COMMENTARY | Chase Abner

Note: This article originally appeared on Collegiate Collective, a new resource that features articles, podcasts, and videos designed to equip leaders to advance the gospel on college campuses.

Okay. Here’s my qualification to talk about Halloween on campus: I served as a campus minister for seven years in Carbondale. Beginning in the 1980s, Carbondale became known for its raucous Halloween celebrations. In fact, most folks these days refer to them as “the riots.” Cars got turned over. Store windows were busted. Bottles were thrown at police. After a particularly violent weekend in 2000, city officials closed the bars on “the Strip” each Halloween in hopes that it would discourage the behavior. Instead, students just celebrated a week earlier in what is now infamously “Unofficial Halloween” (or simply “Unofficial” if you’re a cool kid).

Even this year, Unofficial got bonkers and police showed up in riot gear to mace and pepper spray the crowd after a car got turned over just blocks from campus.

Chase_Abner_callout_Oct30I never found an effective way to engage students during Unofficial outside of throwing my own tamer Halloween party. I can’t talk about that or I’ll draw the ire of my more fundamentalist friends. However, I can talk about what I think students’ fascination with Halloween reveals about culture on campus.

The Supernatural
Part of what makes haunted houses and scary movies enticing to people is the notion that there are malicious spirits that walk among us. In some ways, it’s a subtle rejection of the naturalistic worldview that can be common on campus, especially among those immersed in the physical sciences. Even as Dawkins-flavored atheists/agnostics become more vocal, research shows that the majority of Millennials believe in God with “absolute certainty.”

While it may be disconcerting to see students toy with the concept of evil spirits for the sake of entertainment, I encourage you to see it as a bridge to talk about Christ. Christians, of all people, should be ready to affirm the existence of a paranormal reality and to point others to the one who is ultimately victorious over evil.

Community
Research by the National Retail Federation predicts that 67.4% of 18-24-year-olds will spend money on Halloween costumes this year. These young adults predict that they’ll each spend about $40 on their costumes. I guarantee that these students aren’t going to shell out that much cash to get all dressed up and have nowhere to go.

The point of wearing a costume is to join the throngs of costumed students in the campus community – to see and be seen. Halloween reveals, almost as well as athletic events, that students want to be a part of a community rallying around a common purpose. Like all people, they have an innate desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to belong and they want to celebrate.

Our ministries have so much more to offer that desire than Halloween can provide. We can provide ongoing community that is centered around an eternal purpose realized in the mission of God.

Boredom
When I try to figure out what might motivate a college student to don a costume and go make mischief (like tipping a car over or assaulting police officers, cf. “Unofficial” above), one answer that comes to mind is boredom. I think a lot of the trouble students get into at Halloween stems from the extended adolescence that finds fertile ground during college. Without a clear path to make a difference in the world, many students will use their freedom from immediate parental guidance to indulge some of our basest desires simply for lack of something better to do.

One way that our ministries can serve students (even before they know Jesus) is to provide them with opportunities to make a positive impact in the surrounding community. These students may not ever be ready to teach Bible studies, but they can read to underprivileged children, clean up litter, or clean out gutters for the elderly. Imagine the Gospel-centered conversations that could occur between students as they do community projects together. Imagine the good that could be done for your city if you find a way to channel bored students’ talents and energy into a Kingdom-focused alternative.

The Gospel
I know some will accuse me of over-thinking things. “Can’t Halloween just be about fun, Chase?” Of course it can, but even the desire for fun reveals something about the human condition, no? We all chase various things in hopes of being satisfied. So whether students are seeking supernatural affirmation that there’s more to life than what they see…or a sense of belonging with others…or an escape from a routine, meaningless existence…the Gospel of the Kingdom offers more than they could dream.

So, this weekend, I’m not asking you to ruin anyone’s Halloween fun. But as you observe the celebration (and probably mischief) in your campus community, let it freshly awaken you to why you’re there and why collegiate ministry matters.

Chase Abner is collegiate evangelism strategist for the Illinois Baptist State Association.

THE BRIEFING | A Baptist professor who once taught at the convention’s most historic seminary is poised to publicly announce his shift on homosexuality at a national conference in November. Mercer University professor David Gushee, who taught at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1993-96, will reportedly tell the audience at a conference hosted by The Reformation Project that, “I will seek to stand in solidarity with you who have suffered the lash of countless Christian rejections.”

The_BriefingHis proposed remarks, reported by Religious News Service, do not come as a surprise to Baptist leaders who have known Gushee and watched his theological path over the years, Baptist Press reports. “Gushee is not the future of evangelicalism,” blogged Boyce College professor Denny Burk. “He is the future of ex-evangelicalism. He joins a chorus of others who have left the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) and who no longer represent what evangelical Christianity is all about.”


A week after Houston pastors were subpoenaed amid their involvement in a campaign to defeat a city ordinance, Southern Baptists leaders and others in Arkansas are working toward the repeal of a similar ordinance in Fayetteville. Adopted by the city council in August, the ordinance is part of an effort by the Human Rights Campaign to expand equality for the LGBT community in southern states, Baptist Press reports. But some pastors and Christian leaders say their religious liberty is at stake.


Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd will take part in a Nov. 2 simulcast designed to show support for the five subpoenaed ministers in Houston. Sponsored in part by Family Research Council, “I Stand Sunday” also will feature former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and Alan and Phil Robertson from TV’s “Duck Dynasty.”


“Life does not end when tragedy comes into your life,” says Travis Freeman, a one-time high school football player whose life changed drastically when an illness cost him his eyesight. The two-time graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is the subject of “23 Blast,” a new film released in Oct. 24. Read more about Freeman and the movie at BPNews.net.


In other movie news, Christian Bale says Moses was “barbaric” and “likely schizophrenic.” Bale portrays the biblical hero in the upcoming Ridley Scott film “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”


Having their credit card information stolen tops the list of crimes Americans worry about most, according to a poll by Gallup. 69% of people said they frequently or occasionally worry about computer hackers stealing the credit card info they use at stores, followed by 62% of Americans who worry about their computer or cell phone being hacked. Farther down the list: having your car stolen or broken into (42%), getting mugged (31%), and being a victim of terrorism (28%).


Winning baseball games isn’t the top priority for San Francisco Giants assistant general manager Bobby Evans. “You want your life to point people to Christ,” he told Baptist Press. “It starts for me with my own relationship with Christ. That’s going to direct and dictate what influence I have for Christ in my family, in my marriage and in the workplace.”

And why it matters to Baptists now

HEARTLAND | Eric Reed

After his election as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd has called Southern Baptists to prayer, but not just any prayer—extraordinary prayer. The phrase is not original to Floyd, as he stated from the start. It’s almost 300 years old.

Credit Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan preacher with poor eyesight who often read from a manuscript his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

Floyd adopted the term “extraordinary prayer” from a book by Edwards called “An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People, in Extraordinary

Prayer, for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, Pursuant to Scripture Promises and Prophecies Concerning the Last Time.” (Titling was not their strong suit in the 18th century.)

But what did he mean by extraordinary prayer?

The 2014 IBSA Annual Meeting theme is Mission Illinois: A Concert of Prayer. For more information, go to IBSA.org/ibsa2014.

Mission Illinois: A Concert of Prayer is the theme of the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association. For more information, go to IBSA.org/ibsa2014.

From Zechariah, Edwards drew a picture of prayer that would result first in revival of the church, then awakening and regeneration of lost people. “God’s people will be given a spirit of prayer,” Edwards wrote, “inspiring them to come together and pray in an extraordinary manner, that He would help his Church, show mercy to mankind in general, pour out his Spirit, revive His work, and advance His kingdom in the world as He promised.

“Moreover, such prayer would gradually spread and increase more and more, ushering in a revival of religion.”

Edwards offered an example he had witnessed personally. In 1744, a group of ministers in Scotland called on believers to engage in prayer. “They desired a true revival in all parts of Christendom, and to see nations delivered from their great and many calamities, and to bless them with the unspeakable benefits of the Kingdom of our glorious Redeemer, and to fill the whole earth with His glory.”

The group pledged to pray every Saturday evening, Sunday morning, and all day on the first Tuesday of each quarter—for two years.

During that time, many churches were renewed. In one town alone, 30 groups of young people formed and committed themselves to prayer for revival. Buoyed by the results, the ministers sent 500 letters to pastors in New England urging their own two-year commitment.

Edwards noted: “Those ministers in Boston said of this proposal: ‘The motion seems to come from above, and to be wonderfully spreading in Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland and North America.’”

And they extended the two-year pledge to seven years of prayer.

Edwards, who with George Whitefield and others, was at the heart of the First Great Awakening, cited prayer as vital to the movement of God’s spirit in the colonies.

Extraordinary prayer sidebar

 

Eric_Reed COMMENTARY | Eric Reed

With one week left in Pastor Appreciation Month, you may be wondering how to appreciate your pastor. What does he need? Or want?

Not a Bible. He has many Bibles on his shelves, and hundreds more on his phone.

Not a painting of Jesus, and certainly not on black velvet.

Maybe a suit, if only for funerals, but let him pick his own.

Not a trip. As a church member, I once gave a pastor and his family a gift certificate for a getaway weekend. The smile on his face said, “I’d rather have cash.”

As a pastor, the remembrances that blessed me most (in addition to the occasional love offering) were handwritten cards and letters. Once while I was on vacation, a deacon had the congregation fill a three-ring binder with thank-you notes. And another time, as the children’s classes presented me with a three-foot tall card they had drawn, a young woman in the choir loft exclaimed, “He’s gonna cry!” I did.

Ted Traylor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida, told a story that still chokes me up. Many years ago during a stormy season in his ministry, Traylor arrived home one night to find three deacons sitting on the curb. “Oh, no,” he thought. “Here it comes.”

“Pastor, remember when you preached on the mighty men of David?” one of them said, “How when David longed for water from home, they snuck across the battle lines and brought it to him?”

Traylor nodded.

“Well, we went to your hometown today and we talked with your parents.” It was a twelve-hour round trip.

The pastor was astonished to learn they had brought him a sapling native to North Alabama to remind him of home, even as he served hundreds of miles away. They fetched a jar of water from the clear mountain springs to remind him of the living water of Christ. And they delivered two large stones from the hillside ledge where as a teenager Traylor was called by God to the ministry. The men instructed him to place the rocks in his own garden and whenever he felt unsure of himself or his calling, to stand on them as a reminder that he stands on the Rock.

And the three mighty men pledged their personal support of their pastor and his ministry, whenever and wherever he needed them, “unless you do something illegal, immoral, or unethical—then we’ll take you out ourselves,” he remembered, smiling.

That’s what pastors want.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist and IBSA’s associate executive director, Church Communications team.

Religious liberty advocates say city still asking too much

THE BRIEFING | Subpoenas requiring pastors to turn over their sermons are a violation of their First Amendment rights, religious freedom advocates argued in the wake of action by the Houston’s mayor and city attorney.

The five subpoenaed ministers had been part of an effort to repeal Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), adopted by the city council in May. The subpoenas are for a lawsuit brought by ordinance opponents, who collected thousands of signatures on a petition to repeal HERO. But the city disqualified enough of the signatures to prevent a vote, Tom Strode and Bonnie Pritchett reported for Baptist Press.

On Friday, Oct. 17, Houston City Attorney Dave Feldman removed “sermons” from the subpoenaed materials, which also include text messages, e-mails, speeches and presentations related to the ordinance, the referendum to overturn it, Mayor Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity.

The removal of the word “sermons” isn’t enough, said the attorneys representing the pastors. And Mayor Parker “acknowledged the new subpoenas do not explicitly preclude sermons from being produced,” the Houston Chronicle reported.

After the initial subpoenas, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission called Christians to support the five ministers by using the Twitter hashtag #4Houston5. The Southern Baptist agency also encouraged pastors everywhere to send their sermons on marriage and sexuality to Mayor Parker.

“A government has no business using subpoena power to intimidate or bully the preaching and instruction of any church, any synagogue, any mosque, or any other place of worship,” blogged ERLC President Russell Moore.

“…The separation of church and state means that we will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and we will. But the preaching of the church of God does not belong to Caesar, and we will not hand it over to him. Not now. Not ever.”

Pastors participate in month-long Pulpit Freedom Sunday emphasis
Hundreds of pastors so far have participated in an annual effort to encourage free speech in church pulpits, even if that expression is about politics. Alliance Defending Freedom, who sponsors Pulpit Freedom Sunday, reported on their website Oct. 10 that 1,517 pastors had “preached sermons presenting biblical perspectives on the positions of electoral candidates and signed a statement agreeing that the IRS should not control the content of a pastor’s sermon.” Additionally, 242 pastors signed the statement only. The campaign began Oct. 5 and extends through Election Day (Nov. 4).

Christianity Today noted that on that before this year’s emphasis began, Pew Research reported  49% of Americans say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on day-to-day social and political questions.

Leaders may return to Mars Hill after Driscoll’s resignation
Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Oct. 14 resignation after 18 years at Mars Hill Church could result in the return of leaders who previously had left the church and Driscoll’s leadership, The Christian Post and other media sources have reported. Former worship coordinator Kevin Potts told KING5 News: “A faith in Christ is a faith in redemption and healing, and if we’re not willing to put that foot forward and say, “I will help with that,” what right do we have to call ourselves followers of Christ?”

Driscoll had been on a leave of absence since August amid charges of anger and unbiblical leadership. Following his resignation, Mars Hill’s Board of Overseers released a statement saying Driscoll had not been asked to resign and that they were “surprised” to receive his resignation.

Bishops’ final report reflects controversy, differences of opinion
After a meeting of Catholic bishops seemed to point to a drastic shift in the Church’s teaching on same-sex lifestyles and relationships, the group’s final report showed the most controversial topics are still unresolved, Catholic News Service reported. The Oct. 13 mid-term report from the Synod of Bishops on the family included a section titled “Welcoming homosexual persons,” and pondered whether Catholic churches could accept and value same-sex lifestyles, “without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony.”

That section of the synod’s final report, released Oct. 18, was amended by the bishops, according to CNS, but still failed to receive the super majority usually needed for approval, along with two paragraphs on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion. The Church will hold a world synod on the family in 2015.

Hillsong pastor addresses same-sex marriage views
Pastor Brian Houston sparked controversy when he didn’t clearly define his church’s stance on same-sex marriage at a press conference last week. Now, the pastor of Hillsong Church is clarifying his views, reported The Christian Post. “Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage,” Houston said in a statement. “I challenge people to read what I actually said, rather than what was reported that I said. My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.”

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

I was sitting relaxed in our local movie theater, enjoying a bag of popcorn. Our kids were settled in next to their mom and me, excited to see “Jonah,” the first feature-length, animated movie by VeggieTales.

Nate_Adams_callout_Oct20Of course Jonah (played by Archibald Asparagus in this case) is the story of the reluctant prophet who did not want to deliver the message of God’s impending judgment and the need for repentance to the people of Nineveh. To set up the telling of the Old Testament story, a conversation takes place between “Junior” (Asparagus) and some amusing characters known as “the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything,” about the importance of compassion.

“Compassion is when you see that someone needs help, and you want to help them,” the pirate captain tells Junior. He then goes on to tell about the time they took Jonah on a voyage.

In the middle of this delightful cartoon movie, however, there was a serious “aha” moment for me. The pirates begin by talking with Junior about the compassion that Jonah lacked, and then they move on to talking about mercy, which God wanted to give to the people of Nineveh. “Mercy is when you give someone a second chance, even when they don’t deserve it,” the pirate explains.

A little confused, Junior asks whether the story is about compassion or about mercy. The pirate’s profound answer still penetrates my heart: “You can’t have mercy without compassion.”

I realized in that animated moment that the reason I don’t show mercy more often is that I don’t really have compassion. The reason I don’t share Christ more often is that I don’t really care about the lost people I see. And the reason I don’t really experience revival in my own heart is that I don’t really want to admit my own sin.

In other words, there is a deep place in me where truly transformational things take place. Not only do I rarely allow the Holy Spirit to go there, I rarely go there myself, or even admit that it exists. It’s the place where my self still rules my life. It’s the place where, deep down, regardless of my words or reputation, I know what I want. Maybe I do the right thing out of duty sometimes, even most of the time. But I do it without the right motive, without it being from the heart of Jesus in me.

That’s the place I need to go for revival. It’s the place where I can expose the deepest part of me to the deepest reach of God’s transforming power. It’s where, perhaps reluctantly, even fearfully, I can admit my own motives and desires, and with trembling hands give them up to God for His Lordship and control, whatever the cost.

I have often heard it said that, for each of us, revival must begin in “me,” that I should draw a circle around myself and ask God to bring revival there before I can expect Him to bring it anywhere else. I guess that silly, profound movie just helped me see where the bull’s eye of that circle must be.

In just a few days, hundreds of us from churches all over the state will gather in Springfield for the 2014 IBSA Annual Meeting. Whether you are able to attend or not, would you join me, both in your prayers for revival among our churches, and also in drawing that circle around “me” that asks God to begin revival there?

Near the close of the VeggieTales movie, Junior notes that Jonah still seems to lack compassion, and asks the pirates what Jonah really learned. The pirate replies, “The question is not what did Jonah learn, but what did you learn?” May we each learn to expose to God that deep place in our hearts where revival can truly begin.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Kevin Smith (left) and Jill Finley (right) joined local ministry specialists including IBSA's Sylvan Knobloch (center) for the Elevate Marriage conference Oct. 16 in Springfield.

Kevin Smith (left) and Jill Finley (right) joined local ministry specialists including IBSA’s Sylvan Knobloch (center) for the Elevate Marriage conference Oct. 16 in Springfield.

NEWS | Preachers don’t have to make the Word of God relevant, said Kevin Smith, a pastor and professor in Louisville, Ky. “The teaching of Scripture is relevant. But we must teach Scripture.”

In practicing the prophetic role of the pulpit as it relates to biblical marriage and sexuality, pastors need to preach systematically the whole of Scripture, including its teachings on those topics, Smith said during the “Elevate Marriage” conference held Oct. 16 in Springfield, Ill.

Pastors and church leaders gathered at the Illinois Baptist State Association to hear from national and local experts, including Smith, Jill Finley, women’s ministry director from Bethel Baptist Church in Troy, and Andrew Walker of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. IBSA sponsored the one-day conference to help leaders navigate the shifting marriage culture in Illinois and nationwide.

Illinois’ state legislature legalized same-sex marriage last November, and unions officially began in June. The U.S. Supreme Court decided this month to let stand lower-court rulings on marriage. Their action plus a subsequent appeals court decision means a total of 35 states could soon have legal same-sex marriage.

But the wave of support for same-sex marriage isn’t the only cultural shift threatening biblical marriage. It is a symptom of the decline of marriage, Walker told conference attenders in a video message, not the cause. The ERLC’s director of policy studies urged church leaders to be “happy warriors” in defending biblical marriage. “To speak the truth as we’re called to do, is to do so in love,” he said.

Ministry specialists from the Illinois Baptist State Association also were on hand to update churches on constructing their bylaws and membership policies in ways that protect marriage, and preaching on the topic in a way that elevates it. The process, said IBSA’s Mark Emerson, starts at home.

“Before we can elevate marriage in the church, we have to elevate our own marriage. We have to take a look at our own life.” Tim Sadler, IBSA’s director of evangelism, followed Emerson with four tips for preachers preaching on marriage:

1. Preach the truth of God’s word as a sinner/saint,
2. Preach biblical marriage, instead of “traditional” marriage,
3. Root your theology of marriage in creation, and
4. Understand and preach the role of Christian marriage in evangelism.

“Christian marriage done properly is a picture of how Christ loves the church and sacrificially gave himself for her,” Sadler said, referencing the apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians. “So, in our preaching we need to elevate biblical marriage and the living out of biblical marriage before a watching world, because it is only in biblical marriage, marriage done rightly, that the watching world gets a beautiful picture of how Christ loves the church.

“And any time we mar the picture, then we convolute the picture the world has of how Christ loves the church and is in relationship with the church.”

Look for more on on the “Elevate Marriage” conference in the next issue of the Illinois Baptist, and watch for videos of presentations by Kevin Smith and Jill Finley on www.e-quip.net, IBSA’s online training resource. Go to www.Vimeo.org/IBSA.