Archives For December 2015

Editor’s note: After an often tearful year, the Christian’s counterattack is hope.  The enemy may use the events of last year to strike chords of fear, but in reporting them, we offer notes of hope for 2016. God is in control of this world, and whatever happens, this history being made before our eyes will turn people toward him. He is our hope.
This is our certainty as we anticipate the new year, our hope.

Torch-squareBy Lisa Sergent | When did we become the enemy?

In just a handful of years, we have come to understand what it means to be in the minority and to have our rights challenged. The Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states may serve as the line in the sand. Crossing that line happened quickly—not that Christians have moved, but the culture moved sharply to the left, putting followers of Christ on the defensive. Over half of all Americans approved of same-sex marriage, and the divide is even greater among younger people.

And so it was that in 2015 religious liberty really became an issue. Same-sex marriage may have been the flashpoint, but now the First Amendment rights of believers, pastors, and churches are on everyone’s minds. As never before, churches are asking legal, constitutional questions: Are we still protected? If so, how long will it last?

The growing divide between Christians and majority public opinion has led to increased concerns about religious freedom. In 2012, Barna Research found 33% of Americans believed “religious freedom in the U.S. has grown worse in the past 10 years.” In just three years that number grew to 41%. Among evangelicals that number is 77%, up from 60% in 2012.

Complicated response: A 17th-century Baptist stance that the government should stay out of all religious issues is a more tenable position in the 21st century than the “God and country” approach of the Moral Majority years, when evangelicals’ morals were in the majority. Today, Baptist leaders are having to advocate from a different posture.

When Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis was arrested in September for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, not all Christians agreed with her refusal based on her faith.

Fellow Kentuckian Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, framed the larger issue: “What this story reveals beyond the headlines is that the moral revolution on marriage and human sexuality will leave nothing as it was before… A legion of Christians struggle to be faithful in their own situations, responsibilities, and callings, and our churches will struggle to find a new relationship with an increasingly hostile government and society.”

Higher resolution

Lisa Misner —  December 31, 2015

Higher resolutionWe have a new TV at our house. It was probably overdue, because our previous TV was 15 years old, square, and only showed about two-thirds of the information that now seems to scroll continuously along the bottom of the screen.

But that outdated, misshapen, low resolution, antiquated TV simply would not die on its own, though I would occasionally toss the dog a ball in its direction, hoping something would happen. The old TV was still functional, and so year after year, we kept settling for that increasingly dated picture of our world.

As we now enter a new year, I feel the need for higher resolution in my spiritual life as well. Perhaps you do too. I don’t want to keep settling for an old picture of how things are, or how they should be, while the rest of the world is so quickly changing around me. I want my life and my church to have a sharp, accurate new picture of our purpose and mission in the world.

What does that mean? Well first, I think I need a new, higher-resolution picture of lost people. I need to stop seeing those around me who don’t know Christ as satisfied, self-sufficient neighbors who deserve their privacy. I need to see them clearly as hollow souls, spiritually dead on the inside, who are living life with quiet, inward desperation until someone finds a way to break through with the good news about Jesus.

I also need a higher resolution picture of what it actually takes for me and my church to deliver this good news. I can’t keep seeing the routine weekly schedule of my church as an adequate witness in my community. I need to see clearly what behaviors and changes are needed to actually share the gospel with people, and welcome them into the family of disciples that we call church.

I wrote recently about five actions that, statistically speaking, most often result in people coming to faith in Christ. They are an evangelistic prayer strategy, Vacation Bible School, witness training, outreach events, and starting intentional new groups. If my church and I don’t at least embrace those proven actions, we’re probably not seeing clearly at all.

Finally, I also need a higher resolution on what people, organizations, and partners are actually advancing the gospel, and most deserving of my time and resources. A couple of years ago, my wife and I updated our estate plan, and it made us think carefully about where we want the resources of our life to go. Sadly, in just a short time, some of those organizations or people have changed or drifted enough that we feel a need to rethink our plan. We want to generously give our best, but with a clear, current picture of where our investment brings the greatest Kingdom return. I’m happy to say that our cooperative missions work here in Illinois is still on the top of that list.

You should see our new TV. It’s not only larger than the old one, the picture is incredibly sharp, it’s relatively lightweight, and because it’s a “smart” TV, we can now access all kinds of new features through the Internet. It’s amazing. Yet it cost less than half of what we paid for its antique predecessor 15 years ago.

I can see things so much more clearly now. It makes me wonder why I waited so long to get a better picture. I don’t want to wait any longer to get a clearer picture of what it takes to reach people with the gospel either. I think that higher resolution will also give me higher resolutions for this new year.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at This column appears in the 1/4/16 issue of the Illinois Baptist.

Editor’s note: After an often tearful year, the Christian’s counterattack is hope.  The enemy may use the events of last year to strike chords of fear, but in reporting them, we offer notes of hope for 2016. God is in control of this world, and whatever happens, this history being made before our eyes will turn people toward him. He is our hope.
This is our certainty as we anticipate the new year, our hope.

Gender-squareBy Lisa Sergent | The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June declaring same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right in all 50 states seemed to open a floodgate.

Olympic hero Bruce Jenner was named Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine after he reimagined himself as “Caitlyn.” Then, almost immediately, transgender issues multiplied, even reaching Illinois.

Consider what happened when Township High School District 211 tried to fight the federal government. A transgender boy wanted to use the girls’ locker room at Palatine High School. He was denied access by school officials. The student, who is still anatomically male, took the demand to the Department of Education. After several meetings, the suburban Chicago school board acquiesced to the demands and submitted to monitoring by the OCR through 2017.

Andrew Walker of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission wrote, “By taking the action it has, the federal government is endorsing a worldview of expressive individualism—a worldview that shuns limits, endorses controversial gender ideology, and opens up society to ever-evolving standards of sexual morality.”

So far, only Texans are successfully standing against the transgender advance. After a citywide “rights ordinance” was defeated 62% to 38% in November, Second Baptist Houston’s pastor Ed Young said, “I think there are enough people in the city who still have and will vote godly principles. A lot of people did some soul searching and said ‘This is enough.’”

What can pastors do? Ahead of these developments, Russell Moore told Baptist editors in February that transgenderism is likely to come first to the church youth department as adolescents copy the blurring of male and female identities in the larger culture. Be ready.

For pastors, the call in 2016 is to preach Genesis 1-2 descriptive of the sexes and the whole of Scripture as prescriptive of marriage, family life, and sexual identity and behavior. Have we ever before needed sermons saying “boys will be boys” is no excuse for sin, but instead a plea for gender sanctity?

Meanwhile, the blurring continues—literally. Pantone Color Institute chose two hues as 2016 Color of the Year. They’re blending pink and blue to demonstrate “gender fluidity.” Pantone calls it “a color snapshot of what we see taking place in our culture that serves as an expression of a mood and an attitude.”

Editor’s note: After an often tearful year, the Christian’s counterattack is hope.  The enemy may use the events of last year to strike chords of fear, but in reporting them, we offer notes of hope for 2016. God is in control of this world, and whatever happens, this history being made before our eyes will turn people toward him. He is our hope.
This is our certainty as we anticipate the new year, our hope.

Jesus-squareBy Eric Reed | The killing of 14 people at a social services facility in San Bernardino, California came only two weeks after the fatal shootings of 192 people in Paris in November. At first, the California attack seemed different from the Paris massacre: far fewer fatalities in a daytime shooting following angry words in the workplace.

But then, similarities emerged. Weapons of war altered to discharge more rounds and kill more people, a stockpile of explosives, young people with Middle East backgrounds, and finally the verdict: self-radicalized Muslims.

The fear of ISIS-connected terrorist attacks on U.S. soil that has marked 2015 appeared plausible and justified. But for some Christians, combatting terrorism on a national security level became complicated by biblical mandates to care for widows and orphans and strangers as we witnessed the flight of 1.5 million Syrians from their own homeland, trying to escape ISIS rebels themselves.

There was no uniform response from Southern Baptists. Several leading pastors agreed that Syrian refugees should not be admitted to the U.S. And polls showed many people agreeing with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump who recommended halting Muslim immigration in response to terror attacks.

But others found themselves defending Muslims as Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, cautioned, “A government that can close the borders to all Muslims simply on the basis of their religious belief can do the same thing for evangelical Christians.”

What are believers to do? First, we pray. That is not a simplistic answer. To know the mind of Christ, we study his Word and we pray. The Teacher who instructed us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” is the same One who said “be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Second, we can educate ourselves. The pastor who said that members of his church are “all over the place” on handling Syrian refugees can lead meaningful discussion rather than allow his flock to wander into emotional or unbiblical arguments.

Third, remember the spiritual need of all persons involved. “Our Muslim neighbors are not people we want to scream and rail at—we don’t want to demonize our mission field,” Moore told Buzzfeed. “I think that the evangelistic missionary impulse of Christianity that sometimes seculars present as nefarious actually is what grounds evangelicals to see individuals not as issues but as persons.

“Every person may well be our future brother or sister in Christ.”

The BriefingPercentage of Christians in US remains high
About 75% of Americans still identify as Christians, after a 5% drop since 2008, according to a new Gallup poll, which also shows that the number of those having no formal religious identification has increased by 5%, amounting to 20%.

Abortions in Illinois fall by 28%
The Illinois Department of Public Health released its data from 2014 showing that the abortion rate for minors fell by nearly 28% from the year prior, representing over 500 lives. The Mauck & Baker Law Firm in Chicago attributes those numbers to the state’s newly-enacted parental notification law.

Chicago area funeral home to serve alcohol
Last week, the village board in Wheeling, IL approved the creation of a new liquor license allowing Kolssak Funeral Home to serve alcohol during funerals and wakes. “Right now we’re pioneering, we’re out there looking far out, thinking these things could change the life celebrations at a funeral home,” David Kolssak said. “The spirit of this is not to do nothing but help people at a time of need.”

Iranian pastor Fathi freed from prison
Iranian pastor Farshid Fathi has been freed after five years imprisonment in Tehran because of charges linked to his Christian faith, Middle East Concern announced Dec. 22, estimating nearly 100 Christians remain imprisoned there.

Illinois is the biggest loser
New data released by the U.S. Census bureau showed that in terms of domestic migration — people moving about within the United States — Illinois saw roughly 105,200 more people leave than arrive. Even when offset by a gain of more than 37,600 by way of international migration, Illinois still ended up about 67,500 in the negative column.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christian Post, Daily Herald, Illinois Policy, Illinois Review

Editor’s note: After an often tearful year, the Christian’s counterattack is hope.  The enemy may use the events of last year to strike chords of fear, but in reporting them, we offer notes of hope for 2016. God is in control of this world, and whatever happens, this history being made before our eyes will turn people toward him. He is our hope.
This is our certainty as we anticipate the new year, our hope.

Unrest and reconciliationBy Lisa Sergent | Chicago joined the list that started with Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri as protestors against police shootings of young African American men took the streets, often chanting “black lives matter.” In contrast to other troubled settings, recent marches in Chicago were mostly peaceful, despite the volatile subject matter.

Race-related protests spread to college campuses such as the University of Missouri in Columbia, which led to the resignations of both the president and chancellor. Even the sense of safety a church provides was shattered one June evening, when a white shooter shot and killed nine people of color while they met for prayer at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

In response, religious leaders continue to the call for racial reconciliation. But the church’s role is unclear. Some are counting on the church to bring peace, others say the church is fanning the conflict.

According to Barna Research, 84% of Americans agree with the statement: “There is a lot of anger and hostility between different ethnic and racial groups in America today.”

Surprisingly, Barna’s polling revealed a significant minority believe “churches add fuel to the fire of racial animus; more than one-third say ‘Christian churches are part of the problem when it comes to racism’ (38%).” The percent is even higher among the Millennial generation (ages 18 to 31) where 46% believe Christian churches add to the problem of racism.

Despite those numbers, the same research found 73% of Americans believe, “Christian churches play an important role in racial reconciliation.” That view is as common among whites (75%) as it is among blacks (77%), although Hispanics are a bit more skeptical with 67% believing churches can play a role.

A role for the church: SBC leaders have held and participated in summits and ministries aimed at reducing racial tensions throughout 2015. SBC President Ronnie Floyd declared “racism and prejudice is a sin against God” at June convention in Columbus, Ohio. At the same meeting, Floyd led messengers in a prayer for racial reconciliation within the convention’s churches and across the nation.

Even more hopeful is LifeWay President Thom Rainer who forecasts fewer segregated churches in 2016. On his blog, Rainer stated, “For most of American history, 11 a.m. on Sunday was the most segregated hour of the week. That is changing. A church that is not racially and ethnically diverse will soon become the exception instead of the norm.”

cultureBy Nick Rynerson

“Unless the gospel is made explicit,” says Matt Chandler in his book “The Explicit Gospel,” “people will believe that Jesus’s message is that he has come to condemn the world, not to save it.”

Much has been made lately of this idea, that the gospel must be consistently made the explicit focus of our ministry, teaching, preaching, writing, thinking, and living. At first it sounds good; who wouldn’t want to center their life on the gospel explicitly preached? Declaring, believing, and enjoying God’s grace given to us through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the penultimate privilege of the Christian.

But what does this mean for Christian bakers, musicians, filmmakers, writers, and insurance salesmen? Does this mean we need to weave gospel presentations into everything we do and avoid things that don’t fit in with our understanding of the gospel?

According to the Bible, maybe not.

While Jesus said that the whole Bible testified about him (John 5:39), in the first 39 books of the Bible, there is basically no explicit mention of Jesus. But that certainly doesn’t mean the gospel wasn’t present in the Old Testament. After his resurrection, Jesus on the road to Emmaus applied the explicit gospel to the less obvious gospel message of the Old Testament: “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

One of the wonderful things about the gospel is that it is a story. It’s the story of man’s rejection of God and God’s redemption of the creatures that rejected Him through the blood of the sinless son of God. And in this story there are themes that any good gospel presentation will communicate: rebellion, love, grace, redemption, and unmerited favor.

When we see the world through these “gospel-colored glasses,” we begin to see those themes in unexpected places. Understanding the explicit gospel helps us see the implicit gospel. By having a level of explicit “gospel fluency,” as Pastor Jeff Vanderstelt puts it, we aren’t provoked to put gospel demands on earthly things. Instead, we begin to see echoes of the explicit gospel in those same earthly things.

The apostle Paul, maybe the most “gospel fluent” person to ever walk the earth, modeled this for us in Acts 17. Here, Paul preaches the explicit gospel in Athens and then, incredibly, cites Greek pagan poetry as examples of the love and graciousness of God! This means that Paul must have read these poems and thought, “Wow! The themes of the gospel are so strong, I bet I could use these to actually preach the gospel!”

He saw the implicit gospel because he knew the explicit gospel.

This means we are free to see the good gospel themes in the “secular” world. Whether it’s a movie, song, book, or TV show, if we are familiar enough with the themes of the gospel we can pick out those gospel themes when they show up in culture. The Christian appreciation of culture is possible when we are convinced that God’s world, even in its fallen state, echoes God’s word (i.e., the gospel).

Seeing the world through gospel-colored glasses also allows us to not have to tell the whole story every time. This is why good fiction written by Christians can be so powerful. Flannery O’Connor, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Marilyn Robinson can bring me to tears not because they present an elaborate gospel presentation, but because they use well-crafted stories to imply gospel truth. It’s truth that circumvents propositional logic and hits the heart.

Art, music, and stories have a funny way of doing that. They speak to something deeper than our logical mind, as if when we read a good story or listen to a good song, something deep within us is stimulated and our hearts “burn within us” (Luke 24:27). So yes! Preach the explicit gospel, and put on your “gospel-colored glasses” to be on the lookout for the implicit gospel too. We need both. As Martin Luther reminds us, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

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