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Guest Columns

Comebacks: Kansas City Royals & a local church

October 23 2014 by Mark Clifton, Baptist Press/NAMB

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Kansas City Royals began play in Major League Baseball’s World Series Oct. 21 against the San Francisco Giants. It is the first time the Royals has been in the series – or post-season play – since 1985. Kansas City church planter Mark Clifton draws parallels between the Royals’ resurgence and the re-launch of the Kansas City church he has led.)
 
Most of us who call Kansas City home never thought we’d see another day when our city would host a World Series game. For a decade, from 1976-85, the Royals were one of the dominant teams in baseball. Seven times in 10 years they went to the playoffs. Thanks to a future Hall of Famer, George Brett, and a great cast of supporting players, they were relevant nearly every year.
 
But the last time the Royals even made the playoffs was 1985, the year my son Trenton was born. This year, 29 years later with the Royals back in the fall classic, his son, my grandson, Jackson, was born.

MarkClifton10-23-14-1.gif

Mark Clifton

 

Yet the 2014 Kansas City Royals almost never happened. In 2002 Major League Baseball’s owners, looking to shore up the sports’ financial situation, actively discussed the possibility of contracting (disbanding) two teams. The Royals were among the teams rumored to be on the list.
 
Who could have blamed owners if they had done it? The Royals were at the tail end of eight consecutive losing seasons. After a slight rebound the following year, they’d go another nine losing seasons before having a winning season in 2013. In 2002 only three teams drew fewer fans. Only eight teams had lower player payrolls. The Royals looked done in 2002.
 
But the team didn’t die. And the revitalized Royals now sit four wins from the pinnacle of their sport.
 
Most evangelical churches in North America have much more in common with the 2002 Royals than the 2014 version. You’ve likely heard the depressing stats. Seven out of 10 Southern Baptist churches are either plateaued or declining. Most haven’t seen a “winning season” in more years than they can count. Southern Baptists alone close more than 900 churches each year, 90 percent of them in metro areas.
 
Kansas City’s Wornall Road Baptist Church was one of those churches about to close in 2005 when I was asked to become its pastor. At one time it was not only one of the most influential churches in our city, but it was one of the most influential in the entire country. But by the time I came, only 18 people called it home. The church had lost touch with its community and forgotten the primary purpose of its existence.
 
Like the Royals, Wornall Road’s best days seemed to be over. When I would attend Royals games, I would see the sign in the outfield celebrating the 1985 World Series champions. Rather than making me proud to be a Royals fan, they reminded me that greatness had not been part of this team for a long time. When we began the replant at Wornall Road, you could find memories of the great days of the past all over the church. But those great days seemed so long ago. Rather than serving as an encouragement, they served as a constant reminder of how far the church had fallen.
 
I knew accepting God’s call to replant Wornall would not be easy. (Any idea how many managers the Royals have gone through since their last playoff appearance? Ten. Losing seasons – whether in baseball or in ministry – tend to devour leaders.)
 
But God had other plans. The remaining people of Wornall made the extraordinary and all too rare decision of repenting for our past mistakes, praying with passionate focus and embracing meaningful and biblical change. Over the next several years the church began to grow. We became relevant to our community and we planted new churches. Today Wornall has become a church that many across North America have looked to as a model of how a dying church can live again.
 
Actually, the revitalized Kansas City Royals have much in common with Wornall Road. For example:

 

  1. We both built using the Farm System. In one of the smallest markets in Major League Baseball, the Kansas City Royals could never rely on signing a high-priced free agent. The team’s most important players – like Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez – came up through the Royals’ minor league system. Same was true for Wornall. We discipled the young people God brought our way. God turned them into leaders.

  2. We both focused on what we did best. No team in Major League Baseball had fewer homeruns than the Royals. What the Royals lacked in power, they made up with speed, defense and pitching. When you have only 18 people in the church, you can’t do everything. We weren’t going to compete with the regional mega-churches in the area. We didn’t even try. Instead, we focused on doing what a small neighborhood church could do best. We served our community with radical abandon.

  3. We both used what we had. The Royals still play in the same stadium that I visited as a boy. The stadium has been renamed and upgraded in parts, but it hasn’t changed much. In fact, the Royals considered moving downtown a few years back but instead decided to renovate the stadium they had. Our church building was constructed for a church three times our size. We chose not to move into a different existing church building nor build a new one. Instead we sought to redeem the building for Kingdom ministry. Today we use every bit of our building. We use it as an incubator for new churches – nine and counting. It’s also home to a maternity ministry and a children’s placement ministry. We’ve opened up the building for the entire community to use it, as well.

When you watch the World Series this year, you’ll see a completely different team than the 1985 version of the Royals. The 1985 team had power and big-name superstars. The 2014 team has neither. But again, the Royals are relevant in the baseball world.
 
Today’s Wornall Road Baptist Church doesn’t look much like the 1940s version. We don’t do ministry the same way. We don’t serve the community in the same manner. And we certainly don’t have the same cast of leaders. But we’re relevant and reaching our community once again. The power that enabled the first generation of Wornall members is again empowering this present generation, the power of the gospel as revealed and lived out in the lives of our members.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Mark Clifton (@johnmarkclifton) is the North American Mission Board’s lead strategist for church revitalization. In September, Clifton resigned as pastor of Wornall Road Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., to help transition the church to younger leadership. For information about NAMB’s church revitalization ministry, visit namb.net/revitalization.)

10/23/2014 11:44:13 AM by Mark Clifton, Baptist Press/NAMB | with 0 comments



Earthquakes – what good are they?

October 22 2014 by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press

The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 changed everything. In minutes, this thriving, affluent city was brought to its knees. Roughly 50,000 people died. The sky turned black. Fires raged. Then tidal waves washed over the port, drowning hundreds more.
 
Later, Voltaire wrote a poem challenging the prevailing view that this was a divine act of judgment. “Whilst you these facts replete with horror view, will you maintain death to their crimes was due?” he penned, adding, “Can you then impute a sinful deed, to babes who on their mother’s bosoms feed?”
 
Voltaire did not challenge the existence of God. He simply asked what kind of deity would create a world with such design flaws. It’s a question other thinkers of his day dared to ask as well – a question taken up by today’s ardent atheists and carried to the extreme conclusion that God does not exist.
 
The earthquake and tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia in 2004 and similar disasters that struck Haiti in 2010 and Japan in 2011 are more recent examples of what may be described as natural evil. While many atheists concede that moral evil exists in the world, the idea of natural evil seems to prove either that God does not exist or, if He does, He is not a compassionate all-powerful God worthy of worship.
 
Not so fast.
 

Plate tectonics

It is only in the last century that modern science has discovered the cause of earthquakes: plate tectonics, or the movement of giant masses of rock beneath the surface of the earth and the ocean floor.
 
As these colossal plates move and bump into each other, they sometimes rupture the surface of the earth, causing earthquakes. When these collisions take place beneath the ocean floor, the result is seaquakes followed by tsunamis.
 
In their book Rare Earth, Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee observe that Earth “is still the only planet we know that has plate tectonics.” They further show that plate tectonics is a “central requirement for life on a planet.” It’s also largely responsible for differences in land elevation that separate the land from the seas.
 
But there’s more. Plate tectonics recirculates carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and without carbon dioxide we would not have life.
 
Dinesh D’Souza writes in What’s So Great About God?: “The whole tectonic system serves as a kind of ‘planetary thermostat,’ helping to regulate the earth’s climate and preventing the onset of scorching or freezing temperatures that would make mammalian life, and possibly all life, impossible.”
 
Plate tectonics also aids the formation of minerals deep in the earth and their availability near the surface.
 
Finally, the tectonics system contributes to the earth’s magnetic field, without which earth’s inhabitants would be exposed to cosmic radiation.
 
So, in a sense, we owe our existence to plate tectonics and the earthquakes it produces. Of course, earthquakes often cause great destruction and claim the lives of many people. These are real tragedies that must not be minimized.
 

Creation’s labor pains

However, to make the leap from tragic consequences of natural disasters to accusations that God is aloof, petulant or non-existent fails on numerous counts. People die of heatstroke and skin cancer but that doesn’t make the sun – or its Creator – our enemy. Fires often devastate property and take innocent lives, but without fire many technological advances such as smelting metals would not be possible.
 
In addition, floods and hurricanes cause tragic death and destruction, but these natural disasters would be impossible without water, without which no living creature could survive.
 
The point here for Christians is not to concede the atheist’s viewpoint, or to admit that God is fallible simply because natural disasters occur with great force and frequency.
 
It’s true that something is wrong with the created order – and this has been the case ever since the man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. The apostle Paul writes that “the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now” (Romans 8:22).
 
But it’s also assuring to know that God works through our unbalanced world -- and its tragic outbursts – to protect and preserve life. He may choose to use nature as an instrument of judgment, as with the sons of Korah (Numbers 16:32). But mostly He works through the sinful and fallen world in which we live to keep it in check for our benefit.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Rob Phillips is director of communications for the Missouri Baptist Convention, also with responsibility for leading the MBC’s apologetics ministry in the state. This article first appeared in The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri convention. Phillips also is on the Web at www.oncedelivered.net.)

10/22/2014 11:43:14 AM by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



You can help same-sex strugglers

October 21 2014 by Bob Stith, Baptist Press

After British singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching announced her homosexuality earlier this year, some Christians reacted angrily, others defensively regarding an artist whose compositions have been sung in their churches for years. Some have posted letters, articles and blogs to prove her wrong. For the record I have no doubt her theological beliefs regarding homosexuality are flawed.
 
But as I read her story, I was reminded of how many times I’ve heard similar things from same-sex strugglers growing up in a conservative Christian environment. I ached as I read her account of the pain, fear and alienation she felt as she silently dealt with her feelings. I imagined this young girl who loved God, who was terrified of allowing anyone to know of her struggle.
 
At times Ms. Beeching mustered the courage to seek spiritual guidance. This did not end well. Certainly her recollections may be colored by her subsequent experiences, but I’ve heard similar stories from many who have overcome same-sex attractions.
 
Her story reminds me again of how crucially important it is for Southern Baptists to carefully analyze our attitudes and responses regarding those who struggle with homosexuality. I don’t mean just the pastor. I mean the church as a whole. Are our people trained to deal with this issue? Would your church have made a different outcome possible?
 
Some ideas to consider:

  1. Develop an ability to empathize. Tim Wilkins of Cross Ministries has said, “One of the reasons evangelicals have not made much progress in reaching homosexuals with the gospel is their failure to empathize with the excruciating pain homosexuals experience.” This doesn’t imply acceptance of sin. It simply means you are willing to realize a fellow human being is in pain. The old saying “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is certainly true here.

  2. Be prepared to walk with them. Too often Christians are more willing to give advice than to come alongside strugglers. I once counseled “Gene”* who left a very good job and moved 200 miles away to get help in overcoming his same-sex desires. Gene said he once worked up the nerve to talk to a pastor at his church. The pastor listened compassionately but never followed up in any way. Later Gene saw him coming down the hall and when he spotted Gene, the pastor abruptly turned and went the other way. Conversely, several have told me that their journey out happened because someone in their life loved them, unconditionally and consistently walking with them toward Jesus.

  3. Be ready to give an answer for the hope you have. Ms. Beeching said in an interview that the problem is that we take the Bible out of context. She mentions the prohibition against homosexuality and against shell fish both in the book of Leviticus. She also says that God is a God of love who loves her just as she is. Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay questioned opposition to gay marriage, also earlier this year. “We often say, ‘Scripture is clear about this or that,’ but the very fact that so many people disagree or have alternate perspectives or interpretations of scripture, means that we have to move beyond simply quoting a scripture to prove our point,” Haseltine said. How well and how winsomely would your church members answer these claims? Several new books listed in this Baptist Press story can provide help.

  4. Avoid saying “It’s just a choice.” You will likely lose any possibility of ministry if you do. Sin is always a choice. The particular temptation we face is not. Along those same lines, avoid arguing “it isn’t genetic.” There is a difference in genetic determination and genetic predisposition. We are all predisposed to sin. The Bible says we are all by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). It shouldn’t surprise us if that nature presents itself in sexual brokenness. Additionally, I have known many strugglers who were sexually abused. They didn’t choose that.

  5. Don’t demand higher standards of discipleship from same-sex strugglers than you would others (i.e., those living together, those leaving their mates for someone else, etc.).

  6. Help make our churches “safe” places for those who struggle with any sin. Familiarize yourself with where help can be found. Don’t just recommend anything or anyone until you acquaint yourself with what their beliefs are. I’ve known of “Christian” counselors telling someone they should embrace their identity as a homosexual.

I am saddened by reports of others who have “come out” as a result of Ms. Beeching’s testimony. Far too many Christians have accepted these arguments because they simply didn’t know how to respond lovingly and with sound apologetics. Do your church members?
 
*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Bob Stith (bstith777@juno.com) is founder of Family and Gender Issues Ministries in Southlake, Texas, who formerly served as the Southern Baptist Convention’s national strategist for gender issues.)

10/21/2014 2:34:43 PM by Bob Stith, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Houston’s First Amendment ignorance

October 21 2014 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

The city of Houston’s decision to subpoena pastors’ sermons and other communications concerning a controversial “equal rights” ordinance reflects a misunderstanding of the First Amendment as well as ignorance about rules for non-profit organizations in relation to political activity.
 
Additionally, it shows a complete misunderstanding of the church’s role in society.
 
In May, Houston’s city council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). The law passed by a vote of 11-6 and included special protections for the LGBT community. Churches helped organize opposition to the ordinance and launched a petition drive to place it on a ballot so Houston residents would have an opportunity to repeal it.
 
HERO opponents submitted 14,000 more signatures than were needed to qualify the ordinance for a ballot. But city attorney David Feldman declared enough of the signatures invalid to prevent a vote on repeal.
 
In response to the city attorney’s decision, opponents filed suit, charging that the city “wrongly determined that they had not gathered enough valid signatures” to qualify for a repeal vote.
 
After the lawsuit was filed, the city issued subpoenas requiring that five local pastors turn over “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”
 
Reaction to the subpoenas has been mostly negative. As a result, Mayor Annise Parker, who is openly homosexual, and City Attorney Feldman have tried to backpedal from the issue and say the subpoenas may have been “overly broad.”
 
Regardless of what Parker or Feldman say now, they previously made statements that reveal their ignorance related to the First Amendment as well as Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules that apply to non-profits.
 
Parker stated via Twitter on Oct. 14: “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game.” Feldman told the Houston Chronicle, “If someone is speaking from the pulpit and it’s political speech, then it’s not going to be protected.”
 
The Chronicle also reported, “Feldman said the pastors made their sermons relevant to the case by using the pulpit to do political organizing. That included encouraging the congregation members to sign petitions and help gather signatures for equal rights ordinance foes, who largely take issue with the rights extended to gay and transgender residents.”
 
Someone needs to point out to Parker and Feldman that the First Amendment was introduced to protect speech, specifically unpopular political speech aimed at criticizing the government.
 
Houston’s mayor and city attorney also need to understand that while the rules regulating the political activity of 501(c)(3) organizations do not allow them to endorse or oppose candidates, the rules do not prohibit them from political activity in reference to legislation.
 
IRS guidelines stipulate that tax exempt organizations are allowed to expend “an insubstantial amount” of funds on advocating for or opposing specific legislation.
 
The church “is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state,” Martin Luther King Jr. said. “It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.”
 
The power grab by Parker and Feldman reveals their ignorance of not only the First Amendment and rules regulating political activity of non-profits; it also shows a complete misunderstanding of the role of the church in society.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

10/21/2014 1:54:39 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Is gay marriage inevitable?

October 20 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court seems to be on a fast track to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. But that should not make believers abandon hope that America will uphold the historic definition of marriage – or stop working to that end. History and scripture are replete with examples of unforeseen reversals of cultural evil.
 
The Supreme Court has paved the way for expanded gay marriage by denying review of federal appeals court decisions overturning same-sex marriage bans in five states. The high court’s orders in the cases, issued Oct. 6 without comment, mean gay marriage will be legal in those five states and, presumably by extension, in six other states located in the same federal appellate circuits.
 
A federal appeals court decision a day later put gay marriage on a trajectory to become law in 35 states.
 
Some pro-family commentators responded to these actions by saying the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage is now inevitable. Others, like the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson, have taken a more optimistic tone, observing that the composition of the Supreme Court could change for the better before it takes up a case involving a gay marriage ban.
 
The procedural analysis on both sides has merit. However, there is also a spiritual analysis to be considered: God has brought corporate repentance and unexpected civic moral reversals before and could do it again.
 
In the Old Testament the pagan city of Nineveh repented at Jonah’s preaching and enjoyed God’s mercy for a season. The book of Judges recounts several instances of Israel crying to God after falling into sin and subsequently being delivered from powerful enemies. The kingdom of Judah enjoyed extended prosperity under King Josiah because he abolished pagan worship from the land and restored Temple worship (2 Chronicles 34-35).
 
In the New Testament Asia Minor’s idol makers feared they would go out of business because of the cultural impact Christians were having. One idol maker in Ephesus was so worried that he incited a riot (Acts 19:21-41). In Thessalonica an angry mob said of Christians, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (Acts 17:6).
 
In the 2,000 years since that time God has continued to use His church to effect periodic, and at times stunning, cultural transformations:

  • Within 300 years of Christ’s ascension, the Roman Empire went from being dominated by paganism to acknowledging Christianity as a favored religion.

  • In the fifth century, St. Patrick and other Christian workers helped transform Ireland from a pagan nation, where human sacrifices and public bestiality were practiced, to a land known for its monasteries and missionaries.

  • In 1807 the slave trade was abolished in the British Empire thanks in part to the tireless efforts of William Wilberforce, a Christian lawmaker motivated by his evangelical faith. Abolition came despite opposition from planters, businessmen, ship builders and even royalty.

  • Baptist missionary William Carey successfully campaigned to outlaw sati in 19th century India, a practice that involved widows incinerating themselves at their husbands’ funerals. Between 1813 and 1825, some 8,000 Indian women died through sati and few government officials opposed it.

  • Under the influence of missionaries, Hawaii was transformed from an animist nation (which worshiped nature) into a thoroughly Christian one within 50 years. Its 1840 constitution declared, “No law shall be enacted which is at variance with the word of the Lord Jehovah,” and Haili Church in Hilo became the world’s largest Christian congregation. Hawaii became a U.S. state in 1959.

  • Led by Christian ministers like Martin Luther King Jr., the American civil rights movement helped abolish legalized racial segregation in the nation.

Of course, many cultural evils have not been reversed. And Romans 1 identifies acceptance of homosexuality as a tipping point that can trigger God’s release of a nation to the consequences of its rebellion against Him. Still, scripture and history should drive Christians not to retreat or give up hope in the battle over marriage.
 
If God’s people pray persistently, preach biblically, vote wisely and make disciples faithfully, there is hope for another historic reversal of culture. It is still possible that America will define marriage legally as only a union between one man and one woman.
 
But even if such a reversal never comes and gay marriage becomes legal nationwide, Patrick, Wilberforce, Carey and King stand as encouragements for believers to resist ungodly cultural elites in the same way Peter and John did when they told Jewish authorities, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

10/20/2014 3:05:11 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Let’s thank our pastors

October 17 2014 by Kevin Ezell, NAMB/Baptist Press

Pastoral ministry can feel at times like a NASCAR race. Between preparing sermons, caring for hurting members and leading ministry efforts, pastors often run at breakneck speeds only to finish at the end of the week and do it all over again.
 
I talk to pastors all the time who are doing incredible work on Kingdom causes. They’re preaching Christ with boldness. They’re demonstrating God’s love to the neglected neighbors, communities and children around them. They’re mentoring young leaders and starting new churches in underserved regions of North America and around the world.
 
Yet many are desperate for refueling so they can finish the race God has set before them.
 
Before coming to the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in 2010, I served for nearly 25 years as a local church pastor in churches of every size. Obediently following the call to pastoral leadership can lead to much influence for Kingdom expansion, but it also can accelerate spiritual warfare.
 
Many pastors throughout North America are exhausted – and hurting. According to a LifeWay Research study in 2011, 55 percent of pastors say they feel lonely and discouraged at times.
 
For the North American Mission Board to complete the task with which Southern Baptists have entrusted us, we need healthy pastors. Healthy pastors are the fuel for healthy churches. Ultimately God didn’t give NAMB the responsibility for pushing back lostness in North America. That’s the job of local churches. As pastors lead in that effort, they need the rest of us to come beside them and lift them up.
 
We’re doing all we can at NAMB to help pastors and their families thrive. We’re hosting Pastors Roundtables where pastors can come and exchange ideas on topics of significance. We’re sponsoring marriage retreats to help pastors invest in their marriage. We’re partnering with First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., to bring pastor Johnny Hunt’s Timothy-Barnabas Conference to areas around North America where it has never been before. Recently we partnered with Focus on the Family to make a confidential pastoral care line available to all Southern Baptist pastors free of charge. The number is 1-844-PASTOR1.
 
Because pastors lead the churches we’ve been called to serve, I make it clear with our staff and missionaries that pastors are our number one customers.
 
But no matter what NAMB does to honor and support pastors, nothing compares to what local churches can do. Your pastor needs to hear from you about how God is using him in your life. He needs to know you appreciate all he does to care for, equip and mobilize your church for the mission of God.
 
October brings the observance of Pastor Appreciation Month and we’ve provided a variety of resources on our website to help your church show appreciation for your pastor. Some of these resources include:

  • A poster and/or bulletin insert with 50 Ways to Honor Your Pastor

  • Information about how to give your pastor and his wife a weekend’s stay at a bed and breakfast for 25 to 50 percent off and the ability to print off a certificate so you can award this to them in a worship service

  • Links to two smartphone apps that will help your pastor reboot his marriage and his spiritual life

No matter how you do it, make sure you take time to honor your pastor publicly. Let’s start the effort in October but keep cheering all year long.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Kevin Ezell (@kevezell) serves as president of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

10/17/2014 1:14:17 PM by Kevin Ezell, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



When the body betrays

October 16 2014 by Terri Stovall, Baptist Press

Walking back from the mailbox last week, I stopped cold in my tracks as I eyed the last envelope in the stack of magazines, junk mail and bills. I knew what it was before I even opened it – a letter informing me it was time for a mammogram.
 
Instantly my mind raced back exactly two years earlier. October 9th was a Tuesday. What I assumed would be a simple screening mammogram a week earlier led to a more detailed mammogram that led to a biopsy. The phone rang in my office as I was rushing out to chapel and I stopped to answer.
 
I still remember the first words the radiologist on the line said. “Mrs. Stovall, it’s for women like you that I do what I do.”
 
I am one of the lucky ones. They found the cancer in its very early stages.
 
The next six months involved a partial mastectomy, followed by a second surgery to get clean margins (i.e., they didn’t get it all the first time), six weeks of radiation, trying to tolerate cancer prevention drugs and, since my cancer feeds on estrogen, capping it off with a full hysterectomy.
 
In the midst of all the medical procedures and appointments, one question kept nagging in the back of my mind: What happens when the body betrays? That is, what if everything that culture and society claims defines me as a woman is either mutilated, diseased or removed – what then for a woman?
 
I have friends whose cancer was found at later stages, have undergone complete mastectomies, have bald heads, losing more of the outer appearance that screams woman than even I. And the question still hangs in the air: What does it mean to a woman when her body betrays?
 
Betrayal seems like a strong word, but that is what it felt like. In the midst of my breast cancer journey along with reproductive issues, I felt like my body’s betrayal was chipping away at who I was, making me question whether I was less of a woman than ever before.
 
I began to let feelings and emotions replace with lies what I knew to be truth. With focused intention, I had to take those thoughts, feelings and lies captive, countering them with the truth once again.
 
Society communicates and almost worships the physical aspects that defines one as feminine. The truth is, femininity is not just about body parts. God created me female, and being created as a woman is an essential aspect of my identity. My femininity, my womanliness, is not just what I am but also who I am. It is all the characteristics, nuances, crazy emotions, soft touches and nurturing heart that make me feminine. Neither surgeon’s knife, nor disease, can change what God knitted together from the beginning.
 
For it was You who created my inward parts;
 
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 
Psalm 139:13
 
A side effect and lingering consequence of the battle my body fought is less stamina, energy that wanes quicker and a brain that does not think quite as fast on its feet as it once did. For one who always tried to go extra miles and do all with excellence (think overachiever), I felt like I was losing my edge, which made me question my competency. I felt weak. The truth is, I am weak, and whether I live a life of perfect health or not, there will come a time my body will fail me. But God does His best work when I am at His mercy.
 
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.
 
Psalm 73:26
 
When I hung up the phone that October morning and walked on to chapel two years ago, my conversation with God ended something like this: “I don’t know what journey we are about to take, but Lord, help me to walk worthy.”
 
It isn’t always easy. Every day I am reminded of the toll my body has paid. There are days those questions, doubts, fear and pity begin to creep back in. And then there are days like last week, standing outside, holding the letter.
 
I try not to live in the “what ifs” or worrying whether the next mammogram will show that this monster has reared its head again. I do know that I am still a frail, weak woman who will face an anxious day with each trip to the radiologist. But I am determined, with focused intention, to hold on to the truths that God created me; He is my strength; I am His girl; and my Father has me tightly wrapped in His arms.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Terri Stovall is dean of women’s programs and associate professor of women’s ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. She is coauthor of the book “Women Leading Women” and a contributing author in “Teaching Ministry of the Church” and “The Christian Homemaker’s Handbook.” This column first appeared at BiblicalWoman.org, a blog of Southwestern Seminary.)

10/16/2014 11:57:10 AM by Terri Stovall, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Why Brittany Maynard’s choice is not personal or private

October 15 2014 by Joni Eareckson Tada, Religion News Service

It has been heartbreaking these last few days to hear the story of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old, beautiful young woman diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor and given only a few months to live. The saddest part of the story for me, however, is not her prognosis, but her decision to end her life prematurely on Nov. 1 through physician-assisted suicide.
 
I understand she may be in great pain, and her treatment options are limited and have their own devastating side effects, but I believe Brittany is missing a critical factor in her formula for death: God. The journey Brittany – for that matter, all of us – will undertake on the other side of death is the most important venture on which we will ever embark. So it must not be disregarded or brushed aside without thinking twice about the God who alone has the right to decide when life should begin and end.
 
Unfortunately, three countries and five states have now determined that individuals can make these choices for themselves. This is what happens when God is removed: The moral consensus that has guided that society begins to unravel. People in this country have bought into the premise that one really is better off dead than disabled.
 
In the Netherlands, for instance, doctors are free to decide whether a child born with a disability should live. The government has come up with a guideline of standards and if the medical team believes that the child – or the parents – would face significant suffering, then that infant can be euthanized.

gctada10-15-14.jpg

BR photo by K. Allan Blume
Joni Eareckson Tada is an author, disability advocate and the founder of Joni and Friends International Disability Center.

 

It shouldn’t be the state’s responsibility to help people who are despairing of their physical circumstances to kill themselves. Rather, let’s pour more effort into improving pain management therapies. Let’s channel more resources into the hospice movement. Let’s lift people out of depression through compassionate support and family assistance and help.
 
Romans 14:7 says, “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.” Brittany’s well-publicized decision is already influencing untold numbers of despairing people that physician-assisted suicide could be the answer to their problems. This is no way to strengthen care and nurturing in society; rather, such a decision further unravels the cords of compassion that have characterized our nation for so many decades. A right to privacy is radicalized by physician-assisted suicide — it does not strengthen the common good, but only alienates, separates and dismantles us as a people who truly care for one another.
 
If I could spend a few moments with Brittany before she swallows that prescription she has already filled, I would tell her how I have felt the love of Jesus strengthen and comfort me through my own cancer, chronic pain and quadriplegia. I would tell her that the saddest thing of all would be for her to wake up on the other side of her tombstone only to face a grim, joyless existence not only without life, but without God.
 
Brittany may think her choice is a highly personal and private one, but it is not. Already, her decision has reignited hotly contested debates as to whether physician-assisted suicide should be expanded beyond the five states where it is legal. Proponents of Brittany’s decision are already using her story as a bully pulpit to advance their so-called death-with-dignity agendas.
 
But should access to lethal prescriptions be considered as merely another menu item available for dying patients? Is good hospice care allowing for people to control the timing and manner of their deaths? I do not believe so. Expanding hospice “services” to include an option to be put to death would not enhance palliative care, but actually interfere with the proper delivery of hospice services.
 
There are good laws throughout the U.S. that help people die with dignity – laws that provide advanced pain management therapies for people dealing with intractable pain. Plus, people have the legal right to refuse treatment if they don’t want it.
 
In addition, legalizing physician-assisted suicide in more states may send a bad signal to families who have little access to health care dollars: Would we be saying to low-income families, “We won’t provide health care for your critical condition, but we can make it easier for you to commit suicide”?
 
Most of all, assisted suicide poses a real danger to people with disabilities. Who is to say when multiple sclerosis or ALS is classifed as “terminal”? People who receive a diagnosis of a chronic, disabling condition often experience suicidal feelings, but later adapt very well. Working through that initial period of despondency takes a lot longer than the “waiting periods” of existing physician-assisted suicide laws.
 
Only Jesus was able to transform the landscape of life-after-death by conquering the grave and opening the path to eternal life. Three grams of phenobarbital will provide only a temporary reprieve and will only more quickly usher in an eternity separated from God, which would be ultimate and pointless suffering.
 
Life is the most irreplaceable and fundamental condition of the human experience, and I implore Brittany and others considering her example to take a long, hard look at the consequences of a decision that is so fatal, and worst of all, so final.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joni Eareckson Tada is an author, disability advocate and the founder of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, whose Christian Institute on Disability aggressively promotes life, human dignity and the value of all individuals from a biblical perspective. Injured in a diving accident in 1967, Tada is one of the longest-living quadriplegics on record.)

10/15/2014 3:06:06 PM by Joni Eareckson Tada, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



What’s become of Christian hospitality?

October 15 2014 by Bob Carpenter, Baptist Press

I wish I could remember the name of the brother who greeted me and my family when we worshipped with Shadow Hills Church in Las Vegas.
 
Many years later, I keenly remember the warm, enthusiastic way he took us under his care to find the worship center, receive bulletins and meet a few others before the musicians signaled the beginning of the service. Most surprising was his enthusiastic offer, “Can you join my family for dinner after worship?”
 
I am certain it was apparent that we were just tourists and a family already practicing the faith, yet he still gave us the best welcome I have ever received from a church. I think of him often. He lived Christian hospitality.
 
Here’s the question: “What’s become of Christian hospitality?” Before you dismiss the question with the usual, “Times have changed,” “We’re all too busy,” “We’ve become impersonal,” or “It’s not safe to bring strangers into your home,” consider that hospitality is a command from God’s Word:
 
Romans 12:13b – “... practicing hospitality ...”
 
Hebrews 13:2a – “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers ...”
 
1 Peter 4:9 – “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”
 
The word translated “hospitable” or “hospitality” comes from two words which together mean “love of a guest/stranger.” Hospitality is one of the commands we inherited from the Jewish roots of our faith and had very practical applications in the early church – as well as God’s church today.
 
The reasons (excuses?) we cite for not being hospitable might apply in random instances but they do not explain the wholesale neglect of hospitality that often marks contemporary church life. That neglect weakens God’s church as we lose the warmth and vitality that follows obeying our Lord and the natural connections believers find in “showing love” to one another in our homes.
 
Hospitality imprints an authenticity on our faith that ministers to those outside the Kingdom. Longtime Colorado pastor Alexander Strauch, in his book “The Hospitality Commands,” writes, “We need a fresh vision of hospitality’s potential for strengthening our churches and for reaching our neighbors and friends with the gospel.”
 
There is great synergy with the two rewards Strauch notes regarding biblical hospitality. Hospitality to fellow believers fosters a depth of love in the church that is inviting to lost people. Hospitality to “strangers” is a disarming tool for sharing the gospel. Together they are powerful in God’s purpose to use churches to save sinners.
 
What to do? Organize a church-wide event in which we open our homes to one another; with a little coordinating, we can foster invitations between believers who do not yet know each other. For a personal approach, set aside one Sunday a month for inviting a family from church or a Sunday morning guest (or one each!) to share dinner with you after worship. Ask your pastor to suggest some new people you might host for a snack or meal. Invite a few folks for an impromptu ice cream sundae after Sunday evening worship.
 
The late expository preacher Stephen F. Olford once wrote, “No one can ever predict what eternal reward will be awaiting us for Christian hospitality. But even now there is a compensation in store for us. Hospitality is a thrilling adventure and brings wonderful returns.”
 
Remember what Jesus said in a parable about inviting the stranger into your home: “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Bob Carpenter is pastor of Cedar Street Church in Holt, Mich.)

10/15/2014 3:01:26 PM by Bob Carpenter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Peace that passes understanding

October 14 2014 by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press

Reading the headlines of any newspaper today can produce anxiety and uncertainty; there’s no end to what we can worry about in our world. But in Philippians 4:9, the Bible gives us a 24-word solution to 24-hour anxiety: “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”
 
Note the progress of the verbs. The apostle Paul had come to the city of Philippi teaching the truths of the Gospel, and the Philippians had learned the message, received it into their lives, heard it proclaimed and explained, and saw it demonstrated. Now, Paul said, “Put it into practice. Do it.” The promised result was that the God of peace would be with them.
 
Here’s the process Paul set forth to counter any terror that strikes our hearts:

 
Learn the message

First, we must learn the message. Without Christ, our world is a culture of fear. Without His forgiveness, we’re in danger of guilt. Without His pardon, we’re in danger of judgment. Without His life, we’re in danger of death. Without His promises, we’re in danger of chaos. Without His presence, we’re in danger of loneliness. Without His Gospel, we’re in danger of despair.
 
“But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
 
The truth of this message is the greatest weapon against inner fear ever devised.
 

Receive it into your life

Hearing this message, however, is useless unless it is received into our lives. Evangelist John Carrara grew up in an Italian-American home in New York amid the rituals of the church but without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. One day a friend shared the Gospel and his need to be born again. John decided to attend services at a nearby church where his eyes were drawn to a verse over the baptistry: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
 
The words “should not perish” struck at John like bolts out of the blue. He called on Christ to be His personal Savior. It’s not a matter of just hearing the message; once we receive the message, we are recipients of the peace of God.
 

Hear it proclaimed

Though our new birth gives a spiritual foundation for peace, it’s wonderful to grow in the peace of God that passes understanding. That happens as we hear the Word of God preached, as we listen to it read, and as we study it ourselves.
 
Did you know that the word “peace” occurs 401 times in the Bible? Here are four of my favorite passages:
 
“I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).
 
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3)
 
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27)
 
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, shall guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7)
 

See it demonstrated

We also learn about God’s peace by seeing it demonstrated in the lives of others. Paul told the Philippians to observe his life and put into practice the patterns they observed in him, and the God of peace would be with them. Through the years, I’ve learned a lot about God’s peace by watching others who knew Him.
 
How wonderful when we ourselves become a strength to others. Does your calmness, joy and inner peace overflow to others?
 

Do it

The last step is sheer obedience. Choose to trust God during difficult times, and learn to cast all your cares on Him. Paul told the Philippians, “The things which you learned ... these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”
 
We have that assurance, rest in it!
 
(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.)

10/14/2014 10:27:03 AM by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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