Archives For December 2015

refugees
Each day thousands of refugees and migrants who arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos after fleeing war and persecution in their home countries line up to take ferries to Athens. Photo by Jedediah Smith/IMB

By Staff

Evangelicals are “all over the place” in their reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis, in one assessment, a situation complicated many times over by the terrorist attacks that left 129 dead in Paris in November and now the killings of 14 by an Islamic couple in San Bernardino, California. First characterized as a workplace shooting, that attack that was soon revealed as motivated by religious extremism.

The call to aid refugees came as early as September as 1.5 million Syrians fled Islamic terrorist forces in their homeland, spilling into Turkey, sailing to Greece, and beginning an unprecedented migration across Europe. But the response from Americans, tepid from the beginning, chilled further as the shooting began.

“There’s a lot of confusion among Christians on the right response to Syrian refugees,” Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas told Baptist Press, “because many people do not understand that while we as Christians have one responsibility individually, the government has another responsibility.”

Individuals must “show compassion for these refugees,” Jeffress said, but “the government has another responsibility… to secure our borders.”

“Well, before we’re Americans we’re Christians,” Russell Moore contended in an interview with NPR. The head of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission advocate assisting Syrian refugees, citing Jesus’ teaching about the Good Samaritan.

“We have to be informed by a certain moral sense, which means we need to speak up for moral principle and for gospel principle regardless of who that offends,” Moore said. “We have to be the people who stand up and say ‘Look, vigilance is good, and prudence is good. But a kind of irrational fear that leads itself to demagogic rhetoric is something that we have to say no (to)—no, we’re not going to go there.”

Relatively few Syrian refugees have been admitted into the U.S. so far: 1,500 by one count, 2,100 by another. At present, governors of 32 states have refused resettlement of Syrians within their borders, despite what Time magazine calls an intensive vetting process which has been increased for Syrian refugees. (Illinois’ Bruce Rauner was the eighth governor to refuse to settle refugees.)

“The screening of refugees is a crucial aspect of national security, and we should insist on it,” Moore told BP. “At the same time, evangelicals should be the ones calling the rest of the world to remember human dignity and the image of God, especially for those fleeing murderous Islamic radical jihadis.”

Indeed, Christianity Today, which positions itself as a magazine of evangelical thought, has urged Christians to embrace the “unparalleled opportunity to love neighbors here and abroad, and to showcase the beauty of the gospel that proclaims good news to the poor, liberty for those stuck in refugee camps, and a new life for those fleeing from oppression.”

It should be noted that the editorial was published prior to the mass shooting in Paris, and since then, polls show evangelicals split on aiding refugees. “We want to protect ourselves from those who might hurt us,” the president of World Vision Richard Stearns wrote. “Jesus asks us to love our neighbors—regardless if there might be enemies among them.”

Not everyone agrees. “Christian charity means loving the safety of the neighbor next door at least as much as loving the safe passage of the neighbor far away,” wrote Michigan pastor Kevin DeYoung in a widely read blog post. DeYoung, whose church (University Reformed in Lansing) has extensive outreach to immigrants, says he doesn’t know what to do about our “broken immigration system.” But “the issues are of such a complexity that they cannot be solved by good intentions and broad appeals to Christian charity.”

WMU offers aid

Meanwhile, the Woman’s Missionary Union Foundation is working with an Arab ministry to help Syrian refugees living in Jordan. Currently, there are 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, but only a small percentage resides in official refugee camps. Those who live outside of the camps are not eligible to receive food or other assistance from the Jordanian government.

“Because of the increase in the number of refugees from Syria, we are seeing many families who are not being taken care of and have nowhere to turn,” says Ruba Abbassi of Arab Woman Today (AWT). “They need food, blankets and basic necessities.” The WMU Foundation has a long history of working with AWT.

The WMU Foundation is asking people to provide a blanket for $25, a heater for $50, or a month’s worth of food for a family for $100. Gifts can be directed to the WMU Foundation’s AWT Fund, 100 Missionary Ridge, Birmingham, AL 35242. Or visit wmufoundation.com.

– IB staff report, with reporting from Baptist Press, transcripts from NPR.org, ChristianityToday.com, and thegospelcoalition.org

The BriefingFormer SBC pres. church helping Syrian refugees resettle in Georgia

Bryant Wright, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and the pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist, confirmed the church is helping resettle a Sunni Muslim Syrian refugee family that arrived in Georgia last week.  Wright said,“Knowing the United States was going to be taking on more Syrian refugees, we just wanted to be stepping up to minister with the love of Christ to these folks who have often lost everything.”


Suburban Chicago school to allow boy in girls’ locker room

A Palatine high school will allow a transgender student access to the girl’s locker room, under a contentious agreement reached Dec. 7 during an emergency school board meeting. The decision to comply with government demands for inclusivity comes after months of back and forth between school officials and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.


38% of Americans believe churches fuel racial tension

A recent Barna survey found a significant minority of Americans 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%). Millennials (ages 18 to 31) are most likely among the generations to agree (46%).


Wheaton College prof. wears hijab to show solidarity with Muslims

Larycia Hawkins, a Wheaton College professor announced she will be wearing a hijab (Muslim head scarf) throughout her celebration of the Advent as a way of showing solidarity with Muslims. The political science professor at the Wheaton, IL evangelical college, explained she will be wearing a hijab to work, class, and church.


Willow Creek gives Christmas gift packs to every prisoner Illinois

Willow Creek Church assembled 70,000 Christmas gift packs for every inmate incarcerated in Illinois. Last year, church members packed 32,000 care packages.

Sources: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Baptist Press, Barna Research, Christian Post, ChurchLeaders.com

From there to here

Lisa Misner —  December 14, 2015
IBSA_Building_March21_13

The IBSA Building in Springfield, IL.

Over the past few weeks, I have spoken personally to more international missionaries than at any other time in my life. The International Mission Board has offered hundreds of personnel over age 50 a “voluntary retirement incentive,” and I have been working through IMB’s transition team to try and match at least two or three of those missionaries with IBSA’s current vacancies. The process has left me with three lasting impressions.

 

First, I’ve been reminded that international missionaries are regular people, just like you and me. In my various interviews and reference checks, I have met people from places like Kentucky, Indiana, and yes, Illinois. We’ve talked about the churches that sent them overseas, and the families they hope to see more frequently once they’re back in the states. We’ve talked about the schools, the jobs, and the Sunday school classes that prepared them for their service. Though some have been missionaries for decades and in one or more foreign lands, I could easily see them feeling at home in our IBSA churches.

Second, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn how many of these missionaries are doing jobs that prepare them well for service at IBSA. They are able to see their possible move from the international field to the state mission field as a change in venue and not a change in calling.

Three of our current openings at IBSA are in areas such as business, accounting, and communication technology. I often picture international missionaries as field evangelists or church planters, and, of course, many of them are. But supporting their work are also missionaries in roles such as “finance team leader” and “logistics coordinator.” Without those roles, evangelism and church planting would be difficult, if not impossible.

I’m very pleased that one of those logistics coordinators, Jeff Deasy, will join the IBSA staff in January as our newest Associate Executive Director, succeeding Melissa Phillips in leadership of IBSA’s Church Cooperation Team. Jeff and his wife, Kathy, have served for the past 20 years in Brazil, Tanzania, and, most recently, Kenya. Though he has taught music, learned Portuguese and Swahili, and done church planting fieldwork, it is Jeff’s years of administrative experience that have prepared him most specifically for his new role.

Jeff and his office staff in Nairobi have helped make it possible for up to 30 missionary families to serve the people and churches of Kenya. Now he will lead our office staff in serving the people and churches of Illinois.

The third lasting impression that I have from talking with multiple international missionaries actually came most poignantly from the Deasys themselves. As we got to know each other, we talked about what it would be like to leave their friends and home in Kenya after so many years, and make a new home in Illinois.

“We’re missionaries,” they both said. “We will be missionaries wherever we are. Here in Kenya, we talk openly about our faith. And in Tanzania, every Friday is designated by the government as a ‘religion day,’ where we can talk openly in schools and other public places about our faith. Even predominantly Muslim communities recognize this right, and many hear the gospel as a result.”

I was encouraged to see their eyes sparkle with optimism and newfound purpose as they continued. “We haven’t been in America often the past 20 years. But from what we understand, there seems to be more religious freedom in Kenya and Tanzania than in much of America today. We will be just as happy to be missionaries in Illinois.”

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond to his column at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

 

Called to battle for souls

Lisa Misner —  December 10, 2015

Rankin exhorts planters in prayer, spiritual warfare

“There is no greater specialty than someone called and gifted by God” to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are lost, said former International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin at a recent gathering of church planters in St. Louis.

The acoustics inside Apostles Church were breathtaking as church planters began the day with worship.

The acoustics inside Apostles Church were breathtaking as church planters began the day with worship.

During two sessions on prayer and spiritual warfare, Rankin addressed planters at a quarterly PlantMidwest meeting—recognizing them for the level of sacrifice and dedication their work requires, reminding them of the spiritual target on their backs because of their calling, and equipping them with ways to combat the enemy’s attacks.

Rankin shared experiences from his years as a missionary, pastor, and organizational leader, including his family’s time in Indonesia, when he grew frustrated because people weren’t responding to the gospel as he had envisioned.

But reminded of 2 Corinthians 4:4, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” Rankin said he began realizing mission work is not just a matter of strategy or learning how to present Christianity cross-culturally. It’s about engaging in spiritual warfare with an enemy who has people and nations in bondage to darkness and sin. He quoted 1 John 5:19, “We are from God but the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

He urged planters to recognize the essence of their evangelistic calling—being conduits through which God can lead people from darkness to light. But “Satan is an adversary,” Rankin continued. “He is absolutely opposed to the church growing…He is opposed to missionaries going out to take the gospel to closed countries and nations and unreached people groups. He is adamantly opposed to the individual Christian discovering the victorious Christian life.

“And he is most of all opposed to anyone who would presume to take charge of reaching those nations and people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Rankin outlined four strategies the devil typically employs to prevent people from a relationship with the Heavenly Father: he keeps places and countries closed through restrictive government policies, he keeps people groups hidden and neglected from a believer’s sight, and he deters Kingdom advancement through persecution.

Fourthly and most effective of all, Rankin said, “[He] creates indifference among Christians toward a lost world and our mission task.” Satan causes churches to become ingrown and self-centered, believing that missions is optional.

Just being aware of this spiritual warfare, though, is a huge part of claiming the victory in Christ, he said. “We are to engage the battle and put Satan on the run…We, in the power of our Lord, are to stand in the victory…And prayer is connecting to the one who provides that power, that authority.”

Boiled down, the nature of spiritual warfare is simple, said Rankin. God’s purpose through his people is to be glorified. Satan’s purpose is to deprive God of being glorified in the nations.

And the most effective way to combat the enemy’s lies and schemes is through prayer, the former president explained. Not just bringing God our list of wants and needs, but forming a deep, intimate relationship with him. Because Satan trembles in the presence of the Almighty Creator.

Satan is a defeated foe, Rankin exclaimed, so don’t let his deceit lead you astray discouraged and defeated. “You have the victory in Jesus Christ!”

Morgan Jackson is an intern at the Illinois Baptist.

The BriefingPrayer shaming after San Bernardino attack
Victims of the Dec. 2 terrorist attack in San Bernardino called for prayer in text messages during the attack. Presidential candidates and members of the public tweeted their “thoughts and prayers” were with the victims, but others in the media, government and public disagreed leading to a social media debate over “prayer shaming.”


‘God isn’t fixing this’ story draws Christian response
Southern Baptist leaders are decrying the headline “God isn’t fixing this” that dominated the Dec. 3 cover of the New York Daily News. Images of tweets from Republican leaders surrounded the headline, displaying sympathetic “thoughts and prayers” for the people affected by a Dec. 2 mass shooting.


Falwell’s concealed-permit comments enter gun debate
Jerry Falwell Jr. sparked debate after revealing he carries a concealed weapon and urges students (age 21 and up) to do the same at Liberty University, where he is president. In the Dec. 4 convocation, Falwell referenced “Muslims” and the terrorist attack that left 14 people dead in San Bernardino, Calif.


Ireland revokes protections for religious freedom in education
Last week, the Dáil (lower house of the Irish legislature) voted unanimously to repeal Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act. Section 37 granted specific exemptions for “religious, educational or medical institutions” when it came to gay rights, allowing them “to maintain the religious ethos of the institution.” According to one LGBT rights leader, the repeal “will allow LGBT people to be themselves, get married and have a family without a threat to their job if they work in a religious run institution.”


Megachurches seeing drop in weekly attendance, study finds
A new study that focuses on trends and shifts among megachurches in the United States has found that although more Americans than ever are attending megachurches, megachurch worshipers are attending church less frequently.

Sources: Baptist Press, Breitbart, Christian Post, Christianity Today

Any leader who has led for any amount of time knows the sting of criticism and rejection. But getting through it isn’t a matter of external circumstances, but one of internal transformation, said Pastor Phil Hunter.

“If you’re struggling with the unkindness of your people, understand that God’s calling for you first and foremost is not for them to change and be kind to you,” Hunter preached at the IBSA Pastors’ Conference in Marion. Rather, God’s calling “is to love them like Christ loves you.”

“Sugars, you gotta be changed by God,” said Hunter, pastor of West County Community Church in Wildwood, Mo.

Using several terms of endearment for his audience—sugars, sweeties, buddies—Hunter exhorted pastors to stay the course in spite of difficulty.

Joining Hunter at the podium were Timothy Cowin, pastor of The Rock Church of St. Louis, Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Shane Garrison, an associate professor and dean of online education at Campbellsville University. The four preachers each brought messages around this year’s conference theme: #BuiltUp.

Scroggins and Garrison both preached evangelism-themed messages about reaching people who are far from God. In his diverse community, Scroggins said, millions of people aren’t connected to a church. Therefore, he said, churches have to reject the “Pharisee school” model of church.

“We’ve got to be beggars trying to tell other beggars where we found the bread.”

Garrison echoed that theme in his message about Vacation Bible School, where he was saved as a child and self-described “spiritual orphan.” He urged churches to view VBS as an opportunity to reach out to kids who aren’t connected with the church. When you reach spiritual orphans, Garrison said, God reaches the family.

Cowin preached from Acts 4 on vital practices to be spiritually powerful and successful in the culture, and to avoid dead religion. The early church met together to praise God, he said. Likewise, modern worship services ought to be more exciting than anything in culture.

Following Cowin’s message, Hunter skipped his scheduled introduction and jumped on stage to ask the worship team to re-play the song they had just finished. Telling pastors there would never be a safer place to raise their hands in worship, he encouraged them first to open their hands to release whatever they were holding on to.

Hunter closed the Pastors’ Conference with a message on being “built to last” as a leader. He gave four foundational principles for leaders who don’t quit, beginning with an understanding that God does the building.

He told about a time early in his marriage when he and his wife were on the brink of divorce. They looked like the perfect Christian couple. But, “We got impressed by what God was going to do through us, when all along, the greater work was what God was going to do in us.”

If you’re impressed by anything in your life, Hunter said, you’re not going to be built by God to last. The second principle is related to the first: Without humility, there is no building. And the third points to eternity: The building is never completed until we see Christ face to face.

“Don’t ever think you’ve arrived,” Hunter said, “and don’t ever think you have to be where someone else is.”

Finally, resolve that you are going to trust God to build you, no matter what happens in your life. Hunter recalled advice he once received from a pastor and professor: Only allow yourself to have a major crisis every 10 years. So choose carefully.

He closed his final message the same way he had begun his first one the day before: by calling on pastors in the audience to stand and worship without any reservation or hesitation.

“I’m in a kickin’ disposition,” Hunter said, rallying his listeners again to lift their hands and clap in worship.

Officers for the 2016 IBSA Pastors’ Conference are President David Sutton, Bread of Life Baptist Church, Chicago; Vice President Brian Smith, Second Baptist Church, Granite City; and Treasurer Bob Stilwell, First Baptist Church, Paxton. The 2016 conference is Nov. 1-2 at Broadview Missionary Baptist Church.

Up to the challenge

Lisa Misner —  December 3, 2015

My substitute teaching career was short-lived, and carried me through a brief time between ministry opportunities. One particular day found me stepping in for an 8th grade biology teacher who had left a worksheet for her class to complete.

As the kids worked on the assignment, two boys called me over for help. I began to explain the process for solving the problem when one of the boys interrupted me.

“Our regular teacher usually just tells us the answer.” My response: “Well, your regular teacher isn’t here.”

But it’s often easier to tell instead of teach, isn’t it? Even in church, it’s so much easier to answer for the unresponsive Sunday school class. But how can we ever help people grow if we fail to challenge them?

We must help our members move beyond simply looking for a spiritual authority to provide the right answers. (This kind of thinking leads to Christians arguing against abortion or same-sex marriage with statements that begin, “My pastor told me…”)

We must move from telling to teaching, asking ourselves: Which is happening more regularly in my church?

This realization came to me as I spoke to a senior adult in my church soon after my arrival. During his recuperation from surgery, I encouraged him to stay faithful in reading the Bible. A few weeks later when I called to check in, he said, “I’m finishing 2 Corinthians.”

Since he and I had spoken, he had taken my challenge to read the book of John, and then he just kept on going. Several weeks later, he was back in church and finishing the book of Revelation. When I asked him about his Bible reading, he said it wasn’t that he had never been told to read his Bible. He said this was the first time he had a place to start.

This situation caused me to realize that I had been blaming the laity for far too long. It was time to point the finger at myself as a leader and ask, “Am I telling them what to do, or teaching them?”

In response, our church began two men’s accountability groups within the last year. The purpose of these groups is to make effective disciples. We challenge these men to be devotionally serious in prayer and reading the Bible. We encourage one another to apply the Bible to our lives and memorize Scripture. But the only way we can evaluate the results is from the lives of these men themselves.

One of our regular attenders from the start has been up and down in his application of God’s Word. I constantly taught him how to be more diligent in his effort to grow from his readings. The month it was his turn to teach the group from his Bible readings, his work situation changed and created a tighter financial situation.

As he worked to apply God’s Word, he read in 1 Timothy 6:7-10 to be encouraged in the sufficient provision God was supplying for his family. He didn’t learn this from the counsel of his pastor, but the counsel of God’s Word. And it gave him peace.

Mark is also in my group and recently told me that he often read the Bible before, but only recently has been more diligent in applying it to his life. And while he says memorization is something he never would have done, at times he is memorizing additional verses that are meaningful to him. Again, these are things he had been told to do before, but never taught to do.

So whether you’re a pastor preaching in the service or a Sunday school teacher moving through the curriculum, I challenge all of us to consider whether we are telling or teaching. Are people being equipped with answers, or with the tools to find those answers for themselves and to grow as confident disciples?

I truly believe those are the only kind of disciples that can build our churches to be stronger and win lost souls to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Heath Tibbetts is pastor of First Baptist Church, Machesney Park.

 

The_BriefingHere’s where America’s Christian refugees come from
As the refugee debate continues, the United States has resettled 338,441 Christian refugees from more than a dozen denominations since 2003, according to the latest data from the Refugee Processing Center. Most Baptist refugees (23,247) hail from Myanmar (5,980) and Ukraine (5,937). Moldova is third, with 4,043.


ISIS releases 10 Assyrian Christian hostages; over 150 remain captured
The Islamic State terror group released 10 Assyrian Christian hostages Nov. 24 in the Tel Temir town in Hasakah province, northeastern Syria, but over 150 remain captured and threatened with death. The Assyrians are part of a large group, originally numbering 230, who were kidnapped by the Islamic militants from villages in the Khabur river valley back in February.


The most (and least) evangelical states
A recent Pew Research has found most people in every state of the union identify as Christian, religious affiliation swings wildly depending on the region. Mainline Protestants cluster around the upper Midwest. Evangelicals are the largest religious affiliation throughout the South, but only one state –Tennessee – has a clear evangelical majority of the population.


LifeWay completes sale of downtown Nashville campus
LifeWay has completed the sale of its 14.5-acre campus in downtown Nashville. “Although this momentous event is cause for thanksgiving, it is also bittersweet,” Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, wrote in an email to the Southern Baptist entity’s trustees and employees Nov. 24 after the sale was announced.


Hit video game encourages players to put others first
Fallout 4 is the biggest video game release of the year selling more than 12 million units and earning more than $750 million in its first 24 hours of release. According to WORLD Magazine, the post-apocalyptic game features a relational morality system which “requires players to think about the impact their actions have on those closest to them, giving them an incentive to be good.”

Sources: Baptist Press, Christian Post, Christianity Today, Facts and Trends, WORLD Magazine