Tony_EvansNashville, Tenn. | “Jesus reversed over 800 years of racial discord in 24 hours,” Tony Evans preached this afternoon at the ERLC’s Summit on the gospel and racial reconciliation.

Walking his listeners through John’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, made application to modern times:

Jesus met the woman on common ground, at Jacob’s well (John 4:6). “Jews didn’t like Samaritans, Samaritans didn’t like Jews, but since they both loved Jacob, that’s where he stopped,” Evans said. The Old Testament patriarch was viewed as the father of both Orthodox Jews, and the pariah Samaritans.

He didn’t hide who He was. The woman at the well knew Jesus was Jewish (John 4:9), even though he didn’t say it. But though he looked and talked like a Jewish man, Evans noted, he didn’t act like one to the woman, who other Jews would have viewed as an outcast. Nor did he try to be something he wasn’t.

God is not asking you to stop being different than you are to reach somebody different than you are, Evans said. He doesn’t want white people to be black or vice versa. “He’s asking both to be biblical.”

Jesus earned the right to deepen the conversation. “Because he was willing to drink out of her cup” at the well, Evans said, “he has now earned the right to take a normal discussion about water and turn it into a discussion about eternal life” (John 4:13-14).

Jesus was about his father’s business. Father God plays an integral role in the story of the woman at the well. The conversation changed when the Samaritan woman brought Him up, trying to change the subject when Jesus reveals he knows her current situation (John 4:19-20).

Jesus uses the opportunity to show her what she’s always known to be true about her history, her background, and her identity isn’t, in fact, true. Jesus’ words apply to the racial absolutes we live by too, Evans inferred.

“Black is only beautiful when it’s biblical, and white is only right when it conforms with holy writ,” he said.

Many more Samaritans believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony, John writes. How can the reversal detailed in the story happen in just 24 hours, Evans asked. Because Jesus was about his father’s business.

Watch the Summit online at live.erlc.com.

Nashville, Tenn. | Racial reconciliation is the main topic of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s 2015 Leadership Summit, which starts today at 1 p.m. The Illinois Baptist is in Nashville covering the event, which today includes plenary sessions on:

  • Why racial reconciliation is a gospel issue
  • Ferguson, Eric Garner, and your community
  • Key issues in racial reconciliation: Poverty, fatherlessness, criminal justice and urban ministry

Tonight, ERLC President Russell Moore will interview civil rights leader John Perkins, and speakers Danny Akin and H.B. Charles will explore how racial reconciliation is shaped by the gospel and the Great Commission. The evening session will conclude with a panel discussion on the church and multi-ethnic ministry.

The Summit was originally scheduled to focus on pro-life issues, but unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and other U.S. cities caused ERLC leaders to change the topic. “Racism and injustice are not just social ills; they are sins against God,” Moore said last year.

“This summit will help equip us to tear down carnal divisions, to bring about peace, so that churches reflect the kingdom of God.”

LifeWay Research has found that while 86% of Protestant senior pastors have congregations with one predominant racial group, only 40% of American churchgoers believe their church needs to become more ethnically diverse.

Check back here for news from the Summit, and in the next issue of the Illinois Baptist.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Amid continuing tension in Ferguson, Mo., church members will engage in a block-by-block outreach initiative to promote relationships–and healing–in the St. Louis suburb rocked by violence and protests since the shooting of teenager Michael Brown last August.

The_BriefingJose Aguayo, a Ferguson pastor and chaplain with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, will lead the effort to send out teams of church members tasked with getting to know residents on their assigned block. Eventually, Aguayo told Baptist Press, ministries resulting from the outreach could include “sports teams, community outings and study assistance for children and adults.”

First Baptist Church in Ferguson, led by Pastor Stoney Shaw, is one of the churches participating. He told The Pathway newspaper in Missouri, “We want to join with other churches and minister. Walking the streets and praying is a simple yet powerful plan.” Read more at BPNews.net.


In other news from Ferguson, Christianity Today reports on a dialogue between Franklin Graham and other Christian leaders. Graham, CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, posted March 12 on his Facebook page, “Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience.” (Read the entire post here.) But according to a group of 31 Christian leaders who wrote an open letter to Graham, the issue is often more complicated.


Family is the most central factor in how Americans identify themselves, Barna found in a new study, followed by being an American at #2, and their religious faith at #3. But the answers change, depending on how old you are.


On the day marking the Iranian New Year, President Obama issued a statement calling for the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has arrested in the country in 2012. “Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has spent two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs,” Obama said. “He must be returned to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father.” Read more at ChristianityToday.com.


Texas Senator Ted Cruz spoke about Christianity and liberty at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where he also announced he will run for President in 2016. Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of the Christian university, introduced Cruz but was careful to note Liberty was giving the candidate a platform rather than endorsing him, The Christian Post reported.


More than $2.5 billion is wagered on the annual March Madness basketball tournament, according to the FBI. But Christians would be wise not to throw any money in the pot, says Barrett Duke, a vice president for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Read the full story at BPNews.net.

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

Nate_Adams_March23Recently a bivocational pastor shared with me a difficult decision he needed to make, whether or not to stay as pastor of the church he was serving. He had already accepted the reality that the small church could not afford both his insurance and a full-time wage, and that he needed employment outside the church to support his family. What seemed to have him questioning whether he could stay were recent remarks by a couple of his church members.

“We had to cancel Sunday services one week because of a snowstorm,” he explained, “and a couple of the members raised the question of whether or not they should still pay me that week, since I hadn’t actually preached.”

I could hear the hurt in his voice, and read the disappointment in his face. He was still a few years away from retirement, and had recently lost his job outside the church. At a time when being valued by the church was very important to him, a couple of unthinking church members had made him feel less valued than ever.

But the pastor went on to explain that, in his view, the problem probably ran deeper than a careless statement or two. “I really think some of them think that way. They aren’t giving generously to the Lord, or even to support me as their pastor. They feel they are merely purchasing a service from me, and that if that service is not delivered, the church shouldn’t have to pay.”

After a few minutes of talking it through, it seemed clear to me that the pastor was going to stick it out. He loved his congregation, and I suspect that even the ones who made the hurtful statements loved him. But he and I agreed that if he was going to feel appreciated, and perhaps even more importantly, if his people were to have their hearts matured and transformed into generous, godly givers, that he needed to provide some candid teaching, and loving but direct conversation, on tithing and giving.

I think one of the reasons I was able to understand this pastor’s hurt and encourage him to press on is that this same dynamic of consumerism can also affect our cooperative missions work as churches. Not often, but occasionally, I will hear someone ask, “Why should we give to that? What do they do for us?”

They could be referring to a mission offering, or the Cooperative Program, or the local association, or any ministry where the investment is largely in people that are doing ministry among and on behalf of the churches. If there’s not some direct, tangible benefit back to the church, the value is questioned. “If they aren’t here, helping us, maybe they don’t deserve our support.” If the sermon isn’t preached, the ongoing, continual ministry of the pastor isn’t valued.

The next Sunday after that conversation, a snowstorm hit here in Springfield. Several area churches cancelled services, but our church did not.

With that pastor’s pain still in the back of my mind, I got up early to clear the snow from our driveway, and make sure we could get to church. As we headed out the door, I asked my wife to make sure we had our offering envelope with us. I remembered in a fresh way that our tithe was the Lord’s, and that our church’s staff and ministries count on our support, whether we’re there benefitting from them or not.

I also remembered that the portion of my weekly offering that goes through the Cooperative Program supports thousands of missionaries and other ministries that operate literally around the clock and around the world. The Lord and they are at the heart of my giving, not the benefits I receive. And I’m grateful for each one of you that feels and gives from that heart too.

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

COMMENTARY | Nick Rynerson

“Pop culture” is often treated like a dirty word in the church—thought to consist of mostly irredeemable entertainment produced to make money off the masses. A common approach is to avoid secular music, films, art, and television, or at least to not admit to consuming it all that much.

But that isn’t often what our real lives look like. Most of us are at least closet pop culture consumers—we indulge in one or two sitcoms, a favorite secular radio station, or a superhero movie every now and then.

And maybe that’s okay.

Nick_Rynerson_March15Popular culture is not the enemy; first and foremost, pop culture is a place for storytellers to, well, tell stories. Moral discretion is important. (And biblical! See 1 Corinthians 8:7-9.) But we miss a wealth of spiritual and theological depth if we chalk up all entertainment created by non-Christians as irredeemable and misguided; we also miss out on the opportunity to identify and empathize from a distinctly Christian perspective (Acts 17:28).

Stories offer us insights into our culture’s longings, revealing God’s truth in the world around us. In his excellent book “The Stories We Tell,” Kentucky pastor Mike Cosper reminds us that a story is never just a story—it’s a window into our culture’s imagination and longings (see Romans 2:12-15).

“Storytelling—be it literature, theater, opera, film, or reality TV—doesn’t aim at our rational mind . . . It aims at the imagination, a much more mysterious and sneaky part of us, ruled by love, desire, and hope,” Cosper writes. “When people, against their better judgment, find themselves hooked on a show, we can trace the line back to find the hook in their imagination.”

Stories, according to Cosper, can reveal much more about a person, people group, or culture than a strictly informative presentation or a list of facts. Stories communicate what people truly desire.

Take, for example, a certain Best Picture nominee from last year. The movie contains some strong language, an ambiguous ending, and other elements that might lead some Christians to believe that it has nothing to offer spiritually (and for some to wisely not engage the film). However, if we look closer, we can clearly see some distinct things the storytellers—the director, writer, characters, etc.—believe about God, life, and themselves.

Without spoiling the film, which centers on the relationship between a talented young jazz drummer and his demanding/abusive instructor, the characters have a very human desire: to be great. The devotion of the characters to the pursuit of greatness, and its sway over their future happiness, is deeply identifiable. Like the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, the characters sacrifice their life for the pursuit of self-glory, predictably leaving themselves and others miserable.

Ever since the Fall, man has been trying to claw his way back to perfection. Everybody longs for his or her flaws to be taken away, and many of us think that if we just work hard enough, we will reach the promised land of perfection.

As Christians, we know this is vanity (Romans 3:23), but the characters in the film sacrifice their lives and their sanity to meet every iota of their own personal law. This pursuit is hardwired into us and until we find personal and entire perfection in Christ, we will always fall short.

That’s serious, biblical truth, communicated (probably unknowingly) in a 2-hour movie produced with a secular audience in mind. The next time a movie, song, or TV show comes on that you are tempted to write off as irredeemable, consider if it might have something to teach us about God, the creator of all things.

In Acts 17:22-27, Paul not only quotes Greek poetry, but also alludes to the radical truth that we’re put where we were (i.e., in our cultural context) to speak eternal truth into subjective cultural contexts. In his book, Cosper uses this example to illustrate a distinctly Christian way of story-listening.

“As Christians living in the midst of these stories, we have an opportunity to both learn and bear witness. Stories teach us a lot about ourselves and our neighbors, and they provide windows into how our world is wrestling with the effects of the fall.

“They also present opportunities to respond with the truth.”

Nick Rynerson is a staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture and works for Crossway in Wheaton.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

After two police officers were shot March 12 in Ferguson, Mo., chaplains from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team were back in the community where they served six weeks last year.

“It is not possible to solve a community’s deep-rooted problems with a team of chaplains deployed for six weeks, and we knew that before we started,” Billy Graham Association President Franklin Graham said then, according to a story on billygraham.org. “But God used the chaplains to touch many hearts and to plant fruitful seeds in the community.”


The_BriefingLawmakers in Tennessee proposed legislation in February that would make the Bible the official state book. Not surprisingly, some opponents say such an action is unconstitutional. But Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station), who introduced the bill in the House, said the action recognizes the Bible’s “historical importance.”

“The Bible has certainly had a pivotal role in the history of our state as well as our nation,” Sexton told the Baptist & Reflector newspaper. “The Bible also plays a significantly important role in our state today with several companies in Nashville being responsible for publishing more Bibles than possibly any other city in the world.”


68% of evangelicals say Congress should act on immigration reform this year, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research. Other findings: 86% say reform should secure U.S. borders, and 61% say it should include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.


The Christian Post reports San Francisco’s largest evangelical megachurch will no longer require celibacy from gay people desiring to be members of the church. “We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining,” Senior Pastor Fred Harrell wrote in a letter on behalf of the church’s elder board. “For all members, regardless of sexual orientation, we will continue to expect chastity in singleness until marriage.”


In honor of today, check out this 2009 post from Russell Moore on “what evangelicals can learn from St. Patrick.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postmodern Martyrs

eric4ibsa —  March 16, 2015 — 1 Comment
Artwork by Kerry Jackson

Artwork by Kerry Jackson

The call to live–and die–for Christ in the age of terrorism. Are we ready?

By Eric Reed

THE WORLD | The scene is chilling, even a month after it happened: 21 men in orange jumpsuits are led along a beach in Libya by masked men holding knives over their heads, then to their throats. The men in orange are captives, Egyptians working in Libya; more important, they are Christians, Coptic Christians, with up to 20 million adherents, whose branch of the faith dates to the third century AD.

The masked men in black are ISIS rebels, part of the radical faction of Islamic extremists marching across Iran, Iraq and Syria, and taking control of towns and regions ceded by Al-Qaida in the battle with American and indigenous forces over the past decade.

The men in orange are forced to kneel, ordered to recant their faith in Jesus Christ, and when they refuse, they are pushed face down into the sand and the knife blades are placed against their throats.

Mercifully, the video ends there for American television viewers, but for the men in orange there is no mercy.

They are beheaded.

Coptic_ChristiansAnd we, believers watching in disbelief, are little comforted by the great distance between us and the bloodstained beach as we come to the twin realizations that ISIS is on the move with a brutality that the world has not seen in a long time, and we have entered a new era of martyrdom.

A growing threat here?
Sixteen past presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention joined current president Ronnie Floyd in sending an open letter to President Obama, urging the U.S. to “take the necessary actions now” against the ISIS terrorists. They called ISIS “a continuing threat to world peace in a way unknown to us since the Nazis of World War II…”

The March 1 letter came two weeks after the beheading of the Egyptian Christians, and a week after the report that ISIS captured more than 200 Assyrian Christians, including women, children and elderly people. “People are frightened, people are concerned,” concurred Frank Page, SBC Executive Committee President, who said he is often asked about the threat of ISIS. Page’s signature was one of the 17 on the letter.

The concern Page cites is not only about the abominable acts by Islamic extremists abroad—killing a young, female American aid worker, burning a Jordanian pilot alive—it’s about the growing threat on our own shores as young adults, Americans included, are wooed, recruited, and radicalized via the Internet to join ISIS forces in the Middle East. And if not there, to carry out terrorist acts here.

A Somali militant group, al-Shabab, released a video in late February calling for Muslims to attack malls in Britain, Canada, and the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. “Hasten to heaven,” the video advised, by disrupting the safety of “disbelievers” (meaning non-Muslims) “in their own land.”

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said such groups are “relying more and more on independent actors to become inspired” and “attack on their own.” The threats should be taken seriously.

If this seems like an exaggeration of the growing threat, one only needs to consider the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013. On trial now is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, charged with the attack that killed three people and injured 260.

“The defendant’s goal that day was to maim and kill as many victims as possible,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb during opening arguments. “He believed that he was a soldier in a holy war against Americans. He believed he had taken a step toward reaching paradise. That was his motive for committing these crimes.”

Tsarnaev, with his older brother, was said to be “self-radicalized,” not identifying with a specific terrorist group, but with extremist Islamist beliefs and the wars in Iraq and Syria.

It is those new radicals who are hardest to identify and who may pose the greatest threat in the West. What seemed distant and improbable now feels near and possible. And the threat causes Christians to ask, are we ready?

Wish we’d all been ready
Since we first saw the 1972 film “A Distant Thunder,” many evangelicals have expected their faith would bring them to this moment. Recall the Christian teenagers, converted after they were “left behind” in the rapture, are clad in white. They are led to some secret place to face their death, and the film cuts from their horrified faces to their means of execution, the gleaming blade of a guillotine.

Didn’t we all gasp at that point? Naïve believers in the 1970s hardly imagined their deaths could be worse, but the untelevised portions of the ISIS video say otherwise.

Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas summarized the terrorist threat in an interview with Fox News: “These Islamists will not rest until they’ve exterminated every Jew and every Christian from the face of the earth, and if you think that is hyperbole, just listen to what they said on that Libyan beach after they butchered those 21 Christians.”

And the Pew Research Center reports threats against Christians worldwide are on the rise. In fact, “…Christians are at the top of the list,” researcher Peter Henne said. “Christians were harassed in 102 countries when you look at either governments or social groups.” Pew also reports an increase in anti-Semitism. “Overall we found that Jews are harassed in 77 countries around the world when you look at both government and social harassments together….It’s also a seven-year high of the number of countries in which Jews were harassed.” Pew’s example: Europe, where Jews were harassed in 34 of the region’s 45 countries.

We do not desire to traffic in fear, but the possibility of martyrdom on our own shores is increasingly real; and it forces us to consider what we may not have given serious thought in a long time: It could be us. It could be me.

And that demands a new theology of martyrdom.

The end of symbolic martyrdom
When Jesus called his followers to take up the cross, he was issuing a call to follow him, even unto death. Many have done so. The apostles died tragically at the hands of oppressors. Scripture reports that James the son of Zebedee was executed by Herod. The deaths of others were told by early church historians and tradition:

Andrew was crucified.

Peter was crucified upside down.

James the son of Alphaeus was stoned, then clubbed to death.

Thomas was run through with spears.

And Paul, it is believed, was beheaded in Rome, to name a few.

Jesus, the Savior-Martyr, was followed willingly and courageously by many across the centuries. And in the 20th century, we have the witness of Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged in a Nazi concentration camp for standing against Hitler’s Third Reich. But somehow, his forbearance in the face of a monolithic, systemic, political evil 70 years ago seems different from what we have seen recently.

We ask, is the death of these Copts the harbinger of the ordinary-believer martyr?

Certainly we are witnessing the death of the symbolic martyr, where the faithful Christian is willing to sacrifice social approval or career advancement in the name of the gospel; where the dutiful believer picks up his cross and marches to the marketplace, willing to suffer the slings and arrows of foulmouthed and hedonistic co-workers—but keeps his life. After all, Paul told Timothy that “in the last days, perilous times will come” and those who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:1, 12).

Many Christians have assumed the call to suffer for Christ meant the loss of religious liberties, particularly in the West. But now, we’re talking literal martyrdom. Since the murders of 12 students at Columbine High School in 1999, including Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott who were credited with holding fast to their faith at gunpoint, martyrdom in the postmodern era has had a new face.

Today, the Christian faith really is a matter of life and death in ISIS-held regions of the Middle East, as several missions groups report the killing of indigenous children as their Christian parents refuse to deny Jesus.

And in the rest of the world, believers are challenged to take up the cross, not only in the spiritual sense, but in very real ways, here and now. Paul’s words in Philippians, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” take on stark new meaning.

So does Romans 8: “Because of You we are being put to death all day long…” And the need to hold to the promise written by a man facing his own execution: “For I am persuaded that not even death or life…hostile powers…or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

What to do now
In the meantime, we pray.

“We ought, indeed, to pray for the gospel to go forward, and that there might be a new Saul of Tarsus turned away from murdering to gospel witness,” wrote Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

“At the same time, we ought to pray, with the martyrs in heaven, for justice against those who do such wickedness. Praying for the military defeat of our enemies, and that they might turn to Christ, these are not contradictory prayers because salvation doesn’t mean turning an eye away from justice.”

Additional reporting by Lisa Sergent

Look for more on this topic in the newest issue of the Illinois Baptist, online at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.