Archives For August 2012

COMMENTARY | Southern Seminary’s Russell Moore blogged about home and hurricane names as Isaac waged war on the Gulf Coast. Isaac means “laughter,” and as Abraham’s promised son, isn’t his name more fitting for a joyous occasion than a hurricane? Moore writes:

Hurricane Ishmael, now that would be more appropriate, I think to myself. Ishmael is, after all, the son of exile, the son of the “will of the flesh” seeking to accomplish God’s work on its own.

But, the more I think of it, maybe Isaac is the right name. Isaac’s story, after all, seems horrific and tragic. In order for Abraham to receive God’s blessing, he must lay on the altar every hope that he can see of being blessed: including God’s promise of this son. God doesn’t accept that sacrifice, we know. But Isaac ultimately dies, and so do all of his children. And, in the biblical story, erased also is the very Promised Land itself. The people of God are left without patriarchs, without kings, and without even the security of home.

As I watch the hurricane Isaac bounce around the weather maps, that’s what I fear, I suppose: the loss of home.

Read his full post at RussellMoore.com.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

When Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Ca., announced his church will not host a forum featuring presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, he cited uncivil political discourse as a main reason why.

“The forums are meant to be a place where people of goodwill can seriously disagree on significant issues without being disagreeable or resorting to personal attack and name-calling. But that is not the climate of today’s campaign,” Warren told The Orange County Register.

Saddleback Church hosted a 2008 Civil Forum with then-candidate Obama and Sen. John McCain, and Warren had announced his hopes to have a similar meeting this year, although no officials plans had been made. In a Q&A posted on the church’s website, Warren called the current campaign climate “the exact opposite” of the purpose of the church’s Civil Forums.

Much of the negative talk is in the political advertising that will inundate American households – those with a TV, at least – from now until the November 6 election.

“I haven’t watched any of the debates, but I’m struck by the negative, accusatory campaign commercials that I’m hearing about,” said Curt Starner, pastor of Erven Avenue Baptist Church in Streator, Ill. “They say to me that the attitude of the writers is, ‘He can’t win on his record, so let’s destroy his opponent’s reputation and character. Maybe he can win that way.’”

While it’s clear the country is in for its share of negative campaigning in the months to come, Warren and Saddleback Church are shifting their focus to religious freedom, an issue he said is “more significant and has far greater implications for America’s future.” The church will host a Civil Forum on the topic in September. Read more about the event, and Warren’s response to the political climate at saddleback.com/blogs/newsandviews.

Other news:

Huckabee joins Missouri Baptists in support of embattled Akin
The Christian Post reports former Arkansas Governor and prominent conservative pundit Mike Huckabee participated in a conference call with hundreds of Baptist pastors August 24 in support of Todd Akin, the U.S. Senate candidate currently under fire for his controversial remarks about rape. (Speaking against abortion in cases of rape, Akin said medical science supports that contraception is rare in that context because women’s bodies can prevent such pregnancies. He has since backed away from that claim). The conference call was convened by Don Hinkle, who edits the Missouri Baptist Convention’s newspaper The Pathway.

John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, was also on the call. Politico.com quoted him as saying, “One of the things we have to remind ourselves of and remind our people of is that Congressman Akin represents the mainstream of our values. He is the mainstream of our values.” Read more at politico.com.

Slow economy continues to weigh on pastors
Giving in their churches may have stabilized, but nearly two-thirds of pastors say the economy is still negatively impacting their churches, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research. That’s the bad news, but the good news includes fewer churches with declines in giving, and fewer falling below budget. Get the full survey results at LifeWay.com.

‘American Bible Challenge’ a success for Game Show Network
Nearly two million viewers tuned in for the debut of “The American Bible Challenge” on the Game Show Network on August 23, according to the marketing website broadcastingcable.com. The game show, which asks Bible trivia questions of three teams playing for charity, drew 1.7 million viewers, the network’s largest ratings to date. For more on the show, go to ChristianPost.com, or tune in Thursdays at 7 p.m. (CT).

Women report more ‘modern’ struggles than ‘traditional’ sins
An extensive study by Barna Research on the state of the Christian woman found more women report to struggling with flaws like disorganization and inefficiency than more “traditional” sins like envy and lust. Half of the women surveyed admitted disorganization is a struggle, making it the most frequently reported problem, followed by inefficiency (42%), anger (36%), selfishness (25%), excessive arguing (19%), arrogance (16%), envy (13%) and lust (8%). Read more findings at barna.org.

‘A reason to sing’

Meredith Flynn —  August 27, 2012

HEARTLAND | Meredith Flynn

Does the world seem a little more broken these days? Words are uglier, crimes are, if possible, more senseless, and things just seem darker. Of course, there’s hope, and an answer, and we know exactly where it comes from. Christ is the only redemptive factor in a broken world. But when we as Christians are dulled by what we see and hear, how can we communicate the hope Jesus brings to those who desperately need to know it? Check out this song by worship duo All Sons & Daughters, and reflect on the reasons He’s given you to sing.

Video courtesy of All Sons & Daughters and Integrity Music.

COMMENTARY | Darlene Leatherwood

No parent wants to consider that their young child’s safety might have been compromised. Yet, that’s just where I found myself in the early 1990’s. Thankfully, after carefully discerning all the facts, it became clear that my own child was safe – perfectly free from harm. But the experience prodded me to consider safety standards at our church, First Baptist O’Fallon, where I served as a part-time staff member responsible for preschoolers and children. I talked with our senior pastor, and he and I began to gather information and research ways we could make our church safe for children.

We presented a plan to our church council, which included members of our deacon body, key ministry leaders, and Sunday school teachers. As you might imagine, the meeting was long with lots of opinion sharing. (Remember, screening workers was a fairly new concept in the early 1990’s.) After several meetings and a few Q&A sessions, our leadership core adopted a clearly defined Child Protection Policy:

  • Anyone volunteering in any ministry within the church would be required to complete a volunteer screening application providing personal history and references.
  • A church staff member would contact the volunteer, gather reference information, and then interview him or her before placing the person in ministry.
  • Volunteer screening forms would be kept in a locked file with minimal access for confidentiality.
  • At least two volunteers would be present at all times, as well as a walk-around supervisor.

Many of our volunteers readily understood the need for such a policy and were quick to comply. However, some long-time volunteers struggled with the need to screen everyone. After all, they had a proven track record! Providing all this information and references seemed invasive.

Our staff agreed that anyone struggling with the policy would receive a home visit and personal explanation. First Baptist O’Fallon has a burning goal – to reach new people for Christ. By reminding these long-term volunteers that we were preparing for new families, new workers, and new ministry opportunities, they became more open to the policy. We asked these volunteers to pave the way for the future volunteers. And, reassuring new parents that First Baptist cared deeply about safety by addressing cultural needs helped FBC be more effective at ministry.

Over the years, we’ve continued to refine our Child Protection Policies. Volunteers now agree to a criminal background check. All references are checked, the criminal check is completed, and training is provided before volunteers are placed with a seasoned volunteer in ministry. Walk-around supervision is firmly in place for all ministries. The building contains windows that provide a clear classroom view, and rooms are equipped with interior deadbolt locks to provide extra protection for children.

Today’s children are subject to greater physical, emotional, and sexual threats than ever before, and most children express some insecurity in these areas. Parents are certainly aware of increased threats.  Make your church a safe haven for families and children! Develop Child Protection Policies that fits your unique setting.

Dr. Darlene Leatherwood directs KidsLife at First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, Ill.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, has named a 16-member advisory team to help him address theological differences – specifically, Reformed theology – within the SBC.

“My goal is to develop a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism,” Page told Baptist Press in August, shortly after he was part of a conference hosted by the Kentucky Baptist Convention to address the Reformed theology debate.

During “Calvinism: Concerned, Confused, or Curious,” held at Crestwood (Ky.) Baptist Church, Page acknowledged a theological divide within the SBC, but insisted Southern Baptists can learn work together peaceably, even if they disagree on Reformed theology.

“We’re talking about and at each other too often,” he said. “When you respect someone, you talk to them.” He added, “If we can do missions and evangelism together … then we can pull this thing together.”

Page’s advisory team consists of pastors, educators and denominational leaders mostly from Southern states, where the debate threatened to reach a fever pitch earlier this summer. Leo Endel, executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention, is the lone Midwestern representative. Read more.

What do you think? Does the debate over Reformed theology in the SBC warrant an advisory team to study the issue? Will it be beneficial to the convention, and to individual churches?

Other news:

Penn State campus minister blogs to help students
Southern Baptist minister Johnny Pons has directed New Life Fellowship at Penn State University for 22 years, but the 2012-13 school year promises to be different than any other. Scandal has rocked his school since last November, when a revered football coach was accused of child abuse, and several other prominent university leaders appeared to have helped cover it up.

Pons has been blogging this summer at Ponsanity.tumblr.com, partly to help the students who are away on vacation to know what to expect when they return. By writing about his personal response, the university’s corporate response, and New Life Fellowship’s ministry response, Pons hopes to help prepare his students for the ministry opportunities he believes this fall will bring.

“I do anticipate more opportunities to talk about several spiritual issues/implications of the scandal,” Pons told the Illinois Baptist. “I think the fall will hold some interesting opportunities, but we need to address them with sensitivity and humility.” Read more about Pons’ ministry at Baptist Press.

Stetzer: The dangers of demonization
In the wake of a shooting at the Family Research Council headquarters in Washington, D.C., missions leader and LifeWay Vice President Ed Stetzer blogged about the dangers of demonizing people you don’t agree with. “Respectful and civil discussion of the issues is essential. We must be able to disagree without demonizing or labeling as ‘haters’ those with whom we disagree.” He called on members of both sides to study their actions: Groups that support traditional marriage can’t stay silent when members of the LGBT community are bullied or treated violently, and those who support same-sex marriage shouldn’t label the other side as “hate groups.” Read his full blog post at EdStetzer.com.

One billion living without religious liberty
Religious freedom around the globe is “sliding backwards,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as her department released its annual religious liberty report. “More than a billion people live under governments that systematically suppress religious freedom,” Clinton said. Eight countries are on the State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern” – Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. Read the full story at Baptist Press.

Student Life joins LifeWay family
Student Life, Inc., one of the nation’s largest providers of Christian student conferences, became part of LifeWay Christian Resources in August. The organization’s employees will remain at their headquarters in Birmingham and continue to their identity and conferences, said LifeWay’s Ben Trueblood. “Both of our organizations provide conferences and camps in slightly different ways that meet needs of individual churches and student ministries. Many of those differences won’t change so that we can continue to meet specific needs of individual churches.” Read more at LifeWay.com.

 

HEARTLAND | Meredith Flynn

Just when I thought I’d gotten them all…

Do household chores ever teach you lessons? Mine do. Especially the ones I don’t do very often or very well, and as a newlywed and new homeowner, that’s almost everything.

For instance, I just spent two years hours weeding the yard. A summer’s worth of busy weekends coupled with Central Illinois’ desert-like conditions have left us living on a brown, scratchy rectangle of something that used to be grass, I think. Nothing has grown for months – except weeds. Tall, scraggly, thorny and thriving. I told myself I’d spend an hour pulling as many as I could.

And for a few minutes, it went well. I felt hearty and worthwhile, like a real Midwesterner working her land. But it all went south when I looked around and realized it looked the same as it had 20 minutes ago. I quickly spiraled into this cycle: see a weed (“this is bad”), bend down to pull it (“this is really bad”), somewhat successfully get it out of the ground (“well, OK, that was a good one), see the next one (“this is bad”).

I went on like that for a few minutes before an even more dangerous thought crept into my head: How did we ever let it get this bad?

You know where I’m going with this. I knew it right there in the yard. My morning of manual labor runs pretty parallel to my spiritual life (and maybe yours too). We see something we don’t like, try to get rid of it, have some success in overcoming it, right before we see the next thing. And all the while, the question haunts us: How did it get this bad? Without me even knowing it? It might be one nagging sin, or a mindset, or a bad habit. But, when looked at through the lens of trying to extinguish it forever, it can be enough to send us running indoors.

And I thought about it plenty of times that morning, just turning in my work gloves and moving on to the next, hopefully easier, task. What kept me there was that God was talking. Not audibly, but the lesson was clear, and here’s what He was saying: I’m here, I’m here, I’m here. Not necessarily to help you weed the yard, but as you see things in your life that shouldn’t be there, I’m here. And as you work on removing those things, I’m here. On the good days and the bad ones too. And when you see the next thing we need to work on, I’m here.

Sanctification isn’t done in an hour, as much as I wish it could be. But God is a patient and present gardener, much more patient and present than I’ll ever be. He sticks with His task of transforming us, and even lets us have a part in it. What area is He showing you that needs some work? And how is He sustaining you in the process?

COMMENTARY | Joe McKeever

When a church of 120 members set out to assimilate 3,000 converts (from a one-day revival!) into the life of their family, they ranked “fellowship” among the top priorities in accomplishing the task.

“Koinonia” is a Greek word which, while almost always translated “fellowship” in our Bible, refers to sharing life, a partnership. My own personal definition is “hanging out.”

The FQ of a church — the fellowship quotient — speaks to how well the members love the Lord and one another and show hospitality to new believers.

Following are 10 aspects and insights about the FQ of your church. They are worth carving in stone, or better, engraving on the hearts of your leadership and membership.

1) Fellowship is the heartbeat of the congregation.

Fifteen minutes after the benediction in a church where I had been the guest preacher, I said to the pastor, “Listen! It’s the sound of fellowship.” His members were greeting one another, hugging, laughing, chatting, and talking. If anyone had left, I couldn’t tell it.

Just as the doctor places a stethoscope up to the chest and listens to the heartbeat, the pulse of the congregation is the sound you hear when church has ended. Pay close attention, friend. This is the life-beat of your people.

2) Fellowship may or may not be what draws people to your church, but it’s why they stay.

Recently, when a minister was forced to resign his position because of some personal habits that would require therapy, his family chose to remain in the church. A friend told me, “They love this church. This is family.”

Prospective members may give you a long list of what they’re looking for in their next church — strong Bible teaching, a great music or missions program, an emphasis on youth or children. While they want these things, nothing is more attractive to them than a congregation with a thriving family life — people loving the Lord, each other, and newcomers. They will join that church and remain there even if few other aspects meet their requirements.

3) Fellowship is made up of three parts: a commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord, a love for fellow believers as friends, and hospitality shown to newcomers.

4) However, the newcomer will notice these three in reverse order: first, hospitality (how they are welcomed), then joy within the family, and finally, that the people are committed to the Lord Jesus.

5) People on the outside are craving this fellowship.

God said of Adam, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). That’s true of you and me, too.

You’ve seen enough nature programs to know that when the lion is looking for lunch, it does not take on the whole herd but heads for the stragglers. The loner that has left the herd — it’s too young to keep up, too old, too sickly, or too headstrong — is targeted for the next meal. “Your adversary, the devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8).

We need each other. God made us this way.

6) A wise church works to build a stronger fellowship among its people.

Fellowship comes in planned and unplanned versions. The planned variety happens in Sunday School classes, committees, Bible studies, work projects, and at church dinners. Unplanned fellowship takes place casually and naturally before and after classes, studies, and worship services. Informal, unplanned fellowship occurs when members play golf together or go out for pizza after church.

7) The greatest enemy of fellowship in God’s people is the human heart.

We are all sinners. We tend to be self-centered, independent loners. Even the hearts of believers can grow cold quickly, turn inward naturally, become narcissistic, and delight in cutting itself off those we love best.

One of the ugliest things you will ever see is a church membership deciding to spend their resources on themselves, to direct all their ministries inwardly, and to turn their attention from the lost of the world to themselves. It’s a slow, subtle process, one for which we must always be alert.

8) A dying church will begin to die here first.

I see it in some of the churches where I’m the guest preacher. The service ends and everyone heads for the parking lot. No one stays to visit, no one greets the newcomer, no one affirms the leadership. The church is dying right before your eyes.

9) Leadership must value fellowship highly and protect it; otherwise it will be supplanted by a thousand lesser things.

An interim pastor once told me, “I don’t attend that monthly men’s breakfast. All they do is meet and eat.” I said, “I used to think that. But then I noticed that these guys pay for the meal, they cook it themselves, and clean up afterwards. But most importantly, this is the one time in the whole month for some of them to share a meal with a brother in Christ. It’s a wonderful ministry.” (What I did not say was the breakfast was the best in town!)

10) God loves it when His people love each other, when they get together for encouragement, when they “hang out.”

Recently, my wife and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary by flying in our children and grandchildren from around the country for a long weekend of activities. At one point, when everyone was on the back patio, I was struck by the sounds of these 15 people. They were laughing, talking, loving, playing, rejoicing in one another. It was music to Grandpa’s ears.

The Father in Heaven loves for His people to get the fellowship thing right.

Joe McKeever is a Baptist Press cartoonist and columnist, a former longtime pastor and former director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association.

– From Baptist Press