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 Peace of Jesus or the Peaceful Bigotry of Social Theories

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I once heard an Irish poet say that the peace agreement that ended The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late 1990s did not cause enemies to love each other. It did not produce peace in people’s hearts. Rather, he said they had achieved a “peaceful bigotry,” meaning they still hated each other, but they had stopped killing each other. I would argue that “peaceful bigotry” is the best the world can do. We speak of peace in the Middle East. Peace in Afghanistan. Or even peace between political opponents in the Federal Government of the United States. But what the world calls peace is merely a cessation of violence, peaceful bigotry, not peace in people’s hearts.

The Bible tells us peace is found in the person of Jesus Christ. “He Himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14). True peace in the human heart, and peace between enemies, can only be achieved as people meet at the foot of Christ’s cross, reconciling with God and then with each other.

This came to mind as I read that some Southern Baptists are embracing aspects of Critical Race Theory (CRT), and other social and political theories, that promise answers to the ongoing problems of racism and racial division. At best, the application of such theories can only produce a “peaceful bigotry.” Peace will not be achieved by embracing theories. Peace is only achieved through Jesus Christ.

To look at this another way, the Bible defines and describes justice and it does so without adjectival modifiers. The Bible doesn’t use the term “social justice,” but simply justice. When you add a modifier to the word “justice” you get something less than true, biblical justice. “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully” (Prov. 28:5).

The message of the church is unique. The uniqueness of our message is the person of Jesus Christ. He is our peace. He is just. He enables us to understand what justice is. And on that coming Day, He will produce perfect peace and justice. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31f).

We must not settle for peaceful bigotry. We must not commit to social theories that enable the continuation of hate, bigotry, and division, and deny the gospel as the only power to change hearts, thus producing true peace. The Church only has one message – Jesus. He is our peace.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

An Encouraging Word about God’s Work in the Northwest

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In a world where tragedy, scandal, and politics dominate the news, sometimes you need to hear a good, refreshing word. With that in mind, I want to share some of the really good things that have been happening in the Northwest.

As I write, 28 are gathered in our Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) building, learning how to serve churches as “transitional pastors.” These are men who’ve spent their lives as pastors, and now they will continue to serve churches that are seeking their next pastor. These men are lifelong learners and in ministry lifelong learning is the “fountain of youth.” It keeps you relevant, effective, and vigorous. Helping church prepare for the next pastor, and find a good pastor, is probably the most important and helpful thing we can do for a church.

This spring a preaching conference served 40 pastors, followed by another on reaching and caring for people (Count the Cost), with about the same number attending. “Count the Cost” is something you’ll be hearing more about as it will help any church regardless of size, location, ethnicity or language. We’ve also had 128 attend children’s ministry and VBS training this spring. Our annual Women’s Summit had 302 women, by far our largest attendance ever. One person told me that she brought a friend who was a Buddhist and she gave her life to Christ at the Women’s Summit!

Our annual Youth Conference had 440 in attendance, with 12 professions of faith. Our NWBC youth ministry leader, Lance Logue, invited two boys playing basketball to join the conference. They said they weren’t there for the conference, but he told them they were welcome to attend. They did, and both boys prayed to receive Christ!

In April we had 247 gather for our annual NWBC Church Planter’s Retreat. This included 58 pastors, 45 wives, and over 100 of their kids. Twenty-two volunteers taught the VBS curriculum to the kids. Languages represented among these church planters included English, Spanish, Korean, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Romanian and Mandarin. And we had four new churches launch on Easter Sunday!

What about Disaster Relief? In April 140 DR volunteers attended a two-day training event, preparing for wherever they might be deployed. If you have a disaster in your area, know that we have people ready to serve. DR chaplains have been called upon in school shootings and other traumatic events.

You are providing all types of leadership training and resources by supporting missions through the Cooperative Program. When people are trained, you are providing the training through the NWBC. When Disaster Relief volunteers are deployed, you are sending them through the commitment of your church to invest in a cooperative mission’s strategy. At our church planting retreat, I told all of our church planters that every cooperating NWBC church is investing in them through Cooperative Program missions giving (and through the Northwest Impact Mission Offering).

I know I’m giving you a lot of numbers, but these numbers represent people, and most of these numbers represent people trained for ministry in our churches – your church! Is it making a difference? Yes! According to our Annual Church Profile information, worship attendance increased in our NWBC churches to 33,433 in 2018, up from 29,412 in 2017. Small group attendance increase to 20,406, up from 18,455 in 2017. Total baptisms reported by our churches were 1,742. This number is down from 1,954 the previous year, but the general trend over five years is up. That said, we must make sharing the gospel a top priority and it is our commitment to help you by providing resources and training yearly.

One final word: please pray for the 115 people from 26 of our NWBC churches who will serve hundreds of IMB missionaries and their children in Asia this coming July.

I hope this brief report encourages you as it does me. It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!

Black Holes and the Gravity of Death

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It’s been a week since we saw the first stunning photographic image of a black hole. A network of telescopes dispersed across the globe, called Event Horizon Telescope, zoomed in on the massive monster 55 million light-years from earth in the constellation Virgo. With a mass 6.5 billion times more than that of our sun, and a diameter estimated to be 23.6 billion miles (the diameter of earth is 7917.5 miles), the science which enabled the photo has been over 100 years in the making (Lisa Grossman and Emily Conover in Science News, 4/10/19).

The term “black hole” speaks to the fact that its mass is so great that even light cannot escape its gravitational pull, thus it is black. It is the ultimate trap from which there is no escape, thus it is a “hole” into which we cannot see and from which nothing can emerge.

Science fiction writers have spun terrifying tales about being consumed by a black hole. And though that would be horrific, I’m sure, the black hole that is more fearful, and an ever-present reality for every human being, is the black hole of death.

If succumbing to the gravitational pull of a black hole seems impossibly remote, succumbing to the black hole of death is a certainty we are reminded of almost daily. Beginning with Abel, every person ever born has been consumed by death; Enoch and Elijah are the only exceptions noted in the Scriptures.

The certainty of death, and the fear it evokes, has been recorded by all peoples throughout history. Most civilizations have theorized that there is another life beyond the black hole of death, but this hope of another life was impossibly shrouded in darkness. There was simply no way to know for sure whether the Egyptian Pharaohs would receive the afterlife for which they so extravagantly prepared. The same was true for the ancient Chinese or the Norsemen of Europe. Both ancient and modern religions have theorized what might come after death. But how could one know for sure? Because death was a black hole, no one had ever broken free from its gravitation pull and emerged to describe what the hole of death held.

And then came Jesus. Like all before and after Him, Jesus Christ entered into the black hole of death. He was as dead as any person who has ever died. Totally and completely dead. Unlike all others, however, Jesus plunged into the black hole of death willingly and voluntarily. And, unlike all others, Jesus was liberated from the black hole of death after three days. No one before or since has emerged from death finally and forever, except Jesus. Jesus restored life to Lazarus following his death, but like others in the Bible who were raised to life, Lazarus only emerged from death’s black hole temporarily. He died again on another day.

When Jesus emerged from death’s black hole, He rose triumphantly and victoriously as The One who forever defeated death. Until the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death was a black hole whose gravitational pull was impossible to overcome. Even today, no one but Jesus Christ has emerged from the black hole of death. He remains the sole overcomer of the grave.

However, the Bible contains a promise, multiple promises, actually, that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the first of many. “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). And, “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16).

This week Christians will remember the death of Christ on the cross, the day in which He plunged into death’s black hole. By His death He secured the eternal salvation of all who trust in Him. But even as we remember the death of Jesus, we do so knowing that Resurrection Day followed shortly three days hence, forever removing the sting of death’s black hole.

The universe God created is vast and mysterious beyond our feeble ability to see and know. When we get glimpses of it like we did with the black hole photo, we are stunned beyond description. What is more amazing, however, is that the God who created all that is, loves us and knows us, even to the detail of numbering the hairs on our heads. And because of this, we are set free from the fear that death will be a black hole of separation from all those we know and love.

If you haven’t yet given your life to Jesus Christ, do so now. Come to Jesus and experience life now and forever.

Ministry Guaranteed to Bless Your City

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A sanitation worker in our town was crushed when he was hit by a car and pinned up against the garbage truck. He was horribly injured and our church prayed for him and his family. Following the prayer, a church deacon asked a simple question that ultimately transformed our ministry. Here’s the question: “I wonder if that man has a church that is ministering to him and his family?” We learned that he did have a church and they were doing well by him. But this led to a second question: What about others in our community, who in time of crisis, have no church family? What of those who have no pastor, no Bible class, no ministry and no living testimony of God’s love and care in their life? What about them?

This tragic situation and the subsequent questions resulted in a profound commitment by our church. We determined that we would pray for, and serve as best we could, every family in town touched by tragedy. House fires, car wrecks, crime victims, accidents of various kinds, horrible medical diagnoses; these happened with some frequency in our ministry area of 25,000 people. And when they did, we sent two or three to the home with the simple message, “We’re from First Baptist. We heard what happened. We’re so sorry. We want to pray for you and see if there is any way we can help.”
Sometimes our involvement ended after the prayer and words of love and concern. Other times clothing or food was provided, biblical counseling was provided, a wheel chair ramp was built, among other things. The results included some coming to faith in Christ, goodwill built with the family and friends, and some actually joined our church so that they could be involved in this ministry of care. Our church was known for several things, one of which became, “They’re the church that serves everybody and anybody in time of crisis.”

So here’s a goal that will bless your city: commit to visiting and praying for every person stricken by tragedy. The tragedy doesn’t have to be physical injury. In our local newspaper I read weekly, if not daily, of hardships in families. A local mayor’s portrait was on the front page because he was accused of soliciting sex for money. A grandmother went to prison because she embezzled from her employer. A family was ripped apart when a grandson murdered his grandmother. The list goes on. But questions that a local church needs to ask are, “Does this family have a church? Do they have a pastor? Let’s visit them and pray for them and see how we might show them God’s love.”

When I surrendered to ministry leadership a pastor told me that if I would minister to hurting people I would never lack for ministry opportunities. He was right. But I also learned that I couldn’t do it by myself. I needed to lead our church to organize and to do this in our ministry field.

Often when we discuss ministry goals we talk budgets and baptisms and attendance in public worship and Bible study. These are important matters to consider. But mostly they are the byproduct of other things. Things like leading a church to pray for Kingdom concerns and mobilizing outreach ministries of various kinds. Through ministries like http://www.Pray4EveryHome.org every member of your church can pray for their 100 closest neighbors. Through My316 and God Space you can teach your church how to share the Gospel and minister to people (these are provided to every NWBC church without cost thanks to the generous Cooperative Program missions giving of our churches).

How about this as a goal: We will pray for missionaries, the lost in our community, city and school leaders, and all of the children in town, in every public gathering of our church. That is Kingdom praying –praying for the city, unbelievers, and the missionaries we send and support. If we don’t pray for Kingdom concerns when we gather as church, Kingdom praying won’t happen in the homes of most church members.

Things like this make me excited for the spiritual possibility present in every church. Whether you gather with 20 or 200 on Sunday, these are the kinds of things you can do that will touch heaven and human hearts and will make a difference in your city. God told the people in Jeremiah’s day, living as exiles in Babylon, “Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the LORD on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper” (Jere. 29:7). That is a good word for us, living in a 21st Century Babylon.

Summer Ministry in the Pacific Northwest

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Summer in the Pacific Northwest is as close to the Edenic garden as you will to find. But in addition to enjoying the outdoors, Northwest Baptists do some of their most impactful ministry in the summer months. Vacation Bible Schools and various sports, children and youth camps, anchor our summer ministry, and to these you can add mission trips and community outreach and service projects.

This spring 383 people were trained to lead Bible schools in NWBC and associational events. We anticipate the making of many disciples among the thousands of children ministered to by our churches in Bible schools and camps this summer. Many churches have more children in their Bible schools than the total church attendance on an average Sunday. Bible schools remain the most effective evangelistic ministry of our churches.

Not only do we conduct Bible schools here at home, 50 Northwest Baptists from 10 churches will serve the children of IMB missionaries in Asia from July 30 to August 5. Next summer we have been invited to a missionary retreat which we will require about 140 people serving hundreds of missionary children in Asia, as well as providing medical, technical, and security support. Only by partnering together can we have such great impact serving our IMB missionaries.

Here at home our churches are loving their neighbors in community holiday events, city clean-up projects, school improvement activities, refugee and immigrant ministries, and person-to-person Gospel sharing. The churches with which I have worshiped already this summer have attenders that come from about 25 different nations (about 50 nations are represented in our almost 500 congregations)!

As we consider the primary task that God has given us, to reach 11.5 million neighbors in the Northwest, there are certain values that help guide our work. First, we value the individual person. Most of what we see Jesus doing in the New Testament is focused on one person – Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, a blind man, lame man, demon-possessed man, Lazarus, Mary, Martha, Peter, the thief on the cross, and many others. Jesus gave His full attention to individual people, often people that others did not value. We must do the same. One person matters.

Second, we value every church, because every church, regardless of size, is the Body of Christ which “He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28d). We need each church and we value each church as a partner in the gospel, understanding that the local church best knows their people and must determine how they can best love their community and share the gospel where they live.

Third, we value the collaboration of true partners. In a partnership, the “weaker” partner is respected by the “stronger” partner, understanding that God works in mysterious ways, choosing the “weak” to shame the “strong” (1 Cor. 1:27). Whether speaking of individuals or churches, partnership enables us to have a bigger and more consistent gospel impact. This is the genius of the Cooperative Program (CP) method of funding missions. By the way, our NWBC churches gave an average of 7.5 percent to missions through CP last year, far above the national average of 4.86.

I hope that you are enjoying your summer, and that you will know that it is a good day to serve the Lord in the Pacific Northwest!

Why I Am a Christian

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I am a Christian because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. It’s just about that simple. The opening words of Genesis One revealing the creative utterance of God are breathtaking. The poetry of the 23rd Psalm reflecting a deep intimate relationship between a man and his God is unsurpassed. The Messianic birth narratives revealing God’s commitment to redeem humanity through incarnation are sublime. Added to these are any number of biblical histories, prophetic utterances and ethical teachings. And we must always cling to the Cross, brutal and bloody, proving Christ loves us beyond description.

While the entirety of Scripture is God-breathed, and profitable in every way, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the starting-point of Christian faith. As Paul writes in Ephesians, God’s saving power for believers “is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 1:19b-20). Moreover, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).

Yes, the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead is where Christian faith begins. Not only that, but Christ’s resurrection has no parallel in the world’s major religions. The Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path of Buddhism provide a form of ethical instruction, as does the Islamic Koran. Clearly Christians find both utterly deficient for life and godliness, but some form ethics and code of conduct are found in all religions.

What is not found in the world’s religions is the assertion that God became man, was crucified and died for our sin, and after three days in the grave rose from the dead in triumph over sin, death and the grave. Moreover, the New Testament goes beyond asserting Christ’s resurrection by offering evidence for the resurrection. The evidence begins with the empty tomb and the eyewitness accounts of the Apostles to the resurrection. It continues with the preaching of Peter in Acts 2, the healing of the crippled beggar in Acts 3 “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene” (Acts 3:6), the creation of the Church, and the martyrdom of the Apostolic eyewitnesses to the resurrected Lord. Don’t forget, Christianity is rooted in history. It is not merely a collection of wise sayings and rules for life. Jesus lived, died and rose again in a specific place, at a particular time, and interacting with thousands of people.

Recently I returned from Burma, a country that is officially Buddhist. There are more Buddhist pagodas in the cities of Yangon and Mandalay that there are steeples in Dallas, TX! The largest of these is the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Rising 325 feet, it is covered in as much as 60 tons of gold. Why have Burmese Buddhists invested such wealth in this pagoda? Because they believe that it contains eight strands of hair from Buddha himself. They know he’s dead. They don’t believe he’s a god. But in the hope of having good karma they worship him in this way (Remember, when Buddhists and Hindus speak of karma they are not speaking about rewards or punishment in this life, but rather in a future life via reincarnation).

Thank God we have a living Savior! Resurrected, reigning and coming again! In a little over two weeks we will celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter Sunday. But those who trust in Jesus Christ experience the victory of Christ’s resurrection every day.

Yes, I am a Christian because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. If you are not a Christian, what do you believe about Jesus and His resurrection? If the resurrection is a lie, then Christianity has no foundation. It is vital that you understand this. Our entire faith stands or falls on the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, if you look at the evidence, and conclude that the resurrection really happened, you are left to conclude that Jesus is what He and the Scriptures claim Him to be – Lord and King, forever and ever, and you must, dear friend, you must follow Him in faith and obedience.

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.”

Baptizing Barbarians

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My people were barbarians, just plain dangerous, before Jesus rescued them and saved them from sin. You have to go back a few years because the gospel came to my people a long time ago. It’s a pretty amazing story. My people came from England, and though you might not realize it, before the missionary-evangelists came to English soil, the people there were dangerous. Here’s how it happened.

In the year A.D. 596 a follower of Jesus named Augustine led forty others from the European Continent to England in order to preach Jesus to the barbarians who lived there. The closer they got the more frightened they became. They had reason to be afraid. There was every possibility they would not survive the encounter. Augustine even asked for permission to abandon the missionary journey and return home. Denied permission, the missionary band braved the danger and journeyed into uncertainty.

When finally they arrived, rather than face a violent death, they found tremendous response to the message of Jesus. Even King Ethelbert was open to the gospel message. The Holy Spirit moved in the hearts of thousands. One-by-one they were born again, passing from death to life. And get this: on Christmas Day of the year A.D. 597, 10,000 barbarians were baptized in Canterbury, England! Even today one of the most famous church buildings in the world is the Canterbury Cathedral, and the leader of the Church of England is the Archbishop of Canterbury. This all goes back to Augustine’s ministry over 1,400 years ago when my English ancestors, and many of yours, were rescued from barbarism and hell itself through the ministry of Augustine and his missionary band.

One thing I know about you is that your people, like mine, were barbarians before they knew Jesus. It doesn’t matter from whence they came, they were barbarians before Jesus was brought to their land and entered their hearts.

When I served in Oklahoma, now considered a “Bible-belt state,” I learned an interesting story from its early history. In 1718 a traveler named Harpe passed through the eastern part of what is now Oklahoma. He spoke of meeting native peoples called Tayavayas, who were quite friendly to him. They gave him many gifts, including an eight-year-old Apache slave boy with one finger missing off each hand. It seems the Tayavayas had eaten two fingers, marking the boy as food. They told Harpe they wished they had more to give him, that they had 17 others, but they had made a feast of them.

That’s how it was in Oklahoma before the missionary-evangelists came. And many of the first Jesus-followers in Oklahoma were Native Americans who came to Oklahoma through the “trail of tears.” The first Baptist church in that state was bilingual, speaking both Creek and English.

I thought of these stories recently when I was preaching on one of the most glorious, transformational truths ever revealed: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Each of us individually, and our people collectively, were barbaric in many ways, enemies of God, before we submitted to the Savior who spilled His blood for our sins. While I was in rebellion against Him, while I was shaking my fist in the face of God and demanding my glory, not His, even then Jesus died for me.

The word “commends” is a special word. “God commends His own love.” The word is in the present tense, meaning God’s love is presently, and continuously, being poured out toward us. God’s love is alive and fresh and powerful and is at this moment being poured out toward sinners. How do we know God loves us like this? We know because Christ died for us. Jesus died in one brief hour a long time ago, but that death has an eternal power. His blood spilt in ages past has present power to wash away sins. Jesus’ blood provides a covering of righteousness even now. Jesus shed His blood one time, in one hour, and ever since that day, God has commended that shed blood into the heart of every sinner, every barbarian, who comes to Jesus in faith.

Have you baptized any barbarians lately? Remember, if you don’t reach the barbarian down the street, he might marry your daughter! He might work for you or you for him. Or maybe the barbarian is your own child. God already loves them. And He has experience saving and baptizing barbarians.

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.