April 2009

Your church has huge staff

April 20 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

During a few days last week among Baptist communicators whose ministry is to inform and encourage their constituencies about the ministries they perform together, my appreciation was renewed for the Cooperative Program giving of local Baptist churches.

April 26 is Cooperative Program Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention and, while I don’t expect many churches to hold special events commemorating the day, it is important to remind ourselves that we are a part of something big. No matter where you are in church, whether you attend a tiny church with a part-time pastor and a volunteer who lights the stove on winter Sunday mornings, or you’re one of a cast of thousands at some of our largest churches, you have a staff of thousands because of the Cooperative Program.

Allan Blume says that every church should consider each missionary, at home and abroad and at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) office in Cary, a part of their church staff. Each consultant and program person at the BSC works for you and is available — and anxious — to come to your church to help you develop ministry. Every faculty member at CP supported colleges and seminaries is “on your staff” because you help pay their salary and enable their ministry.

At a presentation in Nashville, Tenn., of Baptist communicators’ best work I was struck again by the depth and breadth of places where Southern Baptist missionaries are wielding the gospel light of Jesus to push back the darkness.

I was struck too, by the creativity, innovation and sheer audacity with which they operate in North Carolina, the United States and across the world.

It is impossible to carry in these pages more than a flavor of the incredible stories being written by your missionaries.

Both the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board have publications to which you can subscribe and are continually developing websites that carry specific stories, pictures and sound that will inform and encourage you.

You can view slide and sound shows, photos, stories and videos from the field at www.commissionstories.com for the IMB and at www.namb.net for the North American Mission Board.

It is inspiring to hear the testimonies and see the pictures of internationals reaching their fellow countrymen inside America; of a man ministering in the worst of Brazil’s slums; of a journeyman going to live two years in the jungles of Peru before he knew any of the tribe’s language.

But before you assume that Cooperative Program ministries are only those ministries that occur outside of your state, let me remind you of a few facts.

North Carolina is a large and fast growing state, with a population approaching nine million. Assuming, as many evangelism leaders do, that one-half the population has made no saving commitment to Jesus Christ, that leaves a lost population of about 4.5 million.

The size of the lost population in North Carolina is larger than the total population of 85 nations and 27 other states. North Carolina is a mission field.

Of course, unlike many mission fields, this one is dotted with churches and populated with a million Baptists who claim that they love the other half of the population so much they are willing to do whatever it takes to reach them.

The ministries of the Baptist State Convention were established to help local churches reach that lost population. Blume is right.

The BSC staff is your staff.

Although you might feel intimidated to call (800) 395-5102 and ask for someone to come help you build a Sunday School, or start a pre-school or train your people in evangelism or lead a successful Vacation Bible School, there is no need. Staff is accessible, willing and eager to help.

And they are good at what they do.

After an emphasis on church planting next issue, the Biblical Recorder is beginning a series featuring the BSC consultants and churches that have utilized their work to great effect.

Through Cooperative Program giving you have staff available to help you in almost every conceivable ministry area. If there is no one at the Baptist staff office in Cary with the specific expertise you need, someone there will gladly connect you with such a person.

The Cooperative Program began in 1925, bridging regional differences among Southern Baptists and uniting a disparate band of Christians in common ministry to reach a world that was crying then and still cries out from the depths of hungry souls. One beauty of CP is that it is completely voluntary. Your members decide what part of their gifts to forward to global ministries outside of their own walls.

In early days, many churches strived to give 10 percent of undesignated funds. Some churches have been in circumstances that enabled them to send 20 percent and on rare occasions, even 30 percent of their gifts to ministry outside themselves.

The average N.C. church gift hovers closer to six percent in recent years due in some measure to focus on points that divide, rather on purposes that unite, and — according to a study committee commissioned  by the SBC Executive Committee — the election to national office of leaders whose churches did not demonstrate a commitment to Southern Baptist ministries through the Cooperative Program.

Giving to missions through the Cooperative Program is the first test of membership in the BSC. There is only one other, and that is to “be in friendly cooperation” with the purposes of the Convention. Typically, about 800 churches give nothing to missions through the Cooperative Program.

On the other end of the spectrum, the gifts of several churches in North Carolina each total more than one-half of one percent of the entire state budget. No matter the size of your CP contribution, it matters. Any cut bleeds.

As you consider ways to impact the world for Jesus, read the Biblical Recorder, visit the websites of the Recorder and of your mission boards and state Convention and see the effective ministries enabled by your Cooperative Program missions gifts.

4/20/2009 7:40:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Persons of faith more likely to cling through suffering

April 6 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

My sister is a nurse in a large veteran’s hospital and sees incidents of cancer too numerous to count. It is a dreaded disease because it appears in so many varieties, it is so often deadly, and its treatment is insufferable.

Among cancer patients my nurse sister observes higher anxiety among those newly diagnosed, than among those for whom it has recurred after several years in remission.

It is as if they knew it was coming back and the anxiety of waiting for that news is finally over and they can deal with it head on—either fighting it further or accepting the inevitable and deciding how best to invest the earth days that remain.

I am grateful at Easter not just for faith in the risen Jesus, but also for faith’s assurance that death has neither sting, nor victory.

So a story by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, published by Religion News Service in March, surprised me.

It seems the more religious a person is, the more likely he or she will cling to life until the last agonizing breath, sparing no expense, personal suffering or exhaustion by caregivers.

I say surprising because, while life is wonderful, since I became a Christian as an adult I’ve believed the Christian songs and sermons I heard that said we are just passing through; we are strangers in this land and are not to make it our home.

I wrestle with the notion, as did the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians 1:20-26, that “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” It seems Paul was torn between the fruitful labor of his work in the vineyard of souls on earth; and his desire “to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”

He was glad to hang around, if that’s what God wanted, because he knew the Philippians needed his encouragement.

MacDonald quotes Kevin Brumett, 31, fighting lung cancer that spread to his brain. “God is giving me the strength to fight this as hard and as long as I possibly can,” Brumett said.

New research suggests that cancer fighters like Brumett may be more likely to exacerbate their own suffering in the final days of life and to leave behind caregivers who have a hard time adjusting to bereavement, MacDonald wrote.

MacDonald said a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that religious patients “were three times more likely to opt for mechanical ventilation and other intensive procedures in their last week of life.”

Because religious patients trust in God’s sovereignty and an afterlife, “one might expect them to be more accepting of death and let nature take its course at the end of life, rather than pursuing very aggressive treatments,” said Dr. Andrea Phelps, lead author of a study by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

She gave a few reasons why she thinks religious cancer patients commonly opt for aggressive care in their final days. Among the possibilities:
faith leads to optimism, even when a prognosis is bleak;
faith gives purpose to suffering, and in turn helps patients muster stamina for invasive treatments;
beliefs about sanctity of life may give rise to a quest to prolong life at almost any cost.
Phelps said she and her colleagues were concerned “because aggressive care, at least among cancer patients, is a difficult and burdensome treatment that medically doesn’t usually provide a whole lot of benefit.”

World walking, cross carrying evangelist Arthur Blessitt estimated that Jesus walked 3,125 miles during his public ministry. Jesus knew that every step brought him closer to the cross, yet He never flinched.

On trial He absorbed the lies and accusations silently, except to affirm the high priest’s question/statement asking Jesus to declare whether or not “you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” (Matt. 26:63)

Jesus saw the cross. He knew the pain to come. But He saw beyond the cross and simply shed this life when His mission was accomplished.

Of course there is no direct parallel between a terminally ill Christian accepting that fate and living fully in his or her remaining days, and Jesus embracing His death on the cross. But consider that the destination is the same — life beyond the cross, through the passage of death.

How is that so? Because Jesus carved the pathway for us, not only to the cross, for that alone would be without value and leave us hopeless. But He broke through the ceiling of death and opened the heavens to our own rising souls. That is the celebration of Easter, the celebration of life. Victory over death.

We can walk toward that future day by day confident that for a Christian life is defined far more fully than “one more breath.”

And death is far less frightening than to merit the marshaled resources of medical machinery and miserable months in the face of inevitable outcomes.

Have you had this conversation with your spouse or caregiver?

What heroic measures do you want them to undertake to keep your body present on this side of the veil? What level of suffering are you willing to endure to delay your welcome home?

Tad Woodhull, 75, has had two bouts of cancer and watched his brother endure a “miserable” final six month fight.

“I would go with faith rather than put myself and my family through a version of hell,” says Woodhull. In a late stage and bleak situation, he said he’d decline invasive medical options and instead trust God with his soul.

You alone can make those decisions for yourself. Do it while you are able.

4/6/2009 8:06:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments