THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Brighton Presbyterian Church in Rochester, N.Y., is the first church to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) after a majority of the denomination’s districts voted to change its definition of marriage. The amendment to the group’s constitution, which will become official this summer, alters the marriage definition from “a man and a woman” to “two people, traditionally a man and a woman.”

The_Briefing“Our reason for leaving is centered on the status of biblical interpretation within the PC(USA),” Brighton spokeswoman Kerry Luddy told The Christian Post. “We believe that Scripture’s meaning and intent should not be altered to fit a current culture.”


“Heaven visitation resources” like Don Piper’s book “90 Minutes in Heaven” are no longer available from LifeWay Christian Resources. Spokesman Marty King told Baptist Press LifeWay stopped ordering “experiential testimonies about heaven” last summer, and has pulled the remaining products from stores and its website.

LifeWay’s decision followed the adoption of a resolution on “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife” by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting last summer.


Legislators introduced this month a bill that would allow adoption and foster care agencies to operate within their religious convictions concerning placing children with same-sex couples. “This commonsense bill simply ensures that these child welfare providers can keep doing what they do best and are treated the same as the rest,” said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), according to a WORLD News Service report.

Illinois is one of four states where agencies have discontinued adoption and foster care services because they would have been required to place children with same-sex couples.


More than 83,000 Bibles were shipped to Cuba this month through a partnership between Southern Baptist agencies, churches and individual donors. The Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention, which will receive 32,000 Bibles, reported more than 29,000 professions of faith last year, said Kurt Urbanek, International Mission Board strategy leader for Cuba. “The growth is so incredible, that’s why Bibles are so important.”


“If it wasn’t for the Baptists, I don’t know what I would do,” said one homeowner whose basement was repaired after severe flood damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy. More than two years after the storm devastated parts of New York and New Jersey, volunteers working through Southern Baptist Disaster Relief are still rebuilding and repairing homes in the region.

 

 

PriorityHEARTLAND | Living a life with intention is the theme of this year’s IBSA Women’s Resource Conference April 24-25 at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur.

The two-day Priority Women’s Resource Conference is designed to equip leaders serving in the local church. The conference will include worship and large group sessions led by nationally known speakers, 40 breakout offerings on a variety of topics, a luncheon for ministers’ wives, exhibit area with ministry resources, and a 5K walk/run.

A screening of “War Room,” a new film from the creators of “Fireproof” and “Courageous,” will follow the Friday evening session.

Priority begins Friday at 1 p.m. with a missions celebration featuring North American and International Mission Board missionaries and Tajuan McCarty, founder of The WellHouse ministry that seeks to rescue victims of human trafficking. Clella Lee, a leadership consultant for National Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), will also speak during the opening session.

Lee directs WMU’s Christian Women’s Leadership Center, which engages women in discovering and implementing leadership gifts in their churches and workplaces. Women desiring to express those gifts are sometimes hampered by demands on their time, or by other factors.

“I think women are hesitant sometimes; they don’t want to come across as too aggressive,” Lee said. “And so I think sometimes they aren’t always as apt to take a hold of those leadership skills they have…they have a sense of call or a sense of need, and recognize some of those gifts, but sometimes they’re hesitant.”

Lee will speak about the Christian Women’s Leadership Center, and also will lead three breakout sessions during the conference on the dynamics of a ministry family, the private spiritual life of a leader, and creative approached to missions in a church plant.

Rachel Lovingood will continue the leadership theme in the Friday evening session. The author, pastor’s wife, and speaker at LifeWay events will delve into how women can develop into the leaders God has created them to be. She also will unpack specific topics in several breakout sessions.

The Friday evening session also will feature author and missions advocate Kimberly Sowell, and worship led by Pastor Chad Ozee of Journey Church in Bourbonnais.

Saturday begins early with a 5K fun run or walk, and concludes with an afternoon session featuring Lori McDaniel, an International Mission Board global mission catalyst and church planter wife from Arkansas. Ministers’ wives also are invited to a luncheon with Kathy Litton, the North American Mission Board’s consultant for ministers’ wives ministry.

Cost is $25 for attenders who are part of an IBSA church, and $30 for all others. Conference information and registration is online now at www.IBSA.org/womensmissions. A block of rooms has been reserved at the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel (across the street from Tabernacle Baptist Church). Contact the hotel at (217) 422-8800.

Afshin_Ziafat_2NEWS | It was an English tutor who first showed the gospel to Afshin Ziafat.

As a first grader, Ziafat, who now pastors Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, moved to the United States with his family from Iran. It was 1979, a bad year to be Iranian in America, Ziafat told his listeners at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s summit on racial reconciliation and the gospel.

Ziafat’s family left Iran during the Islamic Revolution. “We had no idea what kind of unrest we were about to walk into,” he said.

The ongoing hostage crisis involving American victims meant Ziafat’s new home—Houston, Texas—was a hostile place. Radio stations played a new version of the Beach Boys’ song about Barbara Ann: “Bomb, bomb, bomb…bomb, bomb Iran…”

Rocks were thrown at his family’s home, and his parents’ tires were slashed. Ziafat and his brother were threatened at school.

And when he was in second grade, his tutor—who had taught him English by reading him books—gave him a small New Testament.

“You’re not going to understand this today, Afshin, but promise me you’ll hold on to it and read it when you’re older,” she told him.

Ten years later, Ziafat accepted Christ.

“Had any other American given me that New Testament, I would have thrown it away,” Ziafat said in Nashville today. “Because I didn’t trust them.

“You want to win a Muslim for Christ, I believe you have to earn the right to be heard. And she did it by the way she was loving me.”

“There are many more Afshin Ziafat’s today than there were back then, in your neighborhoods,” he said, “and God is calling us to step out. Listen to me folks— especially at a time when it is expected for us to distrust and maybe even hate Muslims.”

Ziafat ended his testimony with the story of the prophet Jonah, who knew that God was calling him to go preach to Assyrians who were not only his enemies, but also would conquer his people. Jonah’s book ends with a question from God about the people the prophet was called to go to, Ziafat noted:

“Should I not pity them?”

“You never get the answer from Jonah,” Ziafat said. “You know why? Because I think that questions goes out for us today….And I’m telling you, friends, we answer that question with the way we live our lives.

“The gospel calls me to step out of my comfort zone and go out to people who don’t look like me, who don’t dress like me, who are not of my skin color, but on top of that, especially those who are my enemies. Who I am expected to hate? When I show them love, the gospel is revealed.”

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.