Unfortunately, we live in a culture that not only demands the right to murder these sweet gifts of God, it celebrates the murderous practice. The image is seared in my mind of celebration that followed New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signing into law late-term abortions up to the point of birth. How perverse is that? I never want to see that celebration in Tennessee, and as Tennessee Baptists we not only have an obligation to our Lord to protect unborn children, we have an opportunity to stand and be counted for life. Continue reading “Anti-Abortion to Comprehensively Pro-Life”
President George W. Bush once stood in front of a group of people trying to make sense of the world that seemed to be coming undone around them. “One thing is for certain,” he said. “We did not ask for these challenges, but we will meet them. I say that with certainty because this nation has strong foundations and won’t be shaken. In this hour of our country’s history we stand in the need of prayer.”
That comment was made at the first post-9/11 National Prayer Breakfast and prior to the beginning of the longest war, the war on terrorism, in our nation’s history. I was at that prayer breakfast. I saw the resolute courage in our president’s eyes; I heard it in the tone of his voice. Continue reading “Reasons for Optimism About the SBC’s Future”
I was reminded of this last week when I saw a photo of women vociferously protesting for the right to “keep abortion legal.” How I pray to God that in my lifetime I’d see the end of the systematic killing of the precious babies God knits together in the wombs of their mothers. Unfortunately, the systematic killing of unborn children is a global epidemic of unimaginable proportion.
According to research done by the Guttmacher Institute, an organization founded 50 years ago and heavily supported by Planned Parenthood, more than 55 million unborn lives per year – 55 million per year – are terminated as a result of “induced abortion” as the report describes it.
Let me offer some perspective. That total is the equivalent of annually killing everyone in South Korea (population 50 million), Kenya (48 million), Colombia (48 million), Spain (46 million), Argentina (43 million) and Canada (36 million). In fact, more babies are murdered every year through induced abortion than the population of 198 of the 233 countries listed in the United Nations database. Let those figures sink in. Read this paragraph again. Every year it is like we terminate the people of entire nations.
I struggle to comprehend these numbers. The atrocity of such mass murder is a scourge on humanity and a tangible example of the inherent depravity vigorously alive in the heart of man.
I confess to feeling over-whelmed, and if not careful, I can find myself wringing my hands in despair. I sometimes feel helpless, wondering what one man can do against such a tsunami of death.
But then I remember Scripture like, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21); “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4).
And there are so many more passages that call me – call us – to stand against such evil and fight for the unborn.
We are called by a loving Father to love these babies because He loves them.
I wish with one stroke we could end this global genocide, but that isn’t going to happen. We will have to chip away one opportunity at a time.
As a Tennessean and as a Tennessee Baptist, I am proud that nearly five years ago we fought back by voting for Amendment 1, the so-called “abortion amendment” that made it much more difficult to obtain an abortion in our state.
If you recall, Tennessee had become the “abortion destination” for the surrounding states because of how lax abortion laws were here compared to more stringent laws in neighboring states. Tennessee abortion providers even promoted in other states the ease with which someone could travel to Tennessee to obtain an abortion. It was big business. It was an embarrassing stain on a state that claimed to be the Buckle of the Bible Belt.
Fortunately, Christians along with other like-minded people rose up and together led a grassroots charge to change that stigma through the Yes On 1 movement.
Despite organizations like Planned Parenthood pumping millions of dollars into the campaign to defeat Yes On 1, Tennesseans cooperated together and voted in favor of the amendment by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.
Never one to accept defeat of their murderous practices, Planned Parenthood and others fought back. They appealed the vote through the Sixth Circuit Court then to the Supreme Court, which upheld the circuit court’s unanimous decision that Amendment 1 was legal and could stand.
In December, the Tennessean reported that the last remaining abortion clinic in Nashville was closing its doors. Cooperating together, we struck a blow against evil, but we must not become prideful, satisfied or complacent. Evil does not rest or quietly die in defeat. It fights back with a vengeance.
At the time of the Supreme Court’s decision last fall, Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life said, “Pro-life Tennesseans must be resolute not only in our commitment to defending this victory, but also to being measured in the introduction of new laws that can’t yet be held as constitutional under existing court precedent. Equally important is the election of a pro-life Governor and pro-life legislative super-majorities who understand where we’ve been as a movement, where we want to go, and how to best get there.”
We must be diligent and participate in the process of protecting life. However, this battle is ultimately not won in the court system but in the hearts of people. The greatest way to see abortion die is to see lives changed by the saving power of the gospel. The greatest way we can love Tennessee’s unborn children is to share the love of Jesus with their mommas.
It is a challenging road at times, but it is a joy to be on the journey with you.
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”
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’”
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?”
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 death 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 midst 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.
Marriage is between one man and one woman. Period.
And, it is impossible for any human institution to declare otherwise. Period.
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 God 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 erlc.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.
I 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. Pray 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.
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.
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.
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.