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:
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.
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
October 17 2014 by
Kevin Ezell, NAMB/Baptist Press
David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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:
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
October 16 2014 by
Terri Stovall, Baptist Press
Kevin Ezell, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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.
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.
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
October 15 2014 by
Joni Eareckson Tada, Religion News Service
Terri Stovall, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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.
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
October 15 2014 by
Bob Carpenter, Baptist Press
Joni Eareckson Tada, Religion News Service | with 0 comments
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
October 14 2014 by
David Jeremiah, Baptist Press
Bob Carpenter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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?
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
October 13 2014 by
Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press
David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
News outlets reported incorrectly that a Nebraska school district was planning to prohibit teachers from referencing students as boys and girls or ladies and gentlemen. But the desire to create a genderless society in America does exist.
Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel said Oct. 9 that "there's 'absolutely no truth' to news and blogger accounts that his district is mandating that teachers replace the terms boys and girls with gender-neutral terms," the Omaha World-Herald reported.
The superintendent explained that a committee at Irving Middle School obtained materials from a group called Gender Spectrum that included a tip sheet for creating an environment of gender inclusiveness.
The World-Herald reported, "Instead of calling kids with phrases like 'boys & girls' or 'you guys,' the tip sheet said teachers could say 'calling all readers,' 'hey campers' or 'could all of the athletes come here.' Students could be divided into groups assigned names. That way, for example, a teacher could ask 'all of the "purple penguins" to meet at the rug.'"
Superintendent Joel said nothing has been mandated in the Lincoln School District pertaining to gender inclusiveness. "The recommendations in the materials have not been adopted as district policy," he said.
Joel did say district officials will seek ways to make every student feel comfortable, adding he has no data on how many children enrolled in his district identify themselves as something other than a boy or girl.
"That's not data that we would commonly collect. We don't ask," Joel told the World-Herald. Russ Uhing, director of student services for the Lincoln district, said teachers and administrators have asked for help in dealing with transgender children, the World-Herald reported.
According to the American Psychological Association, transgender is an umbrella term used to describe individuals whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to their biological gender.
While reports concerning the banning of gender exclusive language in the Lincoln School District were inaccurate, they highlight the existence of a movement pushing for a genderless society. Initiated by homosexual activists, this movement wants any and all sexual expression to be viewed as natural, normal and healthy. It also wants references to male and female to become extinct.
American culture wrongly accepts the claims of this movement because we have allowed the reality of healthy sexuality to be jettisoned.
Male and female sexuality exists, among other reasons, for the purpose of procreation. Some sociologists insist incorrectly that sex is intended only for pleasure. But while few would disagree about the reality of sexual pleasure, the main purpose of male-female sexual complementarity is procreation.
In the biblical account of creation, God instructed man and woman to "be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth." The reason there are males and females of every mammalian species is for the purpose of reproduction.
If mammals reproduced in another fashion, if mammals were planted as seeds then harvested, perhaps sexuality would be irrelevant. But that is not how they procreate. Gender distinction is necessary for preserving the human species.
Those who seek to revise the norms of human sexuality point to homosexual behavior among animals. However, if there ever was a species of animal that was exclusively homosexual, it no longer exists. It would have become extinct because there would be no procreation.
There is a benchmark for normal sexuality and it is heterosexuality. Males and females exist to procreate. Yes, there are aberrations where couples can't procreate, or choose not to procreate, but they are deviations from the norm.
If the concept of male-female sexuality is ever replaced by homosexuality, transgenderism or bisexuality, the human race will slouch toward extinction. Perhaps the Lincoln School District should consider that as part of its discussion on a gender inclusive environment.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press.)
10/13/2014 9:53:56 AM
October 10 2014 by
Denny Burk, Baptist Press
Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
My heart sank when I heard the news about Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola victim discovered in the United States who passed away Wednesday (Oct. 8). I don’t know much about him, but I do know this: He traveled to the United States late last month after having contact with Ebola in Liberia. The disease overcame him after he arrived in Dallas.
Mr. Duncan’s condition became so desperate that his family members could no longer have video conferences with him. The sight of him was too unsettling for them. He died alone in an isolation ward yesterday morning.
Some people have suggested that Western indifference to the Ebola epidemic in Africa is a racial thing. I wonder if the lack of urgency doesn’t have more to do with the remoteness of Liberia from the everyday lives of average Americans. Mr. Duncan’s arrival in Dallas erased the distance that many Americans may have felt before. For me, anyway, Dallas was once my home. I still have many friends there. I used to live near Presbyterian Hospital.
I can imagine where he was. I can imagine him suffering there. I can imagine the horror of experiencing writhing pain and having to endure it all alone, with only the occasional stranger approaching in a Hazmat suit. His suffering – and that of his family – seems stark, real and very close to home.
I think it is fair to ask, “Why should you let yourself think about such things? It seems kind of morose and unproductive.” I suppose it could be that. But it also may be something else.
The Bible teaches us to put on a heart of compassion and to weep with those who weep (Colossians 3:12; Romans 12:15). Love teaches us not to stand aloof from the heartbreak of our neighbors. It means that sometimes we are going to have to let our neighbor’s pain in. And that means we are going to have to let ourselves think about it. That’s one of the ways that we love them.
Occasions like this also present us with another opportunity. The psalmist teaches us to pray:
LORD, make me to know my end,
And what is the extent of my days,
Let me know how transient I am.
Behold, Thou hast made my days as handbreadths,
And my lifetime as nothing in Thy sight,
Surely every man at his best is a mere breath. Selah.
Surely every man walks about as a phantom;
Surely they make an uproar for nothing;
He amasses riches, and does not know who will gather them.
And now, Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in Thee.
The psalmist confirms that it is good for us to realize that our days are numbered and that the end may come sooner than we think. This would only be morose if our expectation about God’s work ended with a contemplation of death.
Our contemplation of death, however, is supposed to bring before us the prospect of what is beyond. Our days are short but our hope is not in length of days but in the Lord: “My hope is in Thee.”
I do not mean to suggest that we are facing an Ebola epidemic anytime soon. I would like to think that assurances from President Obama and the Center for Disease Control are correct – that our health system can contain Ebola. Having said that, we shouldn’t put our faith in how many chariots and horses we can marshal for the fight (Psalm 20:7).
Nor should we be afraid to ask ourselves now how we should respond if the worst were to become reality – if Ebola were to overtake our own body or that of a loved one. If the worst were to come to pass, do you have a confidence in Christ that can handle Ebola? Do you have a confidence in Christ to know that He can glorify Himself by your life or by your death (Philippians 1:20)? Can you trust now that no matter what happens – even if you are alone in an isolation ward with a family who can’t bear the sight of your suffering – He will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5)?
I often think about Habakkuk and how he asked God not to stand by while the culture in Israel descended into godlessness. When God answered the prophet’s complaint, Habakkuk was surprised to learn that God’s judgments would be more devastating to the land than Habakkuk really wanted. It took some convincing for Habakkuk to see the goodness of the Lord in this, but he finally did see it. And facing the prospect of great suffering to come among God’s people, Habakkuk prays and expresses two things: 1) a request for mercy for God’s people and 2) confidence that God will be faithful to bring them through to the other side.
LORD, I have heard the report about Thee and I fear.
O LORD, revive Thy work in the midst of the years,
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy ...
I heard and my inward parts trembled,
At the sound my lips quivered.
Decay enters my bones,
And in my place I tremble.
Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress,
for the people to arise who will invade us.
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail,
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold,
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
This is not a pie-in-the-sky, praise-God-anyhow kind of faith. This is real, solid joy in the midst of real suffering. It’s the confidence that says, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him” (Job 13:15). It’s the kind of testimony that says that even if I lose everything – including my life – I still have everything if I have Him. It’s the kind of witness to the goodness of God that can only come about when God’s people experience pain.
We should not seek for suffering or wish it to come our way. God will bring our measure in due time (Philippians 1:29). We don’t have to go looking for it. But neither should we be surprised or unprepared when it comes (1 Peter 4:12). He has given us everything that we need for life and godliness, and grace will enable us to stand when the time comes (2 Peter 1:3).
So I’m thinking about a man in Dallas who took his last breath yesterday. But I am also thinking about a man today whose final breath may come sooner than he expects here in Louisville. And I am praying for the Lord to have mercy on him and his family and to make him ready to exalt Him either by life or by death.
And now, Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in Thee.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Denny Burk is professor of biblical studies and director of the Center for Gospel and Culture at Boyce College, the undergraduate school at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He is on the Web at dennyburk.com and is @DennyBurk on Twitter.)
10/10/2014 12:33:16 PM
October 9 2014 by
O.S. Hawkins, GuideStone Financial Resources/Baptist Press
Denny Burk, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
(EDITOR’S NOTE: O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, writes about the significance of the Cooperative Program to the viability of the SBC’s financial services entity. October is Cooperative Program Emphasis Month in the SBC.)
GuideStone Financial Resources, as we know it, would not exist were it not for the Cooperative Program.
That statement may seem odd coming from the president of an entity that, since 2008, has returned more than $10 million in Cooperative Program receipts for missions and ministry – and receives no money today – but it’s absolutely true.
The Cooperative Program unifies us as a people, unites us in a common mission and joins our hearts together in the cause of fulfilling the Great Commission.
The vast number of GuideStone employees – even those whose employment conditions don’t explicitly require it – choose to worship in and give their time, talent and treasure in Southern Baptist churches faithful to the Cooperative Program. Why do we support this mission when there’s no direct financial benefit to GuideStone? Simply because the Cooperative Program is the most effective means yet devised to carry out the supernatural task God has placed before us of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Here are some of the enduring values of the Cooperative Program:
It broadens our reach.
When people outside our convention hear “Southern Baptist,” certain things come to mind. Fidelity to the inerrant Word of God. Commitment to missions. A heart for service to others. All of these things are manifested in the Southern Baptist Convention because of our combined efforts through the Cooperative Program. In 2004, Southern Baptists enabled GuideStone to begin serving the needs of likeminded denominations and churches. Then again in 2013, the convention enabled us to serve those in the pew – as we have those in the pulpit – by making our nationally recognized investments available for retail investing. Both of these expansions allowed us to recognize additional economies of scale for the benefit of the Southern Baptist pastor at the crossroads.
How does the Cooperative Program help in those efforts? When GuideStone began reaching out to these likeminded entities and denominations, we did not have to answer questions about our capabilities. These organizations knew our key partners in SBC life as well as the services we provided for them. Our mission boards are the gold standard in mission-sending entities. Our seminaries are among the largest in the land. Our disaster relief ministry is called upon in times of national trial and need because governments and aid organizations know that Southern Baptists, as a people of God, can be counted on. In large measure, we are able to do our work in such dimensions thanks to the Cooperative Program.
It bolsters our resolve.
When we sit down to talk to our key convention leadership, we are always so thankful for the work God is doing through the Southern Baptist Convention. Because of Southern Baptists’ commitment to doctrinal fidelity, our churches are committed to giving, and that giving allows our leadership to attempt new things for the cause of Christ. For GuideStone, that means joining with our partners at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in standing up on behalf of pastors against the contraceptive mandate that would require us to provide abortion-causing drugs in our health plans, or on behalf of pastors as we fight for the housing allowance. Because of the Cooperative Program, we have partners we can trust to fulfill our educational and missional causes.
It bestows our resources.
We all must view life with eternity on our hearts. Through the Cooperative Program, we as Southern Baptists impact the eternity of untold millions. Seeds planted by missionaries today may burst forth into revivals half a world away tomorrow. Cooperative Program monies used to offset tuition for our seminary students today train the leaders of tomorrow, most of whom will have an impact on two or three generations to come. For GuideStone, the Cooperative Program continues to prepare our participants today for ministry tomorrow, even as our participants trust us today to help them prepare financially for tomorrow.
During a quarter century in the pastorate, I have been part of leading every type of church – from the concrete canyons of downtown Dallas and the historic First Baptist Church there to our first pastorate at the rural, western Oklahoma outpost of Hobart. Do you know the one commonality of pastoring one of the largest churches in our denomination and one of the average-sized churches in our denomination? The Cooperative Program. Through it, in both Dallas and Hobart, we were part of that effort of missions and education. Because of it, Southern Baptist churches for nearly 90 years have been able to “have the same love, share the same feelings and focus on one goal” (Philippians 2:2) – taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
10/9/2014 11:51:59 AM
October 8 2014 by
David E. Crosby, Baptist press
O.S. Hawkins, GuideStone Financial Resources/Baptist Press | with 0 comments
Thousands of Kurdish children have joined the millions of children worldwide who are crossing national borders seeking refuge in difficult times. Having neither the desire nor capacity to inflict harm on others, the children join their mothers and others in flight from harm.
Communities like the Kurds in Syria and Iraq, trapped in economic and political violence, push their children to the relative safety of the shadows. They end up being uninvited guests in host nations that have plenty of difficulties of their own – like Turkey.
According to the United Nations, more than 8 million children in the world are refugees in countries other than their own. Every single day, 32,000 people in our world leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere. Pakistan currently hosts the largest number of refugees, most of them from Afghanistan.
Who really wants these displaced children? They are a burden on the host governments. They cannot work, fight or contribute much in any other way. They need food, shelter, education and medical attention. At the outset, they are takers rather than givers.
Policies and procedures in the United States are noted and often mimicked around the world. The world has heard of the U.S. border crisis, these thousands of unaccompanied minor children knocking on our door. How we treat them is a model for the rest of the world to follow.
Some suggest that tighter border security is the key to this crisis. We build a solid wall, too high to scale and too deep to burrow under, running along our border with Mexico from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Children arriving at the wall can neither see nor contact these United States. The children are Mexico’s problem.
If you allow these unaccompanied minor children to reach American soil, then all kinds of moral and economic dilemmas confront you. Will you treat their wounds? Will you give them new shoes? Should you enroll them in your schools? How will they be fed and housed? Should they be adjudicated?
Such logic holds that the simplest solution to the problem of the child refugee is an impenetrable wall.
This approach would likely work with Turkey and the Kurds. Tighter border security would prevent needy, foreign children from becoming Turkey’s problem. The Turks could turn them back at the border. If the children happened to sneak through a hole in the fence, Turkey could simply pick them up and drop them back on the other side.
This is the solution being offered in boardrooms and break rooms around the U.S. concerning the influx of minor children here. “These children are not our problem. They don’t belong here. Don’t let them in. If they get in, drop them back on the other side of the fence.” Children who sneak into the U.S. may encounter a truncated adjudication process that amounts to little more than this.
I doubt this is sound economic and international policy. Should the rest of the world follow this model, children seeking refuge would starve to death curled up at the closed gates. This actually happens somewhere in our world every day.
The Christian view of these troublesome little ones is clear. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16). Jesus saw the children as neighbors – as individuals of infinite worth. He taught His disciples to receive the children, and His church is doing so around the world.
I hear people say, “We can’t take care of the rest of the world.” It is true. We have limited resources even in these United States. Millions of children trapped in desperation represent an overwhelming need.
The children of which we speak, however, are not the faceless millions in harm’s way, but the children knocking on our door. They are our neighbors now, standing at our door, and Jesus would have us love them as we love ourselves.
It is not Christian to say “Sorry, kids. We really don’t have enough to go around.”
The Christian thing to do is to invite them into your house, sit them down at your table, offer them a bed for the night, and the next morning do your best to figure out what is right and good for them.
We are now showing the international community how a nation full of Christian churches responds to needy neighbors at the door.
Children are knocking on doors all over the world. Each one has a unique story to tell about how they ended up at this particular door or gate. No nation can handle them all; but all nations can help, some more than others. We are doing good as we receive these child refugees, care for them and seek to understand their individual stories and to discover what is best for them and us.
Children are our greatest resource worldwide. They are the future of life on this planet. If we treat them with kindness, as surely we must, they will likely respond with gratitude and love. And that could initiate a more hopeful, peaceful future for us all.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - David E. Crosby is pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans.)
10/8/2014 10:52:56 AM
David E. Crosby, Baptist press | with 0 comments