It’s like losing a good friend

Fresno, CA store

What do you do when your favorite Christian bookstore closes its doors? That’s a question many people are pondering all over the country.

There’s simply no way to sugar-coat it. The first quarter of 2019 has been devastating for the retail industry. Among the chains announcing major closings are Payless Shoesource, Gymboree, Charlotte Russe, Family Dollar, Fred’s Discount Stores, and Pier 1 Imports — just to name a few. Even larger stores like Lowe’s, Target, JCPenney, and Kohls are shuttering under-performing stores.

The losses add up to 5,399 stores in just the first 12 weeks of the year. Compare that to the closure of 5,726 stores in ALL of 2018, and it’s easy to see why economists are referring to this as the ‘retail apocalypse.’ Most experts see this as only the beginning of a trend driven by changing consumer habits, which continue to annihilate shopping malls throughout the country.

The number of jobs affected is mind-boggling, already numbering in the tens of thousands, and by some projections on track to eclipse 160,000 by year’s end.

Nearly every genre and niche of retail is being impacted, from soft-line clothing to five-and-dime to hardware. As Doug Whiteman of Moneywise so cleverly put it, “Even a chain of religious stores doesn’t have a prayer in the current retail environment.”

It has been one month since Nashville-based LifeWay Christian Resources announced its decision to close all 170 brick-and-mortar retail stores in an effort to focus on its digital and online platforms. LifeWay, formerly Baptist Bookstores, is the publishing arm of the largest Protestant denomination in the world, the Southern Baptist Convention.

When I was just a kid, I remember riding in the car with my parents to Jackson, Mississippi, to do some serious shopping — almost always taking time to stop in at the Baptist Bookstore. Even as a youngster, I was fascinated with the vast number of books, Bibles, and gift items available there. And there was always familiar Christian music playing.

Upon entering that bookstore, I sensed a certain peace and calm that was distinct from other shopping venues. The employees were always friendly and helpful, never pressuring anyone to buy anything. Instead they just made every effort to help their customers the best way they knew how.

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Baptism: crossing a line

We baptized someone at church on Sunday. It’s a simple act of obedience that takes place at Christian churches all over the world. In fact, it’s so commonplace that perhaps we don’t fully grasp its value, its power.

Now, I realize that there are different ways and traditions of baptism. I’m not here to debate those. Rather, I’d like to offer some thoughts — from a global and a personal perspective — about why baptism is a worthy undertaking for anyone who claims faith in Christ.

Writing for Christianity Today, Nik Ripken, one of the world’s premier experts on Christian persecution, shines a light on the significance of baptism in places like Somalia and Iran, where Islam is the predominant religion. In his piece, Ripken describes the excuses curious Muslims offer when they are caught actively exploring Christianity.

For example, Bible study can be explained as simply research to strengthen arguments for Islam. But Muslims view baptism as the line at which one leaves the Islamic faith and becomes a bona fide member of the Christian community. Baptism is the act that demonstrates the ultimate betrayal of one faith and wholehearted allegiance to another.

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