Red Cup Redux (or: missions giving must be in our blood)

It was about a year ago that us Southern Baptists learned a somber truth: our International Mission Board had been deficit spending for several years and selling property to try to make ends meet to support the almost 5000 foreign missionaries on the field. This was not sustainable and to break even the IMB would need to find a way to bring hundreds of missionaries back home.

The shock rippled throughout our churches and challenges were issued. If we did not find a way to increase support to our missions organizations then we were going to lose many seasoned frontline troops in the war to push back spiritual darkness. Here, as one small voice among many, I published an article called About Those Red Cups. I wrote it during a time that a few loud people were making a big deal about Starbucks using plain red cups at Christmas time, as if such were a great offense to the gospel (it’s not).

In my article, I said that if 8 million Southern Baptists would commit to give just an additional $5 each (or about the price of a cup of coffee or two in a fancy red cup) to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, then we could instantly increase the IMB’s funds by $40 million, covering and surpassing the projected $25 million shortfall.

Many others urged similar things. In 2015, Lottie Moon brought in a record high $165.8 million, surpassing the old record by almost $10 million dollars. That is a thing to be praised, but it can only begin to lay the foundation for the future. The year was already too far gone. About 1000 of our missionaries had to come home. And if our uptick in giving was only for a year then it still leaves a precarious road ahead for our foreign mission teams.

As Southern Baptists we claim to be all about the gospel and missions. We need to put feet and dollars to our words.

As followers of Jesus we are each tasked to be disciple-making disciples where we live, work, and play. God has placed each of us in the here and now to make his glory known through the message of Jesus. For most of us, our personal mission field will rarely extend beyond our communities.

But then there are those who he leads to uproot from their homes and go to different cities, states, and countries to take his gospel and make disciples. It is the responsibility of those of us who stay behind to do all we can to support through prayer and giving those who go to the far reaches of the globe.

Paul lauded the Philippians church for their partnership with him in the gospel. Amazingly, he was able to say, “You have given me enough. I am well provided for; you don’t have to keep sending me money for this trip” (Philippians 4:10-20). What a glorious thing that would be if we could have missionaries taking the gospel to every unreached people group throughout our world and the word come back to us, “Thank you for your gift! We are well supplied.” This can only happen if missions giving is in our blood.

We can talk the talk all we want, but do we live “worthy of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27), which would include supporting those who spread the gospel far and wide? Are we willing to make sacrifices as individuals, families, and churches to see more and more people come to know Jesus?

Of course, the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering are just two of many ways we can support foreign missions work, but they are the two ways, along with the North American Mission Board, we have banded together as Southern Baptists for years to support the spread of the gospel throughout the world.

At the moment, we have a little more than five months before we celebrate Christmas. The 2016 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering campaign will be here before we know it. So I want to issue to you a challenge to give more to missions in three ways: First, as an individual commit to give an additional $5 to the LMCO this year. This is the same “red cup” challenge from last year. Forgo a cup of coffee or two. Forgo a soda or two. If you were planning on giving $0 to Lottie Moon, then give $5. If you were planning on giving $5, then make it $10; $100 then $105; $1000 then $1005. The math still works: 6 to 8 million Southern Baptists each giving an additional $5 adds up to $30-$40 million additional dollars for the IMB.

Second, as a family eat at home one night that you planned on eating out and give that as an additional offering to the LMCO this year. If you go to Pizza Hut and buy two large pizzas, it will run you at least $20-$30, not even counting the drinks. If you go to WalMart for a loaf of bread, jar of peanut butter, and bag of apples, you can feed the same number of people for under $10. I like eating out just as much as the next guy. I’m not asking you to change your lifestyle here (unless you feel convicted about that), but to change just one meal. Take that $10+ you save and give it as a little extra gift to Lottie Moon.

Third, as a church commit to give an extra 1% to the Cooperative Program. The 1% Challenge has been around for a while. When it was first issued, we raised our CP giving and associational giving by 1% each. Many churches have done that; some churches have given more. If that’s your church, then great. If not, then commit as a church to examine your finances and give an extra 1% as able.

Each of these challenges are small sacrifices in and of themselves, but thousands of churches and millions of people together making small sacrifices add up to large gains. That is why we cooperate as a convention of churches—we can do more together than we can do apart. However you choose to respond, let us band together and show that missions and the gospel is what we are about in both our going and giving, and let our record numbers of 2015 be eclipsed in 2016 and beyond.

“1 of 4 SBC Baptisms Result from VBS,” can that be right?

i-love-vbs

Summer is almost here, that means the annual Vacation Bible School across the SBC.

Here’s what Baptist Press (reporting the ACP) said about VBS in 2006.

Vacation Bible School continues to have the greatest evangelistic impact in the Southern Baptist Convention, with 26 percent of baptisms in SBC churches a direct result of VBS.

A more recent article has roughly the same numbers.

25 percent of baptisms reported by the SBC come from VBS. Every one person trained in VBS results in 1.1 salvation decisions.

I’d like to hear what everyone thinks of those kind of figures. Do they hold true in your church? If this is such an excellent tool why are we not doing more kids Bible school?

And while we’re talking. I’m curious about the curriculum people are using, your typical schedule, and how much your church invests in the event.

Dave’s out of town, so I can’t promise moderation : )

Refugees: We might disagree, but can we at least agree that this is a terrible reason?

If by now you have not heard about the Syrian refugee crisis, then you’ve been hiding in the no man’s land of northern Canada. Based on everything I’ve seen on the news, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, my guess would be that if polled your church, family, and friends about what should be done then you would find sharply divided opinions.

It should not surprise us. Disagreement runs in our blood.

Personally, I think we should accept those we can. Yes, we should vet them and check their backgrounds to the best of our ability; but we should not let the threat of a few terrorists stop us from doing good to people in need, as individuals, churches, and a nation—we can walk the line of compassion and national security.

refugees_badreasonBut this picture is a snippet of a photo I’ve seen passed around social media that disturbs me to the core. Not so much that someone would post it and that people would share it, but that Christians would share it again and again.

You don’t have to agree with my position on the refugees. You might have good arguments for why you don’t think we should accept them. That’s fine. We can agree to disagree and seek to spur one another on as brothers in Christ (iron sharpening iron produces a few sparks, after all). But the argument in this portion of this picture is: Don’t let those Muslims come to America when there are plenty of Muslim countries they can go to.

Let’s think about that for a second. Obviously this is based on the idea that Islam is incompatible with our American way of life. And in many ways sharia law is. BUT from a gospel perspective this arguments amounts to: Let these people burn in hell so they don’t threaten our comfort and safety.

No Christian should ever favor an argument for the people of any religious group, “Let them go to a country filled with people of their own beliefs instead of coming here.” Most of these Muslim countries are either closed off to the gospel or it is difficult for missionaries to live, work, and share within their borders. This argument is only acceptable if we believe that a faithful Muslim can enter the joy of eternity through their Muslim faith.

You have to rip pages from the Bible to make that plausible.

Yes, our culture is becoming more hostile to Christianity, but as it stands today: immigrants or refugees from most people groups have a better opportunity to be impacted by church ministries and the gospel in our country than in many others, especially those countries of the Middle East, Northern Africa, and South East Asia.

If you want to argue on the grounds of safety and protecting our families, that’s one thing. But to say, “They have Muslim countries of their own they can go to,” is both anti-gospel and unchristian. So let’s talk, debate, and argue our sides; but let’s not like and share photos and articles that basically argue for consigning people to hell in the name of culture and comfort.

Do you have an outward focus?

A few weeks ago, I suggested to my wife that we might consider selling our house and moving to a different, more convenient community. She was not opposed to the idea, but suggested that now was not the right time. The reason? She has ongoing relationships with several of our neighbors whom she is trying to win to the Lord and “our ministry here is not complete.” Besides giving me joy about the kind of wife I am married to, our conversation got me thinking about whether we are as outward-focused in practice as we are in our beliefs.

As Baptists and evangelicals, we talk much about outreach, evangelism and missions. Too often, however, our talk is mere sentiment and does not result in practical and tangible actions that are intentional and ongoing. I thought I’d do a little self-assessment and jotted down a few questions to see if all this Great Commission talk is just talk, or do I really have an outward focus? Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Do you pray for lost people by name? Regularly?
  2. Are you praying for yourself to have regular opportunities to share your faith and the boldness to evangelize when those opportunities come?
  3. Can you name anyone you are intentionally praying for and seeking to win to Jesus Christ? Can you name several?
  4. When’s the last time you invited an unbeliever or unchurched person to your SS, small group, worship service, or church event? Do you do so regularly?
  5. Do you read the church bulletin evangelistically (i.e., with an eye to whom you might reach out through the events and ministries of your church)?
  6. Do you tithe to your local church? Are you giving over and above your tithe to support missions and other ministries?
  7. Do you have a budget at home – are you continuously seeking ways to give more generously? Do you give sacrificially?
  8. Do you plan ahead to save, sacrifice, and give generously to your church’s missions offerings, or do you give whatever you can spare when the time comes?
  9. Do you know any missionaries by name for whom you regularly pray? Are your receiving prayer newsletters from any field missionaries? When you receive them, do you pray?
  10. Do you know your neighbors’ names? Do you know their spiritual condition?
  11. Have you met any of the parents of your children’s friends? Do you know if they know Jesus?
  12. Do you pray with your children for their unsaved friends and teachers?
  13. Do you pray with your spouse for your unsaved neighbors, friends, and family members?
  14. Are there relationships that you avoid because they are too difficult that God would have you pursue so you might be a minister of the gospel?
  15. Have you ever considered whether God might want you pursue adoption or foster care? Or coming alongside a family who is called to do so?
  16. Have you prayerfully considered participating in a short term missions trip? or supporting someone else to take such a trip?
  17. Are you willing to go wherever God leads you? Could God be calling you into full-time ministry or missions service?
  18. Are you willing to make significant changes in your life to be an “on mission” Christian through your praying, giving, and going?
  19. If given the opportunity, are you equipped and ready right now to share the gospel message and invite someone to turn in faith to Christ?
  20. Have you recently shared the gospel message and invited someone to trust Christ? Have you ever?

What questions would you add? What advice would you give to those who want to have a more outward focus?