September 18 2014 by
Hal Ostrander, Baptist Press
Meet Derek and Cynda, wealthy Chicago couple, pillars of Windy City society – he, a successful senior VP of a thriving corporation; she, a dutiful wife; proud parents of one grown son, Jared, privileged and bred for business savvy.
Both genuinely saved at an early age, Derek and Cynda met at a Christian college and married soon after graduate school. But the years passed and their lives together somehow came to reflect an "I'll do it if it benefits me" approach to life – and their faith.
Meet Khalid, an Indonesian rice farmer with a wife and four children. Saved only a year ago, emerging from an atheism he had kept to himself, his Muslim wife Liana and four children soon came to faith in Christ because of his godly example and the patient work of other believers.
Khalid loved the Lord Jesus with the kind of fervor common among newfound believers. But now he suddenly finds himself hiding from persecutors, alone and cowering in fear, somewhere in the Sumatran rainforest near the sloped shores of Lake Toba.
Let's listen in on Derek and Cynda's brief conversation this evening, the night before the luncheon where Derek is to receive yet another accolade for last quarter's considerable profit margins.
And, as deep darkness falls, let's attend to Khalid's prayers during this, his time of greatest testing.
"Cyn, tomorrow night we'll celebrate. I've already made reservations at Moto's for 7. You'd like that, wouldn't you? Think I'll have the salmon with carrot vinaigrette this time. Some rosé wine, too. What about you?"
"I'll decide when we get there, hon."
"K. Let's take the Jag just for fun."
"O God, I'm so hungry ... so weak. The villagers don't dare help me, and stealing their chickens means they can't feed their families. Just a handful of rice tomorrow, a little water from the lake, Lord, that's all I need. Please keep the Laskar Jihad away from here. You know what they'll do if they catch me. Your will, Lord Jesus, only Your will!"
"They're supposed to finish remodeling the guest bath tomorrow, dear."
"Let's hope so. Time is money, they say. The importing is sure costing us."
"But it's gorgeous, the Italian white carrera especially."
"Post some Facebook pictures. Everybody needs to see. We'll redo the kitchen next ... maybe the vacay condo, too!"
"Father, my precious Liana! Where is she? The kids!? Did they get away? I don't care if our home's gone ... if only I could hold them one more time. Their shocked faces ... it's killing me ... they didn't know what was happening. Mercy and grace, Lord, let them call out for Your mercy and grace wherever they are! O, my rock and fortress, in You they must trust."
"Derek, something's bothering me."
"Remember back when we'd pray, you know, pray together?"
"Where're we going with this, Cyn?"
"I'm thinking Jared's not doing as well as he says. He's so inward lately. Something's just not right. I feel we need to pray for him, that he needs help."
"Oh, he'll be alright. It's just a phase. We've taught him well. Don't you remember those five straight Sundays at church? God knows we've done our part. Just pray while you go to sleep. Let's call it a day, huh?"
"Watch over us tonight, my Sovereign. I know Liana is praying. I feel it."
Despite his distress and suffering, Khalid drifts off to sleep under a canopy of palm fronds, baffled but content with God's dealings....
Shuffling feet. Pale light. The scrape of drawn machetes. Awake now, he knew. The Laskar had found him. Dragged to a clearing. Tight ropes strapping wrists and ankles. Painfully stretched with stakes like a cross.
Four men. Four machetes. Four decisive strikes to his body in quick succession....
Incredibly, no screams of pain leave Khalid's lips. There's only time for one last prayer, loud enough for his assassins to hear, "Lord Jesus, take me home. I love You!"
One couple still alive the next morning, but killed off long ago by the deceit and vanity of wealth's pretensions....
Another murdered at sunrise by evil men, crazed and wielding the sword of terror....
The question is simple yet profound: When we stand before the Lord, how will Kingdom faithfulness be measured? How faithful will our lives be found?
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Hal Ostrander is an adjunct professor of religion and philosophy at the San Antonio campus of Wayland Baptist University.)
9/18/2014 9:54:06 AM
September 17 2014 by
Diana Davis, Baptist Press
Hal Ostrander, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
Last Sunday was an awesome day. Water was involved.
For weeks, our pastor at Olive Baptist in Pensacola had announced the plan. New believers, and even long-time Christians who’d not yet been baptized, would be invited to make a public decision for Christ, and would be baptized during the same worship service. More than 40 people, mostly adults, were baptized. It was a joyful, tearful, thrilling celebration.
That same afternoon, I was at Pensacola Beach with my family. A nearby crowd was cheering and clapping, so I strolled down the beach to see what was happening. It was a baptism. Pensacola’s Hillcrest Baptist baptized more than 30 youth and adults right there in the Gulf (plus 21 more in their morning worship.) What a glorious day!
So what is the correct time and place for the baptism of new believers? It depends on the church.
Some churches pre-schedule weekly, monthly or quarterly baptisms; others baptize whenever a person accepts Christ. Many plan baptisms after youth camp or outreach events. Some churches have a recurring class for those interested in baptism, with online registration for the class and baptism. They may baptize Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, at the beginning or end of worship, or as an entire worship service. Any time is a great time for baptism.
A church’s baptismal service may be reverently quiet, or joyfully celebratory. Some baptize in robes; others print special t-shirts for the occasion.
Baptistery facilities vary from simple to ornate. I’ve seen baptisteries located at the front, the side, and in the back of the worship center. In Germany, we watched as a trap door on the platform was removed to reveal the baptistery. Some churches in the South have outdoor baptisteries, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s new worship center has a gorgeous baptistery in its spacious entry foyer.
An Indiana church gathers for summer baptisms at the river next to the church. A church plant baptizes in a nearby swimming pool. An apartment church baptizes in a hot tub. During our former church’s worship center renovation, we used a horse trough in the middle of the gym. In that unique setting, God blessed with a record number of baptisms.
I worshipped with a Michigan church plant whose rented site was in a public park. As they baptized in a small lake there, many curious passersby stopped to watch, including a little dog that paddled out, circling the baptismal party!
Whether your church baptizes in the baptistery or the ocean, in robes or t-shirts, there’s nothing more thrilling than seeing new believers follow Christ. “Look, there’s water! What would keep me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36)
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Davis, on the Web at www.dianadavis.org, is an author, columnist and ministry wife in Pensacola Fla. She is the author of Fresh Ideas and Deacon Wives (B&H Publishing); her newest book, Six Simple Steps – Finding Contentment and Joy as a Ministry Wife, releases next spring.)
9/17/2014 12:46:14 PM
September 16 2014 by
David Jeremiah, Baptist Press
Diana Davis, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
Do you believe Jesus Christ is going to come to earth a second time? There are many so-called Christians who either don’t know or are apathetic about the subject – something that never ceases to amaze me. How can we believe what Jesus said about the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life if we don’t believe what He said about His ultimate return to earth one day (John 14:1-3)?
This article assumes the fact that Jesus is coming again. And it also assumes the absolute necessity, by Jesus’ own words in two of His parables, to work and to watch until He comes. If fictional special agents on television and real-life government agents can work and watch for things that “might” happen, how much more should we be working and watching for something that we know is going to happen.
How to work until Jesus returns
The first parable, the one about our responsibility to be at work until He returns, is in Matthew 25:14-30 – the parable of the talents. The theme of this well-known parable is “Do business until I come.” It’s a parable about the big picture of stewardship: Stewards are to accomplish the master’s work in his absence. Therefore, every Christian should be able to answer this question: “What business am I to accomplish for my Master until He comes again?”
The New Testament lists a number of specific responsibilities we have as followers of Jesus. I have summarized them under four headings and ask you to consider your life with regard to each one.
First, publicize the Gospel. Our Master’s marching orders when He left earth are very clear: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). We need to be involved in faithfully sharing the Gospel at home and around the world.
Second, promote the health of the church. Spiritual gifts are given in the body of Christ to enable individual Christians to build up the church (Ephesians 4:12-13). Are you using your spiritual gift(s) to build up the church toward maturity? The church’s only hands of service are those attached to the arms of its members.
Third, prioritize your life. Just as the servants in Jesus’ parable stood before their master to give an account of their work, you and I will stand before Jesus Christ one day to do the same thing (2 Corinthians 5:10). At that moment, the good and better in our lives will be separated from the best in terms of how we contributed to the Master’s goals.
Fourth, pursue your work with hope. The servant in the parable who did no work (and lost his reward) lived in fear, not in hope. If you truly believe what Jesus Christ said, and what the Bible teaches, you will live with more certainty about the return of Christ than about anything else in your life.
How to watch until Jesus returns
The second parable Jesus told is in Matthew 25:1-13 – the parable of the 10 virgins. The five wise virgins were ready to receive the bridegroom when he appeared, while the five foolish virgins were not. When they went and made preparations and returned, the door to the celebration had closed. We need to be ready when He comes.
Peter wrote about scoffers who continually ask, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:4). Yes, it has been 2,000 years since His promise was made. And since we do not know the hour of His return, we must know how to watch until that day.
First, do not be deceived by anything (Matthew 24:4-5). You and I must be vigilant, keeping our eyes focused on the one true Savior and returning King.
Second, do not be troubled by anything (John 14:1, 27). Our hope and confidence is in Jesus Christ – His peace is sufficient for every trial and difficulty.
Third, do not be confused by anything. There is only one focal point in life – Jesus Himself. Fix your eyes on Him alone (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Fourth, do not be tempted by anything. Like a child who gets caught doing something wrong when his parents arrive home unexpectedly, Jesus is going to return at an hour you least expect (Matthew 24:42-44).
Faithfully work and watch for His coming – be a special agent for Christ.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif.)
9/16/2014 10:45:50 AM
September 15 2014 by
Kevin Ezell, Baptist Press
David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
For many in North America, hunger is someone else’s problem. It’s the emaciated children halfway around the world. It’s people who live on the other side of the tracks. And, occasionally, it’s the person holding a cardboard sign at a freeway exit.
But as a follower of Jesus, hunger is your problem and it’s my problem. Jesus showed us, over and over again in the gospels, that the physical needs of those around us matter to God – and should matter to us as well.
Because Jesus didn’t ignore hunger (read the stories of Jesus multiplying the fish and the loaves in the Gospels), we can’t ignore it either.
Hunger impacts one in six Americans. No matter where you live, you know someone who is hungry. And no matter how it appears on the outside, that hunger impacts every area of life – including physical health, mental processing ability and social relationships. In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, more than a third of poor families in the United States have to choose whether to eat or pay for a roof over their heads.
That’s why Southern Baptists have worked together for decades to push back hunger in North America. Through your gifts to Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief – more than $1.1 million in 2013 – local church-based ministries in big cities and small towns provide food for hungry people throughout the U.S. and Canada.
More important, these ministries provide hope, by connecting the hungry to gospel-preaching churches where they can hear about Jesus and learn to follow Him. Your gifts to Global Hunger Relief last year led to more than 22,000 professions of faith reported through Southern Baptist hunger ministries in North America.
Lynn Gardens Baptist Church in Pueblo, Colo., is a great example of this.
The small church averages around 35 in attendance each week, but its food ministry – called God’s Food Pantry – has grown to become one of the largest in the community. Every week the church helps 180 to 190 families put food on their tables.
As the church has provided food for the community – which had been ravaged by unemployment in recent years – it has reversed the perception of Southern Baptists in Pueblo. Pastor Lonnie Hartke says when he first arrived at the church and would go door to door, no one wanted to listen to a Baptist preacher. But as his small church has loved its community unselfishly by providing much-needed food, perceptions have shifted. Residents are more open to hearing him share the gospel.
One lady had attended the church years earlier but had been hurt by someone there and left. Through God’s Food Pantry, she re-connected to the church, became a follower of Jesus and was baptized. She now helps others as a volunteer in the food pantry.
Your support of Global Hunger Relief helps us push back hunger and lostness in Pueblo, Colo., and throughout North America.
Hunger is our problem as Southern Baptists. Thank you for working together to do something tangible to help our neglected neighbors.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kevin Ezell is president of the North American Mission Board.)
9/15/2014 1:18:45 PM
September 11 2014 by
Kevin Ezell, Baptist Press
Kevin Ezell, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
For too many church leaders, one of the most challenging areas of mission is engaging our people in evangelism. We can point to many causes for this, but many times the lack of evangelistic effectiveness goes back to leaders not providing a clear pathway forward and simple first steps in sharing the gospel.
The North American Mission Board’s pastors’ task force highlighted these challenges and their findings in their report in May.
Turning around our evangelism and baptism decline will take some serious soul-searching and a long-term approach. But there are also some things every pastor can do right away to rekindle Southern Baptists’ evangelistic fervor.
1. Train everyone to use the 3 Circles: Life Conversation Guide.
Teach every person engaged in your church how to share the gospel through the 3 Circles presentation. While there are many evangelism tools out there, we’ve seen 3 Circles work well in numerous settings across North America. It is simple, easy and transferable. And we’ve already seen pastors like Ronnie Floyd, Johnny Hunt and Bryant Wright training their entire congregations on #3Circles on Sunday mornings! You can download the app for free on IOS or Android platforms, order the guides from NAMB directly or download the presentation.
2. Call your people to share Christ on Engage24, Oct. 14.
If you prepare your people to share and give them a tool to present the gospel, the final step is to set them up for success by setting a date for action.
Over the last three years Baptist college students have taken one day in the fall to share the gospel with at least one person in their sphere of influence through Engage24. I invite you and your church to join with them in engaging lost people with the gospel on Oct. 14. Imagine the impact on your people, your church and your community if everyone in your church shared the gospel like August Gate Church in St. Louis, for example.
The people in your church will grow by preparing for Engage24. They will learn to depend on prayer. And your church will gain a collective momentum that can’t come from any other kind of engagement.
Our goal at the North American Mission Board is to see 15,000 churches planted in 10 years. But plants don’t just happen. They require disciples who leverage their lives for the gospel, and disciples are made only when believers sow the gospel in the lives of others.
As a church leader, will you join me in challenging your church to live the gospel at home, at work and at play? Will you utilize October as a time of vision-casting for your church to engage the world with the gospel?
Thank you for your life in Christ and your ministry on His behalf. May God continue to bless you and your church as we continue to live life on mission together.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kevin Ezell is president of the North American Mission Board.)
9/11/2014 9:56:24 AM
September 10 2014 by
Russell Moore, Guest Column
Kevin Ezell, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
In the New Testament, Jesus and his disciples were often thought to be crazy. Bloody crosses and empty tombs and Jew/Gentile unity – all of these things sounded insane to surrounding world.
Not only that, but these Christians were forever concerning themselves not with the powerful and the influential but rather with orphans with widows, serving the vulnerable and needy, feeding the hungry. These Christians always seemed to be identifying with the least “useful” people in society – those who had no influence or wealth, those who could offer nothing in return. It all seemed so strange, so counter-intuitive.
And that’s precisely the point.
The gospel everywhere upends the world’s expectations. After all, who would have thought that the ruler of the universe would be born in a feeding trough to a peasant girl suspected of infidelity? Who would have thought that tax collectors and persecutors and day laborers would be the pillars upon which the church would be built?
The power of the gospel is often seen the most clearly when it is seen in all its strangeness. The message of the gospel explains the reason why we care for those in need: it is precisely because we believe Jesus’ teaching that “the last shall be first” (Matt 20:16), and we believe that the kind of other-directed servant leadership our Lord demonstrated is the same kind we ourselves are to model.
And this is one of the reasons why the church has, and must, concern itself with feeding the hungry. Hungry people – and there are over one billion men, women, and children suffering from hunger around the world – are not just issues; they are people, in need of the grace and love of Christ, bearing the image of God, and needing the message and hope of the gospel.
So hunger must not be an abstract, faceless concept for those of us in Christ. But how should we go about thinking about the call for the church to care for those in need in the context of our mission?
We should begin by redefining our “neighbor” to include more than the families next door and the people down the street. We’re not the first ones who need a change of heart on this issue. Think about Jesus’ answer to the question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” That’s a question we hear repeatedly in the Scriptures. One would expect Jesus to respond as Paul and Silas did – believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. Instead, Jesus asked about the man’s understanding of the Law, and the man replied: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus affirmed his response, then pressed toward the man’s next question: “And who is my neighbor?” The lawyer was skillfully attempting to “justify himself,” (Luke 10:29), but Jesus did what he always does – he exposes idolatry and points out one’s obstacles to following Christ. For this man it was his rejection of his neighbor. In this same passage, we see something else. Often, when responding to the vulnerable, our greatest obstacle isn’t the question of knowing what to do. Our greatest obstacle is fear. The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable has every reason to be afraid on the Road to Jericho. The presence of a beaten man tells him there are robbers around, potentially hiding in the caves around him. Fear, though, is cast out by love; love is not cast out by fear.
The Samaritan has no reason to claim accountability for this terrorized neighbor. He does so because he treats him, a stranger, as though he were kin. The lawyer questioning Jesus rightly sees this as showing mercy (Luke 10:37). And Jesus says simply, “Go and do likewise.” To be faithful to our Lord, we must show mercy and grace to our neighbor.
Some may fear that one small group or one church won’t be able to make a difference when facing a problem so overwhelming. And yet, through the cooperative initiative of Global Hunger Relief (GHR), Southern Baptists have already organized to take aim at the critical hunger needs around the world.
GHR is one of the most effective channels for donating toward the global hunger crisis. All of the funds given to GHR go directly toward meeting hunger needs, whether by providing disaster relief, addressing chronic hunger, eliminating urban food deserts, helping women rescued from sex trafficking and much more. It is a concrete way Southern Baptists cannot just care for an issue in the abstract, but be a gospel witness to vulnerable ones in need.
Our response to those in need must not be, simply, “Be warmed and filled” (Jas 2:16). We must love our neighbors – in every tribe, nation and hemisphere. Let’s embrace the strangeness to which our Lord calls us. Let’s be a people who care for those in need, who have compassion and love for our neighbors as ourselves.
The world may think this strange. But this strangeness will also be perceived by those to whom we minister, who may in turn come to receive an incredible gospel.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. On World Hunger Sunday, Oct. 12, Southern Baptist congregations will address the hunger crisis across North America and around the world. Donations received are channeled through Global Hunger Relief (formerly World Hunger Fund), which uses 100 percent of each gift to meet hunger needs. For more information, visit www.globalhungerrelief.com.)
9/10/2014 10:00:44 AM
September 8 2014 by
Amber Lehman, Guest Column
Russell Moore, Guest Column | with 0 comments
It was the latter part of the week when I started seeing the Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) Ice Bucket Challenge videos pop up in my Facebook newsfeed. Within 36 hours these posts were nearly all that I saw. It was a brilliant campaign that has raised more than $100 million!
As a ministry leader, I anticipated being challenged so I had some homework to know more about the ALS Association (ALSA). Years ago I figured out that nearly all national organizations that do medical research for cures and treatments of diseases supported embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). Later I learned that many organizations give raised funds to Planned Parenthood. Since then, I’ve made it a practice to research every organization I support to see if any of my money supports that which destroys human life.
When I researched ALSA, as I expected, they were in full support of ESCR. It was an easy decision to refrain from participating.
I was shocked as I saw supporters of First Choice and Christian leaders who are prolife taking the Ice Bucket Challenge. It was then that my quest began. I assumed that they could not possibly know they were supporting ESCR.
I immediately became the killjoy of Facebook as I began posting, private messaging, texting, and emailing friends, supporters, and pastors to inform people of the ESCR link as I saw them get challenged. I wrote my church leaders and said “You don’t want to do this, please don’t do this!”
From my vantage point, it was equally plausible for them to dump ice water on their head and then donate to a local abortion clinic. Intentionally ending a life anytime from day one of conception to a 100-year-old’s last breath is all equally wrong – it is all murder whether it happens in a lab, an abortion clinic, a person’s home or a hospital bed.
Human life matters. Period. I wasn’t willing to stand by quietly and watch the Bride of Christ whom I adore contribute to the culture of death.
Christians need to hear the truth of an undeniable reality of a disregard for life; there seems to be a knowledge gap of life issues of today and a plethora of terrible ethical philosophies that serve as slippery slopes to the church. Those whose responses affirmed life were at a loss of how to defend their stance or explain how ESCR worked. While many commended me for diligently defending life, not many of them seemed to take on the fight themselves.
How did the church get here on the critical issue of human life? I believe there are two main reasons:
First, the church rarely talks about life issues or even the basic doctrine of imago Dei. If you just asked yourself “what is imago Dei?” then you are case in point. Your church may be lacking substantial discussion on what it means to be made in the image of God. A person has value because he or she is fashioned in the image of God. The church should be the place where saints are equipped to engage the culture consistently with God’s truth and biblical values.
Engaging the culture well demands that we know what to believe and why, how to take action responsibly for the causes for which we care and how to engage people in productive discussions around sensitive cultural issues while sharing the message and the love of Christ.
Second, we have somehow adopted a philosophy of ministry and giving that believes that all causes are of the same value and urgency. We have fallen prey to being driven to engage a cause simply by how passionate we feel about it and how engaging the cause makes us feel. This is a dangerous way to steward the resources God has given us.
So how can we pick when there are so many causes and so many needs?
First, we pick by seeking God’s Word to see what God cares about and what He commands us to do.
Second, we look at what is going on in our age and determine (a) what is going on that only God’s people care about; and, (b) what is an urgent and present danger.
Once the causal criteria are figured out, then these causes become top priorities. Stewardship demands that we look beyond our emotions and the fun trends of the day.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge made me aware of a terrible disease and for that I am thankful. My donation to help find a cure for ALS as well as other debilitating disease will go to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute (http://www.jp2mri.org/), where they are committed to ethical medical research for cures and treatments of multiple diseases. While I care about helping end the suffering of ALS, I also care about defending innocent LIFE even in its smallest form.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Amber Lehman holds a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies and will gain her master of arts in Christian ethics upon completion of her thesis from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She has been leading First Choice Pregnancy Solutions in Wake Forest since January 2006. To make a donation to First Choice please visit www.FirstChoiceNC.org. Also, be sure to sign up for First Choice’s charity golf tournament Sept. 15 at firstchoicenc.org/events/. Amber’s personal abortion story can be found at firstchoicepregnancysolutions.blogspot.com/2013/08/forgiven-much.html.)
9/8/2014 1:14:46 PM
September 5 2014 by
Matthew Fowler, Baptist Press
Amber Lehman, Guest Column | with 0 comments
I was in the first year of my first pastorate when things unraveled. I had experienced a few rough patches in previous ministry roles, but nothing to kill my dreams and make me question my calling. I was familiar with stories of petty pastoral terminations and “difficult deacons,” but I was convinced that it wouldn’t happen to me, at least not at this church. A phone call changed all of that.
I was out of town performing a friend’s wedding when a man from my church called very troubled about an issue. “Are you aware that there is a man in leadership at our church that has been sexually abusing his stepdaughter for 16 years?” he asked. I was shocked at the question and informed him that I knew nothing about it.
Evidently, the long kept secret had been shared by the victim in a college essay about what sexual abuse had done to her. The man calling me had somehow learned of this essay and had begun his own investigation. He told me that he expected me to accompany him to the police station upon my return home to make a report. I shared with my deacons what I had been told and later told the police. My deacons told me to “leave it alone” and the police said, “We will look into it.”
As quickly as I could, I met with the alleged perpetrator, his wife and a deacon. I shared with them what I had been told and that I hoped this was just some gross misunderstanding. The wife spoke up and said, “It’s true and if you want to know why I’ve stayed with him, I don’t know.” After a few moments of being speechless, I informed them of the need for thorough repentance and that he would have to step down from his leadership roles at the very least. I also stated that I was going to do everything I could to get their family help, particularly their daughter.
I updated the police, and though they had opened an investigation, there was nothing they could do because the daughter was now an adult and wouldn’t press charges. I updated the deacons, but they persisted in their position that I should “leave it alone.” Eventually, the deacons told me that I was on “thin ice” and that I would likely be the one getting voted out.
Shortly after these events unfolded, I arrived at church one Sunday to find the perpetrator carrying out his leadership roles and acting like nothing had happened. I confronted him with my dad as a witness (my dad was attending our church) and the man became combative, which led to an altercation between him and my dad. We all went into a meeting with the deacons, where the deacon chairman said I was fired and told me to get out.
A business meeting followed the next week and I walked into a firestorm. The abuser had visited members and convinced them of his innocence. They had all turned against me, save a couple of families, and were hurling insults. Even after the daughter who had been victimized testified against her dad, he was only voted out of leadership by two votes. Then a motion was made to fire me. The motion was tabled and I resigned the following week. I was in shock.
Adding insult to injury, I was blacklisted in my association for being one of those “discipline people” and “church destroyers.” I couldn’t find a ministry position to save my life. I worked construction and then eventually in the coal mines to provide for my family. The more time passed, the more disillusioned I got. I eventually decided that I couldn’t make it in the ministry and quite frankly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to anyway.
As a last resort, I emailed one of my seminary professors, Hershael York, pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky. I shared my story and asked for advice. Amazingly, he responded with encouragement and eventually invited me to do an internship under him at his church in partnership with the North American Mission Board. The time I spent with him and the amazing people of Buck Run was one of the greatest and most restorative seasons of my life. For nearly a year, I lived in the midst of a pastor who deeply loved his people and a people who deeply loved their pastor. It changed me.
Eventually I found a pastorate, where I have now served for 16 months. A text message I sent to Dr. York shortly after assuming this position remains true: “I’ve fallen in love with pastoring all over again.” Incredibly, I wouldn’t trade my experience if I could. God has graciously restored all that was lost and more. He revealed things to me about Himself that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. The final words of the famous poem by Martha Snell Nicholson have proven true: “Though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore, as long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more. I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace, He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Matthew Fowler is a pastor in Kentucky.)
9/5/2014 9:17:44 AM
September 4 2014 by
R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press
Matthew Fowler, Baptist Press | with 1 comments
The evangelical world, joined by no shortage of secular observers, has been abuzz about the latest soundbite of note from the Pastors Osteen – this time offered by Victoria Osteen as her husband Joel beamed in the background.
In her message, Victoria Osteen tells their massive congregation to realize that their devotion to God is not really about God, but about themselves. “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God – I mean, that’s one way to look at it – we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy. ... That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy....”
She continued: “So, I want you to know this morning – Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. ... When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”
Judged in theological terms, the Osteen message is the latest and slickest version of prosperity theology. Prosperity theology, promising that God rewards faith with health and wealth, first appealed to those described as “the dispossessed” – the very poor. Now, its updated version appeals to the aspirational class of the suburbs.
There is nothing really new in this message. Anyone familiar with the New Thought movement and later books such as Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich will see a persistent theme. The important issue is this – prosperity theology is a false gospel. The problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it aims for so little. What God promises us in Christ is far above anything that can be measured in earthly wealth – and believers are not promised earthly wealth nor the gift of health.
But to talk of the promises of God to believers is actually to jump outside the Osteen audience. The Osteen message does not differentiate between believers and unbelievers – certainly not in terms of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In their sermons, writings and media appearances, the Osteens insist that God is well-disposed to all people and wills that all flourish, but there is virtually no mention of the gospel of Jesus Christ. No reference to sin as the fundamental issue. No explanation of atonement and resurrection as God’s saving acts; no clarity of any sort on the need for faith in Christ and repentance of sin.
Instead, they focus on happiness and God’s “immeasurable favor” to be poured out on all people, if they will only correct their thinking.
As a thought exercise, let’s just limit the consideration to those people who have identified as Christians throughout the centuries. Does the Osteen message come close to their experience? Would it even make sense?
Just consider the fact that most Christians throughout the history of the church have been poor, and often desperately poor. They were not hoping to move into a suburban mini-mansion, they hoped to be able to feed their children one more day. That picture is still true for millions upon millions of Christians around the world today.
And that is just the start of it.
What about all those who are even now suffering persecution for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? What about the loved ones of the martyrs in Mosul? What about the Christians forced out of their homes and threatened with genocide? What about the children of Christians slain in Iraq and Syria just in recent weeks, or those martyred by Boko Haram in Africa? How does prosperity theology work for them?
In her recent work on prosperity theology, historian Kate Bowler traces the shift from what she calls the “hard prosperity” message of the early Pentecostals to the “soft prosperity” message of modern preachers like Joel Osteen. As Bowler explains, the new “softer” version of the prosperity message has “become the foremost Christian theology of modern living.”
Well, maybe. Prosperity theology certainly sells books and draws crowds in the United States, but what does it possibly say to a grieving Christian wife and mother in Iraq? How can it possibly be squared with the actual message of the New Testament? How can any sinner be saved, without a clear presentation of sin, redemption, the cross, the empty tomb and the call to faith and repentance? Prosperity theology fails every test, and fails every test miserably. It is a false gospel, and one that must be repudiated, not merely reformatted.
God’s pleasure in his human creatures centers in his desire and will that they come to faith in Jesus Christ and be saved. The great dividing line in humanity is not between the rich and the poor, the sick and the well, or even the happy and the unhappy. The great divide is between those who, in Christ, have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s glorious light.
Mere happiness cannot bear the weight of the gospel. The message of the real gospel is found in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” That is a message that can be preached with a straight face, a courageous spirit, and an urgent heart in Munich, in Miami, or in Mosul.
If our message cannot be preached with credibility in Mosul, it should not be preached in Houston. That is the Osteen Predicament.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)
9/4/2014 10:29:26 AM
September 2 2014 by
Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press
R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments
“Narcissism is increasing,” concluded W. Keith Campbell, head of the department of psychology at the University of Georgia, “notably in the form of grandiose narcissism and NPD [narcissistic personality disorder].”
Campbell made those observations in a recent article for the British newspaper The Independent, titled “Are we more narcissistic than ever?” He noted that American college students in the 2000s were more likely to be narcissistic than their counterparts in the 1980s.
Narcissism, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “an excessive self-admiration; excessive self-love; and exceptional interest in and admiration of yourself.”
Campbell, who along with Jean M. Twenge wrote the book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, believes there are three types of narcissism.
“Grandiose narcissism is the outgoing, extraverted form,” Campbell wrote in The Independent. It “starts with an inflated image of oneself. The narcissistic individual believes he or she is smarter, better looking and more important than others. And, of course, deserves special treatment for this fact.”
The second form, “vulnerable narcissism,” is “harder to see than grandiose narcissism. Vulnerable narcissists think they are entitled to special treatment ... but actually have low self-esteem and are not typically extraverted,” Campbell observed.
A vulnerable narcissist is likely to be argumentative and is a prime candidate to become an Internet troll who is hyper critical of others. The vulnerable narcissist seeks to display expertise without the risk of criticism or failure, Campbell wrote.
“The third form of narcissism occurs when narcissism is extreme and causes clinically significant problems in a person’s life – marriages fall apart, friends are lost, a career gets derailed,” Campbell wrote.
“When this occurs narcissism can be diagnosed as a personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder (also known as NPD),” he wrote. “NPD contains a mix of both grandiose and vulnerable narcissism, but researchers are still debating the ideal grandiose/vulnerable ratio.”
Few would argue with the professor concerning the prevalence of narcissism. Evidence abounds to support his conclusions.
However, the Bible first pointed out the reality that academics refer to as narcissism. Scripture used a much more succinct term to describe man’s adoration of himself: sin.
I believe the Bible goes further than psychologists and psychiatrists in describing man’s propensity for self-love. I believe it depicts men and women as addicted to self. They live for self in every way possible.
While Campbell believes narcissism is on the increase, I believe its rate of incidence has held steady for thousands of years. Indeed, every single person must contend with the siren song of self. Sin infects every person from the moment they are conceived.
But I do believe the unabashed, unashamed display of narcissism is on the rise. One reason for this is that social media has provided more outlets than ever to parade self-absorption. Self-addicted people saturate social media with constant comments, photos and videos about one thing – themselves.
Another reason for the increased display of narcissism is that people encourage it. Parents used to discipline toddlers for their self-absorption. Now too many view self-centered behavior as cute, video it and share it via Facebook and Twitter.
What is the answer to the rising tide of narcissism in our culture? How can it be stemmed?
Socialization of toddlers can help keep narcissism in check, and we can try to ignore adults who take pride in their self-addiction. But the only remedy, according to the Bible, is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
People must confess that their sin and selfishness are destructive and offensive to God. They must repent of this addiction to self, seek the forgiveness of the Lord and cry out for deliverance and change.
Jesus died on the cross to set people free from an addiction to self, which academics call narcissism. The Bible calls it sin.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press.)
9/2/2014 11:42:39 AM
Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments