Month: February 2020

Missionary bringing faith, hope to Puerto Rico’s rebuild

GUAYNABO, Puerto Rico Puerto Rico garnered headline after headline when Hurricane Maria struck in 2017. The major storm devastated the island, and as happens after such a catastrophe, news media scrambled to cover the story.

A little over two years later, though, thousands of families remain in need. Yet few outsiders consider their plight now.

“No one talks about Puerto Rico in the news anymore,” said Jonathan Santiago, a 2020 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® Week of Prayer missionary. “September 2017 is ancient history, but I wish people could see what I see. Sometimes, it’s like Hurricane Maria happened yesterday.”

For Santiago, the passion that fueled his multiple trips to Puerto Rico in the immediate aftermath of Maria persists. In fact, and God led him and his family to move from New York to serve full-time through the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) compassion ministry arm, Send Relief.

“The North American Mission Board asked us to consider coming back to Puerto Rico to serve in my current role as director of Send Relief for Puerto Rico,” Santiago said.

The job is a big one. He coordinates crisis response ministry across the island where an estimated 30,000 homes still have only blue tarps serving as their roof.

“Hurricane Maria was the worst disaster in Puerto Rican history, but what really gets to me is not what Maria did to our property but what it’s done to our people,” Santiago said. “When you look at different communities, you see the hopelessness. You see so many families still struggling.”

The physical toll the storm took is only surpassed by the emotional and spiritual hit the people have endured. While Send Relief helps with the physical rebuild, the aim is to connect those served to God so that their spiritual needs can be met through the power of the gospel.

“They say it’ll take 8 to 10 years to get things back to where they were before Maria,” Santiago said. “But Puerto Rico’s mental, emotional and spiritual brokenness is no match for the hope that we find in Jesus Christ.”

As it stands, there is only one Southern Baptist church for every 44,522 people in Puerto Rico. More than 8 in 10 Puerto Ricans identify with Roman Catholicism.

Send Relief’s ministry, however, has played a key role in evangelism and church planting as missionaries have been able to build relationships through the disaster relief efforts. Through Santiago’s coordination, Southern Baptist volunteers from the mainland have been connecting people in need with new and established churches in Puerto Rico.

“People here in Puerto Rico are so grateful and excited every time they see a team come to their community,” Santiago said. “Our churches are grateful because they choose to be here in Puerto Rico to serve these families that are still struggling.”

Local pastors in Puerto Rico identify needs in their own communities, and Santiago works with those pastors to partner their church, with mission teams from the mainland.

“Ultimately, we want every person that we help to be connected to a local church family where we know that they are going to be followed up with,” Santiago said.

“People giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is what put me and my family here so we can help rebuild our island into something greater than it was before,” Santiago said. “I am so thankful because as we continue to pray and give, the gospel is spreading and healing our land here in Puerto Rico.”

The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering provides half of NAMB’s annual budget. Money given to the offering is used on the field for evangelism resources and support, training and care for missionaries.  

Fruit at the retail level

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

As I write this, my news website is in the fourth day of being down. I’ve come to the point where I’d like to know the name and contact information of someone at whom I can righteously and productively yell. Maybe you know the urge: your flight was cancelled and the only people you can talk to had no part in the decision and can’t currently solve your problem, or some genius decided to close lanes on three parallel routes on your way home so that you have no way that doesn’t take much longer. The possibilities are endless and familiar. I don’t want to make grumpy faces at the people sent to meet the inconvenienced public, but I very much want to make them at somebody up the food chain. But of course that’s rarely possible. Decision makers are in positions to hire people to take the heat for them. 

But everyday frustrations are not the point; my desire to “get satisfaction” in mundane situations is the problem I can address. It is a hard part of my sanctification. That is why my wife says I’m not always a pleasant traveler—airports are efficient factories of frustration for impatient people. I admit it: my instinct for justice in most cases is fleshly. Living or traveling in a large metro area is a tailor-made trap for those of us who are sometimes easily vexed. Here are some mantras I use: 

It’s not this person’s fault. In airport travel it’s almost always true that the people you talk to did not cancel the flight, set the rates or make the applicable federal regulations. It’s not fair to make them miserable just because you are. This also applies in many other settings. Have you ever griped at or about the pastor because the auditorium was chilly or the restroom was out of tissue?

It is this person’s fault, be generous with him. Biblical “goodness” carries the idea of generosity (forgiveness, kind assumptions, etc.). Maybe this is the greatest lack within our churches or our fellowship of churches—assuming that a person can be earnestly and benevolently mistaken. Those of us who also make mistakes certainly do expect this kind of mercy. And those of us who are actually guilty of bad intent desire forgiveness from others. We must give it to others.

Don’t attribute to malice what is better explained by ignorance. This is a favorite of mine. It moves me from “What is wrong with you!” to “Okay, how can we fix this?” It makes that airline gate attendant a partner in a solution rather than an enemy. It’s easier to assume the worst but rarely helpful.  

The person before you can help you or hurt you. Now this is the pragmatic mantra. Even those at the sharp end of a business have some discretion to give you a break. Maybe they can extend themselves just a bit to help you out. Why would they do that if you charge at them waving your arms and shouting? Remember, they could also lose your file or ignore you for a crucial few minutes. When you call a business, the person who answers the phone also has a good deal of power. Treating that person shabbily is not in your best interest. If her boss is a good boss, your behavior will have systemic consequences as you seek a solution. Someone close to me tends to approach every clerk as a conspirator against him. Strange how rarely that works. 

The clerk, the pastor, the deacon, the motorist, is a person for whom Christ died. I use this one daily, more often than daily. Imagine tailgating the slow people in front of you and honking when they don’t dash away after the light turns green, then following them into the church parking lot on Sunday morning. We do not have the ability to amend a person’s bad habits as we pass through a store or complain about him in Sunday School, but we can wreck our relationship with him. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of Philippians 2:5.  

A lot of us are talking these days about unity, temperate dialogue and self-control. That’s good and I add my voice, and my confession, to this conversation. Maybe we need to think more broadly than just minding our tongues (even digital ones). We occasionally have a chance to make someone’s situation better by how we respond. More easily, we can make someone’s situation worse by being jerks. Either way, how we treat people bears fruit beyond our imagining.   

Acting like a jerk is in the Bible as well, by the way. Paul calls those the works of the flesh, things which do not typify those who have been transformed by the Savior.  

Growth in new student enrollment and alumni connections encourage Greenway

TUCSON, Arizona Adam Greenway completes his first year as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary encouraged by the reception he has found within the seminary community and the broader family of Southern Baptists.

“I believe with every fiber of my being that the best days at Southwestern Seminary are in the windshield and not the rearview mirror,” he told the TEXAN during an interview while attending a gathering of state convention executive directors and editors in Tucson. 

“We’re already seeing some signs of that,” he noted, pointing to the double-digit increase in new student enrollment over the spring semester of 2019. “In terms of early signs of admission growth, morale, and internal and external dispositions toward the seminary, I’m very encouraged.” While continuing to work to connect with prospective students, Greenway said efforts also are underway to grow the undergraduate programs of Scarborough College.

He said he has been blessed by a “sense of connection and bond back toward Southwestern and the seminary from alumni across the generations.” As the school with the largest alumni base among the six Southern Baptist seminaries, he sees that as an extraordinary resource to support Southwestern by sending students and providing connections to potential financial supporters.  

Last year’s launch of the B. H. Carroll Center for Baptist Heritage and Mission set the stage for this spring’s Baptists and the Bible conference to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the publication of the book of the same title authored by two then-SWBTS professors, Tom J. Nettles and the late L. Russ Bush.

“Continuing to work to develop and strengthen that center as a resource advocating for the best of our Baptist history, heritage and identity” benefits the denomination by providing a way forward for cooperative work, Greenway said. “I certainly have a strong interest in helping to advocate for what I think is the genius of being Southern Baptist, what it means for our convictional heritage and our cooperative methodology,” he explained.

The role Scripture plays in authoritatively guiding and directing the efforts of Southern Baptists remains a challenge Southern Baptists must embrace, he said. “That’s why I make the point emphatically that the Bible is the core textbook in every class at Southwestern Seminary. It’s not just that we affirm its truthfulness, we affirm its authority in terms of guiding all that we do and it is the source from which we carry out our work as Christians and as pastors and churches.”

Asked what other objectives he would pursue if money were no object, Greenway spoke of a desire to undergird the academic program with a fully-endowed faculty chair in every core discipline of the seminary. 

In the broader sense of contributing to a sense of unity within the SBC, Greenway recalled the big tent vision he articulated following his election as president. “At our best we are committed to a high view of Scripture, confessional fidelity, the Great Commission and cooperation. Every time we have the chance to direct the conversations back in that direction, and to remind us of what called us together as a convention of churches in 1845, what brought forth the Cooperative Program in 1925, and here in 2020, I think that’s a way forward when there are always voices that want to take us in tangential directions or who want us to give a lot of time and energy to other matters.”

He continues to remind Southern Baptists to stay focused on evangelism “working as much as we can to make it humanly impossible for anyone to die and go into a Christ-less eternity because we didn’t share Christ with them.” As a belief in the truthfulness of Scripture drives missiological work and engagement, Greenway said, “We don’t just stand there. We do something.” 

He thanked faithful Baptists in the pew and state convention partners like the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention who make the ministry of Southwestern Seminary possible.

“We cannot do what we do apart from you, and at the end of the day we are always accountable to and desire to come along and be a servant of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.”  

REVIEW: LifeWay Films” “Free Burma Rangers” is a gritty faith movie like no other 

David Eubank isn’t your typical missionary. 

He carries a Bible, but also a military-style rifle. He delivers the hope of Christ to war-torn parts of the world, yet won’t hesitate to shoot an ISIS soldier if cornered. When he hears the sound of bullets and bombs, he often runs toward it — not away.  

And for the past two decades, God has providentially protected him.

The documentary film Free Burma Rangers, in theaters Monday and Tuesday (Feb. 24-25), tells the inspiring yet heart-pounding story of Eubank, who along with his wife Karen founded a humanitarian movement in 1997 to rescue innocent victims of war. Their movement, known as Free Burma Rangers, began in Burma but has since moved to other dangerous areas, including Iraq, the Sudan and Syria. LifeWay Films is a partner. 

The movement also has expanded beyond Eubank, who has helped train several thousand Rangers like him.  

Eubank’s goal is to deliver the gospel alongside food and medicine to bullet-ridden areas few would ever go. In Burma, Eubank and his team hike through the bug-infested jungles, not knowing what lurks over each hill. In Iraq, they carry hope through the perilous streets of Mosul — a city where ISIS fighters are hidden in ravaged buildings.

In the two-plus decades since it was formed, Free Burma Rangers has served 1.5 million displaced persons who otherwise might have perished. 

“The anecdote to evil is love,” he says in the film.

Free Burma Rangers is likely the most hair-raising faith-based film ever made — and easily one of the most riveting. Viewers get a first-hand look at the action thanks to camera crews who risked their lives to record the encounters. We sit in a Humvee in Mosul as ISIS gunfire rains down and nearly kills everyone in the vehicle — until a tank providentially arrives. We march along the Iraqi countryside and meet a smiling family — only to discover they were killed moments after Eubank and the Rangers left. 

David — who survives being shot in the film — is undeterred. Vengeance, he says, belongs to God.  

“We’re going to share the gospel of Jesus,” he says. “We’re going to give food and medical care.”

Just as amazing: The Eubanks have raised three children within these hazardous regions. (All three share their parents’ passion, although they and their mom don’t go on the most dangerous recon missions.) 

Eubank and the Rangers also document war crimes and email the information to media outlets. Often, their reports are splattered across the front pages of big city newspapers.

He’s a mixture of Rambo, Clark Kent and Billy Graham. 

Free Burma Rangers won the Best Feature Film award at the Justice Film Festival. It’s a movie that inspires as much as it convicts. It urges us to love those who are different than us — and to serve them, too.

Content warnings: Free Burma Rangers is unrated; treat it like a PG-13 film. A warning at the movie’s opening says it “includes intense, graphic sequences of war violence.” It contains no sexuality. Minus an “OMG” spoken by a Ranger (not the Eubanks), it contains no coarse language. 

Entertainment rating: 5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Middle of nowhere vs. middle of everywhere: “Regional” church reaches its community

GILMER East Mountain Baptist Church in Gilmer has become a regional church—drawing families from 14 school districts—united around a goal of meeting local needs in Jesus’ name and supporting missions globally.

“I used to joke and say, ‘We’re in the middle of nowhere,’ but I’ve got a lady that says, ‘No, we’re in the middle of everywhere.’ She’s really correct,” Timothy Smith, pastor of East Mountain Baptist, told the TEXAN.

The church, northwest of Longview, has been around since 1911, and Smith credits a transitional pastor with laying the groundwork for the current success just before he arrived in 2012. “I had been here about a month, and I realized he had done my first year for me. I didn’t have to walk around on eggshells or whatever. I could just take off,” Smith said.

East Mountain is “still technically a community,” Smith said. “We have a city hall. We have a mayor, those kinds of things.” They don’t have a school anymore. The church building sits next to the old East Mountain School, which has been closed for more than 50 years, he said. 

Smith kind of laughed at the town’s name and said, “If there’s a mountain here, it’s a molehill.” 

East Mountain Baptist is “pretty much spread out over generations,” Smith said of the people they reach. They draw blue- and white-collar workers, teachers and retired law enforcement officers. 

When Smith, a graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, arrived at East Mountain Baptist, two of his priorities were to build a strong men’s ministry and to ensure that the church gave sacrificially to missions.

“You show me a church where the men’s ministry is strong, and I’ll show you a strong church,” Smith said. A key to that health is for men’s ministry to be service-oriented rather than event-oriented, he said. 

When he spoke with the TEXAN, Smith had returned from one of two weekly men’s prayer breakfasts. “We had 15 men there this morning, praying,” he said, referring to a local coffee shop. The men’s ministry sometimes involves as many as 70 men. 

Regarding missions, Smith said East Mountain Baptist’s Cooperative Program giving was never low. “They’ve always given a percentage, and I believe very strongly in that. I tend to disagree with set amounts because when your giving increases, then your missions doesn’t. I want to see percentages.” 

In 2012, East Mountain Baptist’s CP giving was around 8 percent, Smith recalled, but each year they’ve increased it either half or a full percent. Their 2020 budget allocates 14.5 percent to the Cooperative Program and 3.5 percent to their local Baptist association. 

The church supports a pregnancy help ministry, a cowboy church in Wyoming, a cowboy church in South Texas and mission work in Latvia, among other things.

“So when you throw all of that in together—CP, Reach Texas, Annie Armstrong, Lottie Moon, association—last year our church gave around $240,000 to missions. Eight years ago, that was just about what the total undesignated giving was,” Smith said. 

“In 2018—this little out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere church—total receipts were over $1.1 million. It’s been amazing to watch what’s happened. We have generous people, but people that understand missions.”

At the end of 2012, the church averaged 130 in Sunday School. They’ve added about a hundred to that number, and average worship attendance is around 300.  

“If you could see a picture of where we are, it would blow your mind,” Smith said of the people who come relative to the surrounding population. The Sunday before he spoke with the TEXAN, the church had baptized two people. One was a young man who travelled to Atlanta for the Passion Conference in January with about 20 other college-aged people from the church.

The other man had just shown up on a Wednesday night, Smith said. He had been dropping his son off for the youth program, and that week he said God “would not let him not go to church.”

“So he came in that night and we started talking after the service, and he shared that he had been incarcerated for a while and some other things,” Smith said. The man prayed to receive Christ that night. 

“There are so many needs that flow through here in a week, and yet God provides for every one of those needs,” Smith said. 

East Mountain Baptist affiliates with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Smith said, in part because of the high percentage of Cooperative Program dollars the convention forwards for national and international missions and ministries. 

“That’s a big thing because it’s supposed to be about missions, and we’re not giving to the Cooperative Program; we’re giving through the Cooperative Program,” Smith said. 

REVIEW: “The Call of the Wild” is a worthy adaptation

Buck is a big, energetic dog who rarely has a problem in life. He eats the best foods. He sleeps whenever he wishes. He’s pampered throughout the day.

But that’s about to change. 

Buck is stolen off his owner’s California ranch and shipped to Alaska, where he’s sold to the highest bidder and forced to join a dog sled.

The Klondike Gold Rush is in full swing, and Buck is now part of a mail carrier service to deliver letters to prospectors. It’s grueling work, and Buck—who has never worked a day in his life — must adjust quickly in order to survive.

Can he learn before it’s too late?

The Call of the Wild (PG) opens this weekend, telling the classic story of a St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mixed breed canine who discovers the wild instincts he never knew he had. He then befriends a lonely man, John Thornton, who had fled to Alaska to find solace after his son died.

It stars Harrison Ford as Thornton and Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as a gold prospector who becomes Thornton’s nemesis. 

It also stars a CGI dog who mostly looks like the real thing.

The film is largely family-friendly, although it includes a few violent elements that might be too much for young children. It follows the general outline of the book and delivers several positive lessons for parents and children.  

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal/moderate. Violence against animals is a major theme, although it stays within PG territory. Buck is placed in a box and shipped to Alaska; we’re told he can’t “eat, drink or sleep” in it. We see shadow images of a man hitting Buck with a club. A woman falls through an ice-covered river; Buck rescues her. Buck and another dog, Spitz, engage in an intense fight. (They bite one another, although neither dies.) A cruel gold prospector whips his dogs, including Buck. He then grabs a gun and threatens to shoot them. Later, this same man punches Thornton in a saloon. We see a man shoot another man at point-blank range. (The man eventually dies.) 

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None. Thornton bathes in a river without his shirt.

Coarse Language

Minimal. D–nit (1), h-ll (1). We also hear an unfinished “son of a ….” 

Other Positive Elements

Outside of the cruel gold prospector, the film’s major characters treat the dogs well and seem to relish their time with the animals. This includes Thornton and Perrault, a mail carrier. 

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Thornton drinks whiskey to cover his emotional pain, although Buck shames him into stopping. In one instance, Buck puts the bottle in his mouth and hides it in the snow. We also see people drinking in a saloon. 

Thornton is estranged from his wife—they separated after their son’s death—although we see him mailing her a letter of apology. 

Life Lessons

Nature is a gift: Thornton rediscovers joy in life thanks to his time in Alaska (and his companionship with Buck). Buck discovers wild instincts he never knew. 

Pets are a blessing: Thornton is a loner in need of a companion when Buck shows up in his life.

Life is all about adapting to change: Buck has four owners within the story, but learns to adapt each time. Thornton, too, experiences major change in his life. They learn to survive by relying on one another.  

Worldview/Application

The Call of the Wild has many themes, but at its core is a celebration of nature. A dog that grew up living a sheltered, pampered life discovers his “true self” by going to Alaska. A man who is grieving his son’s death flees to an untamed wild land. 

The story isn’t a faith-based film, but it nevertheless spotlights one of God’s great gifts: Creation. It also urges us to find joy in the outdoors, and not in man-made things that often cause stress. 

In doing so, we’re following the example of King David, who often meditated and worshipped while enjoying God’s handiwork. Creation, after all, testifies to God’s glory.

“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy,” David wrote in Psalm 96.

The movie points us in the right direction, even if it’s answer to life’s trials isn’t complete. 

Final Verdict

The Call of the Wild may not keep the attention of a child—the final third of the film is slow—but it’s nevertheless a worthy adaptation of a classic novel.

Discussion Questions

1. Where did Thornton find joy and the answers to life’s problems? 

2. What does the Bible teach us about nature—and about enjoying it?

3. How can pets help bring comfort to those who are lonely?

4. What is the film’s answer about overcoming adversity? Are the film’s themes biblical?  

Entertainment rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for some violence, peril, thematic elements and mild language. 

No Social-Media Algorithm Rewards Grace

In the December 2019 issue of The Atlantic, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and technology-ethics writer Tobias Rose-Stockwell concluded an article titled, “The Dark Psychology of Social Media,” with the following thoughts:

“If we want our democracy to succeed—indeed, if we want the idea of democracy to regain respect in an age when dissatisfaction with democracies is rising—we’ll need to understand the many ways in which today’s social-media platforms create conditions that may be hostile to democracy’s success. And then we’ll have to take decisive action to improve social media.”

Social-media platforms have transformed over time to reward mob mentalities instead of civil discourse. Haidt and Rose-Stockwell go so far as to say that today’s social-media platforms “create conditions that may be hostile to democracy’s success.” 

Likewise, today’s social-media platforms create conditions that may be hostile to considerate, Christlike communication. While social media can be a place to learn and grow in our Christian faith, it often feels like a black hole, resembling an endless void of darkness that can’t be penetrated by any kind of light. 

What are Christians to do? Abandon social media because of its problems? Go to battle for Christianity and the gospel against any and all combatants who assail the name of Jesus online? 

Managing social media for a large Christian organization, I see Christians shine the bright light of the gospel and mercilessly eviscerate others online every single day. I fear many of us have fallen into feedback loops created by algorithms intended to generate engagement, and have lost sight of our calling to be known by our mutual love (John 13:34–35).

What Changed

The early years of social media were dedicated to connecting friends. It wasn’t much more complicated than that. There were no “timelines,” “news feeds,” or other steady streams of content on the earliest social-media platforms. Users had profiles, and communication between users occurred on those profiles or in private messages. 

But the social-media landscape changed dramatically in 2009 with two major additions: Facebook’s algorithm and Twitter’s “Retweet” button. Haidt and Rose-Stockwell observe the following about these innovations:

The News Feed’s algorithmic ordering of content flattened the hierarchy of credibility. Any post by any producer could stick to the top of our feeds as long as it generated engagement. . . . The Retweet button essentially enabled the frictionless spread of content. A single click could pass someone else’s tweet on to all of your followers—and let you share in the credit for contagious content.

These features, and the eventual addition of others like Facebook’s version of a retweet—the “Share” button—laid the groundwork for the polarization already present in our hearts to take center stage in our public discourse and, indeed, our entire culture.

These methods of engagement are functionally social reward systems. Likes, comments, shares, retweets, and other forms of affirmation act as “points” in a gamified sociological landscape, both literally within the algorithms that govern these platforms and figuratively in the sociological architecture of the internet.  

No social-media algorithm rewards grace. Encouraging tweet threads aren’t shared as much as angry ones. “Cancel culture” thrives because the reward systems and algorithms support mobs, and most mobs are angry. We are more eager to share negative content because fear and anger push us to action more than love.

Social-media conflict within the body of Christ helps no one because there’s no public incentive to resolve it. Until the conflict is taken offline or to a private online space, all parties involved are performing for their followers, whether they think about it or not. No one gets retweets for conceding ground, only for holding it.

Few Christians have difficulty communicating the truth of the gospel on social media. We have that nailed down. Yet so many of us struggle to communicate the truth of Christ with the love of Christ on social media.

Social Media as Spiritual Battleground

Why are we so prone to give a listening ear to “discernment” blogs? Why do we foam at the mouth to cancel the celebrity who steps out of line? Why do we cheer on, either aloud or in our hearts, the ideological gladiator we love most in the digital colosseum?

Sin.

Our sinful hearts lead us either to sign up as gladiators for social-media warfare, or to willingly punch our tickets, grab our popcorn, and watch the madness. In our sin, we love a good fight. We love seeing the people we believe are wrong “put in their place” by the people we believe are right.

Simply, we’re prideful. Social media is yet another place to feel triumphant. We just want to win.

We must see social media less as an ideological battleground on which we demonstrate our spiritual prowess and more as a spiritual battleground on which we demonstrate our ideological humility. We ought to listen more and post less. Social media can be a tremendous tool as an extension of incarnational ministry, but it can be a lethal weapon in our efforts to simultaneously display the love of Christ.

So What Do We Do?

Practically, what are Christians to do on social media? One option is to log off completely. We’re not being faithless if we opt out of shining gospel light online. There is no ministerial obligation to participate in social media. If you can’t figure out a way to use social media to glorify God and point others to him, your soul and the church will be best served if you log off.

But what if you want to stick around? How can Christians use social media in constructive ways that point folks to the glory of God and the overflow of that glory in our world? 

1. Share the beauty of life.

Are you a gifted photographer? Take beautiful pictures of the world around you and share them with the world, reminding your audience of the God behind the creation you capture in your photos. Are you a gifted cook? Create a cooking social-media account devoted to the craft of cooking, celebrating the diverse tastes the Lord has gifted us. 

We can use social media to share the beauty of life while pointing our followers to the God behind all that beauty.

2. Celebrate goodness and righteousness.

It’s pretty trendy to bemoan injustice on social media. People tend to be motivated by anger than they are by joy, so posts about how awful the world is tend to get far more attention than other kinds of posts.

Perhaps we need more believers celebrating the justice and righteousness we see in our world. Tell stories of the goodness you come across in a given day. Share stories of service and selflessness in your community. Point people to the God of all goodness and righteousness.

3. Manifest kindness.

Again, we’ll be known by our love for one another—or lack thereof. All of us need encouragement from time to time. Use social media to send encouraging notes to people. 

Can you find your favorite author on Twitter? Mention the author and tell him or her how you see God working in their writing. Are you friends with your pastor or small-group leader on Facebook? Take 10 minutes out of your lunch hour one day and write up an encouraging Facebook message to that person. 

Be kind to others. Be generous. Let the love of Christ overflow in your online world.

Gospel Light

Social media isn’t going away. Perhaps the light of the gospel can penetrate the darkness of the social internet. 

Let’s shine it and see what happens.

Chris Martin is manager of social media at LifeWay Christian Resources. This article first appeared at The Gospel Coalition, available at www.thegospelcoalition.org

SBC Executive Committee wrap-up: Pastors’ Conference, sex abuse, ERLC top agenda

NASHVILLE—A polarizing 2020 Pastors’ Conference program, a Texas church led by a registered sex offender, and questions regarding the work of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission drew decisive action from the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee (EC) at its Feb. 17-18 meeting in Nashville.

But in an enthusiastic sign of unity, the EC voted unanimously to forward to 2020 annual meeting messengers Vision 2025, an initiative focused on evangelism, missions and stewardship put forth by SBC EC President Ronnie Floyd; and heard a report from the SBC’s two mission boards regarding the joining of national and international compassion ministries under the umbrella of Send Relief.

In other business, the EC unanimously voted to forward to messengers recommended revisions to the EC mission and ministries statement, including a new prayer ministry; and unanimously voted to recommend the addition of a George Liele Church Planting, Evangelism and Missions Day to the SBC Calendar annually on the first Sunday in February beginning in 2021, approving a request initiated in 2019 by the SBC National African American Fellowship.

While the EC meeting reflected differing perspectives on agenda items, mirroring discussions across the Convention, Floyd commended the EC for a spirit of unity cemented by the gospel.

“I think we need to remember … the unity we have about the Word of God being the absolute authority and source in our lives and in our Convention, as well as the mission of God, and that is that God wants us to touch every person with the gospel, and to make disciples of all the nations,” Floyd said Feb. 18 following the meeting. “Those two things are the rock-solid matters of who we are. … Everything will not be perfect, but hopefully we are growing in our maturity in handling those disagreements and those challenges along the way, in a godly manner.”

Floyd compared the SBC to a family that encounters disagreements.

“Obviously, our convention from time to time goes through challenges, and we have been in a season of some of those challenges being personified a little more demonstrably than at other times in our history,” Floyd said. “At the same time, you would have never sensed at all last night [in the Feb. 17 EC plenary], if you had been in the building, any division … because the one thing that always unites us is missions and evangelism, which we emphasized last night through Vision 2025.”

If SBC messengers adopt the initiative in June, Floyd said, “it will become our five-year vision that will hopefully be so strong, that if we have disagreement along the way about various matters, we don’t stay down there very long. And hopefully we can always unite with what really we’re all about.”

SBC Pastors’ Conference

The EC voted to allocate meeting space for the 2020 SBC Pastors’ Conference provided president David Uth amends the program by Feb. 24. The recommendation, which originated in the EC Business and Finance Committee, did not note specific program changes needed, but the speaker lineup and the choice of musical guests have generated both disapproval and applause among Southern Baptists.

First Baptist Orlando, pastored by Uth, pledged Feb. 17 to cover the full cost of the 2020 Pastors’ Conference. But the EC instead voted to continue the arrangement where the conference reimburses the EC for a portion of the cost. EC chairman Mike Stone said his desire is for changes to be made to the program, “so we can proceed in keeping with who we are as Southern Baptists.”

Credentials Committee report

As recommended by the SBC Credentials Committee, the EC voted to disfellowship Ranchland Heights Baptist Church in Midland, Texas, whose senior pastor Phillip Rutledge is a registered sex offender.

Rutledge, who began pastoring the church in June 2016, was convicted in 2003 of aggravated sexual assault against two girls, ages 11 and 12, respectively.

The church is the first disfellowshipped since messengers to the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting revised the function of the Credentials Committee, allowing it to receive reports of a church’s suspected departure from Southern Baptist polity, doctrine or practice and to make recommendations to the SBC Executive Committee regarding the possible disfellowship of churches from the SBC.

Ranchland Heights last reported 75 members and an average church attendance of 60 in 2017, but reported no Cooperative Program giving.

ERLC

Upon the recommendation of the Cooperative Program Committee, the EC voted to create a study task force to “review the past and present activities of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in the fulfillment of its Convention-approved ministry assignments and … assess whether the actions of the Commission and its leadership are affecting Cooperative Program giving or the further advancement of the Cooperative Program.”

The study group is charged with fact-finding, EC Chairman Mike Stone said, and was not formed with the intention of recommending ERLC personnel changes.

“We are clear that the ERLC as well as the other entities are governed by their board of trustees; this is not a governance issue,” Stone said. Rather, the Cooperative Program Committee brought the issue to the EC plenary as a budget-related issue. The EC has heard reports, perhaps anecdotal, Stone said, that churches are withholding CP allocations “related to concerns with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.”

Stone will appoint six other EC members to join him in serving on the study task force, which was instructed to submit its findings at or before the EC’s September 2020 meeting.

Vision 2025

The EC enthusiastically voted to forward to 2020 annual meeting messengers Vision 2025, celebrating the evangelism, missions and stewardship initiative from SBC EC president Ronnie Floyd and supported by various SBC entity leaders.

Under Vision 2025, Southern Baptists would work to add 500 fulltime International Mission Board missionaries by 2025; add 6,000 new Southern Baptist churches (including multisite campuses); encourage those called to ministry to engage in their calling; reverse a decline in baptism and discipleship among 12- to 17-year-olds; and surpass $500 million in Cooperative Program giving.

Send Relief

North American Mission Board president Kevin Ezell and International Mission Board president Paul Chitwood announced the combining of national and international compassionate causes through Send Relief, currently a ministry of NAMB.

“Both entities working together will make it easier for Southern Baptists to get involved in meeting needs so that lives can be changed through the power of the gospel,” Ezell said. “I’m excited about how this will multiply Southern Baptist compassion ministry efforts and build a simple on-ramp for pastors and churches who want to be involved in the great work Southern Baptists are doing in North America and around the world.”

SendRelief.org will provide a giving portal for both entities, the leaders said.

A new president of Send Relief, who will report to both Chitwood and Ezell, will be named in the coming weeks.

George Liele Day

The EC voted to recommend to messengers in Orlando the addition of a George Liele Church Planting, Evangelism and Missions Day to the SBC Calendar annually on the first Sunday in February beginning in 2021, approving a request initiated in 2019 by the SBC National African American Fellowship (NAAF) honoring Liele as the first Baptist missionary abroad.

NAAF president and SBC first vice president Marshal Ausberry affirmed the move in comments to BP.

“If I use a basketball term, he was a triple threat, an evangelist, a missionary, and church planter. All done under extremely difficult circumstances,” Ausberry said. “If George Liele had a basketball jersey I think we would all be wearing it. He rightfully stands along with the missionary giants (Adonirum) Judson and (William) Carey.”

In other business, the EC:

  • Approved a 2020-2021 SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget of $196,700,000, including $143,838,000 for world mission ministries; $43,544,400 for theological education ministries; $5,875,350 for SBC EC & SBC operations, and $3,242,250 for ERLC. The budget includes a new allocation of $200,000 for VISION 2025.
  • Proposed a revision to the EC committee and workgroup structure.
  • Amended the SBC Bylaws and Constitution regarding the process of elections and timing of business at the annual meeting.
  • Honored Roger S. (Sing) Oldham, retired EC vice president for communications and convention relations, and Ken Weathersby, retired EC vice president for convention advancement.

Other SBC Executive Committee articles:

Voice of the Martyrs Conference Challenges Attendees to Walk in Faith

COLUMBUS, Texas—Louie Miller of Rocky Creek Baptist Church in Victoria was one of nearly 1,000 Texans who gathered February 8 to hear testimonies of persecuted Christians. Miller along with seven others from his congregation attended the Voice of Martyrs (VOM) “Advance” regional conference hosted by Country Camp where they were challenged to walk in faith by getting involved with various VOM ministry opportunities. 

Miller said this was his third VOM conference. “We do not want to forget our mission as Christians,” he said. “These conferences keep me mindful of what is happening to Christians around the world.” He said believers willing to take up the cross are targeted by Satan, but they conquer him “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”

Speakers at the conference included Pastor Bob Fu, founder of the ChinaAid Association, Dr. Hormoz Shariat of Iran Alive Ministries, and missionary Gracia Burnham, who, with her husband Martin, was kidnapped in 2001 by the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, and survived a one-year captivity in the jungle. 

Fu, author of God’s Double Agent (Baker Books), said he once demonstrated for freedom in Tiananmen Square in 1989, but the experience disillusioned him, making him realize that true change and transformation comes by knowing Jesus Christ. He later pastored a house church while teaching English at a Communist Party school in Beijing, until his evangelistic activities led to the imprisonment of him and his wife Heidi. 

Fu said his family fled China, and he eventually founded ChinaAid Association, a nonprofit Christian human rights organization that promotes religious freedom and rule of law in China. He said ChinaAid exposes abuses of the law and equips Christian leaders so they can defend their faith and freedom within the law.

Likewise, Shariat, who uses his satellite broadcasts to share God’s Word with audiences in Iran, said the cruelty of government and the corruption of Muslim clerics is opening people’s minds to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Burnham shared how her husband Martin was killed the day she was rescued from the Abu Sayyaf and how she has advocated for the persecuted church. She said there is a cost to establishing God’s kingdom in the world, but there is hope in Jesus Christ. “If we are to serve God and each other, our hearts need to be engaged, and we need to be willing to serve regardless of the cost,” she said. “It is our turn to take up the cross. A disciple’s life is costly, but people won’t hear the gospel without a preacher, and you can’t be a disciple without cross-bearing.”

Bev Ursell of Founders Baptist Church in Spring said she has supported VOM from afar, but now looks forward to becoming involved in the ministry. Ursell said she has been on some mission trips, but none to compare with the testimonies of VOM-sponsored missionaries, who are beaten, imprisoned and killed for their kingdom work. “There is so much suffering in the world from which I am insulated,” she said, “and I want to remove that insulation and engage.”

“We need a lot more transparency”: Randy Adams on SBC challenges, nomination

Randy Adams, who has served as executive director-treasurer of the Northwest Baptist Convention since 2013, will be nominated for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention when it gathers June 9-10, 2020, in Orlando. Adams recently spoke with the TEXAN about his nomination and the SBC’s need for a “change in direction.” 

TEXAN: What made you decide to allow yourself to be nominated for president of the SBC?

Adams: I was really approached last summer by some suggesting I might consider doing this. And these were some who heard me speak or read what I had written about various issues affecting Southern Baptists. And then committed to pray about it probably mid-October, when a few other guys got on a conference call with me, anyway, and then determined by end of November that I felt really God did want me to do this. It’s something I feel like I’m supposed to do. 

TEXAN: You have mentioned that you believe the SBC needs a “clear change in direction.” What are some needed changes?

Adams: In 2010, we made the decision to adopt the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) report. And when you look at what’s happened over the last 10 years, we’ve gone to a real top-down approach to the way we do a lot of our work. Especially in North America. And rather than a resurgence in our advance of the Great Commission, we have experienced what I would call a regression. Basically, every metric that we use to measure our effectiveness is moving in the wrong direction, and substantially in the wrong direction. Baptisms are down about 30 percent over the past decade. Our four lowest years since 1947 are 2015, ‘16, ‘17 and ‘18. We don’t have the numbers for ‘19 yet. So, the last four years that we have are the lowest four years in over 70 years. And each of those years is lower than the one prior. So, when you look at baptisms, which of course is a key metric, when you look at church attendance, church membership, missionaries on the field, all of those metrics are down.  They’re at historic lows or at least the steepness of decline is historic. We’ve never experienced this in our 175 years—certainly not going back to 1900, which I’ve done.  

TEXAN: How do we address these issues? 

Adams: It’s not simple. We need honest discussion and debate about what is the best way forward. We need a great deal of transparency in terms of where are we. Are we getting our bang for the buck? And how we’re applying dollars. 

We need a lot more transparency, I’d say, in budgets and in the performance, the metrics of the Great Commission. And then we need much more local control. Every partner has their role to play, whether it be national partners, state association or local church. But I’ve always believed that the people that ought to have the loudest voice when it comes to strategy development and implementation are the implementers themselves. 

We need to listen to the people on the local field and those closest to the local field, the associations, the state conventions. That’s where they live. They live with their choices more so than people more remote from the situation. We understand our field better. We know the people. We know the issues. I would say we need to flip that from going from a top-down approach to more of a bottom-up approach in terms of strategy development and implementation. Which is what we used to do, by the way. We used to have more of that approach before the GCR. 

TEXAN: What are some reasons you believe you’re qualified to be SBC president?

Adams: I grew up in Whitefish, Montana. I became a Baptist through Baptist Student Union, in Butte, Montana, at Montana Tech. I was an engineer major in college, and I already accepted Jesus but I really wasn’t a part of a church and didn’t really understand the purpose of the church until I got involved with Baptist Student Union and joined Floral Park Baptist Church in Butte. So, I’m really a product of the mission field. 

One reason I love Southern Baptists is they were the only group on my college campus, the only Christian group, and that struck me as to why the Assemblies of God weren’t there, the Methodists or others. 

And I began learning about Cooperative Program and the way Southern Baptists work together to do things that an individual church can’t do. I think I bring that background. My dad ran a sawmill and quit when he was 52. My mom quit, she ran a dental office. And they moved to [Central Asia] with the IMB [International Mission Board], so they served about 12 years in primarily those places with the IMB. So, I have a really, really strong missions commitment, both from what it has meant to me personally in the Northwest and Montana but also overseas. 

One of the things I bring is I was a pastor. I was in the local church for 22 years, senior pastor for 19 years, state convention work now for 15 years. At the state convention level, I work with both the IMB and NAMB [North American Mission Board] in Oklahoma and then of course here as well, really learned how the system works. I didn’t understand the role of the association quite like I did until I became a state convention person. The same with NAMB. I didn’t understand NAMB’s role until I worked with NAMB through the state convention beginning in 2005. 

Personally, I think that background at the associational level, the local church level, the state convention level is a great background for something like this, [as well as] a passion for missions. At the Northwest Convention we established, after I came, the very first international partnership that we’ve ever had. We’re the first convention ever to provide the volunteers for one of the large affinity retreats. Usually, it’s a megachurch that does that. But in 2016, we sent 163 people from 32 different churches to Thailand to provide the volunteers for the East Asia retreat. We did the same thing in 2019. We provided 113 volunteers from 23 churches to do that retreat. 

TEXAN: We’re meeting in the same city, 20 years after the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 was adopted. Is the current version of the BF&M sufficient for the challenges facing the convention today?

Adams: To my knowledge it is. I would certainly be open to looking at that again to see if there are areas that we need to address that aren’t addressed in the BF&M. That’s not been a focus of mine at this point. My main call is for Southern Baptists to get back focused on the main mission. We were founded to advance the Great Commission, and I feel like we’ve not been really focused on that. 

Obviously, we need a theological document that provides theological parameters that we can agree to that enable us to work together. And the Baptist Faith & Message has been that document. It has given us the parameters inside of which Baptists can find the theological unity required to accomplish the mission to work together to accomplish the mission. But I don’t personally know of an area in the BF&M.

TEXAN: Are there any issues that Southern Baptists should talk about in a healthier way?  

Adams: In general, what I would say is we ought always try to deal with what Scripture says about issues. And I think we sometimes get in trouble when we venture into social and political theory and we don’t keep our discussion tied to the teaching of Scripture. So, it’s one thing to discuss interpretation of what the Bible says. It’s another thing to talk about things that are extra-biblical. 

For example, issues of justice. And I know some of the topics Southern Baptists have been talking about the last year or two. What I would say is the Bible talks about justice. The Bible defines what justice is. It defines it to be extended or applied to widows or orphans and the poor, and whenever we put an adjective in front of the word justice, we get something less than biblical justice. 

For example, the term social justice. I think the Bible talks about justice and justice certainly affects relationships. It affects society. It affects the social fabric of who we are. But I think it’s best when we can talk about what justice is and what justice looks like by keeping it tied to what the Scriptures actually teach. Some of the theories are fairly recent in their construction. And to me, the big issue, the overwhelming issue that is largely the cause of most of the problems we face in our country, is the destruction of the family. 

TEXAN: What will be your guiding criteria when you make appointments to the Committee on Committees? 

Adams: I want people who are strongly, overwhelmingly supportive of the Cooperative Program, people who are inerrantists. And I want them to come from the large fabric of who we are as Southern Baptists, so diversity in terms of the size of the church and other forms of diversity as well, [such as] linguistic diversity. I tend to talk a lot about languages. 

In the Northwest, about a third of our churches worship in a language other than English. We have a lot of Korean, Russian, Spanish language churches. We’ve got about 27 different worship languages in the Northwest, so by the way, even in terms of remote access, we have a lot of churches made up of immigrants, some of whom are refugees, like Burmese and Bhutanese. 

TEXAN: What is your perspective on the value of small churches in the SBC? 

Adams: Those small churches are the backbone of the convention. And I mean that in that I came from a small church in Montana, in Butte. I pastored Fairview Baptist Church in Rhome, Texas, which had 10 people when I arrived. We were running in the mid-30s when I left. I pastored Central Baptist Church in Italy, Texas, which was a little bit larger, but still a small-town church, a town of about 1,700 people. The salt of the earth type people, people who believed in cooperation. 

Every church I pastored has given between 10-12.5 percent to missions through the Cooperative Program. The SBC only has about 170 megachurches, but we’ve got about probably 23-24,000 churches that run 70 and under; probably somewhere around 35,000 of our churches—I’m not certain the number there—run under 100. So that’s who we are. 

We are a convention of small churches. Without small churches, we wouldn’t be who we are. We need to reach the cities. But Baptists are by and large a rural, small-town people and we’re trying to learn how to reach the cities. We cannot turn our back on where we came from and on those churches that are who we are and do support who we are. It’s part of my concern. One of my platforms is to value every church regardless of size. 

TEXAN: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Adams: When I talk to pastors, whether they be SBC or not SBC, in the Northwest, I always tell people that the Southern Baptist Convention is an easy sell. It’s easy to sell who we are. Because even with our issues, no one is planting as many churches as we are. No one sends, sustains as many missionaries as we do. As a group of churches and people we want to do the right thing. We’re searching. We believe in the Great Commission. We believe the Word of God. We have so much going for us and  we can accomplish more than we are. But still, when you look around there is nobody else that is even remotely close to where we are in terms of sending missionaries, starting churches and reaching the lost. 

I say, look, there’s nobody that has 3,700 international, fully-funded missionaries. There’s nobody that’s starting 600 churches every year other than us. There’s no one that has six seminaries with about 18-19,000 students that are receiving an affordable education because it’s paid for partly through CP. That’s huge.