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Guest Columns

Christmas: When family is far away

December 17 2014 by Kathy Ferguson Litton, Baptist Press

My late husband Rick Ferguson received a letter from a noted leader in Denver in November 1990 urging him to consider moving from our home state of Missouri to Colorado. In the letter he used this phrase from Acts 16, language from the apostle Paul’s vision, “Come over to Macedonia to help us.” And we like Paul concluded “that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them” and we went.
If you are in Chicago and your family is in Tulsa, or you live in Oakland and your family is in Fort Worth, or you are in India and two of your kids are students at Liberty University, you get this.
God calls us sometimes to leave comfort of family and friends for the sake of the gospel. There may be a true personal cost to obeying God, a cost that many will refuse to pay or will not be asked to pay.
The holidays can exacerbate that loss.
And let me warn you. Satan will fire his darts right at that vulnerable place.
I am a sports fan and it’s football season. Sports announcers are quick to point out that one team is more than willing to take advantage of another team’s weakness. If a defensive player has a slight knee injury, the quarterback will throw toward him, expecting the player to be weakened. He intends to capitalize on the other’s vulnerability.
Satan is exponentially craftier and exponentially more evil than the NFL. His goal: to stop the advance of the gospel as it brings complete glory to God. Though the Christ of Christmas dwells in each believer (after all, “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” Colossians 1:27, is the heart of the Christmas message), the “earthen vessel” dimension of our lives (see 2 Corinthians 4:7) creates vulnerabilities that Satan targets. If he sniffs out vulnerability in spiritual leaders, he will fully exploit it.
If you have been called to a far-flung place, the holidays may be a very vulnerable place. Deep longings for family and precious traditions will emerge. Nostalgia will arise from the familiar tunes of Christmas or recipes for homemade treats. A simple smell can stir a deep memory that may illicit tears.
If you are feeling vulnerable, consider these things:

Grieve the loss

Admit your sense of loss to the Lord. For some, that may mean giving yourself permission to sit down and have a big blubbering cry. Yes, that’s my advice. We all want to be “brave little soldiers” but truly, it’s okay to grieve. Hand those losses over to Jesus. Create a private sacred place to mourn. He will enter into that moment. Pouring out these tears and releasing the grief can create space for joy to replace that sadness.

Build a fresh holiday history

So grandma’s house and homemade donuts are out of the question? Then do something else. Your children are making their own holiday tradition under your watch. Make their memories powerful and joy-filled. Find a unique if not a crazy substitute for old traditions. “Yes, we always went bowling on Christmas Eve mornings,” can you hear your kids saying that to their kids?

Embrace others who are vulnerable

Others are in similar positions for different reasons. Gather with them. Easter was always a meal at the Ferguson home where a large collection of disconnected lives would gather for the required ham. We needed them and they needed us. If the truth be told, we needed them more.
Satan will be telling you, “EVERYONE is in front of picturesque cozy fireplaces with five generations in one room opening elaborate presents, with the most amazing pumpkin pie and praying together while simultaneously having outrageously fun snowball fights.”
Not true.
Countless others will be without loved ones. Find them. Serve someone else. Your newfound pain will create a missional platform of understanding and insight. God wants to use our losses for good.

Be aware of Satan’s schemes

Rick and I began to identify a pattern during the holidays. Rick would battle guilt as the leader of our household. He would feel guilty for his calling that removed us from our comfort near family. Eventually we saw this for what it was – hand-to-hand combat with a deceptive enemy of the gospel.
Please recognize his tactics. Battle them in prayer. Don’t take them personally because his ultimate goal is to thwart the gospel.
Don’t let your holiday vulnerabilities ambush you. And don’t let Satan “steal, kill and destroy” your joy and celebrations. Get with Jesus. He can give us peace that passes understanding.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kathy Ferguson Litton is the North American Mission Board’s national consultant for ministry to pastors’ wives. See more resources at NAMB’s www.Flourish.me website, an online equipping community for ministers’ wives.)

12/17/2014 2:11:34 PM by Kathy Ferguson Litton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

When truth is applied to the church first

December 16 2014 by Matthias Ponce-de-Leon, Guest Column

It is a great burden to see our culture shift so far from biblical truth on the issue of same-sex relationships. Scripture is clear regarding the sinfulness of these types of relationships. These behaviors are characteristic of cultures given to idolatry and all types of sexual immorality.
This does not happen suddenly or without warning. It is the neglect of the primacy of scripture that produces an acceptance of moral laxity. The Word of God is replaced by the word of man. Apathy of this nature does not happen outside of the church, but within. When the Word is neglected, the warnings about the danger of forgetting God and living according to self-will are missed. This process begins slowly and subtly. Churches seek to arrange life to suit their own will rather than aligning life to suit the will of God. Small concessions are made in morality that deprecates the Christian example.
The starting point of these concessions are in the areas of integrity and character – doing whatever I need to do, and saying whatever I need to say to get what I want. Before sin ever takes place in the church, it has already gained a foothold in the heart and mind of a believer.
Remember, the heart and mind, not the outward action of flesh, are the seat of defilement. When there are concessions in integrity and character, personal desires and opinions become the standard for actions among believers. The church, in such a state, is being propelled by the will of man and not God.
Consequentially, the church is plagued with the pressure to accept moral looseness and succumb because they do what they feel like doing. This is what the lost world sees from the church.
In many ways the silence over ungodly, unscriptural heterosexual relationships among believers has had the greatest impact upon our lack of influence than any other single behavior.
The problem can always be traced back to apathy and neglect of the Word. It sets an example to the world of the exact opposite of what the church is to be. The world becomes indifferent to the “noise” of the church and often views our “stands” as hypocritical. While our lips don’t promote same-sex relationships and unions, our hypocrisy does.
Until the church accepts responsibility for the role it has played in the production of the carnality that surrounds us, there will never be any progress.
What is tragically missed in the midst of all the anger related to the same-sex issue is that the church possesses the power of the Living God to radically impact the world.
What is going to transform the society is not the addition or subtraction of laws, but the establishment of genuine, blood-purchased, personal relationships with Jesus Christ! One of the greatest weapons in our arsenal is the union God has sanctified between one man and one woman for life. It is the “divine metaphor” of Christ’s love for His church!
Does the world see the beauty in the provision, protection and unconditional love in our marriages? Are we teaching our children through our example of the husband and wife relationship in our home? Are we teaching the definition of a covenant relationship and how careful and prayerful we should be when it comes to the marriage union? Does the church realize that our witness depends in large part upon the sanctification and success of our marriages? Our marriages should shout the awesome, beautiful love of the Savior! Do they?
As the church, we are bound to proclaim truth. The truth is, sin is never OK. It is the knowledge and acceptance of truth that brings freedom. We are in a challenging time where the temptation is great to find ways to distance ourselves from an extremely uncomfortable issue.

But this troubling issue is merely the next symptom in a progression of symptoms that always happens when God’s people neglect His Word. This progression will continue if there is not genuine repentance among the people of God for our own personal sin. Until the Lord calls us home, movements of God will always be initiated through the church, for that is where the power of God’s Spirit resides. If we are waiting for the world to change in any other way than that, we will continue to be disappointed in the direction of our society.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Matthias “Matty” Ponce-de-Leon is pastor of Arlington First Baptist Church in Jonesville.)

12/16/2014 1:09:18 PM by Matthias Ponce-de-Leon, Guest Column | with 0 comments

Embrace your place in God’s story

December 15 2014 by Tom Elliff, Guest Column

When our eldest daughter was only 4 years old, I went to her room to talk with her at the end of a very trying day. Sitting on the edge of her bed, I rehearsed some of the day’s events, hoping she would understand why her behavior had demanded a particularly stern amount of discipline. As I spoke, she fastened her eyes on mine, looking at me in rapt attention.
“She’s getting it,” I thought to myself, not just a little pleased at the effectiveness of my conversational approach. “I think she understands just how troubling her behavior has been.” My deep thoughts and stern lecture were interrupted by her small voice.
“You know what, daddy?” she asked in a voice that could not conceal her wonderment. “I can see me in your eyes!” The truth had now surfaced. Her rapt attention had nothing to do with my lecture. Instead, she was overcome at the way her face was reflected in my eyes!
Since that interchange with my daughter, I have often thought of her exclamation, “I can see me in your eyes!” If you gaze into the eyes of your Heavenly Father, you will see the same. You are in His eyes.
You have a place in God’s story.
This year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) theme, One Sacred Effort – Find Your Place in God’s Story, is designed to help each of us see our role in God’s great plan of redemption. Yes, you do have a place in His story.
When the Southern Baptist Convention was formed over 169 years ago, missions was the centerpiece, the stack pole around which Baptists placed their hearts, burning with a desire to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. They believed that missions is the one sacred effort that should bind us together.
The International Mission Board (IMB) is, in fact, Southern Baptist churches focused together in one sacred effort to fulfill the Great Commission.
IMB, originally called the Foreign Mission Board, quickly found its place in Southern Baptist hearts. And we found our home in Richmond, Va., from which missionaries of old would travel down the James River, out into the Chesapeake Bay, and from there across the oceans over which many of them would never return. On some occasions missionaries actually packed their belongings inside the very coffin in which they would later be buried.
One Sacred Effort. That’s what it will take for us to reach the world with the message of Christ. And you, your church and all Southern Baptists have a place in God’s continuing story of redemption. Missions requires teamwork. At the very outset we are each co-missioned by Christ, joining Him and others in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. What is your role? Going? Letting go? Helping others to go? Praying for those who go? What a wonderful sense of fulfillment comes when you find your place in God’s story.

This year, join Southern Baptists everywhere in One Sacred Effort. Find your place in God’s story.
Here are some resources:
  • Pray: pray.imb.org.
  • Give: give.imb.org – to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions through your local Southern Baptist church.
  • Go: going.imb.org – has guidance on volunteer, partnership and career service opportunities.
  • Connect: View a related video on One Sacred Effort at vimeo.com/96915293, as well as at imb.org/lmcovideo.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Elliff is IMB’s past president.)
12/15/2014 2:04:52 PM by Tom Elliff, Guest Column | with 0 comments

FAYETTEVILLE: When an LGBT ordinance comes to town

December 12 2014 by Douglas Falknor, Baptist Press

Although I have been in the ministry nearly 30 years, the Fayetteville ordinance promoting the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) agenda was the first time I felt the need to oppose the local government to stop an action they had taken.
On Dec. 9, Fayetteville voters successfully repealed the ordinance, which the city council had enacted on Aug. 19. While I will be glad for this issue never to occur again, a few lessons have been learned along the way:
Work with others.
From the first days that this ordinance was proposed, many people expressed a desire to stop it from going into effect. I was asked to host a gathering of interested people to discuss what steps could be taken. Leading this meeting was akin to herding cats with so many emotions and ideas from so many different leaders, but it was important to begin the organizational process. While this initial meeting was comprised mostly of pastors and other church leaders, successfully repealing the ordinance required broadening the base of active opposition to include business owners and others from the community.
Recognize the important role of activists.
Some people are comfortable – even energized – by the role of activist. I am not. Activists sometimes make me uncomfortable. However, successfully overturning bad laws requires someone who will spend hours tirelessly making phone calls, strategizing, knocking on doors and encouraging others. Activists often need us non-activists to keep them more balanced, but we need them to beat the drum for change.
Money is helpful; people are essential.
In Fayetteville, the supporters of the ordinance received over $190,000 in donations (including "non-money contributions") while opponents received $35,000. The difference, however, was the broad-based support for repealing the law. People from every part of the city spoke out in the city council meeting, gathered signatures for the petition, put out signs for repeal, and, most importantly, voted.
Lead in your own church family.
As a pastor, I spoke for repeal of the ordinance during worship services, addressed the ordinance in newsletter articles, and emailed the church family a reminder to vote. Churches, especially pastors, need to remember their responsibility to lead in moral and religious freedom issues. Our words must be gracious and compassionate, but they must also be clear and biblical.
Stay focused on your purpose.
It is tempting to focus all of our energy on stopping a bad law and bringing change through political activism. As important as that work may be, we remain focused on our mission of changing lives by proclaiming the good news of Jesus. Elections will be won and lost. Bad laws could negatively impact us and religious freedoms may be lost. But we will continue to declare "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" and "whoever believes in Him will have eternal life" (John 1:14; 3:16).
(EDITOR'S NOTE – Douglas Falknor is pastor of First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ark.)

12/12/2014 1:06:09 PM by Douglas Falknor, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Missions: The relevant call of Lottie Moon

December 11 2014 by Randy David, Baptist Press

A diminutive woman named Lottie Moon sat down at a table in China on Sept. 15, 1887, and penned a letter that would transform the Southern Baptist Convention forever.
Lottie called for prayer and financial resources to ensure that the gospel would be effectively preached, linking them to the example found in Christmas. She wrote:
“Need it be said, why the week before Christmas is chosen? Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?”
Fortunately, Southern Baptists were wise to follow her lead and eventually formalize two significant giving opportunities to accomplish her goal of gospel proclamation: the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
The Cooperative Program is how Southern Baptists decided 90 years ago that we as a network of churches could most consistently and effectively give financially to ensure the advancement of the gospel within our states, across our nation and around the globe. I’ve often wondered if our forefathers could have ever imagined the impact that single decision would make in Southern Baptists staying the course as a Great Commission people.
The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions goes beyond Cooperative Program support for our missionaries and is also a lifeline for funding and sustaining missions overseas. Our 4,800 overseas personnel depend on the Lottie Moon offering for ministry support that includes vehicles, housing, equipment and ministry budget among other needs. It means everything to them financially. As a result of generous giving by Southern Baptists, our missionaries can spend their time preaching the gospel rather than raising support.
There are some who believe we must rob one of these giving opportunities to pay the other, that if we give more or less to the Cooperative Program then it is either to the benefit or detriment of the Lottie Moon offering.
That simply is not the case. In fact, I’ve found the opposite to be true: The more we give to one, the more we give to the other. “Why is that?” you ask. I’ve not done a formal analysis of it, but I can offer an informed opinion after nearly four decades in ministry.
Here are a few thoughts on how both can increase simultaneously:
Increased giving comes from a correct biblical worldview.
The Bible is distinctively clear: Jesus’ expectation of us is that we will go into all the world and reach the nations with the gospel. If that truly is our passion as well as our mandate, we will do whatever it takes, and that includes joyfully giving. A correct biblical worldview reorders how we spend our money. We’ll see missions as an eternal investment rather than a budget line item.
Increased giving comes because missions is a priority of the pastor.
In virtually every case, the church whose pastor leads it into the community and around that globe sees an increase in generous giving and a desire to see souls saved. I’ve seen pastors for years protect their budgets and worry that missions will bleed off valuable resources.
This is a lie I’m convinced Satan has perpetrated on pastoral ministry because it is the antithesis of what the Bible calls us to as shepherds of our local flocks. Pastor, lead your people into the harvest fields at home and around the world and watch how the Holy Spirit will set hearts afire for the advance of the gospel.
Increased giving comes because pastors preach and teach biblical stewardship.
Yes, I know money is a sensitive subject, but it is like any other doctrine we teach from the pulpit. Pastors, if we don’t teach what the Bible says about financial stewardship, then the majority of our people will never learn biblical stewardship from any other source.
Make it a priority, teach so they’ll grow to maturity, challenge them in light of the Great Commission, teach giving on a regular basis above tithes and offerings (yes, that’s biblical too) and set big goals to accomplish over a period of time.
Increased giving comes as a matter of prayer.
This is actually where a pastor should begin and then lead the church to pray for its giving.
The world is a never-ending source of need. There is no way even cooperatively we can alleviate all that is spiritually and physically wrong with nearly 8 billion people. However, the Holy Spirit has mightily used both the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon offering to advance the Kingdom of God.
But even within these two giving opportunities the place to start is with people. Ask, how can God use you, your resources, your church and your church’s resources to impact the lives of specific people in your community, nation and the world. See the people. Don’t pray for the masses; pray for individuals. See them, go meet them, know the challenges they face in life. Then pray. I honestly believe you’ll see a marked change in your generosity.
This holiday season, Lottie Moon’s call for international missions is as relevant today as it was 130 years ago. This truly is “the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Randy Davis is executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)

12/11/2014 11:57:50 AM by Randy David, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

A schizophrenic Moses?

December 10 2014 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

According to the Hollywood Reporter, actor Christian Bale has said of Moses, “I think the man was likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life.” This on the completion of his new film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” wherein Oscar winner Bale played the man who led the Jews out of bondage and into the Promised Land.
Having seen the epic and special effects-laden story of Moses, I can assure you that what you see in the theatrical trailer is what you get in the film – one enormous computer-generated imagery (CGI) spectacle after another.
Defiance, battles, and slow-motion splattering of blood are also plenteous in the film opening Dec. 12. What there is little of is the true nature of the biblical story and the man Bale calls schizophrenic.
In the 20th Century Fox production, Moses is equal parts Streetcar Named Desire’s Stanley Kowalski and General Patton. Bale portrays Moses more as a military figure than humble messenger of God. And God is played by a little boy in a silly artistic choice done possibly to take from the Almighty His majesty.
This rather jaundiced view of Bible heroes may be a trend in upcoming screen versions of biblical stories. There just doesn’t seem to be a shortage of men in Hollywood who like to borrow from the Bible, yet don’t believe a word of it.
In “The Red Tent,” a contemporary made-for-Lifetime-TV miniseries that examined the story of Jacob and Joseph from the perspectives of the men’s wives and their maidservants, Hollywood finally discovered how to produce a biblical story that has nothing to do with God. God isn’t a supporting character in The Red Tent, or even an extra. He’s only mentioned in passing, and mostly with a negative connotation.
Top heavy with scream-fueled childbirths and more family turmoil than a TV soap opera, the production gives writers plenty of latitude concerning the biblical accounts of Jacob and Joseph. Indeed, one senses that the filmmakers had no conception of the relationship between God and the characters portrayed.
Much the same can be said of Exodus: Gods and Kings. Rather than the reverential appeal that has caused biblical epics such as “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben Hur” to remain popular on DVD, Exodus: Gods and Kings seems more in the mold of trendy comic book superheroes. The filmmaker chooses not to have a meek Moses approach Pharaoh with God’s warnings, but just lumps all the plagues together. This is a shortcoming, because without the warnings, you belittle the fact that the leader of Egypt kept hardening his heart (a symbolic characteristic that indicates man’s nature).
Several religious organizations have become concerned with the secularization of Old Testament accounts after the 2013 “Noah.” Director Darren Aronofsky, a professing atheist, incorporated CGI tools to create giant rock people designed much like Transformers to represent fallen angels who help Noah build the ark. But Aronofsky failed to connect the intimacy between God and those He used to build the nation of Israel.
This same comic-book mentality has also been rendered by action director Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Robin Hood,” “Gladiator”) in his reinterpretation of Scripture. And from viewing any commercial for Exodus: Gods and Kings, one gets the distinct and sadly correct impression that this screen version is mainly about battle and spectacle. It’s not about the power of God, nor one man’s faith in his Creator. It’s about power-mad men, and CGI.
Justin Chang of Variety Magazine said, “What’s remarkable about Scott’s genuinely imposing Old Testament psychodrama is the degree to which he succeeds in conjuring a mighty and momentous spectacle.”
To be sure, audiences looking mainly for spectacle will get their money’s worth in the $140 million production. Unfortunately, when the film gives pause for narrative, those in charge seem bent more on questioning faith in God than reaffirming it.
This is a film determined not to emphasize the majesty and authority of God, but merely to paint Him as a petulant schoolyard bully.
Scott has previously declared his disdain for organized religion, and while he has used biblical themes in several movies, often he seems to be preaching from a myopic mindset bent on discrediting biblical teachings. Now Bale has in one sentence belittled God, Moses and the faithful. For what purpose?
Too often there comes a point in an artist’s career when he feels invincible and unthreatened by the Creator. He shows not even the slightest politically correct sensitivities for those who embrace religious convictions. And certainly, there is no reverence shown with his rather draconian statement in his assessment of the Creator.
It’s difficult enough to bring spiritual matters to the motion picture screen, but much more difficult when the filmmakers lack a spiritual connection.
When a filmmaker takes on a biblical story allowing such skepticism to become the thrust of his movie, he does so with an agenda. What audiences are left with is a vibrant but shallow screen adaptation that’s more Marvel magazine than Old Testament Scripture.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org and is a regular contributor to “The World and Everything In It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.)

12/10/2014 11:31:03 AM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Arkansas: America’s current religious liberty battleground

December 8 2014 by Ronnie Floyd, Personal Blog

Tuesday, December 9, 2014, is not just a big day for Fayetteville, Ark., but also for America. We believe it is America’s current religious liberty battleground.

A Brief History

Just over three months ago, the Fayetteville City Council passed what is called a civil rights ordinance, now known as Chapter 119. This ordinance granted special rights to individuals because of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. These are commonly referred to as Sexual Orientation Gender Identity (SOGI) ordinances.
A national group called the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is trying to use local city councils to advance their agenda, and they are actively working in cities across America to pass these laws. Recently, cities like Houston and San Antonio had SOGI laws passed, but those laws were not even as bad as the Fayetteville ordinance.
This Ordinance is so bad, the Chamber of Commerce and the Northwest Arkansas Editorial Board are standing against it.


SBC president Ronnie Floyd


In the Sunday, December 7, 2014 edition of the Northwest Arkansas Times, there was a full-page advertisement entitled, “Vote to Repeal Ordinance 5703 Chapter 119.” This article offered seven reasons why the voters of Fayetteville should repeal Ordinance 119. Just one of the reasons they listed: “119 places Fayetteville businesses at a distinct disadvantage and has the potential to bring economic development in Fayetteville to a screeching halt.” In other words, this is bad for businesses and for the future economic development of Fayetteville.
On November 29, the Northwest Arkansas Times Editorial Board also encouraged the citizens of Fayetteville to repeal the ordinance. Their reason is summed up, “It’s a bad ordinance, no matter how well-intended it is.”
Thank you, members of the Chamber of Commerce and the Northwest Arkansas Times Editorial Board, for encouraging voters to repeal Ordinance 119.
We believe this ordinance attacks the very foundation of our religious liberties.
Yes, we do believe Fayetteville, Ark., is America’s current religious liberty battleground. Let me give you a few brief examples of what may happen if this ordinance is not repealed:

  1. Christian small-business owners could be fined or even face jail time if they refuse services to one of this new protected ‘class’. Just like the recent episode with a baker in Colorado, if someone refused to bake a cake for a same sex wedding because it violated the business owner’s conscious or religious view, they would now be violating the law.

  2. Small business owners are faced with more regulation and less religious freedoms in the hiring and firing process than any other place in the country.

  3. Churches must allow a biological man, who identifies himself as a woman, to use the women’s restroom, and it would be an illegal act for the church to stop this use.

  4. Churches now must hire a person who is not of the same belief as the church for any job except a pastor, such as a secretary or custodian.

  5. Pastors face fines and potential jail time if they refuse to marry a gay couple. These fines could reach $8,500 in the first 30 days, and if not paid, they could be put in jail.

This is why I am urging the residents of Fayetteville to vote For Repeal 119 on December 9.
Fayetteville, Arkansas is America’s current religious liberty battleground and it is coming to your region soon.
This is the nation’s current battleground on which to stand for religious freedom. Fayetteville, please rise up and send a clear and compelling message to all those propagating this agenda – that the people of Fayetteville will stand up and protect our religious freedoms. Fayetteville is the first city to get this issue on a public ballot, and the first city with a chance to repeal this ordinance. This is the chance for Fayetteville to make a national impact by becoming the first city to reject this offensive SOGI law.

Two Final Notes of Clarity

I would like to close making two final remarks of clarity for everyone.

  1. Our stance against this ordinance is not a stance against people, but against this ordinance.

  2. Regardless of whether this ordinance is repealed or not, our hope is in the gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus came to die for each of us, regardless of our backgrounds or present practices. We are all sinners and fall short of God’s glory. This is why Jesus died for each of us – so we could be forgiven, have purpose for life today, and spend eternity in heaven with Him one day soon.

So when the sun rises on Dec. 10, 2014, Jesus will still be Lord over all. Our hope is only in Jesus and in His eternal Kingdom.
Yours for the Great Commission,
Ronnie W. Floyd
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article was originally posted on Ronnie Floyd’s blog, RonnieFloyd.com/blog.)

12/8/2014 9:16:53 AM by Ronnie Floyd, Personal Blog | with 0 comments

Fayetteville: clarity, compassion, Christ

December 5 2014 by Douglas Falknor, Baptist Press

Word began circulating around our community that our city council was considering an ordinance promoting the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) agenda. Instead of relying on others’ reports, my wife and I, with our 8th-grade daughter, decided to attend the next council meeting here in Fayetteville, Ark.
It was quite an eye-opener.
After a civil discussion by nearly everyone about an overreaching and broad ordinance, that portion of the meeting was ending. Then a councilwoman, commenting on the pastors and other Christians who spoke against the ordinance, shared her thoughts.
“I am ashamed,” she said, “that there is so much darkness in the hearts of this community.”
Her comments set an uncivil tone for many of the promoters of this ordinance. It would not be enough to disagree; all opposition must be smeared.
How, then, should followers of Christ respond when our elected local government works to legalize and promote immorality while publicly attacking people faithful to Christ and His Word?
Let’s move forward with:
Clarity – Our objections to bad public policy need to be presented as coherently and persuasively as possible. How will we encourage sympathetic city council members or city residents -- much less those who are ambivalent or opposed to our view -- to vote against bad legislation if we do not give them a reason?
For example, the Fayetteville ordinance prohibits churches from refusing to hire as a receptionist, childcare worker, custodian or any other “secular” position an individual who is transgendered. If a complaint is filed, the church/pastor could be charged with a criminal violation of the ordinance. Proponents of the law dismiss the charges as “only” a third-degree misdemeanor.
Yet, it is not reasonable for a church, pastor or any other Christian in the community to be charged with a crime for living in obedience to their faith. Would a Sikh man be required to shave his beard? Would a Muslim woman be required to eat pork? Why, then, would Christians be required to accept homosexual behavior?
Compassion – When our words, attitudes and actions about divisive and difficult issues consistently reflect grace and love, God uses our obedience during adversity to grow us and others to be more like Jesus. Instead of speaking words which are cunning, crafty and scheming, the Bible instructs, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
My heart must continually grow to be like Jesus so I will see each person like He sees them. Only when the love of Christ for others fills my life can I show His compassion for every person. Words have meaning, and poorly chosen words can convey un-Christlike attitudes and wound the spirit. The goal should be to “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians. 4:6).
Showing compassion to each person will not result in everyone saying nice things about us. We may still be slandered and attacked. Jesus was. Paul was. And we will be. We will need to develop a thick skin while revealing a compassionate heart.
Christ – The real problem in my city is not elected officials who attack our worldview or bad laws attacking religious freedom while purporting to protect rights. The real problem is people bound by sin. We are all “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).
In every way, then, we must proclaim the excellencies of Jesus who called us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
We do not choose between involvement in the public square to defeat bad laws or preaching Christ; we proclaim Jesus through every endeavor. As we work in the public square, our focus remains on pointing people to Jesus. Christ alone can change the hearts and minds of each person and even the direction of an entire community.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Douglas Falknor is pastor of First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ark.)

12/5/2014 1:11:26 PM by Douglas Falknor, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Tips for beating holiday stress

December 5 2014 by Michael Lewis, NAMB/Baptist Press

The holiday season is one of my favorite times of year. I love the opportunities it brings to spend time with my family and friends, enjoying good fellowship and good food in the process.
And to top it all off, we get to celebrate the birth of our Savior. It’s truly an amazing time.
As a pastor for the last 25 years, I am extremely grateful and appreciative of being part of loving church families. But I have to admit the holidays can also be a busy and stressful time for those in ministry leadership. You’ve got musicals, Christmas parties, dinners, family engagements, ministry outreach efforts, sermons to put together each week and to possibly prepare for a Christmas Eve worship service – one of the highest attended gatherings of your church year.
I’ve made my share of mistakes during the holiday seasons and I’ve also learned some things in the process. Here are a few of the practices that have helped me have a more fruitful and rejuvenating holiday season.

  • Give yourself permission not to attend every event. Church members love to invite pastors (and their families) to their holiday gatherings – from Sunday School Christmas parties to family get-togethers to community celebrations. Many of these invitations will come at the last minute. You don’t have to accept them all. In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable – and honest – to say you have other plans when you simply need to spend some time with your family.

  • Stay home if you sense your family is stressed. Your family doesn’t have to attend every event. Stay sensitive to your family’s stress level. When you can’t make an event, contact the organizers as early as possible so they can communicate it to the others in attendance.

  • Make your presence felt at musicals and special services. Most churches have special events during the holiday season where larger-than-usual crowds will be expected. Take the time during those events to connect with as many people as possible. Shake hands, hug necks and write down prayer requests. Show your community you care during those times.

  • Don’t schedule extra events during the holiday season. You may be tempted to schedule something new and unique during this time. Think hard before doing so. Your calendar will already be full. What seems like an amazing holiday ministry event in July will easily turn into one more stress-filled commitment when December comes.

  • Commit to serve at a Christmas Eve service two out of three years. Most likely you have a retired pastor or director of missions who would love the opportunity to lead your Christmas Eve service every third year. This gives you an opportunity to visit extended family or just be a normal person during the holidays.

  • Keep your walk with Jesus vibrant during this time. Keep up your personal devotional time during the holidays and be prepared to take even more time away for spiritual reflection. The holidays aren’t just physically, emotionally and mentally draining. They can be spiritually draining, too! Make sure you keep yourself recharged.

  • Schedule a special date night with your wife. The holidays are a busy time. Take some time to fully communicate to your wife the special place she holds in your life. Use the time to plan your holiday budget and get your schedules in sync.

Remember that you don’t have to go through the stressful holiday season alone. If you need someone to talk with, please consider calling our new SBC Pastoral Care Line at 844-PASTOR1. It’s completely confidential and free to use.
I hope you have a great holiday season as you celebrate the birth of our Lord.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Lewis (@pastor4pastors) serves as the North American Mission Board’s executive director of pastoral care and development.)

Related Story:

Limits, exercise advised for pastors' stressful December

12/5/2014 1:03:52 PM by Michael Lewis, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Where global outreach begins

December 4 2014 by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Missions columnist Erich Bridges, writing in conjunction with Southern Baptists’ Week of Prayer for International Missions, notes that a vibrant spiritual relationship with Christ is foundational to global outreach. “One Sacred Effort – Find your place in God’s story” is the theme for the Nov. 30-Dec. 7 prayer emphasis in support of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches undergird approximately 4,800 international missionaries in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at imb.org/offering, where there are resources to promote the offering.)
Light shines brightest in darkness – even in the murk of a stagnant water canal near a village in southern Asia, where six new believers in Christ are baptized.
“I want to follow Jesus!” says Dhanwan, one of the six, who became a Christian through the church-planting network led by Christian worker Mitch Englehart* and his national partners.
The local pastor baptizes Dhanwan, who in turn baptizes the next new believer, who baptizes the next. Mitch has seen more than 3,000 baptisms in the past five years alone – and his team is developing a new wave of church planters focused on the least-reached districts where he works.
“God is using these guys in mighty ways,” Mitch says. “There’s already a fire burning. My role is to pour a little gasoline on that fire.”
The fire began in the heart of God. His divine plan to reconcile creation to Himself was fulfilled when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem us. After His death and resurrection, Jesus sent His disciples to continue God’s mission. Today, we’re part of His plan, if we obey His call to take the gospel to all nations:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Before the resurrected Christ said those words, however, verses 16 and 17 record how His followers encountered Him that day: “The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted.”
Even after seeing Him risen from the grave, they needed His presence and power before going forth into the world.
“Jesus had some important instructions for His inner circle, but before He offered the outer commission, He simply invited them to be with Him,” writes former missionary Randy Rains, International Mission Board leader for spiritual life and formation. “They needed to understand that their relationship to Him was far more important than anything they would ever do. They worshiped Him, though some doubted, or as some interpretations render it, they hesitated. Within this context of doubt, fear and hesitation, He reassured them of His presence, authority and unconditional love. He knew they would need all of this before embarking upon any fruitful mission endeavor.”
Rains notes that the Great Commission “does not begin with our going out to make disciples. It begins first with our meeting Jesus in the place where He has invited us to come. ... It is the location where we listen in prayer as He reminds us we are His beloved, that He has all authority and will be with us wherever we go and in all that we do. Let’s make sure we are fulfilling the inner commission as we seek to fulfill the outer commission of making disciples of all peoples, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all things He has commanded us.”
This is the one sacred effort to which He calls us – first to Him, then to His mission.
This year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions gives us a fresh opportunity to join God in His work. When you pray and give, you become part of God’s story around the world.
*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent.)

12/4/2014 12:57:36 PM by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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