THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Two separate gatherings will address theological differences within the Southern Baptist Convention at this year’s SBC annual meeting in Baltimore. The breakfasts – both scheduled for 6:30 a.m. on June 10 – signal that the discussion over Reformed theology continues in the convention, following last year’s presentation by a Calvinism study group.

One of the breakfast meetings is hosted by Connect 316, a newly formed group of “theologically driven traditionalists,” according to their website. The group’s executive director, Rick Patrick, has acknowledged Connect 316 is an alternative to Calvinist-leaning groups. “But in another sense,” he said, “we are quite reticent to define ourselves merely in relation to Calvinism.” The Connect 316 breakfast will feature a panel discussion with Adam Harwood, Richard Land, Malcolm Yarnell and Brad Whitt.

At another breakfast meeting sponsored by LifeWay’s “The Gospel Project,” panelists Ed Stetzer, David Platt, Frank Page and Trevin Wax will talk about “Salvation and the Mission of God.”

“In recent years, Southern Baptists have been involved in numerous discussions related to Calvinism, its rise among young evangelicals, its place in Southern Baptist life, and how it affects our mission,” Wax wrote in a blog post about the breakfast. The meeting, he continued, will address “how differing views of salvation impact the way we do mission.”

Reformed theology figured prominently in the discussion at the last two SBC annual meetings, especially in Houston, when a group appointed by Executive Committee President Page presented its findings to messengers. The findings of the study committee, which included thinkers across the theological spectrum, didn’t bring the SBC to a consensus. Rather, Page encouraged Baptists to cooperate despite their differences. “We need to start acting like believers,” he said.

Oklahoma City pastor will be nominated for SBC’s 2nd VP post
Baptist Press reports Hance Dilbeck, pastor of Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, will be nominated for second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention during the annual meeting in Baltimore. The nomination was announced by Johnny Hunt, a former SBC president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.

“He has a great experience as a leader and pastor, a strong passion for the Great Commission, a sweet love for Southern Baptists and an unyielding commitment to denominational unity,” Hunt said of Dilbeck. Read the full story at BPNews.net.

Ohio will recognize same-sex marriages
Another state on the marriage map changed colors Monday, as a federal judge ruled Ohio will now recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Judge Timothy Black could issue a stay on his ruling, the Associated Press reports; attorneys are expected to present their arguments today. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told AP last week it’s his job to defend the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

“Every state is having a lively debate over this and I think that’s a proper thing to do,” DeWine added. “I think it’s pretty obvious that all these issues are going to be resolved by the 6th Circuit and some cases are going to get to the Supreme Court. They’re going to have a decision in the United States Supreme Court and we’re all going to have to accept that.”

Louisiana lawmakers take a step toward making the Bible official state book
A Louisiana House committee has voted 8-5 in favor of designating the King James Bible their official state book, reports The Times-Picayune newspaper. The bill, which has gotten pushback from many legislators, now goes to the full State House.

Bubba celebrates Masters win at Waffle House - with Justin Bieber’s pastor
Late-night diners at a Georgia Waffle House got quite a surprise after the Masters Golf Tournament finished up Sunday, The Christian Post reports. Champion Bubba Watson and his wife, Angie, celebrated his victory there with Pastor Judah Smith and his wife, Chelsea. Smith, a spiritual advisor to pop star Justin Bieber, also is the Watsons’ pastor at City Church in Seattle and counseled the golfer to read Philippians 4:11 leading up to his win at Augusta. “As a kid, you dreamed about playing on the PGA Tour,” Smith told Watson, according to an ESPN story. “You dreamed about playing in the Masters. You’re doing that. Why don’t you just go ahead and rejoice in the circumstances of your life?”

And if those circumstances are served smothered and scattered, even better.

 

Layout 1“Woman, behold your son.”
Read John 19:25-27

Jesus’ most tender word from the cross is to Mary; perhaps his most challenging is to John. Behold. To both of them he says “behold,” a command meaning to look, see, and understand.

“Behold your son…behold your mother.” Behold my provision; behold your responsibility.

To Mary, Jesus is affirming his love for her. As the eldest son in the family, it is Jesus’ duty to provide for his mother in his earthly father’s absence. He entrusts her care to his dearest friend on earth, his beloved follower John.

familyTo John, what an awesome responsibility this must be, that his friend, teacher, and Lord would give to him this duty as if Mary were his very own mother. If he never knew it before, John must realize it now: he really is one of the family. Jesus’ family.

Behold. Could there be any greater statement of the love of God than to be made part of the family?

PRAY Lord, when I behold you, help me to understand that you are the Son, and you have welcomed me into your family.

COMMENTARY | Jonathan Davis

Jesus_forpage1

WHAT A SAVIOR – “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Sculpture by Libby Morecraft of Harrisburg

Our culture loves blood. The latest vampire novel, graphic movies, every CSI crime drama, the nightly news – they’re all pictures painted in blood. Even the walking dead are promoting a bloody afterlife every Sunday night on cable. But our culture’s bloodthirst is biting into the wrong vein.

As God’s people, we also are to be marked as lovers of blood. Not because of an obsession with gore, but because of the Savior who shed his life’s blood
on our behalf.

Yet, for some reason, we often shy away from the bloody language of the cross. Our culture, so fascinated with blood stories, turns away from the most
important blood lines of all. Talk of the cross is offensive to many, and to bring up the blood as central to faith will bring many conversations to a halt. And
rather than offend, some Christians will stick to the more polite apologetic: Jesus loves you, and has a great plan for your life.

But that’s a bloodless Christianity. And a bloodless Christianity is no Christianity at all.

Flesh and blood isn’t just Easter language; it is Gospel language to be used at all times and in all places. We are to embrace the bloodiness of Scripture, for to do opposite is quite dangerous.

Our bloody theology

The Bible presents us with a robust theology of blood. Because Christ was crucified, we reap a multitude of benefits for His glory and our good.

• We once were people without hope, but have been brought near to God by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13).

• In Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins (Romans 3:24-25; Ephesians 1:7).

• We have been justified by Christ’s blood (Romans 5:9).

• We have peace with God by the blood of the cross (Colossians 1:20).

From Adam and Eve’s first sacrifice outside the garden to our High Priest’s completed work, and everywhere in between, the history of God’s people is marked by blood. For several thousand years, it’s the blood of animals, offered as a covering for sins. And finally, it’s the once-and-for-all sacrifice that
washes whiter than snow.

When it comes to salvation, nothing but blood will do.

Maybe the most startling example of flesh and blood language in the Bible is found in John 6. Jesus tells his followers they must eat his flesh and drink his
blood. On the surface, it’s a revolting concept. “Is he advocating cannibalism?” they must be thinking.

Then, at his last meal with the disciples, Jesus enacts the teaching, tying together eternal life with eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Jesus notes that
we are abiding in him when we do so. To commune with Christ is to embrace this bloody language.

Now, it’s not too hard for us to talk about the crucifixion and the blood this time of year, especially in our churches. At Easter, the person and work of Jesus
come to the forefront of our minds, and rightly so. This is the time of year we celebrate Christ’s crucifixion, and it makes sense that flesh and blood speech
is on our lips.

But what concerns me is our post-Easter language, and how we share the Gospel with people who don’t know Christ. Too often, we avoid talking about Christ’s suffering, and in doing so, we drain our faith of its very power.

Power in the blood

The next time you’re on break at the water cooler, try dropping this line from Jesus into the conversation: “Hey, did you know that Jesus said, ‘Unless you
eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’”

I can hear the crickets chirping.

The Corinthians felt the shame of flesh and blood preaching, and this led them away from boasting in the cross to boasting in worldly wisdom. Preaching
a crucified king sounded so un-wise that they forsook the very message they had heard and believed.

But Paul argues that crucifixion language is the very language the Holy Spirit empowers. He had come to the Corinthian believers in weakness and fear. His speech and message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Corinthians 2:3-4).

We must recover that kind of speech in our churches and as we go out into the world. Sin is serious, so serious that it warrants death. This is why there is
great danger in bloodless Christianity. To remove the bloody language of the cross is to remove man’s only hope of being made right with God.

The Gospel of the cross is the good news that God is holy, you are not, and the necessary sacrifice to make you right with God is found in Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

As believers we have tasted and seen the goodness of salvation applied to our hearts, and our desire is to see the lost know this same salvation. Is talking
about the cross offensive? Yes. Is it difficult to speak? Yes.

But let’s not run from it. Rather, let us press into it, speaking Christ and Him crucified plainly and with conviction, trusting the Holy Spirit to draw the lost to the Father through the Son.

When we do, people will begin to understand there’s power in the blood.

Jonathan Davis pastors Delta Church in Springfield.

Layout 1“Today … in paradise.”
Read Luke 23:39-43

One thief spits curses and ridicule. The other pleads, Remember me. Both deserve death for their crimes. The law said so. The judge said so. The hammer said so. The executioner agreed. But their reactions to their punishment are exactly opposite. Why?

One gives up hope, even when hope is right before him. The other holds onto hope, not because he can see it, but because it’s the only thing he has left.

futureOne man believes in death there is no future. The other believes in the future there is no death. And in response to his faith, Jesus holds before the believing thief the promise of paradise.

What a contrast to the utter degradation of the executioner’s hill beside the smoking city garbage dump: Paradise. Eternity. Joy. A never-ending future in the presence of a loving God.

PRAY Lord, help me remember there is a future and a hope as I face death, even though I deserve it.

Layout 1To prepare for celebration of the Resurrection, we must first witness the agony of the cross. Crucifixion is a most torturous form of execution. It may last several hours or several days. The body’s systems shut down and the condemned man’s lungs fill with fluid. In effect, he drowns. As he pulls against the spikes in his flesh, trying to lift his body just enough to gulp another breath, Jesus uses his last energies to make seven bold declarations.

Standing at the foot of the cross with his most devoted follower, John, and his mother, Mary, we watch as Jesus pours out his life. We listen for clues to his future – and ours – as the Lord of all creation bows to his Father’s will on our behalf.

Use these devotionals once a day during Holy Week, or as an hour’s contemplation on Good Friday.

“Father forgive them,”
Read John 19:17-24, Luke 23:32-34

forgivenIt’s brazen. The soldiers who beat Jesus then stripped him and nailed him to the beam. They raised the cross and let it drop into the hole that held it up, letting Jesus’ full weight pull against the severed flesh where the great nails affixed him. Now they have the nerve, stooping to the ground before that very cross, to gamble for the only nice thing Jesus had on earth, his seamless robe.

And yet, their brazen offense, to kill a man and rob him of his clothes as payment, is not the most heinous crime Jesus suffered that day. He had laid on his back all the sins of all people of all time. And still, he says, Forgive them.

Who else could offer such a word? Only the one who is offended has the right to forgive the offender. Only he could extend grace to the one who sins against him. Jesus’ desire is always that we accept his forgiveness and live in his grace.

PRAY Lord, I, too, am responsible for your death. Help me to live in gratitude for your forgiveness.

potteryHarrisburg, Ill. chalk_art| Worship in a sanctuary is usually reserved for church days. But on a recent Friday morning at First Baptist in Harrisburg, a handful of people focused on Jesus as artist Libby Morecraft turned a 75-pound mound of clay into a sculpture of his face.

She demonstrated her skills for the Easter issue of the Illinois Baptist (online here), but sculpture is just one part of the outreach she calls “Work of Art Ministries.” She also uses pottery and chalk art to lead people in worship during services, conferences and retreats. Libby, who’s married to Saline Association director of missions Rusty Morecraft, recently led during the annual IBSA Ministers’ Wives’ Retreat.

Check out how the sculpture came to life in the slideshow below, and go to the Work of Art Ministries Facebook page for more on her work.

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Nate_Adams_blog_callout_AprilCOMMENTARY | Nate Adams

In churches both here and around the world, so much preparation goes into getting ready for Easter. Of course, that’s as it should be. Easter is arguably the church’s greatest single day of celebration. Though surrounded by distractions like bunnies, egg hunts and new spring fashions, it suffers far less
secularization than Christmas. And because Easter is always Sunday, it gives every local church a special opportunity to shine in its own community. Yet, in an effective, evangelistic church, Easter is only the beginning.

Several years ago, I was part of a group that helped start a new church in the suburbs of Chicago. We decided to hold our first public worship service on Easter Sunday. We called it our church’s birthday.

Prior to that “launch Sunday,” we had prepared for a full year. For weeks, four families prayed and studied and planned. Then three neighborhood Bible studies grew into a core group of about 40. Then we met for weeks in teams to plan ministries and outreach strategies and worship services that would be relevant and inviting to our community.

In the days leading up to Easter, we stuffed envelopes, hung door hangers, and placed ads in the local papers. And on Easter Sunday, 182 people came to the grade school gym where we held our first Easter celebration.

But Easter was only the beginning. Because that first Sunday was our new church’s “birth,” we decided that birthday cakes would be great welcome gifts for all our first time guests. So we baked birthday cakes – dozens of them. And for hours after we packed up our portable church that afternoon, our core group delivered both a welcome and a friendly witness to those who lived in our Jerusalem.

Across North America, including right here in Illinois, new churches often still choose Easter to begin a new witness in a new Jerusalem. But even in churches like yours and mine that have been around a while, Easter can be preceded by special preparations that invite new people to come and meet Christ, and followed by tireless effort to make them feel welcome, both at church and in the family of God.

Do you feel comfortable, even enthusiastic, inviting your friends and neighbors to come to your church? Are you confident in what they will experience there? Is your church ready, not only to welcome and accept first time guests, but also to go the extra mile to understand their needs and questions, and respond with compassion to their imperfect lives?

It takes love and great intentionality to continually invite new people to church, and even more to be truly ready for them when they find the courage to come. The great thing is that Easter Sunday gives a church one of its best opportunities all year to welcome new people, and even churches that do little
inviting are often blessed with first-time guests on that special Sunday.

Let’s be ready this Easter. In fact, let’s be ready each and every Lord’s Day. Let’s be winsome and sensitive and compassionate and good listeners. Let’s
make sure we prepare and invite, and that the Gospel message is clear, and lovingly delivered in multiple ways. And let’s not let Sunday lunch be the end of it.

For the early church, Easter was not the grand finale; it was the start of something big. The risen, ascended, and returning Lord sent His Spirit to fill His
disciples with power, and with boldness. And He said they would be His witnesses, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

It’s the same for us today. The ends of the earth still really need the Gospel, and so do the people who live in our Jerusalems. Again this year, Easter is only the beginning.