Prevailing in an Unwinnable War

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A couple of days ago a thought rooted in my brain: “We are in an unwinnable war.” That morning I read in Deuteronomy: “When you go out to war against your enemies and see horses, chariots, and an enemy larger than yours, do not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God, who brought you of the land of Egypt, is with you” (Deut. 20:1).

Israel won many unwinnable wars. God planned it that way. Pinned between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army, they were like a spider caught between the pavement and the soul of my shoe – pulverized! But then, God stepped in.

When Gideon’s 300 men attacked the Midianite army numbering over 100,000, they entered an unwinnable war, but for God. When Peter told those who shouted “Crucify Him!” that “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ!” he could have been ripped to pieces, but God had a plan.

God’s people have fought many unwinnable wars, prevailing against impossible odds. Who would have guessed that persecution of Christians in China would be used by God to grow His Church 5,000 percent in 50 years? God sent David Livingstone to Africa at a time when most Europeans died within a year of entering the malarial jungles and unknown dangers there. Livingstone, and many others, died in Africa. But today African Christians outnumber those in Europe and North America combined, boasting 400 million souls! Through the darkness Livingstone saw a brighter day would come. He wrote:

“Future missionaries will see conversions follow every sermon. We prepare the way for them. May they not forget the pioneers who worked in the thick gloom, with few cheering rays to cheer except such as flow from faith in God’s promises. We work for a glorious future which we are not destined to see, the golden age which has not been but will yet be. We are only morning stars shining in the dark, but the glorious morn will break – the good time coming yet” (David Livingston in Mackenzie, 150f).

God’s people have prevailed in many unwinnable wars, or should I say, “God has prevailed.” Often God’s people have bled and died in protracted wars that lasted generations beyond the lives of the initial combatants.

Churches in America find themselves in an unwinnable war, as does the nation itself. Battle lines are drawn on many fronts, and these lines don’t simply exist between the Church and the world. Battle lines exist inside the Church. There are matters of sexuality, with ongoing skirmishes involving the LGBTQ agenda. The “right to life” of the unborn, the elderly, the disabled and the handicapped, has raged for 50 years or more.

Then, just when it seemed Covid-19 was the greatest threat of 2020, the world witnessed the life of a black man crushed under the knee of a police officer, with other officers failing to intervene, setting off protests and riots and untold suffering in the hearts and minds of every American and people far beyond our shores. Racial problems and division have existed since the early days of our nation, and throughout human history, but we are in a unique moment. This is different. There is hope, but there is also the danger that listening, learning and reconciling get overtaken by destructive forces. Parsing words with the precision of a butcher doing surgery with a hatchet destroys the opportunity to grow understanding and influence thinking. Some seem to think they can read minds, and spot malicious intent, as easily as spotting a fly in a glass of milk. Reasonable discussion, questions and context are hard to come by. “Silence is violence,” some say, but utter the wrong word and you’ll get “cancelled” before the day ends. It is an unwinnable war.

And lest you don’t yet see how unwinnable this multi-front war is, consider that we don’t agree on the meaning of history, or even what history is. Facts are our friends, but whom do we trust to give us the facts? The media? Which media? Most media outlets aren’t helping.

What about truth? Where do we find the truth told? From politicians? Are you kidding!? Preachers? Unfortunately, much of the world doesn’t trust us preachers to tell the truth without taint. Preachers can get political too, especially if we don’t stick to the Truth we know best and start spouting and spinning about that which we know little.

Add to these battle lines the fight for the family – fatherless homes, babies without parents, teens left to wander. It’s an unwinnable war.

As I was pondering this unsavory thought, I remembered a speech I’d read years ago. It was delivered by a 28 year-old Abraham Lincoln on January 27, 1838 to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois. The speech was occasioned by a racial problem in which St. Louis was burned. Slavery was still legal and America was tearing apart. It was ripping the Church apart too. Speaking of the possible death of the United States, Lincoln reads like a prophet these 182 years later. The full quote is posted at the end of this article for those who’d like to read it and marvel at the rhetorical brilliance of the man who freed the slaves and restored the Union. Here is the most pertinent passage:

“At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?– Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!–All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

Twenty-three years after this speech the nation divided and war took 620,000 lives in 10,500 skirmishes and 50 major battles. The record states that the North won the war, and they did, but in a very real sense the war continued throughout succeeding generations and up to the present day.

This war will continue in some form until the end of time, because it’s a war that started in Eden. It was there that man divided from God, and began dividing from each other. In Genesis 3 we see the beginning of a distancing between humans, a covering up of sin, followed by brother murdering brother in Genesis 4.

Our leaders are not smart enough, or good enough, or strong enough, to lead us to victory in the war that is raging in America. And our churches aren’t that strong, either. All our unwinnable wars are rooted in human sin, and that root runs deep in the human heart, too deep to kill.

Depressed yet? Don’t be, because God shows Himself most visibly, gloriously and powerfully during unwinnable wars. No person turns to God until they are at rope’s end and realize they need God if they hope to survive. No nation experiences awakening when the people think they are the answer to their problems. Revival comes when the church is desperate, when it doesn’t know what to do or where to turn, and it falls to its knees, and buries its face in the floor’s dirt, and wets the dirt with tears, calling out to God for mercy, begging Him to show compassion and forgive sins, that’s when God shows up and wins the war … for a time. Not forever, until Jesus returns, will the war be finally and completely won because the war proceeds from the human heart. The war surfaces within families. It erupts between neighbors. The war is with those near and far away. God doesn’t give us the capacity to win the war without Him. Without Him we’re helpless. Without Him, we wrestle in vain against principalities and powers that kill, steal and destroy. Without Him, there is no peace, no life, no hope, and no future.

And remember, Israel didn’t win all their wars. Sometimes they were felled by tiny towns like Ai. Other times they suffered near annihilation and total humiliation. Their corpses were strewn in the wilderness and eaten by birds. Some were swallowed up by the earth itself. I apologize for the sad reminder, but not really, because if we think we can win the war, I mean really win, we’re doomed. Only God can win this war. We need Him. He’s a God of righteousness and justice. He didn’t let the tower of Babel stand when the people stood apart from Him, and He never will let us prevail in this war apart from Him.

The struggles that we face are mostly within ourselves. Racism is a heart problem, as is hate and bitterness and pride and lust and lovelessness of all kinds. It’s in the heart that the battle rages most fiercely. It’s the heart of every single person, of every color and hue, under heaven. Only God can win that war. Only the blood of Jesus can quell those flames. Only the Holy Spirit can spread the balm of peace that produces love one for another, sufficient to pursue righteousness and justice for all.
Without Jesus we have laws, courts, negotiations, punishments, coercion, threats, intimidation … and war. We need a system of justice, the best that we can build. But in the end, apart from Jesus, the war is unwinnable. Until He comes, His people must live as salt and light, loving sacrificially, seeking justice and preaching the Truth, even when the world does not understand.

Come, Lord Jesus. You are our only real hope. But You are enough.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

Text of Lincoln’s speech quoted above:

“In the great journal of things happening under the sun, we, the American People, find our account running…. We find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth…. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them–they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Their’s was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ’tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

“How then shall we perform it?–At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?– Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!–All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

“I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen, amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts.” (to read the full speech of go to http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/lyceum.htm).

The Heart of God’s Shepherd – Jeremiah 16:1-14

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(Note: this is the synopsis of a message I did that I thought might be appropriate for such a time as this)

In our bedroom I have a painting of the missionary David Livingstone. After my first visit to Africa, I began to read his journals and some biographies as well. Livingstone buried children, his wife, and suffered incredibly as he took the gospel to Africa. One of the things I found remarkable is that the name Livingstone is still revered by Africans. There are several towns named after him. The largest city in Malawi is Blantyre. Blantyre is not an African word. It’s Scottish. It’s the little town in which Livingston was born.

After his little girl died of Malaria, he wrote a letter to his sister in which he said, “Fever may cut us all off. I feel much when I think of the children dying. But who will go if we don’t? Not one. I would venture everything for Christ. Pity I have so little to give. But He will accept us, for He is a good master. Never one like Him. He can sympathize. May He forgive, and purify and bless us” (Mackenzie 113). In another letter he wrote, “A parent’s heart alone can feel as I do when I look at my little ones and ask, shall I return with this or that one alive?” (Mac, 114).

Livingstone knew he would see little fruit from his labor. But he also knew there was a day coming in which others would harvest from fields in which he sowed. He wrote:

“It seems very unfair to judge the success of these [missions] by the number of conversions which have followed…. Future missionaries will see conversions follow every sermon. We prepare the way for them. May they not forget the pioneers who worked in the thick gloom, with few cheering rays to cheer except such as flow from faith in God’s promises. We work for a glorious future which we are not destined to see, the golden age which has not been but will yet be. We are only morning stars shining in the dark, but the glorious morn will break – the good time coming yet…. For this time we work. May God accept our humble imperfect service.” (Mackenzie, 150f).

Today Africa has more professing Christians than Europe and North America combined, and some of this can be traced to a man who embodied God’s heart and was willing to suffer for Christ. We see people like this in the Bible, the prophets and the apostles, for whom obedience to God meant everything.

Jeremiah. David Livingstone, I think, felt a kinship with Jeremiah. Jeremiah wept the tears of God. He entered so much into the mind and heart of God that he embodied the feelings of God. Jeremiah not only spoke the Words of God, but Jeremiah felt the emotions of God. When you read his book, as I have dozens of times, you discover that Jeremiah doesn’t present the people’s pain to God. Jeremiah presents God’s pain to the people. Jeremiah knew the pain of God. But God demanded more of Jeremiah than emotional empathy. God demanded his whole life, physical, social, everything about Jeremiah became a living enactment of his message. And it made him hurt.

Jeremiah’s personal story is particularly striking in chapter 16. There, God told Jeremiah “You must not marry or have sons or daughters” (16:1). This was a devastating demand, but Jeremiah was called to embody in his life the catastrophe that would engulf all of Israel’s families. No family. And no funerals, either (16:5). Using a shocking triple negative, God told Jeremiah don’t go to funerals because the coming catastrophe would be so great that normal mourning would be abandoned.

No family. No funerals. No feasting. Jeremiah lived in loneliness and exclusion. He embodied what it meant for God to be driven out by the people He loved. Of interest is that Jeremiah was from Anatoth. Anatoth was where the priests lived who were banished by Solomon. Jeremiah was not a priest in Jerusalem. He was a descendent of the priest Abiathar, who supported Solomon’s older brother Adonijah to become king. Solomon said he deserved to die for that, but he let him live because he carried the Ark in the presence of King David (1 Kings 2:13-27). So Abiathar was banished to Anatoth and Jeremiah was his descendent. So, when God wanted a man to represent him, to embody the pain of God, he didn’t choose a priest from Jerusalem. He chose an outsider from Anatoth.

Maybe you’re an outsider. You don’t come from a “made family.” Nobody set you up to be the next best thing. That was Jeremiah. Maybe you can relate to him. But Jeremiah came to know God, and his heart was shaped by God, and he did what God told him to do, even if it brought him great suffering.

The prosperity gospel of health and wealth and happiness is made to look as stupid as it is by the life of the Prophets and the Apostles. It was precisely his obedience that thrust Jeremiah into 40 years of suffering and sorrow. God did speak to Jeremiah about the future restoration, but He also made clear that he wouldn’t live long enough to see it. When you preach from the hope passages of Jeremiah, like 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you … plans for your welfare …” you need remember, the restoration of Israel came after that generation was dead.

So what can we learn about shepherding God’s people from Jeremiah 16?

1. To shepherd the people of God you must enter into the heart and mind of God.

We cannot serve God’s people if we cannot hear God when He speaks, and if we don’t enter into His heart and mind, the mind of Christ, the Father’s heart. I’m actually quite concerned that some think that to shepherd God’s people you have to know the mind of Rick Warren, or Ed Stetzer, or, Matt Chandler, or pick your favorite (not that these aren’t good men from whom we can learn). Or, to lead the people of God you have to know the systems, strategies, and best practices. No. To lead the people of God, you must hear from God. You must know His heart. And even embody His heart and mind. That is first, second and third.

2. To shepherd God’s people you must present to them the heart and mind of God.

This is what you see in the prophets and the Apostles. You especially see it in Jeremiah. Jeremiah uses that phrase, “The word of the Lord” or “the Lord says” more than any other. In 16:1 “the word of the Lord came to me.” 16:3 “This is what the Lord says.” 16:5 “this is what the Lord says.” 16:5 “this is the Lord’s declaration.” 16:9 “this is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says.” People don’t need to know what their shepherds think about spiritual things. People expect their shepherds will talk to God in prayer, then reveal God’s heart and mind as expressed in His Word.

3. Those who shepherd God’s people must embody His message.

The classic definition defines preaching as “truth through personality.” The word “personality” speaks of the entire person – character, integrity, physicality, everything. When you listen to Jeremiah, and when you examine his life, you know, “This man was not a hypocrite. This man didn’t say one thing and do another.” He embodied the message.

4. Shepherds pay a price, often a big price.

This is where it gets tough for spiritual shepherds. You will pray a price. Probably not as big a price as Jeremiah – no marriage, no kids, no social life, starved at times, thrown in a hole. The annihilation and destruction of his city and his country. Continual rejection throughout the 40 years of his ministry. It won’t get that bad for most, but you will suffer.

David Livingstone’s favorite verse was, “Lo I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). The promise of Jesus’ presence, through it all, sustained him. Jesus is present with you too, if you trust in Him, and He will see you through to the very end.

Preaching for Life in a Pro-choice City

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The divide between pro-choice and pro-life has grown significantly this past year. In 2019, more states enacted abortion laws than in any other year since the Supreme Court decision of Roe v Wade. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2019/07/30/new-laws-deepen-state-differences-over-abortion Many states moved to pass laws that better protect the unborn. However, some have swung horrifyingly in the opposite direction, even going as far as saying a child could theoretically be aborted after they were born as suggested by Virginia’s Governor Northam. https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/31/politics/ralph-northam-third-trimester-abortion/index.html

Adding strain to that divide is the increasing pressure from pro-choice groups to aggressively normalize abortion and minimize its perceived impact through things like the #shoutyourabortion campaign or Michelle Williams’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. To some degree, their attempts to normalize abortion may be having an impact. According to a research project funded by the pro-choice Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, part of UC San Francisco, they claim that most women who have abortions do not regret their choice. The study followed 667 women over a 5-year period, checking with them every six months to see how they were “feeling” about their decision to abort their child. This study has received a great deal of attention in pro-choice publications, claiming that it validates the choice that these women made, and that they have not sustained long-term emotional trauma as a result of their abortion.

I live in a pro-choice state, in a region with pro-choice cities. Seattle, WA and Portland, OR are among the most liberal, pro-choice cities in the nation. Those of us serving Christ in pro-choice cities have learned that appeals to culture and courts and legislatures are not “winning the day” in terms of protecting the unborn where we live. Now the pro-choice community is using this study to argue that those who have abortions experience “relief” and “happiness” as a result of having an abortion. To argue against abortion prevents many women from being happy, so the argument goes. Abortion has been a good thing for these women, we are told, and few experience negative “emotions” long-term.

So where does this leave the church, and the preacher, and all of those believe that abortion takes an innocent human life? It leaves us in the same position that that we have always held, relying upon God’s Word, and the truth about Him and the human beings He created. Although there is an ongoing political and legal battle concerning the protection of the unborn, the preacher and the church have what we’ve always had, the Scriptures, which enable us to speak God’s Word and implant it into human hearts, the hearts of individuals, especially the hearts of young people who are most apt to face abortive decisions. For the Christian, the goal is not simply to “feel happy,” but to do the right thing, the thing that pleases God, and the thing that demonstrates love to those most vulnerable in our world.

When you speak to the heart, with a desire to see God transform the heart, you must speak truth and live truth. The Bible teaches that every person is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), and that God’s relationship with a person begins in the womb (Ps. 139:13). The Psalmist said that God “knit me together in my mother’s womb.” God placed His hands on me, formed me, created me as I would create a garment stitch-by-stitch. And He created me, and every human being, in His image. Every color and hue, all peoples in all places, created by God, valued by God. And, moreover, every individual created by God is loved by God, so much so that Jesus came to provide the means by which every person ever born can be adopted into God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning work. This is a truth we can preach and live!

Another of God’s truths that must be spoken into hearts is that behaving justly begins with how we treat those who are most vulnerable. The Bible is clear that justice requires we care for widows, orphans, the poor, and other vulnerable persons. No one is more vulnerable than the unborn. The unborn child is totally dependent on what others do or don’t do. This fact is implicit. It is obvious. Life is precious, and those we must protect most are those who cannot protect themselves. God entrusts every child to a mother and father. From conception to adulthood children need parents who nurture and protect, who teach and train, who love and cherish them. This a truth that must be spoken into the hearts of our children. We are sending our children into a pro-choice world, and we must not send them without speaking truth into their hearts so that they will live justly. Studies reveal that 25 percent of women have had an abortion, and many men have encouraged abortion. We must preach the hope of redemption and forgiveness in Christ for this and all sin, but we must seek to prevent sin by putting God’s Word into the hearts of our children.

Preaching life must include the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The Christian lives for others. We live for God, and we put others before ourselves. This includes putting those who are weakest and most vulnerable before ourselves. Jesus said that our love for others must even include our enemies. If we are to love our neighbors, including our enemies, as we love ourselves, surely we must love the unborn as we love our own lives. The greatest choice is that which puts others before self, especially those others who are most vulnerable.

Some might think it is difficult to preach for life in a pro-choice city and to advocate for life in a city that advocates for the death of certain unborn persons. I have discovered that the madness inherent in the human heart (Eccl. 9:3) can be transformed and turned by God’s Word spoken into their heart. Just as light is most beautiful when reflected by a diamond, God’s Word reveals its beauty and power when spoken into a human heart, healing the madness, softening the hardness, and transforming the thoughts and behaviors that emanate from a person’s heart.

Should we preach for life in a pro-choice city? Yes! Yes today and yes forever! Some souls will turn their hearts toward God and find forgiveness and cleansing from sin. God’s Word, planted in the hearts of our children and others, will strengthen them to resist the enemy and live a holy life. And even when we are rejected and rebuffed by some in the pro-choice crowd, we will fulfill our calling to speak the truth in love, as watchmen who warn the city when the enemy attacks.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

A More Excellent Way

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The second mile … the longest day … the shot heard round the world … the golden rule. These phrases bring to mind images, thoughts and memories. Some relate to an historical event, but many come from the Bible. “A more excellent way” is a phrase that comes from the Scriptures. You might recognize it as a quote from 1 Corinthians 12, concluding Paul’s discourse on spiritual gifts and transitioning to one of the most beloved passages of Scripture – 1 Corinthians 13.

Known as “the love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13 is a poem that not only celebrates love, it reveals loving behavior in glorious detail. Because it is frequently used in weddings, the context of the teaching is often overlooked. The church in Corinth was a divided church, a sinful and deeply troubled church. Much like the church today, they valued giftedness and celebrity more than love. But 1 Corinthians 13 says that love is superior to supreme intelligence, mountain-moving faith, sacrificial generosity, and death-defying spiritual courage. A person who truly loves God and others is a greater gift to the church than anything else in the whole world!

Our churches need love. Our communities need love. Where will North westerners find love if they don’t find it in God’s people? They’ll find it nowhere. There’s a country song about “looking for love in all the wrong places.” That’s a description of every person before they find love in Jesus Christ.

A More Excellent Way is the theme for the annual meeting of Northwest Baptists. More than a theme, this phrase expresses the deep yearning we all have for God’s love. We’ll celebrate how Northwest Baptists are loving their communities. We’ll remind ourselves that how we love “the least of these” (another of those precious phrases) matters more to our Father than most anything else. In testimony and message, in Scripture readings and prayers, maybe even in reports, we’ll be called to live “a more excellent way.”

Northwest Baptists annual “family gathering” begins November 11 with a Great Commission Celebration and continues November 12-13 with the annual meeting. We’ll gather at the Great Wolf Lodge in Centralia, WA so bring the kids and grandkids. The water park is available to those attending our meetings and the room cost is deeply discounted for NWBC attendees.

Speakers include Richard Blackaby, Dennis Pethers, Carlos Rodriquez and NWBC President, Dustin Hall. Each of these men love the Lord and His people, and they are being used by God to build and bless His Church.

A funny thing happened in our home recently. My wife Paula took her blood pressure shortly before I got home and it was 110/62. I turned on the television news shortly after arriving and it was full of political conflict and other things that can stir emotions and boil blood. Paula checked her blood pressure 15 or 20 minutes into the news and it had shot up to 135/80! She’s been telling me ever since that I’m killing her by watching the news! But here’s the point, the news relates to things we have little control over. It’s probably better to focus on matters in which we can make a difference. We can “love our neighbors.” We can serve Jesus in our community. We can make a difference where we live. We need to pray for our leaders and our nation, but most of our attention should be given to people in whose lives we can make a difference by living “a more excellent way.”

A Heart for Pomeroy

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Recently I preached at FBC, Orofino, ID, population, 3,142. Orofino is a beautiful town on the Clearwater River, a few miles upriver from where the “Lewis and Clark Expedition” camped and made the five canoes in which they travelled all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Church members are currently seeking God’s man to serve as their pastor.

While in Orofino, a person made an offhand comment about a former Director of Missions having “a heart for Pomeroy.” Apparently he wanted to get a church started in the little town of Pomeroy, but it never happened. Pomeroy is in Washington State, 75 miles west of Orofino, with a population of 1,388. It is the only town in Garfield County. An internet search shows seven churches in Pomeroy, none of which are affiliated with the Northwest Baptist Convention.

But it was the phrase, “a heart for Pomeroy” that struck me. The phrase captured my attention because I have driven through Pomeroy many times “on my way” to another place, but I’ve never stopped in Pomeroy. It’s an attractive little town, but as many times as I’ve driven through it, I have not stopped, nor have I developed “a heart for Pomeroy.” I have thought about the fact that we have no church there. I have wondered if the churches that are there provide a faithful gospel witness in that town, but I’ve thought the same about dozens of other towns I drive through on my way to someplace else. It’s impossible to truly have a “heart” for dozens, or hundreds, of specific communities spread across thousands of miles of roads in the Northwest.

No, I don’t have a “heart for Pomeroy,” certainly not like that Director of Missions had many years ago. What’s more, I don’t personally know a person who has a “heart for Pomeroy,” at least none of which I’m aware.

That causes me to ask two questions. First, “Is there a person who has a heart for Pomeroy?” Second, “Is it important that someone has a heart for Pomeroy?” The answer to the first question is, I don’t know if there is a missionary/pastor/lover-of-Jesus who has a heart for Pomeroy, but if there is it’s probably someone who lives there, or near there, and who feels a deep sense of responsibility to reach that town for Christ. If there is one living person who has a heart for Pomeroy, it’s someone who knows that little town, or has someone they love living there, and they don’t want the one they love to be left without a faithful gospel witness. If there is a person alive with a heart for Pomeroy, it’s a person who has prayed for Pomeroy, and as they prayed names and faces came to mind.

Now for the second question, “Is it important that some living person has a heart for Pomeroy?” I believe the answer is yes. And if the answer is yes, who will that person be? Most likely it will be someone who feels responsible for Pomeroy, spiritually responsible, like the Director of Missions did. It may be someone who grew up there, or has family there. It will be someone who believes that every person deserves to have a gospel witness. If a person has a heart for Pomeroy, it will be a person deeply burdened that every child in the town has someone praying for them and sharing Christ with them. It will be someone who believes that every human being is made in the image of God, and thus every person is valuable and someone for whom Christ died, and that every person for whom Christ died has a basic right to know who Jesus is and what He did for them.

Every community needs people who love Jesus who also “have a heart” for their community. The tragedy, as I see it, is that we have far fewer people than we once did who are tasked with the responsibility to see that every town, and neighborhood, and people group, have a church ministering to them. There was a time, only a decade ago, when virtually every county in America had a Southern Baptist missionary working full-time to reach that county. In many places, like where I serve in the Northwest, a missionary might be assigned four or more counties. Still, there was at least one person in that part of the world who was responsible to “have a heart” for the people there.

We still have missionaries assigned to certain areas, but not as many, and they are assigned to vastly bigger territories. We can discuss and debate the strategic choices which were made, and are being made, that brought us to these reduced numbers. But it is probably more helpful to explore the question, “What do we do now?” The answer, I think, is that we need “average Christian people” (is there such a thing?) to invest themselves in Kingdom service, asking God to “give them a heart” for their city, for their people, and for their neighbors.

There aren’t enough “professional clergy” (a worse term than “average Christian”), or called-out missionaries, to assign to every community. We need more, many more, farmers and teachers and homemakers and business people who have “a heart for Pomeroy” and a heart for your town. Will you be one of those?

Travelling to Orofino and driving through Pomeroy was important for me, as was following the trail of those first explorers and being reminded of their do-whatever-it-takes mentality. It was that pioneering, overcoming spirit that brought people out west. And when you join a pioneering spirit to the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life, you have a heart that God can use to bless a city.

Jesus and your Neighbor, that’s the Test

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Jesus said, “I tell you … there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

One of the most striking characteristics in the ministry and message of Jesus is his attention to the value and importance of a single individual. Much of what we know about Jesus comes from his interaction with one person and his parables that focused on the worth or behavior of a single person – Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman at the Well, the man born blind, Lazarus, Mary, Martha, Peter, Pilate, the Rich Young Ruler, the Prodigal Son, and so many others.

The value that Jesus places on a single person is one of the most important and attractive qualities of Jesus. The “end-justifies-the-means” ethic of tyrants and bullies who are willing to sacrifice the individual for some “higher purpose,” or for the “greater number,” is devastatingly refuted by Jesus’ treatment of the most ordinary humans.

Recently I’ve been thinking about this as it relates to two things. First, some in positions of power and influence are willing to damage an individual, or fail to seek justice for an individual, in order to protect an institution. The institution could be a church, denomination of churches, or a particular “ministry.” In order to “protect the ministry,” an individual person is hurt or allowed to suffer. Second, organizations, including ministries, are tempted to suppress the truth (poor performance numbers, mistreatment of individuals, etc.) when they think the truth will bring a “backlash” from the constituents (the people paying the bills).

When did Jesus ever mistreat an individual in order to protect the religious establishment? When did Jesus ever suppress the truth, fearing people couldn’t handle the truth? The answer to both questions is – NEVER. Jesus never hurt an individual, no matter how unimportant some thought they were, in order to please the religious established or protect the religious institution from others learning the truth.

There are two questions that will help you know how to handle any difficulty or ethical situation you will face in life: What does God say about this? And, how does it affect my neighbor? Other forms of the two questions might be: What does the Bible say? And, how does it affect an individual person?”

I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot, mostly because my sleep has been disturbed by leaders suppressing the truth, or hurting an individual, in order to “protect” the ministry. We never protect our ministry by suppressing the truth, even if the truth is ugly … especially when the truth is ugly. God’s people can handle the truth. What they can’t handle is hiding the truth or avoiding the truth.

Equally disturbing is a willingness to let a person suffer, or to actually harm a person, in order to protect or promote the “ministry.” God will not, He will not ever, bless a ministry in which a person is deliberately harmed, or in which harm is not redressed.
The test is really quite simple, Jesus and my neighbor. If I’m good with them, nothing much will go wrong. If I am good with them, I don’t need to worry about my “religious institution” or establishment. And with that said, I can now sleep undisturbed.

Preventing Sexual Abuse in Churches

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On February 3, 2019 the Houston Chronicle newspaper began a 3-part series on sexual abuse issues in Southern Baptist churches. Over a period of 20 years they have identified approximately 220 convicted perpetrators in 47,000 churches — including four from the Northwest — and 700 victims. That number will grow, and has grown, as others have come forward with their stories of abuse.

The damage done to victims of sexual abuse lasts a lifetime, often affecting multiple generations within a family or community, including church communities. Because of this, I want to provide a brief synopsis of the procedures we have in place to assure care for victims and families when it is appropriate, protect our convention, as well as the ways we try to help our churches protect their children and their ministries. This explanation is not exhaustive, but hopefully you will find it helpful.

First, the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) does national criminal background checks on all of our staff. Furthermore, national criminal background checks are performed on all volunteers who work with minors. Every church must do the same. If your church has not done national criminal background checks on every person working with those under age 18, children are placed at risk. Furthermore, the church is at great risk should abuse ever occur. Background checks must be performed on all paid staff and every volunteer who has access to children. You can download from our convention website a document containing links to multiple resources that will help your church become more fully aware and prevent opportunities for abuse to occur. Find it here under the “Safety & Security” heading:

https://www.nwbaptist.org/nwbc-ministries/church-health/children/

Second, the NWBC offers training to our churches multiple times a year on how to protect children and prevent abuse from occurring. Included in this training is a list of resources for conducting criminal background checks, etc. Policy and procedure guidelines are available to all of our churches regarding these matters, upon request. Ashley Seuell, an attorney with the Northwest Baptist Foundation, is available to review a church’s policies and recommend policies and methods that churches can use to protect their children and their church at large.

Third, when moral failure occurs, even if it does not involve criminal behavior, we state publically the reason for termination or resignation (not necessarily the details of the offense, just that it was an issue of moral failure), and we urge that churches do the same. This makes it much more difficult for a sexual offender to move to a new town, or a new state, and resume ministry.

Fourth, we offer to provide Christian counseling to those hurt and injured by sexual immorality and/or abuse.

Fifth, we never suppress or “cover up” information regarding sexual abuse. We have not and will not enter into nondisclosure agreements with any person who separates from the NWBC because of a moral failure (we haven’t entered into nondisclosure agreements for any other reason, either).

I hope you find this information helpful. We live and serve in a broken world populated with broken people. We too have been damaged by sin, most often damaged by our own sin. But those who serve Jesus Christ with integrity of heart make a difference now … and forever. You matter and what you do matters. The church matters. May God help us and protect us as we strive to love Him and love our neighbors.

Trust – The Indispensable Ingredient for Seizing Unexpected Ministry Opportunities

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A few weeks ago I was asked to speak about things I have learned in 35 years of ministry. I decided to tell a story that illustrates what can happen in a church/ministry when trust is high. This article is longer than most, but I think you will find it encouraging. Partly, I just wanted to get it down on paper for myself.

I was in my tenth year as pastor of FBC McAlester, OK when we learned that the trial of Terry Nichols, a conspirator in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, would be held in the Pittsburg County Courthouse, adjacent to our church. Nichols had already been convicted in a federal trial and given a life sentence. The trial in McAlester was an Oklahoma State trial, undertaken so that Nichols could be given the death penalty for his role in the murder of 168 people, including three pregnant women and 19 children.

Our local newspaper said that the trial could last six months and that our town of 18,000 would be inundated with media people. Our church staff had our weekly meeting the day we learned the trial would be held next door to our church building. We first discussed the problems this could bring, primarily with parking, but we quickly transitioned to the question, “Is there a ministry opportunity in this situation?”

Tom Beddow was a staff member who had the unique role of providing counseling, as well as helping us connect to the needs of the community in creative ways. Tom said, “I’ll call Paul Bettis at the Oklahoma Baptist Convention office and see if he knows anything about this.” Paul led the chaplaincy ministry for Oklahoma Baptists, and when Tom told him that he wanted information about the trial, and how the church might help, Paul said, “I can’t talk to you. I can’t talk to anyone in Pittsburg County.” Tom said, “I don’t live in Pittsburg County. I live in Pontotoc County. Does that help?” Paul said, “Let me check and I’ll call you back.”

Paul called Tom 30 minutes later and told him the situation, which went generally like this: “We think the trial will last six months and that as many as 150 bombing survivors and victim family members will be there each day. We need a safe place for them to go when they want to leave the courtroom, some place where the media can’t reach them, some place where they can relax. We need to feed them a breakfast and a good lunch every day of the trial, Monday-Friday, for as many as six months. We can’t charge them for the food.”

Paul told Tom, “You can’t tell anyone about this.” Tom said, “I have to tell the pastor.” After some checking, Tom was allowed to tell me, and we were allowed to share it with our church staff, but each of us was sworn to secrecy. We couldn’t tell anyone else because they were concerned it could taint the jury pool.

The situation boiled down to this – the Oklahoma City District of Attorney’s Office needed someone to feed and care for as many as 150 people daily for six months, but they couldn’t share this need publically. The question for me and my staff was this, “Can you commit to provide for this need without informing the church that you are committing them to six months of ministry, Monday through Friday, including providing food and other support services to these families?” Our staff and I enthusiastically and confidently committed ourselves and our church to this ministry opportunity, knowing we couldn’t tell our church or the deacons or anyone else that to which we had committed them.

About five weeks before the trial began we told the District of Attorney’s Office that we needed to bring some key lay leaders into the planning and preparation process. They asked for a list of names, and if they were not in the thousand-person jury pool, we could meet with them. None of the 21 names we gave them was in the jury pool.

The night we met with the 21 was amazing. Each were choice servants of God, people of faith who had given God a big “YES” when lesser opportunities were presented. There was an overwhelming spirit of gratitude that God would choose us to minister to a people so badly wounded by the bombing. As we talked about the particulars of purchasing food and preparing meals, someone suggested that we ask Walmart and other businesses if they would help us. But one of the 21, a big bear of a man, said, “How much glory would Walmart want if they paid for this? I think God deserves all of the glory and we don’t need to ask Walmart for help.” That statement resonated with us, and we determined to ask for no outside help. This wasn’t meant to be negative toward Walmart or any other business. It was meant as an expression of faith and confidence that our God could use His people to do this thing. And He did.

One week before the trial started and the jury was selected, I was permitted to tell church what we had committed them to do. It was a Sunday morning. As I explained the incredible opportunity God had given us to care for these families who had suffered so, to feed them, listen to their stories, offer prayer and comfort, there was tremendous excitement in our congregation. It seemed like everyone wanted to know how they could help. The spirit was one of gratitude that God had chosen us for this work, and every need we had was met.

The trial lasted 3 ½ months. Our church never faltered. We set aside $2,000 to buy food, thinking that would get us through the first couple of weeks. At the end of the trial $1,800 remained. One small country church, unsolicited, sent us $500 to purchase food. Others did the same.

One survivor who attended the trial was Mr. Khan. Mr. Khan was Islamic and couldn’t eat the food we had prepared. One of our volunteers told him, “Mr. Khan, you tell me what you would like to eat and I’ll prepare it.” She did so every day thereafter. Mr. Khan said, “I am a Muslim. But if I ever become a Christian it will be because of what you have done for me.”

Another person mentioned how hard the benches were in the courtroom. One of our people heard the comment and bought cushions for every seat in the courtroom.

Our church had two custodians who were not members of our church. Some were concerned that we were overworking them, but they came to us and said, “We want to be a part of this. If it means we have to work extra we will donate our time because we want to help.”

About two months into the trial I told a group at lunch that I wouldn’t see them the next week because I was taking my family on vacation. A man asked me where we were going and I told him Washington D.C. He asked, “Are you touring the White House?” I said that we were trying to get a tour of the East Wing (which is where the tourists were allowed to go), but that it hadn’t come through yet. He said, “I’m retired Secret Service. I can get you a private Secret Service tour of the West Wing.” The next week our family met a Secret Service agent early one evening, and he toured us through the West Wing of the White House – the Oval Office, Cabinet Room, pictures in the Rose Garden, the whole works.”

The trial wrapped up late one Friday evening on June 11, 2004. The jury deadlocked on giving Nichols a death sentence, which meant “life without parole” was the maximum he could receive. I was at my house. They called me about 10:00 PM and told me of the verdict and the sentence, and they said that the families wanted to gather one last time in our church and they wanted me to pray for them and speak to them.

It was an evening I will never forget. I don’t say this lightly, but God gave me a message that night. It was a message unrelated to any I had ever delivered. I spoke about the need we have for justice, but how the justice we ultimately need cannot be provided by any earthly court. “How do you secure justice for those who are gone? How do you render justice for an act so horrific?” I then said, “It’s during times like this that the resurrection of Jesus Christ becomes most precious. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. And a day is coming when all the dead will be raised and God Himself will render judgment. “ I further assured them that our hope for justice is based on a God who’s love and power are so great that He not always knows the right thing to do, He has the power to do what He knows is right. “Many of you feel let down tonight. You don’t feel like justice was done. But no human court can provide what we most need. We need assurance that our loved ones have a future. We need to know that they’re alright. We need to know that we can see them again. And that is the promise of the gospel. That is the hope that Jesus’ resurrection provides.” Those moments were special. They were powerful as God ministered His Word to those gathered.

In the aftermath of the trial Oklahoma City District Attorney Wes Lane and his team of prosecutors travelled 145 miles to our church on a Sunday morning just to worship with us and to publically thank our people for what they did. Several of the survivors did the same. The Oklahoma governor issued a proclamation honoring our church. And if you tour the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial you will see a plaque honoring FBC, McAlester. The person responsible for that recognition was Judge Stephen Taylor. He presided over the trial and said that the ministry our church provided was indispensable and he wanted it recognized.

In my years of ministry those months were the highpoint, not because it was the most impactful thing that church had ever done or I have ever experienced. It’s the highpoint because it revealed a level of trust and confidence in God and in God’s people that was extraordinary. Stephen Covey called it the “speed of trust.” High trust allows you to move quickly and confidently. Low trust keeps churches from doing much of anything. Sometimes a lengthy decision-making process is necessary, like when you’re deciding whether to build a large structure. But sometimes churches forgo great ministry opportunities because trust is low. We were able to commit the church to such a huge ministry because we had already seen God do many things over the past decade and trust was built in the process.

When David faced Goliath, he said, “The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37). We were able to say that the Lord who had delivered us and used us in multiple ways in times past will certainly do so once again.

The bottom line is that churches and pastors who hear from God and experience God gain confidence that the God who “said and did” is the God who still “says and does.”

What’s My Opinion Worth? Not Much.

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“If I can talk you into something, someone smarter than me can talk you out of it.” I’ve used that line several times over the years, most often emphasizing that a person doesn’t trust Jesus Christ as Lord because of a clever argument. Lifelong faith in Jesus happens when the Holy Spirit brings conviction of the truth about sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:9-11). It is not someone’s opinion about God or truth that matters. It’s the truth itself, and the work of the Holy Spirit, that makes an eternal difference. My opinion about these things isn’t worth much. But the truth is worth everything.

For this reason I am cautious about expressing my opinion in print about divisive political matters. I’ll tell you what I think, in the right context, face-to-face, but in print, facial expression is absent, nuance is lost, and if a person disagrees with my opinion I probably won’t be able to have an honest dialogue with them. It could even lead them to “write me off.”

Now, I don’t mean by this that “opinion articles” should not be written and offered to the public in order to persuade others of a particular viewpoint. I just believe that as a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whose greatest ambition is to help people come to know Jesus, I need to be careful about sharing my opinion on issues that don’t matter nearly as much as He does, if that makes sense.

So often when I read people expressing their opinion, whether on social media or through more formal venues, I ask the question, “Does their opinion really matter as it concerns solving the problem or helping the people affected by the problem?” Or, by expressing their opinion, are they simply venting, and, in effect, “putting up a wall” between themselves and others whose greatest need is Jesus, not their opinion on a given topic.
Though I am not entirely consistent in following my own principles and advice, the following is what guides me when confronted by issues that threaten to divide people. If you are a preacher, or someone who loves Jesus and wants others to know Him and love Him like you do, perhaps these principles will help you.

First, in my life, Jesus matters most. I try to put Him first, and I don’t want to share my opinion about a lesser matter in a way that would turn you, or another, away from Jesus Christ. It’s not that lesser matters aren’t important. They’re just not as important as Jesus, or as helping others to know Jesus.

Second, I try to ask myself, “Does expressing what I think on a divisive issue contribute toward the solution to the problem?” Most often I conclude that expressing my opinion won’t make any difference at all. There are very few people who will change their mind because of what I think, and often my wife is not even one of the few! Now, if God’s Word, the Bible, speaks clearly to the issue, that’s a different story. I might well share what the Bible says. I once had a homosexual ask me my opinion of homosexuality and whether I thought it was wrong. I told him what I am trying to say here, namely, “My opinion on the subject doesn’t matter. But have you read the New Testament? Read the New Testament and pray as you read, asking God to speak to you.” This particular man claimed to be a Christian, though he had never read the Bible, so I tried to encourage him to read what God has to say in His Word.

Third, is there something I can actually “do” to help the situation? Offering an opinion is easy, but working toward a solution doesn’t have to be too difficult either. Maybe it would be difficult if you are one of the few who actually write the laws or execute the laws. But most often the things that we can do to help solve the problem are not big things or profound things. Maybe it’s one small thing that helps one other person. Do that one small thing. It could be volunteering at a school, helping a neighbor, or being kind to the neighborhood kids. Use what influence and relationships you have to show God’s love to another human being. And pray for people. Pray for your town and the issues people are facing. You could even write an encouraging note to a person who is hurting.

When I listen to the national debate on issues regarding race relations, respect for the flag, freedom of speech, and the like, I grow concerned for our nation. But I grow more concerned when Christians, and Christian leaders, throw their opinion around in ways that hurt the witness of the Church. I have concluded that my opinion on these issues really only matters if it leads me to take steps that will truly help resolve the problem. Most often these steps will focus on my local community and relationships and on my efforts to serve others as moved by God’s love for them.

In the annual meeting of the Northwest Baptist Convention (Eugene, OR on Nov. 7-8), we will talk some about how to be a blessing to our neighbors in the Northwest. People without Jesus don’t need our opinions. They need our gospel witness and the blessing of God’s love flowing through us and to them.

It Happened One Sunday

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It happened in Spokane, WA on a Sunday morning in the spring of 1937. Eighteen year-old Lillian Privette was in church, as was her custom.

1937 was a difficult year. Unemployment in the U.S. was 14.3 percent and climbing, reaching 19 percent by 1938. Nazi aggression made war seem likely to astute observers such as Winston Churchill. It was also during that year that Amelia Earhart vanished during her around-the-world solo flight.
But as difficult as things were in the world, God was at work, as He always is.

Gifted with a beautiful voice, Lillian loved singing the hymns of the faith. On this particular Sunday, one hymn became a special favorite. As she later told the story, they were singing the great Isaac Watts hymn, “At the Cross,” when she heard a strong, if unfamiliar voice. She looked over, and standing a few persons away, was a handsome young man named Everett. With a striking bearing and clear blue eyes, he possessed the muscular confidence of a young man chiseled by hard, physical labor. Everett had come in from the woods where his family carved a living as loggers.

Finished with school by the eighth grade, Everett helped support a family of twelve by felling timber with his dad. But it was Sunday, and they were far from home, so they attended church in the city. As God would have it, they sat on Lillian’s pew. And while singing “At the Cross,” she heard his voice, looked his way, and described her experience as “love at first sight.”

Everett was smitten with Lillian as well. That morning he asked her to go on a date … to church. Everett drove to Lillian’s house to take her to Easter services at her church. The courtship moved quickly, and they were married by year’s end, beginning 61 years together.

In the 40 years since my grandparents, Everett and Lillian Adams, told me the story of how they met, I have never sung “At the Cross” without thinking of them. We even have the song displayed in our home to remind us of the faith tradition of our family.

I tell this story as an encouragement to parents and grandparents to share your stories with your family. Children need to hear our stories of faith in Jesus Christ, and they need to know what God has done in and through our families.

The first person I helped lead to faith in Christ was my college roommate, Steve Phillips. I hadn’t seen Steve in twenty years, then, on a family vacation that took us near his home, I gave him a call and we had a wonderful visit. He and his wife have a beautiful family that loves Jesus. It had never occurred to me that our sons knew nothing about Steve and how God had used their Dad to share Jesus with Steve. I learned that I need to share such stories with them. It was good for them to know that when I was about their age now, that I was trying to serve and share Jesus with others.

One of the great concerns that many have is the salvation of their own children and their commitment to serve Jesus after they leave home. This is a valid concern that requires multiplied efforts. Sharing your faith stories with your kids is one worthy effort toward that end.

Have you told your children and grandchildren how you became a follower of Jesus? Tell them. Have you shared a time when you believe God was guiding you and it changed your life? Share it. Have you talked about serving Jesus, maybe leading a friend to Christ? Tell them. Did you help to start a church? Is there a time when you denied self, and sacrificed, for Jesus and His cause? These are stories that others need to hear, especially our own kids.

Everett and Lillian have been with Jesus for more than fifteen years. When they died I lost someone who prayed for me daily. I will always remember my Grandpa’s first words after he heard me preach my first sermon. “You are called,” he said. That meant a lot to me. It still does. And I want my sons to know the story.