
BSC offers resources for wedding, facility policies
Proclaiming the fullness of God’s love
How churches can avoid three ‘dangerous assumptions’

9/18/2015 12:29:18 PM by Brian K. Davis, BSC Associate Executive Director-Treasurer | with 0 comments



I almost didn't see these films

September 17 2015 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

For whatever reason, certain films don’t appeal to moviegoers at first. Perhaps it’s the title, the subject matter or the botched trailer we saw at the theater.
 
Some won’t see a film because they’ve heard it’s in black-and-white. Or worse, they have no interest in a movie made before they were born, as if all art began with the emergence of Taylor Swift and Seth Rogen. Whatever our reason for not wanting to see a movie, sometimes – I said sometimes – we’re missing a joyous experience.
 
Occasionally secular filmmakers convey insights that can give us a fresh perspective concerning biblical teachings. The more we study scripture, the clearer it becomes that we are to avoid much of what the world considers acceptable, yet movies are modern man’s medium for relating parables to the masses. Certainly, there is a plethora of films containing little or no redeeming value, but let’s not discount the cinematic treasures that overflow with spiritually rewarding messages. The key is to be discerning.
 
Below are a few examples of movies I wasn’t inclined to see. But I’m so glad I did. All are available on DVD.
 
“America’s Heart and Soul.” Filmmaker Louis Schwartzberg packed up his camera and hit the road with a goal of capturing both the unparalleled beauty of the U.S. and the incomparable spirit of its people. Here we had the chance to meet ordinary Americans with extraordinary stories. It is a celebration of a nation told through the voices of its people. And while I was not looking forward to this documentary, I remember saying to a friend at some point, “I don’t want this to end.” PG
 
“The Tree of Life.” After viewing it, the first thing you’ll say is, “What was that?” Director Terrence Malick offers up a thought-provoking hymn to life. It’s an impressionistic story of a Midwestern family coping with a death, embittered relationships and haunting questions concerning God and the afterlife. Mr. Malick has used a free-form art house style to suggest the omniscient stature of God. And I just about passed on seeing it. PG-13
 
“Babette’s Feast.” This foreign film, with subtitles, was the 1987 Foreign Film Oscar winner. Two devout sisters in a remote Norwegian village show kindness to a homeless woman, and when she wins a lottery, the woman shares her good fortune in a most lavish manner. Based on a short story by Isak Dinessen, it is a beautiful tale of devotion and sacrifice, as well as a healing parable where quarreling friends and acquaintances are brought together once they shed their pious austerity. The film urges us not to hide behind our religion, but to put it into action. As to the subtitles: about 10 minutes in, you forget all about them as you get caught up in the story. G
 
“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” It was a silent movie, starring Rudolph Valentino in this 1921 epic spectacle about cousins on either side of World War I. I knew of Valentino, the matinee idol, of course, but had never seen one of his movies. A few minutes in and I was hooked. Everyone should see a silent film at least once. The trick is finding one that will hold your attention. This is a winner, with its impressive imagery and mesmerizing storytelling. Not rated.
 
“Steep.” Mountaineering doesn’t interest me in the slightest. On the other hand, a well-made picture about anything does. It’s an intense documentary about extreme mountain skiers who attempt to conquer the highest and most inaccessible adversary. Featuring terrific cinematography and moving stories of fallen comrades, the film expertly reveals the character of these sportsmen. Best moment: three skiers are photographed from a helicopter while getting caught in an avalanche. Not only a thrilling, armrest-grabber of a moment, the aftermath also shows a camaraderie known only to those who risk their lives together. PG
 
“Belle” is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mabatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy admiral. To be honest, I’ve seen many films that depicted the evil done to the black race. But Belle is a film of depth and strong performances (especially from Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Tom Wilkinson). It goes further than examining the abuse of blacks by whites by exposing the different kinds of slavery and the prejudices that abound in our world. The film documents how good men, having examined the evil of slavery, put their reputations on the line in order to stand against such wrongdoings. Topnotch cinematography, production design and writing of substance help make this endeavor a most engaging movie. PG
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phil Boatwright is the editor of The Movie Reporter at moviereporter.com and the author of “MOVIES: The Good, the Bad and the Really, Really Bad,” available on Amazon.)

9/17/2015 12:14:46 PM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The Ayu challenge

September 16 2015 by Jeff Iorg, GGBTS President

A few days ago, I received an email that almost didn’t get opened. I receive so much email that unless it is clearly personal to me, it just doesn’t get read. There’s just too much to handle it any other way.
 
But something about the subject line piqued my interest. The email was from a girl named Ayu (whose father has a connection to our school). She wrote a beautiful email telling me about her plan to help people memorize more scripture. It includes one or more verses for each letter of the alphabet, complete with YouTube videos she has made to reinforce the memorization for people who struggle with this discipline.
 
Her email touched a nerve with me. I was preaching on scripture memory as part of my sermon the following Sunday. I remember when memorizing the Bible was more of a priority I was even part of a Scripture Memory Club that encouraged accountability and focused effort. It was a meaningful time in my life and I regret it ended.
 
Ayu has come a long way in her life from a pre-mature birth to a gifted reader and musician who loves God and wants others to know him. Her challenge and her program are more than cute – they are insightful and helpful. Ayu told me since seven is the biblical number for completion, she wants to find 7,000 people who will memorize scripture with her plan.
 
Sounds like a good idea to me. So, with her parent’s permission, here is a link to her website – a-zscripturememory.com. Look, if a 9-year-old can do it, so can you.  If you have ever wanted to memorize more of the Bible (and would like to have some fun doing it), check it out.
 
Thanks Ayu for thinking of me and for including me in your project.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Iorg is president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, with campuses in the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, Denver and Phoenix. This column first appeared at the seminary’s President’s Blog.)

9/16/2015 11:29:57 AM by Jeff Iorg, GGBTS President | with 0 comments



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