Depression: It’s Time to Openly Talk About It

We have a problem and we can’t ignore it any longer.

It’s time we were honest with ourselves and with each other. To pretend we don’t face a serious issue would be a life-threatening mistake. I’m talking about depression among pastors and ministers (and everyone else). Depression is a reality, and I can’t bear the thought of losing one more pastor, one more person, to depression that ends in suicide. Continue reading “Depression: It’s Time to Openly Talk About It”

Don’t Forget Tennessee’s ‘Least of These’

Randy C. Davis

I’ve got an old black and white photo of my father-in-law, Wilkerson V. Jones, standing next to Babe Ruth, one of baseball’s greatest players. Ruth of course, went on to baseball immortality and is among the sport’s pantheon of stars.

But in my book, Wilkerson went on to immortality too. His legacy is revealed in the lives he positively affected, including me. The interesting connection between Ruth and Wilkerson is that they both grew up in boys’ homes. Both had rough starts to life and it was effectively at a boys home where their lives took a turn for the better. It was people investing in them that made a difference. Continue reading “Don’t Forget Tennessee’s ‘Least of These’”

Does Prayer Still Change Things?

By Randy C. Davis
TBMB President & Executive Director

“… That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words” (Colossians 2:2-4).

London was overrun with orphaned children in the 1830s. Children lived on the streets and those that found shelter often found themselves in squalid conditions subject to harsh treatment by adults who viewed the children as slave labor. It was an abusive, graceless, and dangerous environment. Continue reading “Does Prayer Still Change Things?”

God and Assisted Suicide: What’s the Answer?

The scenario plays itself out thousands of times a day. A family member or friend is racked with a terminal illness, suffering unbearably and the question comes up: Should they have the right to physician assisted suicide?

That question gained prominence 20-plus years ago with Dr. Jack Kevorkian being brought to trial for helping approximately 130 others end their lives. Right to die activists are back in the news with 84-year-old John Jay Hooker, a lawyer and former Tennessee democratic gubernatorial candidate who is suffering with terminal cancer leading the charge. He is demanding that a state court declare he has a right to end his life on his terms. In truth what he’s looking for is an accomplice to share in the responsibility of his death.

Unbelievably, the demand for assisted suicide is aggressively on the march. Euthanasia is currently illegal in 45 states, but 25 of those states have seen bills filed during their respective 2015 legislative sessions to legalized assisted suicide. Tennessee is one of those states. But what Mr. Hooker, the courts and other advocates of assisted suicide fail to recognize is God alone has the authority to give life and take it, not a human.

I do not make that statement lightly. I stood by my stepfather’s hospital bed last week as he faced brain surgery to remove a brain tumor and blood clot. I was there with my mom who is battling Parkinson’s Disease. My grandfather – my hero – suffered greatly with lung cancer. I’ve stood by hundreds of bedsides of family and friends in 30-plus years of pastoral ministry and agonized in prayer over people I have loved dearly. I am more acquainted with legal_gaveldeath and suffering than I would have ever voluntarily chosen to be.

The conversation about assisted suicide is wrapped in emotion. Sometimes it is economic when looking at the cost of long-term care. I’ll be honest, some of the situations I’ve stood over have rocked me to the core of my theology. However, right theology must dictate responses to circumstances. We must not allow circumstances to compromise biblical teaching. I am categorically opposed to assisted suicide and here are the three theological pillars that brace me during soul-shattering moments at death’s door.

Suffering is unavoidable. Look around. If you ever wanted a reason to hate sin, look at its effect on God’s creation. Jesus, Paul, Peter, James and John all address suffering in the New Testament and it isn’t exclusively related to persecution. Job in the Old Testament is where our minds immediately turn when we think of suffering. But look again at Jesus. He could have avoided suffering – He even asked the Father to “take this cup” from Him. But in the end he embraced the suffering for a higher purpose.

I had – and constantly have – to resolve that suffering is part of our Christian walk and we are called to persevere in faith, for the glory of God. We are told in 1 Peter 4 to embrace suffering, “so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing His glory when it is revealed to all the world.”

God is good…all the time. Job says it best when he asked, “Do we only accept the good from God and not the bad?” (Job 2:10). Think about this, Scripture tells us “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). We also read in Romans 8:28 that God works all things for our good, but how can suffering be for our good? The answer is in how we direct our suffering for God’s glory. This anecdote explains.

Jeannie Elliff, wife of former International Mission Board President Tom Elliff, fought cancer until she succumbed last week. It wasn’t an easy road. In reflecting on her battle, Erich Bridges, senior writer for the IMB wrote this of Jeannie. “While in the Trustmidst of her final struggle with cancer in recent months, she took the time to encourage my wife (who also has been dealing with cancer) and me. Jeannie encouraged and prayed for countless people over the years; cancer only expanded her ministry.”

God worked His goodness through Jeannie Elliff to deliver His grace, mercy and encouragement. No doubt she experienced, “the wonderful joy of seeing His glory” when she arrived in heaven.

God is sovereign, and we have no right to usurp that. Isaiah 46 states, “I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” A few verses later we read, “For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me. Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish.” Jesus is the Author of all life (Acts 2:10; Colossians 1). Psalm 139 tells us that God ordained the number of our days. Jeremiah 29 tells us He knows the plans He has for us. And on it goes.

The Bible comprehensively establishes God as the sole authority over creation, life and death. He does everything with the purpose of completing the good work He began in us at our salvation. He intends to receive glory through our journey. That is why every breath of life is precious, and exactly why it is not our place to determine our last breath.

Yes, it is sometimes a rough journey through this life, which is why we need to encourage each other’s faith all the way to the finish line.

It is a joy to be on this journey with you.

 

One Man, One Woman…Period

Marriage is between one man and one woman. Period.

And, it is impossible for any human institution to declare otherwise. Period.

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However, the fate of marriage as defined by popular culture has for months awaited a ruling by our United States Supreme Court to codify the definition it wants. What it wants is for marriage to legally mean nothing. Think about it, if marriage no longer is defined as between one man and one woman, then why can’t it include multiple people along with same-sex partners? In becoming anything to anyone, it will become nothing.

But marriage can’t become nothing because it is something established by God, and it is a very good thing. The Supreme Court, or any other human authority, redefining marriage is about as possible as a scientist restructuring the laws of gravity. God established both. Jeremiah 10:12 says so: “But God made the earth by His power; He founded the world by His wisdom and stretched out the heavens by His understanding.” Subjecting the divinely established institution of marriage to the whims of man only invites divine consequences. ”God shows His anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18).

But that brings us to where we are culturally, doesn’t it? You can literally see Paul’s words recorded in Romans chapters 1-3 lift off the pages of your Bible and take the form of our contemporary society. I’ll not wax nostalgic about former days because by nature man has been in rebellion against SCOTUSGod since Adam and Eve. However, with our courts redefining marriage we are certainly faced with an unprecedented moment in our nation’s history that exposes accelerated rebellion.

Truthfully, I’m staggered by it. I believe events over just the past five years leading to this point have rocked Christians. We’re caught off balance. We walk out of our church doors disoriented. We wring our hands and mumble, “What are we going to do? What are we going to do?” Well, I’m not one to fade gently into that good night. I want to personally be a person of grace to people who embrace a homosexual lifestyle. These are precious people created in God’s image who need compassion and truth. Here are three things I plan to do in the days ahead as homosexuality continues to dominate our cultural conversation. Join me.

Pray. Commit yourself to prayer. Pray for God’s intervention in our nation’s affairs. Pray for God to grant repentance to our leaders (and to us). Pray that there will be a revival in our country. Pray that God will save the spiritually lost. Pray for God to grant you grace in conversation with homosexuals. Pray that He’d open their spiritual eyes. Pray for our pastors to stand boldly in the face of cultural pressure. Pray that our churches will be places of peace and refuge, and also places of ministry and hope. Pray for our families. We need God to protect and strengthen our families.

Prepare. Expect the momentum to continue now that this frontal assault against marriage is in full bloom. In other words, prepare for the worst. I’m not being cynical; I’m being a realist. We need to prepare ourselves spiritually to understand what Scripture actually says about marriage (and everything else), and we need to be prepared to give a compassionate – but firm – biblical defense of it. We also need to prepare for possible legal ramifications. Your church must absolutely have a policy statement in its bylaws or constitution that defines marriage and includes for whom it will conduct marriage ceremonies. We have churches now in Tennessee where pastors and churches are dealing with both membership and marriage questions related to homosexuals. Where does your church stand right now on these questions. Pastors you must lead your churches to answer these questions now or by neglect you are jeopardizing your ministry and Jesus’ church. The Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission has a great resource to guide in this titled, “Protect Your Ministry.” It is available for download at Prayingerlc.com/store. Get it immediately. Another must-have resource is titled: “The President’s Panel: The Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage: Preparing Our Churches.” Go to SBC.net and search the Wednesday afternoon session at the 2015 SBC and watch this video.

Proclaim. Now is not the time to shrink back. Apart from the courts, our culture has made a ruling on marriage with which it is pleased; yet that ruling doesn’t change the culture with which we are engaged. Now is the time to move boldly – and graciously – into our communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaiming His Good News and leading people to salvation. There are so many people – 3.65 million in Tennessee alone – who are wandering through life spiritually lost. They don’t know they were created to worship God and be in fellowship with Him. We must tell them that Jesus came to bring them peace with God. We must aggressively be salt slowing the decay of our culture while being people of light, graciously sharing the love of Christ through the words of hope. Both require proclamation.

The journey ahead is not easy or comfortable. In fact, Jesus promised it wouldn’t be. However, our ultimate journey leads to the One who “founded the world by His wisdom and stretched out the heavens by His understanding.” It’s a joy to be on that journey with you.

Supporting Those Walking Martyrdom’s Road

iStock_000046944264_SmallI have a friend, I’ll call him, “Pamin” (pah-MEEN). He’s Egyptian, a Coptic Christian, lives in the United States and fears for his life. ISIS, he says, is rooted in the United States and he believes would torture and kill him – and other Coptic believers – given the opportunity.

As hard as it is for me to relate to his journey, it isn’t hard for me to believe his fear. After all, he’s felt in his soul the brutal decapitation of dozens of his countrymen at the hands of ruthless terrorists. They were Christian brothers… our Christian brothers. I confess, it bothers me that I don’t feel the pain more deeply in my own soul for these faithful servants of Christ who were heard crying out to Jesus with their last breath before their blood washed from the sandy beaches of Northern Egypt and turned the Mediterranean Sea red.

Christians cry in outrage over our government not doing more to condemn the global killing of Christians across Africa, the Middle East, India and other geographic locations. But let’s be honest, how many of us Christians are earnestly crying out to God on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters? We’re quick to criticize secular people, yet too often withhold the thing within our power that can make a real difference in the lives of the persecuted: our prayers.

I believe there are a number of reasons for that. I believe we’ve become desensitized to the reality of global horror. We’ve watched planes fly into buildings, trudged into war with armies via the nightly news and witnessed beheadings on YouTube at an alarming rate. Throw in the television shows and movies where violent art imitates violent life and reality and fiction meld into a mush that results in a lost sense of shock.

I also believe lack of shock coupled with the insulated comforts of living in America have fueled our complacency. We don’t know persecution and therefore don’t relate, and therefore the needs simply don’t cross our minds. Let’s be honest, way too many of us focus on ourselves in our prayer time and not on others anyway – and certainly not on others who live on the opposite side of the world. They simply aren’t a priority for us.

So how do you and I change? How do we become sensitized to what is happening to Christians globally and shake ourselves from complacency? Here are four things we can do to stand in solidarity with the globally persecuted followers of Jesus Christ and people everywhere who need to hear the saving message of Jesus Christ.

Pray that God will give us His heart for the nations. We know that He promises in Revelation that there will be some from every tribe, tongue and nation gathered around the thrown of the Lamb. Pray to that end. Salvation belongs to our God but at the same time He uses our prayers and our preaching to accomplish His work. However, seeing others as our Heavenly Father sees them must fuel our passion for prayer and preaching.

Pray that God will strengthen the faith of our brothers and sisters who drink from the cup of persecution. Ancient Church Father Tertullian wrote that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” I believe that is true. Look across history and you’ll see the church has grown every place evil has tried to stamp out Christians. The reason is that these dear believers were believers to the end. They refused to renounce Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As a result, God has honored their testimony of faith to draw even their slayers to Himself. the Jesus Christ crown of thorns and a nail on the Holy CrossPray that those in the line of fire will be filled with extraordinary faith.

Go…here, there and everywhere. A great place to begin supporting the persecuted and sharing the gospel with internationals is by looking at your own community and identifying the world’s people who live there. Believe me, they are there. Here in Tennessee alone we have more than 130 people groups speaking more than 150 languages. Build cultural bridges, serve and share the gospel. But don’t just stop there. Go across American and around the world. Go and share the gospel with the spiritually lost while encouraging the faith of our international brothers and sisters.

Give…generously. We as Tennessee and Southern Baptists have historically considered ourselves to be Great Commission people, however, the numbers don’t fully compute. On average we donate about $20 per year, per Southern Baptist to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. By comparison, two tickets to Friday’s movie, a large popcorn and a drink costs about $35. Our giving belies our rhetoric. The good news is we have in place The Cooperative Program, the LMCO, Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions. These offerings are the lifeblood for our Acts 1:8 missions strategy. Just think, if we raised our giving levels to each of these offerings by just one percent we’d have millions of dollars more to more comprehensively invest in the advance of the Great Commission. That number could escalate toward billions if we raised those giving levels to 10 percent.

When I think of our persecuted brothers and sisters I think of the faithful souls taking refuge under the Lamb’s alter in Revelation 6:5. “They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them.”

The journey ahead is still hard and painful for some. On that mark the Bible is definitively clear. For the rest of us, may we be found doing whatever it takes to support them on their journey. And even through the many tears that lie ahead for them and us, it is a joy to be on this journey with you.

Does a Man’s Soul Have a Color?

We all have memorable days and we also witness historic days. It’s a notable milestone when memorable days are historic, and Tennessee Baptists experienced a notable milestone last November when messengers from Tennessee Baptist churches overwhelmingly selected Memphis Pastor Michael Ellis to be president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Michael is the first African-American to fill that role in our 140 years as a network of Tennessee churches.

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Pastor Michael Ellis, elected president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention during the 2014 Summit.

The selection of one of our black brothers to lead our convention was long overdue, and when Michael was affirmed, it was one of my most satisfying moments as a pastor, denominational leader and most importantly, as a Christian.

I know firsthand the division that’s been part of the church’s history these past five decades. I grew up in the Deep South, in lower Alabama, and I was a pastor in Mississippi. No one need explain the historical strain between blacks and whites if you share a similar heritage as a Southerner. Unfortunately that social animosity carried over to Sunday mornings.

But thank God – and I mean that literally – that the times are changing. We’ve seen a shift over the past decade across our larger Southern Baptist Convention to intentionally pursue racial reconciliation. I believe the election a few years ago of the very capable Fred Luter as SBC president and now Michael Ellis as our TBC president – and several other black church leaders who have been selected to lead within our denomination – marks a shift for the better. And here’s why: A man’s soul has no color. He’s either lost or not. He either needs to hear the gospel of Jesus, or he has received the gospel and needs to share it with someone else. A man is to be measured by his standing with Christ, not the color of his skin as he stands before other men.

It is not our prerogative to withhold the gospel from any man, and certainly not because of his skin color. In fact, our Savior receives the greatest amount of glory when people of different races lead one another to the neutral and level ground at the foot of the cross, where all condemned men may receive God’s grace extended through Christ.

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There has been a great movement of God’s Spirit across our state in the number of Hispanics coming to Christ, being baptized and set on the road to discipleship.

Is this not our calling as disciples? For me, the definitive word on race relations comes from two passages of Scripture. The first is 2 Corinthians 5:17-21. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God.’”

I believe we are seeing races reconciled to Christ, national news notwithstanding. I believe on the grassroots level beyond the camera lights, whites and blacks – and other races – are finding common ground in the church at the cross. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Bartholomew Orr, the godly pastor of Brown Missionary Baptist Church in Southaven, Miss., believes the same. Bro. Orr is African-American and says he sees a more intentional effort by white and black churches to come together. Brown Missionary is located right near the state line and is one of the more recent African-American churches to join our TBC network of churches. Brother Orr cites the strong doctrinal unity found among Southern and Tennessee Baptists and our Great Commission focus as reasons why he wants his congregation to connect with like-minded believers.

But we are seeing that same movement with churches of many races. Hispanic churches by the droves are becoming a part of our state convention. We had a Burmese church join this past year and we have churches of other ethnicities affiliating. That leads me to the second verse of Scripture that defines how we are to approach race relations.

“After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).

If we are going to reach Tennessee and reach the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ, then we as Christians must embrace the Apostle John’s diverse vision of heaven and pursue it. The greatest remedy for racial tension is the gospel lived out through lives bent on a ministry of reconciliation.

That’s a milestone for which we should all strive.

It’s a joy to be with you on this journey.

Tennessee’s Most Important Vote

Tennesseans face possibly the most monumental vote in our state’s 218-year history, and it will be an indictment on Christians if Amendment 1 fails to pass.

It’s that simple…and that monumental.

Amendment 1 can reestablish common-sense restrictions on abortion that exist in surrounding states – and have been in place soon after Roe v. Wade became the nation’s abortion law in 1973. Tennessee also had those restrictions until a liberal Tennessee Supreme Court removed them in 2000. As a result, Tennessee has become the easiest state in the southeast in which a woman can abort her child. So easy that abortion providers offer discounts for those traveling more than 50 miles. Fact: One in four babies aborted in Tennessee are from other states. Tennessee currently ranks third nationally in the percentage of out-of-state abortions. Sadly and embarrassingly, we are an abortion destination.

Tennessee currently requires no health inspection of abortion facilities, has no informed consent and no waiting periods for abortion. Amendment 1 does not overturn Roe v. Wade like the amendment’s opponents would have you believe. I wish it did. However, Amendment 1 does bring Tennessee back up to a standard equal to all the surrounding states by legally providing a safer environment for women who do choose to abort their babies.

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State financial disclosure filings indicate more than 90 percent of all funding in the campaign against Amendment 1 came from abortion clinics. Planned Parenthood organizations from Tennessee and across the country contributed more than $1.4 million of the No on 1’s $1.5 million quarterly receipts. Less than $150,000 of that campaign’s quarterly support came from individuals. No on 1 is saturating primetime with ads that are intentionally misleading; creating confusion to the point that it appears a “No” vote is actually a vote for the sanctity of life. The calculated deceit is nothing short of premeditated evil.

Friends, this is one of those times in history when disciples of Christ must take a stand. If we don’t, it is an indictment against Tennessee Christians and I believe failure will render us irrelevant in the cultural issues we’ll be facing in the years to come. It’s been predicted that if Amendment 1 fails to pass, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU will bring a number of lawsuits that remove remaining restrictions such as parental consent. Minors would be able to wander into a potentially unclean abortion clinic and have an abortion without their parents’ knowing. God forbid that that should happen.

This is our moment in time. If we miss it, it is unlikely we’ll ever get it back. Bringing an amendment to vote is difficult to do the first time, and statistically improbable a second time.

Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to be salt and light in the world around us. Salt is a preservative that slows decay. Light is the hope of Christ that shines in a decaying world. We have a moral and spiritual obligation to vote Yes on 1, but if we do not make a stand morally, we risk forfeiting our opportunity to positively impact our state spiritually.

Let’s protect women and children in our state while proclaiming the light of the Gospel.
Let’s say no to those who want to keep Tennessee an abortion destination state.
Let’s simply but adamantly say Yes on 1.

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God’s Decrees are Never Overturned

Imagine standing before a judge and telling him you’ve decided to no longer recognize the interstate’s posted speed limit. It’s not that you’re asking for an exemption to the law; you’re telling him traffic laws no longer apply to you.

Or what about taxes. How well do you think it would go over if you informed the Internal Revenue Service that you no longer recognize income tax laws? Simply stated, “I don’t acknowledge it so therefore it doesn’t exist.”

Both of these examples are ludicrous because we know that in each case (surely) a judge would adamantly state that it is not your place to arbitrarily pick and choose which laws you decided to obey, and that you are incapable of nullifying or changing laws established by a higher authority. Hopefully, the judge would remind you that laws are established to govern all members of a society equally so that all people know the boundaries, and once outside the boundaries, there are consequences for “breaking the law.”

All seemingly obvious, wouldn’t you agree? Unfortunately, Nashville-based Federal Judge Aleta Trauger is guilty of just such a reckless regard for the law – God’s law – that governs human sexuality and the institution of marriage. Trauger’s decision two weeks ago to declare unconstitutional Tennessee’s law banning same-sex marriage, in essence, told the Supreme Judge of the universe that His law is no longer relevant in Tennessee.

Let’s face it, Trauger is not the only judge in America to flaunt human pride in the face of the Holy God. Heterosexuality and marriage are under a full-scale assault by our government, our court system and special interest groups. The point missed by these groups is that they simply have no authority to repeal God’s laws, and denying God doesn’t negate the inevitable consequences of those actions.

Fortunately, Tennessee’s Attorney General is reviewing Judge Trauger’s decision and taking steps to defend the 1996 state law prohibiting same-sex marriage that became part of our state constitution in 2006.

The bigger question is, will Tennessee’s pastors take steps to defend God’s law that’s been established since He created Adam and Eve?

Hear me. I’m not calling for a bombastic, confrontational, loveless diatribe from the pulpit whose result marginalizes our churches and effectively kills any chance of sharing the healing love of Christ with our fellow Tennesseans. I am saying we must preach – with grace – the undiluted message of God’s design for mankind, our sin and its consequences, available peace with God through Jesus Christ, and our glorious future to enjoy His presence forever.

Unfortunately, in matters related to homosexuality, we tend – unsuccessfully – to assume the convicting role of the Holy Spirit. We must acknowledge we will be no more successful in demanding righteousness in the hearts of man than the court system will be in nullifying God’s ordained governance of His creation.

However, sharing hard truths in grace and humility allows the Holy Spirit to bring conviction through the Scripture. But let’s be honest, God’s Word will never permeate our culture if proclaimed only from pulpits. There aren’t enough pastors in the world to saturate the marketplace with the Gospel, and it’s in the marketplace where change must take place. This judicial ruling exposes the desperate need for Christian executives, and bricklayers, and teachers, and jewelry counter workers, and accountants and anyone else who claims the name of Christ to proclaim that Name to the micro-mission field in which they find themselves working every day.

The Apostle Paul writes that man has it in his heart to know God but will continue to deny Him, and in the process drag culture down the road toward hell. Bearing witness in the marketplace isn’t necessarily an easy task. In fact, it’s tough, but fortunately the Jesus who calls us to witness has also told us that He has overcome the world.

And no judge will ever overturn that decree.

Tennessee: Buckle of What Belt?

“Tennessee is the buckle of the _________ Belt.” I assume you immediately responded, “Bible.” Before a week ago I would have said the same thing, but guess what? We’re both wrong. Unfortunately, according to an article last week in The (Nashville) Tennessean, Tennessee is now known as the buckle of the “Meth Belt.” The belt stretches from Oklahoma to South Carolina. Methamphetamine is an extremely addictive, chemically produced, stimulant drug that is neurotoxic to humans, meaning it damages brain structure, causes psychosis and often leads to post-withdrawal syndrome that can persist for months beyond the typical withdrawal period for other types of abused drugs. Beyond that, you’ve possibly been revolted by the disfigured faces of meth addicts altered by the drug’s traumatic physical effects. The Tennessean article describes meth as a “plague” sweeping our state and reports that, “It touches — directly or indirectly — every person in this state.” The online article included a number of interactive maps. One by one I clicked on our 95 counties and saw we have possibly thousands of meth labs scattered across Tennessee. I can’t adequately express how my heart sank. I pictured the lives, families, and communities ravaged by this epidemic. I ran a gamut of emotion from anger, to compassion, to helplessness, to feeling a sense of urgency. It felt like seeing a commercial about starving Ethiopian children … only much closer to home. “Dear God,” I desperately thought. “What do we do? Where do we begin?” Almost immediately, my mind and spirit raced to the answer: prayer, specifically, praying that the “Lord of the harvest would send laborers into the harvest.” I am two months into making my way across Tennessee, visiting the courthouses of these same 95 counties and asking Christians to pray with me for our state. In each location we’ve prayed three specific prayers. We’ve asked God to revive His people, the church. We’ve asked God to grant wisdom and godly leadership to our political and pulpit leaders, and we’ve asked God to bring the 3.65 million lost souls in our state to saving faith in Jesus Christ. I pray that the gospel would directly or indirectly touch every person in Tennessee. We were praying these requests at each stop before I read this article, but now I believe God directed us to these specific prayer requests because these three converge in the person of Jesus Christ and offer Tennesseans our only hope of rescue from the spiritual darkness enveloping our state. How so? Spiritual awakening has never begun with the lost; it has always had its beginnings with God’s people. We will never experience a change in the spiritual climate of Tennessee if God’s people don’t humble themselves, love one another and pursue holiness with reckless abandon. Brothers and sisters, how will these friends and family members being held in bondage know the freedom granted in Christ if we don’t speak it and live it? There has never been a time in American history that more desperately needed political and pastoral leadership. Yes, we have defeated determined enemies from beyond our borders, but never have we faced so many daunting spiritual enemies within our borders. We are self-destructing. We must pray that our political and pastoral leaders will be people of great integrity and wisdom with a unity of vision to guide us in fighting this cancer that is eating our state’s soul. And certainly we need to passionately pray for the spiritually lost. My soul cries out for God to deliver our millions from their present hell and imminent destruction. We cannot — we must not —  stand silently by and watch as our friends, families, and neighbors trudge along in a death march. Like Peter confessed, we know the One who has the words of eternal life and we must share them. Witnessing to others is testifying about the difference Jesus makes in our lives. I don’t want our state to be known as the “Buckle of the Meth Belt,” and frankly I don’t even care if we’re ever again known as, “The Buckle we used to be.” However, I do care — a lot — that Jesus is widely known throughout Tennessee, and that His Kingdom reigns in the hearts of a multitude of Tennesseans. I care, and most of you do also, that we reach our state for Jesus. That’s what I want Tennessee to be known for. How about you? //