In Times Like These We Need Confidence in the Gospel

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When missionary Lesslie Newbigin returned to Great Britain from India he said that he found a greater mission field in Britain than he had left in India. Key to this was his observation that Indian believers had confidence in the gospel and those in Britain did not. Christians with whom Newbigin worked in India believed in the power of Christ’s shed blood to wash away sin and guilt. They believed that death had been defeated through the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. They believed in the power of the Holy Spirit to raise a repentant sinner from death to life. But things were different with the church-goers he encountered in Britain. They were timid and apologetic in the face of a culture that was increasingly hostile to, and dismissive of, biblical truth. It shocked him.

What Newbigin experienced in Britain is far too common in American churches today. Thank God Baptists have not abandoned biblical truth as some have. But that is not to say we haven’t too often neglected to teach and live the truth we claim to believe. Denial of Bible truth is three steps too far for a good Baptist. We wouldn’t do that. But neglecting to teach the truth, and demonstrating a lack of confidence in the transformative power of the Gospel to bring eternal life, is much too common for far too many.

So how do we restore the confidence of God’s people in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Let me suggest a few things.

First, pastors and Bible teachers must be convinced that the Gospel is true and we must teach it with confidence. The first question a listener has of any speaker/teacher is, “Does he believe what he says?” We have abundant reasons to have confidence in the gospel because it is supported by historical events. Our faith is not a leap into the dark. Our faith is not mere philosophy. It is history. Our Savior did things and said things in history. Peter, James and John and Matthew and the others changed the world because they heard Jesus speak. They saw Him act. They watched Him die. They saw Him raised. They touched and spoke to our resurrected Lord. They watched Him ascend back to heaven. And then they travelled the world for the next 30 years and more, preaching this good news until most of them surrendered their own lives in a martyr’s death.

These are some of the historical facts of our faith. There are many more. We have reason to be confident that Jesus Christ lived, died, was raised, and that one day He will return to judge the living and the dead. Our preaching and teaching must reflect our strong confidence in the gospel message.

Second, when believers gather for worship our gatherings must be saturated with confident, gospel praying. The reading and preaching of the Word of God must be the central act of our worship. And Scripture reading must be restored to a place of primacy in worship. We should sing gospel songs that speak of Jesus and what He has done and what He will one day do.

There was a time that Baptist worship services were characterized by Kingdom and gospel praying, the singing of gospel songs (songs that teach and celebrate who Jesus is and what He did on the Cross), the reading of Scripture, and a message from the Scripture. From my observation, most Baptist sermons focus on proclaiming and applying the teaching of a particular biblical text. That’s good. But much of our praying and singing does not reflect on gospel truths and kingdom concerns, and we rarely hear Scripture readings in our worship services. I believe most of our churches could benefit greatly by adding more Scripture and prayer to our worship services, and by including some songs whose lyrics present and declare gospel truths and actually use the name “Jesus.”

Third, the witness of each local church is more vibrant and confident when the church is sent into the world from a worship experience in which gospel power was expressed and experienced. When God’s people are confident in the power of Christ to change lives, and when we express and experience this in corporate worship, we are more likely to live our faith positively and confidently.

One of the tragedies of a presidential election year in the United States is that the term “evangelical” is associated with a particular political candidate. “Who do the evangelicals support?” is a familiar question in news reports, which makes evangelical Christians (including Baptists) sound like we’re a political organization. Even worse, I fear people think that we believe the church’s agenda is accomplished through politics (and maybe some of us believe that too!) rather than gospel witness.

It’s not that we don’t have a legitimate interest and concern regarding who our political leaders are. We do and we should. But the bottom line is that the only thing the church has is Jesus and the gospel of His saving grace. We don’t have good ideas. We don’t have political clout. We don’t have strategies or programs or anything other thing that remotely compares to Jesus’ presence and His power to replace a heart of stone with a heart for Him. Gospel preaching, gospel singing, gospel praying, all of which flows from God’s Word, that’s where the power is. In times like these, the old hymn says, we need a Savior. That we do. And that we have. Rejoice and be glad! Be confident in Him!

P.S. This morning in my devotional time I read Jeremiah 9:1 in which the prophet writes, “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.” I don’t pretend to know the sorrow that Jeremiah knew as he watched the utter destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the slaughter of thousands. But like many of you, I’ve felt anger, and, at times, a depressed resignation when I look at the goings on in our nation. The one thing, the only thing, that grabs me by the throat and awakens me to what is really real, is God’s Word and my confidence in Him. When I consider the glories of Christ, my hope and my joy soon returns.

Executive Director’s Annual Report 2016

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The Family Gathering (Annual Meeting) of the Northwest Baptist Convention is in Spokane on Nov. 15-16. Our theme for the meeting is “Jesus, Our Peace.” The report below will be included in our book of reports.

“For He is our peace” (Eph. 2:14a).

Every human being yearns for peace. Peace of mind and heart. Peace in relationships. Peace in the home. But few find such rest.

Those who know Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Scriptures understand why peace is often absent. Peace and joy are blessings available only to those whose faith rests in Jesus Christ and live in obedience to Him.

Historians will not use the term “peace” when describing America in the year 2016. We have experienced the most discouraging and divisive presidential election campaign since the 19th Century. The topics and language of the campaigns were unedifying, morally corrosive and corrupting. Bitterness, contempt and cynicism bloomed fully. Friendships have been damaged or destroyed, even among Christians, over this year’s election. The witness of the Church, and of many believers, has been damaged as well.

Added to this, 2016 was a year of protests over police shootings, the assassination of police officers, and vicious acts of terrorism. In 2015 the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right, and in 2016 the Obama administration interpreted federal civil rights law (Title IX) to mean that federally funded schools must not discriminate against transgender students and therefore must allow them to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their chosen gender identity. Some businesses and other organizations have quickly adopted the federal government’s approach, resulting in the boycotting of states that oppose the new policy.

Shakespeare would have loved to write about all of this! But perhaps Solomon described it best when he said of mankind, “madness is in their hearts while they live” (Eccl. 9:3).

What is the believer and the church to do when “madness” fills the heart and “contempt” inhabits the space between neighbors? We must do what God’s people have always done: trust Jesus Christ to enable us to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The shed blood of Jesus Christ applied to the sinner’s heart brings us near to God and near to others, creating peace.

When Jesus saved the chief persecutor the Church, Saul, he gave him peace with God, peace with his enemies, and enabled him to help others find peace through Christ. These included his jailer in Philippi and some of Emperor Nero’s own household in Rome. Though the Early Church lived under persecution which was often intense, peace with God brought the certainty of eternal life, and it enabled the Church to love its enemies, sometimes loving them into repentance and faith.

Our neighbors must see and experience peace from Northwest Baptists. Through our love for God, our love and respect for each other, and our love for people that embrace values and lifestyles totally opposed to biblical teaching, our neighbors will witness a “peace that surpasses understanding.” Recently I was speaking with an elderly man who called himself an agnostic. When he asked me what I did for a living, and I told him that I was a pastor, he said, “You won’t like me!” I said, “Now why wouldn’t I like you?” That led to a respectful conversation in which I think he saw that disagreement does not have to equal dislike, and Christians need not draw lines of friendship and respect that negate those who disagree with us.

As you read this annual report of the NWBC, I pray it represents faithfulness to Jesus and communicates the peace that is found in Him. The front-line work of disciple-making, baptizing and teaching believers to obey Christ is the work of each local church. But we believe that only by working together as a network of churches can we effectively carry out the Great Commission and Great Commandment of Jesus Christ. Starting churches among dozens of language groups, training servant leaders, sending missionaries, doing disaster relief and college ministry and developing evangelism tools and strategies, are best done as we collaborate.

Perhaps no work of NWBC churches in 2016 illustrates this better than our mission trip to serve 1,100 IMB missionaries and children serving in Asia. Thirty-two of our churches sent 163 persons to Thailand in order to serve our missionaries during a 10-day retreat in August. We provided all of the teaching and care for 450 children, provided tech support, medical professionals, and preaching and worship leading for the missionaries themselves. Eight of our churches sent one person, eight sent two, and sixteen sent three or more. Other churches sent their VBS offering to help pay for the trip. Still others prayed for those who went.

The man who leads all of these missionaries said that 500 missionaries completed an evaluation form, giving our team the highest marks in all aspects of our work. We have already been invited to return for their next big retreat. No convention or association of churches has ever done this, making the NWBC the first. I love it! And the reason I so love it is because we modelled our claim that we can do more together. And this isn’t the only way we ministered to our IMB missionaries this year. Many churches have sent teams to work alongside our missionaries where they serve. As they served missionaries over there, God blessed these same churches here.

I am grateful that as we gather for our annual meeting in Spokane, November 15-16, we celebrate a significant increase in baptisms (an increase of more than 15 percent, or 326 persons and 2,006 total baptisms), an increase in church attendance (our combined attendance is over 30,000 in our churches each week), and an increase in Cooperative Program (CP) mission giving (3.16 percent increase over the first nine months). Through the first nine months we have also seen 19 new church planting teams begin their work. These include a church for the Somi people in Portland (the pastor is from India), African people in Seattle (the pastor is from Zimbabwe), Mandarin Chinese in Federal Way, a college church in Eugene, and others in Spokane, Olympia, and Hamilton, WA, among other peoples and places.

This year we also trained more than 300 people, from about 70 churches, in how to share Christ through Story Witnessing, or Listening Evangelism, as it is sometimes called. Many of our churches also used the MY316 Evangelism Resources, which are available through the NWBC at no cost as your CP giving has paid for these resources (some of this material is available in Korean and Spanish).

As I consider where we are as a nation, and what we are trying to accomplish as Northwest Baptists, the truth that Jesus is our peace has warmed my heart and settled my soul many times over the past year. I look forward to developing this theme more fully in my oral report on Wednesday morning, Nov. 16. Who we are in Christ, and the spiritual work He has done in us, precedes what we do in His Kingdom. Those in whom the peace and joy of Christ are present will serve Him best “in times like these.”

It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!