Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

For this week’s photo challenge, show us abandoned. You can go literal, as I have, and share a photo of ruins, a desolate place, or your idea of a wasteland. - Cheri

“Forsaken”

Abandoned farmhouse

Cries out in silent complaint

“Why did you leave me?”

Perhaps the most distressing words in the crucifixion of Christ were “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 37:46, KJV). This cry of anguish by the Savior, the same words of the David in Psalm 22:1, have caused theological debate over the type of abandonment Jesus suffered on the Cross. To me, John MacArthur sums it up well:

There is no way to explain it. Maybe we’re helped a little bit to understand that even in His incarnation there was a separation. Did you know that? Because in John 17:5 He says, “Father, Father, return Me to the glory I had with You before the world began.” So there was some kind of relationship that He had before his incarnation that He wanted back. So in the incarnation there was some degree of separation and now in his sin-bearing death there is another degree of separation. He is separated from God. [1]

Whatever it meant for Jesus to be forsaken, His death on the cross secured salvation for those who believe in Him and who abandon themselves to His lordship, so that mankind no longer has to feel separated and alienated from God. In Jesus’ final “marching orders” to the disciples, He promised, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20, KJV), never to be abandoned again!

1. From John MacArthur’s sermon “A Closer Look at the Cross.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Let There Be Light!

I missed a week of participation in the photo challenge (11.29.13), but still wanted to contribute something to that theme. I live on a corner and for a while the sodium-vapor street lamp, emitting its yellow hue, cycled on and off through the night. Recently, the city installed an LED light that is much more intense over the intersection, but creates less overall light pollution. However, it is positioned to illuminate my front yard quite well. With our first measurable snow occurring this past Sunday, the new light caused my bare maple tree to cast some long shadows, nicely contrasting the fresh, white ground cover.

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Of course, this is the Season of Light as Christians observe Advent, preparing for the celebration of Christ’s first coming. In one of the seven “I Am’s”* of Jesus in the Gospel of John, very clearly asserting His claim of deity, He spoke of His illuminating nature:

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

May this be a time in which many people discover the true Light of the World!

*Here is a short but thorough article on The “I Am’s” of Christ by Henry Morris.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Good Morning!

My wife and I have a regular morning practice of rising early to have a spiritual devotional time together. The tools we use are the Bible, a devotional guide or book (my favorite is Daily with the King - W. Glyn Evans) and a cup of coffee. After reading, we spend some time in prayer for our church, family and ourselves. Because we believe Christianity is relational, this is always a special time with the Lord, Jesus Christ and each other as we seek to hear from God and spend time talking to Him through prayer. It is our way of having a “Good Morning!”

Good morning, Son!

Good morning, Son!

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.                                Mark 1:35 (NIV)

Just for fun, here is another “Good Morning” picture to amend a comment I made about Vladimir Brezina’s post Travel Theme: Relaxing. His first photo showed Johna having a cup of coffee on a sandbar. Occasionally, a few brave souls join us for sunrise on the beach during our vacation time. Since the end of October is a little chilly even on the Gulf Coast, daughter #2 has her feet raised off the cold sand. Daughter #1, holding sleeping baby, gives me the “don’t you dare take this picture” glare! Oh, well…there it is.

Good morning, Sun!

For more examples of “Good Morning!”, go to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge.

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: An Unusual POV

Challenge: Go out and take photos and share a shot that reveals a new and different POV.

I have made mention of our family’s afternoon gatherings for sunsets when we are at the beach. However, sunrises are a different story! My wife loves being the first one out to see the sunrise and find shells that might have washed up overnight, but she is often solitary in that venture. Occasionally, I tag along with camera. On one such morning, I found this coconut that had washed up…not a normal sight on the section of beach we frequent.

IMG_0054As I lay on the ground, an early morning jogger came by, took a quick glance, and continued on his way. While not necessarily trying to capture his passing, these three photos in the slide show do:

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As this jogger ran by what I thought was an unusual, “stop and smell the roses” moment, it reminded be that our personal POV drives us: mine – wanting to find something that was photo worthy; his – staying in shape. Our “point of view” means everything to us and often directs the focus of our day. For example, if our point of view is that we must be physically fit, it will motivate us to get up early and pound the pavement (or beach) and watch what we eat. If we have a passion for a political ideology, we will immerse ourselves in the latest news, attend Town Hall meetings and voice our opinions on everything political. Unfortunately, our POV often causes us to give passing glances at the really important things of life.

However, God calls us to have a balanced and overarching spiritual perspective on life, seeing it through a “God lens.” This POV is often seen as “unusual” in our day and time, just as it was in Jesus’ day. In fact, when asked why he spoke in parables (spiritual truths wrapped in everyday life stories), Jesus said it was to help his listeners to have a perspectives that were unique in comparison to the ones taught by their religious leaders. However, even their lack of spiritual insight into his parables was foretold in Old Testament prophecy:

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ [Isaiah 6:9-10]

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. (Matthew 13:14-16, NIV)

The disciples’ eyes and ears, however, were blessed as they began to perceive the message of Christ. Because they were “all in” with Jesus, having made the decision to follow him, they began to see the world through the “God lens.” As a result their POV shifted from selfish to selfless, from temporal to eternal, from religion to relationship. Having this new, and unusual (to the world) POV, transforms everything we see!

When in Doubt, Don’t!

We’ve all done it…the sniff test. Whether it’s the jug of milk a day or two beyond expiration date or that previously worn shirt, a quick sniff tells us if were “good to go” or should make another plan. However, sometimes we’re just not sure.

H.A. Ironside told the following story:

Sandy was a thrifty Scot who objected to needless laundry expense, so when he wore a dress shirt to a banquet, he put it away carefully for future use. On one occasion when dressing for such an event, he took a used shirt out of the drawer and examined it with care, hoping to be able to wear it that evening. Not being quite sure of its strict cleanliness, he took it to a window, where he was looking it over under a better light than the room afforded.

His wife, Jean, noticed him shaking his head as though fearful that it would not pass careful scrutiny. “Remember, Sandy,” she called to him, “if it’s doubtful, it’s dirty.”

That settled it. The shirt went into the discard and another – a fresh one – took its place. Jean’s words may well speak to every believer concerning things about which conscience raises any question whatsoever. – Illustrations of Bible Truth

In Romans 14, Paul is advising the church on how to relate to one another in areas in which the Bible give no clear instruction. In those areas we are to exercise freedom, but not judge others who don’t share our convictions. Paul says:

20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.                                              (Romans 14:20-23 NASB)

Paul affirms that the Christian life is not as burdensome as some legalistic followers were making it in his day. However, one’s freedom is sometimes set aside for the benefit of a weaker brother, whose differing conviction in a debatable area is such that your freedom may sidetrack them.

IMGP6293In the end, however, it is important to have our “own conviction before God.” If we are doubtful about a matter and we do it, then that doubt turns into guilt (the conscience condemning our action). So, when in doubt, don’t. In other words, if you don’t have a firm conviction, avoid the activity until you get some conviction on the matter. Then, stick with that conviction.

So, here is a sniff test to apply to those debatable areas of the Christian life. When something comes up that is not clearly spoken of in Scripture, put it to the test:

  1. THE WORLD TEST. Is it worldly? Will it make me worldly to do it (John 15:19; 1 John 2:15-17)
  2. THE QUALITY TEST. Is it good for me physically, emotionally, and spiritually (Romans 12:9)
  3. THE TEMPLE TEST. Can I do it when I remember my body is God’s temple and must not be marred or misused (1 Corinthians 6:19)
  4. THE GLORY TEST. Will it glorify my Lord, or will it on the other hand possibly bring shame to His name (1 Corinthians 6:20, 10:32)
  5. THE BLESSING TEST. Can I honestly ask God’s blessing on it and be sure I’ll not regret doing it (Proverbs 10:22, Romans 15:29)
  6. THE REPUTATION TEST. Is it apt to damage my testimony for the Lord (Philippians 2:15)
  7. THE CONSIDERATION TEST. Am I being considerate of others and the effect this might have on them (Romans 14:7, 21)
  8. THE APPEARANCE TEST. Will it look bad? Does it have the appearance of what is wrong or suspicious (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
  9. THE WEIGHT TEST. Could this slacken or sidetrack me in running the Christian race (Hebrews 12:1, 1 Corinthians 9:24)
  10. THE COMING OF CHRIST TEST. Would I be ashamed to be found doing this when He comes again (1 John 2:28)
  11. THE COMPANION TEST. Can I invite Christ to go with me and participate with me in this (Matthew 28:20b, Colossians 3:17)
  12. THE PEACE TEST. After having prayed about it, do I have perfect peace about doing it (Colossians 3:15a, Philippians 4:6-7)*

*Taken from Basic Bible Beliefs, Bible Baptist Church, Auburn, WA, 1975, unpublished. From Training Manual for Local Church Visitation, Eugene A. Wood, DTS, ThM Thesis, 1980.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus

Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus by Cheri Lucas Rowlands on August 23, 2013

For this challenge, get out there and take a picture demonstrating the concept of focus. 

  • Snap a photo of something or someone in focus, against a blurred background.
  • Share a panorama or landscape in sharp focus, in which you can see details far away.
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Shallow depth of field – corn stalks in the foreground

I live in an agricultural area with corn and soybean fields almost within a stones throw of my home. One of my church members, who sells crop insurance, recently asked me to take a few pictures of corn for his website. The scene, just down the road from my church featured a seed company’s test plots with the local grain elevator in the background.

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Greater depth of field – Grain Elevator in focus

Thanks for coming by to see my photographic take on “focus.”

Now let me give a spiritual take on the topic. As harvest is just around the corner, and the grain elevators will have semi-trucks lined up to store the farmers’ bounty, I think of Jesus’ parable (Luke 12:13-21) of a rich farmer who had a great harvest. He decided to build bigger barns and to selfishly live off of the fruits of his labor “for many years” with no concern for God and others (the repeated use of the pronouns “I” and “my” give evidence of his self-ward focus). The Father’s response was:

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be?’ 21 “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:20-21 (HCSB)

At times, it is difficult for us to have anything other than a self-ward focus – a shallow depth of field – especially in the midst of life’s difficulties. However, we must remember the temporary nature of this life and focus on the greater depth of field – the eternal.

These green fields will soon be reduced to the rubble of decaying stalks – in the same way we see our earthly bodies deteriorate over time. However, if our focus is toward God’s call and obedience to His purposes, we will be accumulating treasure in heaven.

16 Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

So, is your life focus on a shallow depth of field (selfish) or a greater depth of field (eternal)?

The Seasons of Life

I started this blog primarily for my church members, giving some extra “points to ponder” from the previous Sunday’s message. My commitment to a weekly post has waned somewhat due to other responsibilities, but I’m sure I’ll get back to some normality and better use my time (I hope).

When setting up this blog in January of 2012, there were several immediate decisions – style, widgets and headers. I wanted the header picture to represent rural Iowa and not someone else’s stock photo. The photo that came to mind was taken on July 5, 2011, as we returned to Creston after celebrating the Fourth with our kids in Arkansas. About eleven miles east of Creston, we saw a beautiful sunset and found a little gravel road on which to turn and take a few pictures. The sunset pictures were not outstanding, but the Redwood Avenue picture with its dip and rise through the rolling hills of southern Iowa caught my attention. It captured the simple beauty of rural Iowa and a sense of the journey on which we find ourselves as Christian sojourners – with ups and downs in this life, but ultimately upward!

Redwood Ave, Rural Union Co. IA, July 5, 2011

Redwood Ave, Rural Union Co. IA, July 5, 2011

As the seasons began to change, I thought there was a need for a change in header, as well. While missing the opportunity to take a Spring picture in 2012, I remembered to get out in the Fall and capture this picture:

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA, September 28, 2012

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA, September 28, 2012

I almost let the Winter of 2012-13 slip away before I got the required snow-covered picture (little did I know that we would have snow on May 2).

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA - March 2, 2013

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA – March 2, 2013

The final piece of the four seasons of Redwood Avenue came a few weeks ago. While hoping to have a setting sun as in the other picture, I settled for an overcast evening to get this final shot:

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA - May 29, 2013

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA – May 29, 2013

After almost 19 years in Iowa, my appreciation for the unique character of the four seasons never diminishes. The cycle of life that God has programmed into His creation – from the sprouting forth of new life in Spring to the seeming cessation of life that comes in Winter – bring special blessings in every stage. Each season brings it own hardships and joys, much as every season of life.

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Catch the “Snow Wave” – December 20, 2012

As we go through each season of the year and life, we run the risk falling into one of two traps: focusing on the difficulties of the current season or longing for the joys of the next. In doing so, we fail to appreciate the unique benefits or growth opportunities found in the present moment. For instance, while I can be extremely weary of still shoveling snow in April, there is an incredible sense of wonder when you take the time to appreciate the quietness of snowfall, to look at the unique pattern of an individual snowflake or to see the unusual shapes of snow drifts.

Wild Phlox with Pentax K-x water color filter. (Spring 2013)

Wild Phlox with Pentax K-x water color filter. (Spring 2013)

While each season of life has its difficulties and disappointments, there is truth in the saying that “God never wastes a hurt.” It is important that we look for God’s grace (power) in that trial or hardship, which will in turn equip us to share that grace with a “fellow struggler” in the future.

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, HCSB)

Whether you find yourself as a single adult, wanting to be married, or a senior adult, struggling with the effects of old age, there is something in your current “season of life” to embrace that is exquisite and edifying. May we learn to live with the type of contentment the Apostle Paul expressed: “In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content” (Philippians 4:12, HCSB).

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YOUR RESPONSE:

What are some of the “happenings” in your stage of life that you have embraced for the good that God may have for you and others, even though it could be viewed by some as a hardship?

God often gives a verse from His Word that can be especially helpful during some of the difficult seasons of life. What is that verse for you and how did God use it?

“I Long to See You”

We don’t normally take a Spring vacation, but Myra and I took a couple of weeks off, beginning on “tax day.” Our chief aim was to “retrieve” my mother, Grace, who had landed in Richmond, Virginia, after spending almost two months visiting her four daughters and their families. Rather than make a straight trip to Virginia, however, I wanted Myra to see some parts of the country she has never seen. I had seen Niagara Falls and Cape Cod as a teenager with my parents, camping throughout the northeast, but Myra has never been to those locations.

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Niagara Falls, April 17, 2013

Traveling to Virginia via those points of interest gave us the perfect opportunity to see her brother, Rowe, who lives south of Boston (a city we planned to visit, but the Marathon bombing canceled that trip). With multiple health issues, including Parkinson’s disease, Rowe’s travel is limited, not even making it to his mother’s funeral in 2006. So, we determined that we needed to travel to him! It was a wonderful visit and good to renew connections with him, his wife and three children we had met and to finally meet the four children we had never seen in the flesh, since we had not seen Rowe in over 20 years.

I realize that it may seem foreign to many to think of never having met nieces and nephews or not seeing a sibling for so many years. However, circumstances sometimes necessitate that kind of physical separation. Though we have maintained communication with Rowe by phone, through mail and Facebook®, nothing beats the ability to shake hands, hug, and talk face to face.

Race Point Beach - Cape Code, April 20, 2013

Race Point Beach – Cape Code, April 20, 2013

Over the years, the nature of my vocation and the distance we are from family have limited our ability to spend time with our family. My side of the family was at one time spread out from Virginia to California. Only in recent years have we been able to gather annually in Florida, but even then we seldom see the entire extended family.

As I thought about our physical separation from family, the Apostle Paul’s desire for face to face encounters came to mind. In several letters, he expressed his intent and deep desire to visit those Christian brothers and sisters; some of whom he had personally discipled, but others with whom he had never spent “face time.” To the Romans, Paul said,

“For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11-12, NASB).

Paul’s face to face time with them was not only for their benefit; he needed it, as well!

Bruton Parish Church, Williamsburg, VA

Bruton Parish Church, Williamsburg, VA

I can honestly say that I miss the church family when I am away on vacation. I need the fellowship, worship and encouragement from God and my Crest Baptist family. We need the touch of the Christ-life that resides in each believer, and others, who may not even know they need it, must see the love that we have for one another, so they may see what they are missing.

Many of you are as regular as clockwork in your commitment to meet with the saints in worship and small groups. However, if you feel a twinge of guilt, take that as the prompting of the Holy Spirit and make some adjustments in your life to include regular face to face time with the saints.

YOUR RESPONSE:

  • Last Sunday, I preached from Romans 11:11-32. In that section, Paul said: “In view of the fact that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if I can somehow make my own people jealous and save some of them” (vv. 13-14). His goal in his ministry to the Gentiles was that it would result in unbelieving Jews being made jealous…jealous in the sense of wanting the relationship with God that the Gentiles now had. When you think of your relationship with God and His Body (the church), is it so attractive to unbelievers that they are brought to the point of jealousy, seeing your relationship as one they long to have, too? Or put another way as one commentator said it, “Are the Jews [unbelievers] we meet provoked to jealousy or just provoked?” [1]

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1. R. Kent Hughes, Romans – Righteousness from Heaven, 1991, Crossway, p. 197.

Happy Belated Religious Freedom Day

It passed by without much fanfare…no one that I know of was celebrating. We take for granted our ability to worship whenever, wherever and with whomever we want. Yesterday (January 16) was Religious Freedom Day in the U.S., commemorating anniversary of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Thomas Jefferson wrote the statute that was passed by the state assembly in 1786. Included in the statute were these words:

“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened [burdened] in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion.”

John Leland, a Baptist evangelist in Virginia, was responsible for leading Baptists to be early supporters of this act. Later, when Virginia Baptists learned that the U.S. Constitution provided no guarantee of religious freedom, they protested. Leland pressured lawmakers into including religious freedom and freedom of the press into the Constitution. The freedom of the press was a critical component of this legislation since some advocating for religious freedom had been imprisoned because of their publications. Several years later, the Bill of Rights was ratified by our new nation and the freedom of religion was ensured by the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Having come from countries in which “state” religion placed limits on the rights to assemble for worship, preach and express religious dissent, our forefathers knew that it was incumbent upon them to secure these rights. It is equally critical for us to continue to fight for the preservation of these rights as a secular society tries to marginalize and silence the voice of modern day dissenters. We need to pray for those who oppose recent legislation that contradicts religiously held values (i.e., Christian owned companies compelled provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in its healthcare plan).[1]  We must continue to be the voice for the voiceless (the unborn) as they have been deemed expendable by a Supreme Court ruling.[2]  We must continue to speak up for the sanctity of marriage and the biblical ideal of a one man/one woman, lifelong commitment.[3] 

Because we do take our religious freedoms for granted, we are becoming more in danger of losing them. Failure for us to preserve these rights may one day cause us to fall into the intolerant mode of state that either sponsors one religion (a mode into which Egypt has quickly moved, imprisoning Christian converts) or one that prohibits any expression of faith.

POINTS TO PONDER:

  • In what ways does religious freedom impact your daily life?
  • What are some of the challenges you have experienced in the exercise of your religion?
  • What are you doing (or think you should do) to preserve this freedom?

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1 Hobby Lobby’s opposition to provisions in the Affordable Health Care Act is a potentially landmark case for the preservation of religious freedom, according to Rick Warren. See article HERE.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention keeps abreast of current legislation and cultural trends that are critical in maintaining our religious freedoms. HERE is an article “Remembering 40 Years of Abortion.” Beyond the issue of abortion, positions on human trafficking, euthanasia, defense of traditional marriage, and gun control are other topics that can be found at this site

Again, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission reports on challenges to this issue HERE and other places on its website.

Lottie Moon

My good friend, William Richardson, is the pastor of the Afton (IA) Assembly of God. At the beginning of 2012, he began “Lights 4 God” to highlight the stories of Christians, who have played a significant role in impacting the world for the kingdom God. Each blog’s publication date coincides with the individual’s birthday. Lottie Moon was born on December 12, 1840, and William’s blog about Lottie Moon can be accessed HERE.

For anyone in Southern Baptist life, Lottie is well known, at least for the offering that bears her name. Some of the specifics of her life and ministry have been lost to the average layman over the years. The story is told of one man asking, “Haven’t we raised enough money to bring Lottie home?”  This extraordinary woman, however, rightfully serves as a model of Christian discipleship and helped shape the modern missionary movement. The annual emphasis for the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Missions Christmas offering is named in her memory for the ministry for which she gave her life in China in the late 19th to early 20th centuries.

Lottie Moon, herself, suggested that a missions offering be collected at Christmas. She wrote from China in 1887: “Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?” May we indeed consider that challenge today! In the midst of our own Christmas giving, please consider giving a gift through your own church’s mission work to help spread the Good News to the world.

Click here to read William’s inspiring blog: LOTTIE MOON.

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The following from website of the International Mission Board of the SBC offers some additional links, giving more information about the LMCO, an online giving link and an explanation about the missionary support that comes through Southern Baptist churches’ cooperation:

Every penny you give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® supports missionaries as they share the Gospel overseas. We encourage you to give through your local church but also offer online giving for your convenience. Follow your gifts to your local church through the Cooperative Program from the offering plate to the mission field.