September 2017

Lesson from a generous widow

September 29 2017 by H.B. Charles Jr., Baptist Press

As a boy preacher, I had many opportunities to preach, but my father did not allow me to receive an honorarium for my preaching. But it didn’t matter to me. If I had the money, I would have paid pastors to let me preach. These early opportunities taught me not to put a price tag on my ministry.
I remember one of the first times I received an honorarium; it was a couple hundred dollars, but you would have thought it was a million bucks! Not long after, I went to the mall with several friends and I spent all the money I had on new clothes.

H.B. Charles

I was excited to show my mother the new clothes. Instead of sharing my enthusiasm, however, she asked me how much money I had left. I told her, but it was obvious that she already knew.
Then, she asked me two further questions.
She asked if I knew that one of the godly older women in our church was at the service. I did, but I didn’t get the question. This senior saint rarely missed a service, despite her physical limitations. She made sure someone picked her up for church.
Then, my mom asked, “Did you know she put twenty dollars in the love offering they gave you?” I did not. “Well, she did,” mom said. Then the conversation was over and I was devastated.
This widow lived on a fixed income, but this proud woman did not let anyone know she didn’t have money for real food. Her physical ailments made matters worse. The church my dad pastored began to care for her. Members took turns picking her up, checking on her and making sure she had something to eat.
This woman did not have twenty dollars to spare. Yet she believed there was a divine call on my life, and she wanted to support me through that love offering.
I am sure that if members of the church knew what she was doing, they would have tried to stop her from giving. No one would have succeeded, except my father. Maybe. She sacrificed twenty dollars to encourage me to keep preaching. And I used it to buy a new pair of tennis shoes.
This incident has shaped my life and ministry. And I try to live in a way that honors and respects the poor widows that continue to financially support my ministry work.
There are many people who think preachers should be poor and humble, using those two words synonymously. Indeed, ministers should emulate the humility of Christ. At the same time, it is the congregation’s job to make sure its pastor’s needs are met.
Yet, as the congregation cares for us, it is important that we fight materialism. Pastors should not be flashy, showing off their affluence. Both within the pulpit and outside of it, we must shun worldliness for the glory of God, the message of the gospel and the members whose freewill offerings pay our salaries.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – H.B. Charles Jr. is president of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference and pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.)

9/29/2017 10:55:21 AM by H.B. Charles Jr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Steve McQueen film more than ‘celebrity salute’

September 28 2017 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

“Steve McQueen: American Icon” premieres theatrically nationwide for one night only, Sept. 28. Why do I mention it?
My reason has to do with the fact that this documentary isn’t just another celebrity salute. Rather, it’s a revealing biography of a tormented man seeking and ultimately finding redemption – through Jesus Christ. Viewing it, one can see God’s guiding hands at work.

The new film about screen idol Steve McQueen (“Bullitt,” “The Towering Inferno,” “The Great Escape”) reveals that toward the end of his life back in 1980, the life-long rebel had surrendered to Christ. Fan or not of the cinema’s one time “King of Cool,” this faith-based production will inspire, because we clearly see a prodigal son unknowingly take a spiritual journey that eventually led to Christian faith.
Many younger moviegoers may not know the name Steve McQueen, while others have heard that he was supposed to be the star of “The Magnificent Seven,” but can’t quite place him in that 2016 movie. There’s a reason for that: 2016’s The Magnificent Seven is what those in the biz call a remake. McQueen’s movie stardom began with the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven – along with five other about-to-bes, and one already established Hollywood ruler, Yul Brenner (“The King and I”).
Besides highlighting the actor’s career, this 110-minute documentary from Harvest Ministries presents an in-depth interview with McQueen’s last wife, Barbara Minty McQueen – as well as conversations with actor/director Mel Gibson, McQueen biographer Marshall Terrill, stuntman Stan Barrett, co-stars Barbara Leigh and Mel Novak, the pilots who taught Steve to fly, and McQueen’s own pastor – who offers clues as to McQueen’s spiritual trek. The production also contains a message from megachurch pastor Greg Laurie and a performance by leading contemporary Christian band MercyMe.
The consensus of many a film buff: Steve McQueen was considered “cool” due to his swagger and those piercing blue eyes, which could say more with one stare than most thespians could muster with several paragraphs of dialogue. There’s no denying, McQueen had the look. However, what may have been the biggest contributing factor to that self-possessed persona was his apparent lack of fear. In reality, as we learn from the film, he masked an abundance of insecurity with that well-maintained antihero screen image.
Aided by his provocative screen personality, Steve McQueen became a very good actor (“The Sand Pebbles,” “Papillion,” “Love with the Proper Stranger”). That said, I want to reiterate the importance of this documentary isn’t about the showcasing of what this man achieved in life. It’s about what the Lord is doing through McQueen’s testimony 30-some years after his death.
From the press notes: “It’s wildly ironic that one of the world’s most well-known men did something important that most people are unaware of,” says Harvest Ministries’ Greg Laurie, the documentary’s commentator. “Steve McQueen: American Icon documents a top star’s exodus from a world of fame and fortune to search for meaning, truth and significance.”
If you question why I’m covering a movie star better known for his raucous ways than his little-known Christian conversion, let’s remember the good thief who sought forgiveness while dying on the cross. The message of this film clearly points out that a man can secure salvation through God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice. Any man.
Yes, Steve McQueen seized his celebrity stature and indulged in all it would offer. However, despite his success, we discover through this bio-pic that he always felt something was missing. And though he hadn’t disavowed God’s existence, the actor waited until the December of his years to embrace Jesus as his Lord.
We hear in McQueen’s own voice that he regretted not having more time to witness the love of Jesus. Now, 37 years later, his voice will be heard in movie theaters, declaring Jesus as his Savior.
Imagine that: Steve McQueen witnessing for Christ in movie theaters across our country!
Do you know people who are fans of the legendary actor, who are still searching for spiritual fulfillment, and who aren’t busy on Sept. 28? Hmmm.
For further information on theatrical showings of this film:
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phil Boatwright has been writing about Hollywood from a Christian perspective for over thirty years and is the author of MOVIES: The Good, the Bad, and the Really, Really Bad, available on

9/28/2017 8:35:18 AM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

A boring testimony? No such thing

September 27 2017 by Alex Sibley, Baptist Press

“I have a boring testimony,” one student said when we shared our testimonies in a Sunday School class I co-lead for a group of high school guys.
What he meant is that he made a profession of faith at a young age in response to his parents’ gospel presentation.
He was, therefore, not saved out of a life of drugs; he did not overcome a shattered life; and he did not find Christ from a prison cell, then share the gospel with his fellow inmates through a Spirit-led prison ministry.
Perhaps the student’s testimony would have been more interesting if any of those things were true. So, from a human perspective, maybe he was right when he said he had a “boring” testimony.
Then there’s the instance of three students here at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary walking along the sidewalk and a teenage girl who walked toward them after getting off a school bus. The team had an opportunity to engage her in spiritual conversation, with one member sharing his testimony along with the gospel. When the girl responded by expressing her desire to profess faith in Christ, another team member led her in prayer.
The girl, who had stepped off the bus a lost person, simply heard the gospel, responded by confessing Jesus as Lord and went home a Christian.
Perhaps these two individuals – and perhaps you as well – have a “boring” testimony.
But maybe we shouldn’t view our testimonies from a human perspective. Jesus said there is joy in the presence of the angels of God when one sinner repents (Luke 15). Apparently, regardless of how “boring” our testimonies may seem to us, heaven hasn’t heard a boring testimony. Now there’s something to think about.
Perhaps, then, we should reconsider how we articulate our testimonies. Consider the story of the teenage girl who stepped off the bus. Biblically speaking, she was a spiritual orphan but now is an adopted child of the King; she was empty and enslaved by sin but now is indwelled by the Holy Spirit of God; she was dead but now is alive. When put in those terms – when the reality of salvation is made clear – the story is anything but boring.
Let’s consider this point another way, this time from your perspective. The Creator of the universe, who sits enthroned above all creation as King over all, out of the 7 billion people on this planet, knows who you are. And in spite of knowing who you are and all the sins you have committed, He loves you so much that He sent His Son to die in your place, taking your sin upon Himself, and with it, the punishment that that sin deserves, so that you, an unworthy sinner, could be forgiven and freely receive by faith (not works) eternal life with Him in paradise.
In other words, God wants to spend eternity with you, and He made a way for you to do that – to bask in His glorious presence for all eternity. This instead of what you actually deserve, which is eternal fire in hell, separated from Him. He spared you from this by paying the ultimate price of His own life. This is the furthest thing from a “boring” testimony.
Every testimony tells this story. Every testimony is an indication that God is loving, merciful, gracious, holy, mighty, awesome, powerful, humble and indescribably, incomprehensibly big yet considerate, compassionate, concerned about His people, hearing our cries, looking upon the lowly and opening His hand of provision to every creature. Our testimonies are a story of this God.
From a human perspective, some testimonies may be more compelling than others. But biblically speaking, every testimony is an affirmation of who God is and what He has done for us.
And when our testimonies are articulated in this manner, they should inspire lost people to seek the Lord through faith, and they should inspire saved people to praise the Lord for what He has done for them, for who He is. Indeed, every testimony – including the student in my small group who came to faith at a young age, the girl who stepped off a bus and yours – is a story of how great and good God is. Think on these things and realize: There is no such thing as a boring testimony.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Alex Sibley is associate director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and editor of Everyday Parenting, a parenting anthology released by Seminary Hill Press, the publishing arm of Southwestern Seminary.)

9/27/2017 8:25:28 AM by Alex Sibley, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Responding to criticism

September 26 2017 by Shane Pruitt, Baptist Press

In life, there are two things we can’t avoid: death and taxes. Let’s add criticism as another unavoidable part of life.
Criticism can come from our all sorts of people – our spouse, our boss, a friend or enemy, a church member or a complete stranger. When someone tells us of our perceived faults or mistakes, we don’t always respond well, especially if it hits us when we least expect it.

Shane Pruitt

Although, we can’t control how criticism comes our way, we can control how we respond to it in a healthy way and not lay down in defeat, doubt or discouragement. Here is a threefold strategy that will help us know how to respond to criticism.

Test it

There are times we’ll be convicted by the Holy Spirit knowing that we’re in the wrong, with the wrong attitude, with the wrong motivation, and God is showing us grace by speaking to us through someone else. There will be other times when we will know immediately that someone is operating in the flesh and/or being used by the enemy to speak to us with ill intentions. However, most of the time it’s not so easy to know the proper response to criticism. So, how do we “test” criticism?
When criticism comes our way, the first thing to do is take it to God in prayer. Ask Him to reveal truth in those critical moments, to bring comfort when we need protection from the enemy and to convict us when people need protection from our misguided ways.
Second, test it with scripture. God is not going to speak through someone in a way that is contrary to His Word.
Third, seek wise counsel. People who you love and trust can help protect you from harmful words but also tell you when you’re in the wrong and need to change.

Own it

Let’s face it. Some of us as Christians tend to wear our feelings on our sleeves. We don’t enjoy being challenged, questioned or criticized. However, each of us needs to own up to a very important truth every day: You are not perfect!
We all make mistakes, a lot of them. There are moments in our lives when we’re just not operating in the Spirit but rather walking in the flesh and making a mess. What the Lord spoke through the prophet Haggai remains crucial for us today: “Think carefully about your ways” (Haggai 1:7).
For those times when we need to flat-out “own it,” it’s time to consider our ways, then change them. We cannot arrogantly assume that every word of criticism is coming from someone being used by the enemy. In fact, sometimes those challenging statements are coming from someone being used by God because we need to hear them.

Chuck it

As a Christian, one thing never to forget is that you are in a spiritual warfare. You’re not wrestling “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). While, ultimately, we may not be fighting against flesh and blood, the enemy sure does use the flesh of red-blooded people to discourage and dissuade us from following the will of God.
You can be sure that wherever God is moving, Satan will be attacking. It’s in moments like these that we need to discern the wiles of the enemy through criticism and “chuck it”!
Be sober-minded; be watchful,” the Bible tells us. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Don’t be devoured by criticism.
Aristotle once said, “Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.” Always remember, if you’re doing anything of substance and meaning, criticism will come your way. It can’t be avoided but it can be advantageous if you respond properly.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shane Pruitt, @shane_pruitt78, is director of evangelism for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. This column first appeared at his website,

9/26/2017 8:59:02 AM by Shane Pruitt, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Celebrating a century

September 25 2017 by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press

On the back cover of his signature work, The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention 1917-1984, Albert McClellan says the following:
“To many observers, Southern Baptists are a paradox – a people of seemingly contradictory qualities. One has described them as a rope of sand with the strength of steel. Others have compared them to a bumblebee, which in theory should not be able to fly, but which does so quite well.

Photo courtesy of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives
Third SBC Executive Committee Executive Secretary Porter Routh looks on as 24th EC Chairman James Pleitz addresses committee members during a 1969 EC meeting at the SBC building on James Robertson Parkway in Nashville.

“Southern Baptists strongly affirm both the autonomy of the local church under Christ and the call to cooperate with other local churches in doing the work of Christ on earth.”
McClellan was correct. Everything we do as Southern Baptists is about affirming and supporting the work of the local church. To that end, Baptists do their work in an amazing way that is characterized by both independence and interdependence. As I travel across the land, I see both of these powerful descriptors at work.
I also recognize that Baptists work within different affinity organizations. Baptist associations, state conventions, national entities and numerous fellowships work autonomously, as well as cooperatively, making working together a joy and a challenge at the same time.
The Executive Committee was established in 1917 to serve as a vital link in this great fellowship of Southern Baptists. Working together at these various levels, we seek to encourage the work of local churches as they do the work of the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In 2010, I was given the incredible privilege of helping lead the work of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. As a part of this ministry to which God called me, I’ve attempted to change the conversation to encourage pastors and church leaders to reengage in this great task of worldwide evangelization, to rebuild trust and encourage dialogue among people groups, and also to involve and encourage people of every ethnic group within our nation to be a part of God’s work within our convention. My goal has been to build relationships at all the levels described above so that together we might work better in trust and unity.
Over the past years, there have been some incredible results. People have deepened their involvement of Cooperative Program giving and are working to make sure that it is organized correctly according to the needs of a twenty-first century world and church. We have seen challenging days on the mission field, but we are excited that our missionary count is headed back up with still the largest permanent mission force of any faith group. The enrollment numbers of seminaries are some of the largest in human history. There have been changes in our annual meeting demographic as the average age of participants has gotten younger. There have even been changes in the annual meeting event itself as we have been able to bring costs down while at the same time remaining relevant.

Photo by Morris Abernathy
During its 100th year, 50th SBC Executive Committee Chairman Stephen Rummage, right on platform, looks on as sixth EC President and CEO Frank S. Page addresses the committee members at their September 2017 meeting in Nashville.

We live in an anti-institutional and an anti-denominational age and, therefore, to do a work that many people would call “denominational work” is indeed a huge task. However, I’ve been privileged to work with a great staff and partner with great leaders at the national, state, associational and local level. There is a deep desire to reengage churches as never before in evangelistic strategies and relevant ministries.
Many people ask me about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention and I often reply that I am cautiously optimistic about the days ahead.
There are some great things happening and many factors that are influencing us now and in the future. I believe that God is not done with Southern Baptists! If we stay focused on His Word and His way, He will continue to favor us with an increased number of churches, and – I pray in the days ahead – an increased number in baptisms, worship and discipleship as well.
May God bless the Southern Baptist Convention and the Executive Committee as Southern Baptists work together with a common purpose.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank S. Page is president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee and is a member of Clearview Baptist Church in Franklin, Tennessee. This story first appeared in a commemorative issue of SBC LIFE.)

9/25/2017 12:30:57 PM by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Sports & our family

September 22 2017 by David Cook, Baptist Press

Emily and I live among good outdoorsy people who love sports. Our town of 800 is crowned with a 340-acre park full of ball fields, hiking trails, a lake and campsites. If I want to spend time with young parents in our church, I know I can find them cheering at the ballfield.
You’ve seen the stories on the Olympics while the broadcast switches from swimming to gymnastics – stories of families and hometowns who gave it all for their little hero. Training at the highest level takes complete dedication. Olympic athletes don’t get to do what so many other kids get to do. If they had gone to the prom instead of practicing, they wouldn’t be at the Olympics.

David Cook

The parents pushing their children to these heights are a lesson to us. Training your children to win the race is a full-time sport of its own.
Emily and I want to train our children for glory with the same ferocity. People probably think we’re obsessed. Training for one event is what we do. But it’s a different event.
We’re training our children in an ultimate event of following Jesus. We want them to know His Word like an NFL quarterback knows the playbook. We want the motions of Jesus’ lifestyle to feel as natural to them as a proper stroke feels to an Olympic swimmer. And when their events are over, we want them to receive unfading medals of glory.
So with every activity our family could do we ask the same question: “Is this the best way we can train our children for godliness?” Two days a week of baseball filled with winning, losing, friends, coaching and life lessons might be part of that. Today, Kids’ Zumba at the local gym is part of it.
But when the middle-school coaches ask for six- or seven-day weeks, we can’t do it. When they tell her that “her first commitment is to her team,” we know that it isn’t. And we’ll start every season with, “Just so you know, our family doesn’t do sports on Sundays or on Wednesday nights.” That means our kids will probably never get travel ball trophies, but it prepares them for a better unfading trophy.
If we wind up with the next Steph Curry on our hands, we’ll invest in him. But it will be the perfect chance to teach that Jesus is more important than basketball. His basketball training will have to fit inside his Christian training. People would probably ask, “How did he get that good without coming to Sunday tournaments?”
But even if our son played at the highest level, he would run another, more important event at the same time. How I would weep if he traded the unfading trophy for a fading trophy and a life of ego, greed and hedonism.
But, oh, if he can learn the ways of Jesus, I’ll shed better tears. If he can recite 26 verses of scripture on his last day of kindergarten like his big sister did, I’ll sleep well. If he learns to love his neighbor, walk in wisdom, stand up for the poor, worship with gladness, live in purity and serve Christ’s church, I’ll beam with a joy that will outshine every Olympian dad.
That’s what we’re training for.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Cook, online at, is worship pastor at Hawesville Baptist Church in Hawesville, Ky.)

9/22/2017 11:24:58 AM by David Cook, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Here I stand’: A reformation for every generation

September 21 2017 by Michael Reeves, Guest Column

The trumpets blared as the covered wagon passed through the city gate. Thousands lined the streets to catch a glimpse of their hero, many more waving pictures of him from windows and rooftops. It was the evening of Wednesday, April 16, 1521, and Martin Luther was entering the city of Worms.
It looked like a triumphal entry. Yet Luther knew where triumphal entries could lead. The reality was, he was coming to be tried for his life, and, like Jesus, he was expecting death.

Michael Reeves

Teaching that a sinner, merely by trusting Christ, could, despite all his or her sins, have utter confidence before God, he had brought down on himself the fury of the church. 
His books had already been thrown onto bonfires, and most expected that in a few days he would be joining them.
Luther, however, was determined to defend his teaching: “Christ lives,” he said, “and we shall enter Worms in spite of all the gates of hell.”
The next day, the imperial herald came to Luther’s lodging to escort him to the trial. The crowds were so dense that he was forced to sneak Luther through some back alleys to the bishop’s palace. Even so, they did not go unnoticed, many scrambling over the rooftops in their eagerness to see. 
At four in the afternoon, Luther entered the hall; and for the first time the miner’s son from Saxony, dressed in his humble monk’s habit, faced Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, lord of Spain, Austria, Burgundy, southern and northern Italy, the Netherlands and “God’s Viceroy on earth.” 
On seeing the monk, the emperor, a fierce defender of the church, mumbled, “He will not make a heretic out of me.”
Luther was ordered not to speak until bidden. Then the emperor’s spokesman, pointing at a pile of Luther’s books on a table in front of him, told him that he had been summoned to see whether he would acknowledge the books that had been published in his name, and if so, whether he would recant. 
In a soft voice that people strained to hear, Luther admitted that the books were his. But then, to the shock of all, he asked for more time to decide whether he needed to recant.
It looked like he was going to back down. In fact, Luther had been expecting to deal with specific things he had taught; he had not anticipated that he might be asked to reject everything he had ever written. That needed further consideration.
He was grudgingly given one day to reflect, and after that, he was warned, he should expect the worst if he did not repent.
The following day, it was six in the evening before Luther was readmitted into the emperor’s presence. The hall was packed, and in the gathering gloom torches had been lit, making it stiflingly hot. As a result, Luther was perspiring heavily. 
Looking at him, everyone expected an abject apology as he begged forgiveness for his heinous heresy. But the moment he opened his mouth it was clear that was not to be. This time he spoke in a loud and ringing voice. He announced that he could not retract his attacks upon false teaching, for that would give even more rein to those who thus destroyed Christianity. 
“Good God, what sort of tool of evil and tyranny I then would be!” 
Despite an angry shout of “No!” from the emperor, Luther went on, demanding that, if he be wrong, he be refuted with scripture; then, he promised, he would be the first to burn his books.
For the last time he was asked if he would retract his errors, and then he concluded:
“I am bound by the scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.”
It was no mere bluster. For Luther, it was the word of God that had freed him and saved him.
He had no other security. But with it, he had the courage to stand when the emperor’s spokesman responded by blasting him with his arrogance for believing he was the only one to know the truth.
Indeed, at that point he did seem to be standing against the whole world.
Two soldiers then escorted Luther from the hall, amid shouts of “To the pyre with him!”
A large crowd followed them to his quarters. When he got there, he raised his hands, smiled and shouted, “I’ve come through! I’ve come through!”; then, turning to a friend, he told him that, even if he had a thousand heads, he would rather have them all lopped off than abandon his gospel.
Back in the hall, the emperor declared that one monk who stood against all Christendom had to be wrong, and therefore he had determined “to stake on this cause my kingdoms and seignories, my friends, my body and blood, my life and soul.” 
The lines were drawn. The Reformation had begun. And that evening, Luther had done more than write a page of history; he had thrown out a challenge for every generation.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article is adapted from the prologue of The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves, published by B&H Academic. October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.)

9/21/2017 10:32:58 AM by Michael Reeves, Guest Column | with 0 comments

A lifelong journey

September 20 2017 by Paul Kim, Guest Column

It was in my senior year at the University of Hawaii at Hilo that I first felt the burden God laid on my heart. His call to full-time ministry came at a time when I was seeking God’s will as to what I should do after graduation. After a few months of prayer and confirmation, I surrendered to God’s will to enter the gospel ministry and committed to trusting my life into His hands.  
The problem was, while I knew that I ought to study further and attend seminary, I had no idea which seminary I should attend. I researched 33 seminaries across the country but soon realized that there was no way I could afford the tuition. I recall back in those days (the early ’70s) that seminary tuition averaged around $2,500 annually. Even with the GI Bill assistance I was qualified to receive, it still wasn’t enough to get me to the mainland.   

Paul Kim

As I faced this dead end, I walked into the Baptist Student Union (BSU) one afternoon where I spent time playing ping-pong with friends. I was looking for Josephine Harris, the Hilo campus BSU director, who was also a veteran Foreign Mission Board (FMB) missionary. I still remember it as if it were yesterday.  
As soon as I opened my mouth to share with Ms. Harris about my desire to attend seminary, she jumped up from her chair and ran into her library, returning with a row of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) postcards she wanted to show me. She could hardly contain her excitement as she introduced me for the very first time to SWBTS. She even assured me, “My brother, Dr. James Harris, is the pastor of University Baptist Church in Fort Worth. I will call him to make sure he welcomes you when you arrive there!”  
So in the fall of 1973, I set out from my little town of Hilo, Hawaii, and began a lifelong journey of following God’s leading into the gospel ministry.
I arrived at SWBTS, the largest seminary in America at the time, and officially enrolled as a graduate student. Back then, I remember that the student matriculation fee was only $100 per semester. Even with my GI Bill benefit, there would have been no way for me to attend seminary without the Cooperative Program (CP) scholarship for Southern Baptist seminaries. Looking back, I thank God for Ms. Harris who introduced me to her beloved alma mater that blessed day I walked into the BSU. God used her to change the course of my life. I realized my indebtedness to her and took the opportunity to visit with her when she retired to New Mexico after many years of serving as a missionary in Hawaii. I also visited her in Virginia before she passed on to glory.   
I graduated from SWBTS in 1976 as a member of an illustrious class that included Frank Page, current president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee, and many other leaders and pastors who have faithfully journeyed together these past 40-plus years.
During my second year at SWBTS, I began to attend First Baptist Church in Dallas where I met Dr. W.A. Criswell, who became a lifelong mentor to me. Upon my graduation, I was ordained at First Baptist – a memorable day when Dr. Paige Patterson preached at the ordination service. Although I had planned to return to Hilo to plant house churches, God had other plans.  
In Los Angeles, while serving at a Korean Baptist church, I met my wife, Rebekah, who currently serves as a Southern Baptist chaplain at Harvard University. Together, we followed God’s call to the University of California, Berkeley, campus and on March 1, 1981, we started Berkland Baptist Church, a local church-based campus ministry to raise up leaders in the 21st century.  
In the early days of our church, my young family of five was financially supported by CP, for which we were so grateful. The CP encouraged our small congregation of college students and supported our college outreach efforts. But after a year and a half, I chose to give up the CP funding so other church planters who had a greater need for financial support could receive more.    
Within the first 10 years, by God’s help, our small congregation of Asian-American students, young adults and families grew to over 500. Berkland Baptist Church (BBC) was one of the fastest growing churches in the California Southern Baptist Convention and received several awards and distinctions. As a second-generation English-speaking Asian-American church, we went on to plant more than 40 churches over the next 36 years during my pastoral tenure, driven by the commitment to missions both at home and abroad.
In 1991, Rebekah and I chose to entrust the Berkeley church to one of our home-grown disciples and follow God’s call to Boston, where we planted our first East Coast church and launched similar church-based campus ministries on many universities in the Boston area. As the founding pastor of BBC and of Antioch Baptist Church, I have taught and trained all the younger pastors who have followed in my footsteps to give to the SBC’s Cooperative Program which allows for more effective mission work around the world in obedience to the Great Commission until Christ’s return.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Longtime pastor Paul Kim currently is the Asian-American relations consultant with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.)

9/20/2017 12:55:55 PM by Paul Kim, Guest Column | with 4 comments

Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future

September 19 2017 by J.D. Greear, Guest Column

People often ask me what the “secret” to enduring faith is. They want to make it all the way with Jesus, but they’re afraid that something might derail them along the way. When they ask this, I know they’re expecting some spiritual advice – possibly a theological truth or a key spiritual discipline. I’m all for theological truth and spiritual disciplines. But if there is a secret ingredient to enduring faith, it’s this: Your friends are your future.

J.D. Greear

Friendship may not be the most important factor in your spiritual life. But it’s certainly one of the most overlooked. That’s why I refer to it as a secret ingredient to enduring faith.
Christians know they need to read the Bible – even if they don’t do it. They know that they should believe certain things about God. But somehow they forget that they’re social creatures, shaped by the people closest to them.
The way King Solomon put it was, “The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20 CSB). In other words, show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.
I can’t tell you how often people simply ignore this. They get really motivated to become something great for God, but because that decision never affects their friendships, their intentions never become reality.
One of my mentors in college told me, “For most decisions in your life, it’s not the big dreams you dream but the small decisions you make.”
There is probably no better application of that than in our friendships. Our future is shaped less by our dreams and ambitions of what we’ll do for God and more by the company we choose to keep in the present.
Now, whenever I mention this, people ask, “Pastor J.D., are you saying that we shouldn’t have non-Christian friends?” Not exactly. To answer that, I often think of friendship in three concentric circles (I’m pretty sure I got this from Andy Stanley, but I can’t remember):
In the innermost circle, intimacy, you have a small group of friends – probably just three or four – that profoundly shape you, and vice versa.
If you’re married, your spouse goes in this circle. These need to be people that share the ultimate convictions you have. These are the ones that forecast your future.
In the next circle, influence, you have a larger number of friends. You influence them, and they influence you – not as deeply as your closest friends, but still in meaningful ways. Most of these ought to be Christians.
In the outermost circle, care, you have the largest number of friends, including more casual acquaintances. These are people that you love and care for. You legitimately want the best for them and are willing to sacrifice for them, sometimes in stunning ways. But the shaping influence, in both directions, is lower. These can, and should, be Christians as well as non-Christians.
The mistake I often see isn’t that Christians have too many non-Christian friends but that people who should be in the care or influence circles are actually in the intimacy circle.
One of the most heart-breaking ways I see Christians flout this is in dating. Your spouse should be your closest and most influential friend. And yet, I so often see Christians pursuing romantic relationships with non-Christians. I want to shake them and ask, “Do you have any idea what you are doing to your future?”
You say, “Well, I think this relationship is different.”
You imagine that you really can change your boyfriend. Things just feel so right when you’re together. Plus, you know about that one couple where it actually worked out: He became a Christian, they got married, and everybody lived happily ever after. And yes, God’s grace is amazing. I have seen him dramatically change people you’d never expect.
If you are currently married to a non-Christian, obey Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7, stay true to your spouse, and pray like crazy for God to move. But why would you jump into that situation on purpose?
Do you know what it’s called when you willfully break God’s rules and then look to him to fix everything? It’s called mocking. And God will not be mocked.
Besides, is this really a gamble you want to take? Now that I’m a father, I realize that the single most important person in the lives of my children is my wife.
If you’re dating a non-Christian, you’re implicitly saying that you don’t really care about the salvation of your future kids. Don’t gamble with your kids’ eternity for the sake of a romantic thrill that won’t last anyway.
Sermons might inspire you, but it’s your community that shapes you. So in your friendships – your marriage chief among them – choose with wisdom. Your future will thank you.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – J. D. Greear is the pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. This article was first published at Used by permission.)

9/19/2017 8:16:04 AM by J.D. Greear, Guest Column | with 0 comments

Despite wind, rain & floods, what can we learn?

September 15 2017 by Gerald Harris, Baptist Press

My heart goes out to all those severely impacted by the hurricanes that have swept through the Caribbean and onto the U.S. mainland. Harvey, Irma and the consequent tornados have wrought havoc in Texas, Florida and some contiguous states.
We certainly can lament the howling winds, torrential rain and flooding ask, “Why has this befallen us?” We can agonize about damaged property and dwell on the loss of public services and the daunting problem of cleaning up after the storm.

Gerald Harris

But what about the lessons we can learn from a hurricane? Consider, for example:

Hurricanes can teach us that we are not in control.

No human power can control the wind and waves. However, we know Jesus calmed a storm. Three of the gospels tell us that story. Jesus was weary and had gone to sleep in the midst of the storm, but the disciples, some of whom were professional fishermen, were frightened by the storm and feared they might die.
However, with one quick word from Christ, the storm abated and the sea became calm. This should be immensely comforting to the Christian in a storm. Faith in Christ is never misplaced; if He can calm the storms of the sea with one word, He can calm the storms of life as well.
You might ask, “If God is in control then why does He allow bad things to happen?” Though it is within the Lord’s power to give everyone a perfect existence, that wouldn’t be in our best interest. Trials and suffering often drive people to the Father. And for those of us who are already His followers, God sometimes uses harsh circumstances to mature our faith and conform us to the image of His Son.

Hurricanes can teach us what is important

We live in a materialistic society and to many people it almost seems their “stuff” is more important than life itself. Some people in the path of the hurricanes stated their intention to remain in their homes to make sure their property was protected – as if they had the power to protect it in the first place.
Jesus said, “What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) Perhaps you have seen bumper stickers that read, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” Nothing could be further from the truth. All the “things” we accumulate in our lives are no more than premature junk.
Jesus said, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Harlan Sanders said, “Why would you want to be the richest man in the cemetery? You can’t do any business there.”
A wise saying goes that money can buy a house, but not a home; food, but not an appetite; medicine, but not wellness; books, but not brains; a bed, but not sleep; amusement, but not happiness; and religion, but not salvation. So, hurricanes can help us realize what is really important.

Hurricanes can teach us that we are in this together.

A prime illustration of this is that President Donald Trump and the Democrat leaders in the Senate struck a deal to provide a relief package to the region devastated by Hurricane Harvey.
The relationship between the president and the Democrats since his inauguration has been like the Hatfields and McCoys. Acrimony, hostility and caustic words mark the relationship. However, the hurricane brought opposing political leaders together to do something good for the country.
A common objective, a common enemy, a common cause has the potential of making rivals into partners, of making adversaries into allies and making foes into friends. I am sorry it took vast and destructive storms to bring us together, but it is good that for at least a while the divided states of America became the United States of America again.

Hurricanes can teach we are to let our lights shine

Jesus urged us to let our light to shine before men (Matthew 5:16). As children we learned the little song, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” We must not hide our light under a bushel, but let it shine especially in times of need.
How will people see that light? Through our good works.
When people are going through a storm they are vulnerable, needy and searching. They need true godly examples before them to shine brightly and offer help, friendship and the hope that transcends the troubles caused by the storm.
Well, I am sure there are other lessons to be learned. Here in the Atlanta area, Irma took out our electricity for a time and I quickly learned anew that I don’t love darkness better than light.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index,, the online news service of the Georgia Baptist Convention, where this column first appeared.)

9/15/2017 11:27:55 AM by Gerald Harris, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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