Archives For January 2018

Some events from last year offer insight on issues facing evangelicals and church leaders

If evangelicalism is having an identity crisis, as some religious and cultural observers posit, the issue is whether “evangelical” means a person’s theological beliefs and practice, or is it adherence to a conservative political movement. It has at times meant both, and at points in 2017 we saw the movement struggling with itself over which is “the main thing.”

In this short collection of news stories from last year, we see how evangelicals balanced belief and practice. We witnessed the thumb-wrestling of “Big-E Evangelicalism,” inheritors of the socially conservative political force Moral Majority and keepers of its dwindling flame, and “little-e evangelicalism,” the smaller group who are not merely self-identified evangelicals, but whose core-group of beliefs about Scripture, Jesus, and their relationship to him directly affect their behaviors and drive their moral decision-making.

Donald Trump would not be president without evangelicals, more specifically Big-E Evangelicals, and the presence of some in his administration serves as a reminder of that. There is a group of cabinet leaders and others who meet weekly for Bible study. Spokeswoman (and preacher’s daughter) Sarah Huckabee Sanders is possibly the most visible Evangelical in the White House through her daily televised press briefings.

Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court as a hoped-for advocate for religious freedoms was hailed by church leaders. And Southern Baptists were present on several occasions in 2017 when President Trump signed legislation affecting religious liberty.

But the December loss of a U.S. Senate seat by Republican Judge Roy Moore, Alabama’s Ten Commandments champion, to a pro-abortion Democrat has caused some pundits to wonder if the Big-E political/Republican alliance has weakened, and what that might mean for President Trump in the future. Given the special circumstances in that Senate race, moral accusations against Moore, another conclusion is that the biblical beliefs of little-e evangelicals trumped the Big-E political machine in the privacy of the voting booth.

Similarly, a Democrat easily won the governor’s race in Virginia, whose considerable Evangelical population had previously supported a string of GOP governors. Conservative analyst Stephen Mansfield wrote in a new book that the loss can be attributed partly to the disaffection of evangelicals.

“The young, probably in reaction to Trump and to some of the machinations on the Right, went strongly for the Democrat. I think that is an indication of future trends,” Mansfield said in an interview. “It will probably settle down, but I think that the social consciences of the young are raising some important questions.”

But can those assumptions be applied to the President himself, who a year ago got 81% of the white, evangelical vote? “He’s had about a 10-15% drop-off in support from the evangelical community since taking office,” Mansfield summarized. “So while there may be a sort of exaggerated self-reporting around the time when an evangelical casts a vote, there is some indication that there was never really that depth of devotion. I don’t think their support was ever very deep, and it seems to be weakening quickly.”

One conclusion is that little-e evangelicalism—personal, biblical belief and practice—is being separated from its Big-E political counterpart in this generation.

“Many have analyzed the weaknesses of the current iteration of this movement,” writes conservative Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller. “The desire by mid-twentieth-century leaders to foster more widespread cooperation between evangelicals and downplay denominational differences cut believers off from the past, some religion scholars have found…. This has made present-day evangelicals more vulnerable to political movements that appeal to their self-interest, even in contradiction to biblical teachings, for example, about welcoming the immigrant and lifting up the poor. However, evangelicalism is much more resilient than any one form of itself. The newer forms that are emerging are more concerned with theological and historic roots, and are more resistant to modern individualism than older, white Evangelicalism.”

Issues in Illinois
Governor’s race: Evangelicals disappointed by Gov. Rauner’s support for HB 40, which allows state-funding of abortions involving state employees and aid recipients, will be looking for a gubernatorial candidate to support in 2018.

Pro-life advocate Jeanne Ives of Wheaton said she would run against Rauner in part because of his signature allowing the abortion legislation. Ives handily won a January straw poll against Rauner among Chicago-area Republican leaders, but she faces an uphill climb against the well-funded incumbent. Seven Democrats are on the March 20 ballot with J.B. Pritzker the apparent leader.

The general election is in November.

Social issues: After successfully moving legalization of same-sex marriage through the Illinois General Assembly, State Senator Heather Steans and some other representatives are preparing to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana use in Illinois. Steans is using economic growth as an argument for legalization, citing a prediction that 250,000 jobs will be created in the “cannabis industry” by 2020. “As many of you may have heard, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that he was rescinding an Obama-era policy that discouraged U.S. attorneys from prosecuting operations in states that legalized marijuana,” Steans wrote to supporters. “This change will not diminish our efforts to legalize adult-use cannabis in Illinois.”

A public hearing is scheduled for late January.

The Briefing

Muslims on pace to outnumber Jews in US
Muslims will likely surpass Jews as the second largest religious group behind Christians in the U.S. by 2040, elevated by a high birth rate and immigration. The 3.45 million Muslims will more than double to 8.1 million by 2050, surpassing the number of Jews along the way. Still, Muslims will only account for 2.1% of the U.S. population by 2050. Christians comprise 70.8% of the nation’s population, including Protestants, Catholics,  and others.

Moody Bible president resigns
Moody Bible Institute announced that President J. Paul Nyquist and Chief Operating Officer Steve Mogck have resigned, while Provost Junias Venugopal has retired. Nyquist took the helm of Moody in 2009 and Mogck had served as COO and executive vice president since 2012. The board has appointed Greg Thornton, senior vice president of media, as interim president, and board member Mark Wagner as interim COO. John Jelinek, vice president and seminary dean, is now interim provost.

Bolivia law criminalizes evangelism
Evangelicals in Bolivia are “deeply worried” about the country’s new Penal Code, which could ban evangelism. Article 88.1 of the new legislation threatens anyone who “recruits, transports, deprives of freedom or hosts people with the aim of recruiting them to take part in armed conflicts or religious or worship organizations” with between five to 12 years in prison.

Palestinian leaders to withdraw Israel recognition
Palestinian leaders called on President Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw recognition of Israel and break off security cooperation, in a move following the Trump administration naming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council declared its leaders will restore their recognition of Israel when Israel accepts Palestine as a state. Abbas has cut off diplomatic contact with the U.S. since President Donald Trump said last month that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and intends to move the American embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Last Sutherland Springs victim returns home
Six-year-old Ryland Ward, the last victim hospitalized from the Sutherland Springs massacre, returned home Jan. 11. He rode in a fire truck driven by volunteer firefighter Rusty Duncan, who had rescued the boy from the Nov. 5 carnage. Ryland returns home to a world markedly different than the one he left — a new normal without his sisters and his stepmother, Joann Ward, who died shielding her children from the shooter.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, Time Magazine, Baptist Press

Back to basics

ib2newseditor —  January 15, 2018

The recent holiday season gave me a little more time than usual to watch football on TV. As the regular season gave way to playoffs and bowl games, it seemed pre-game analysts spent increasing amounts of time discussing “what it will take to win” the next, tougher game. The more serious the consequence of the game, and the fewer games that remain, the more critical it seems to be able to think, and not just play.

Yet as I’ve listened to experts talk again and again about what it takes to be successful, it seems they often come back to the same basic advice. Focus on fundamentals. Block and tackle well. Everyone do your assignment. Establish the ground game. Everything else you need for success will flow from there.

In these big games, will there be an occasional trick play, or a key turnover, or a missed call that influences the game? Probably. But everyone seems to agree that the best you can do to prepare for victory is simply get back to the basics.

Now is the time to consider what it takes to be truly effective in our mission.

I found myself wondering if there is a reminder, even an exhortation, for churches to consider here. Among the most “basic” practices of Baptist churches as we follow the Lord and pursue his mission are celebrations of the Lord’s Supper and believer’s baptism. Yet these can sometimes seem like occasional, even rare, ceremonies, rather than the very blocking-and-tackling basics on which the rest of church life is built.

More than an occasional or routine ceremony, the Lord’s Supper was given to us to be a time of frequent, intimate church fellowship and worship, one that draws each participant to introspection and confession of sin, and to a carefully considered reminder of the price Jesus paid for that sin. The Lord’s Supper is, in itself, a symbol-rich proclamation of the gospel message, one that should, each time, lead us to humble worship and gratitude, and fresh motivation to live out our salvation and to share Jesus with others.

What if we got that “basic” right, every one of us, in every church, every time we celebrated the Lord’s Supper?

If we did, I think it would have a dramatic effect on the other, more neglected, “basic” of baptism. Think of it this way: What if a church were to schedule baptism celebrations as often as it scheduled Lord’s Supper celebrations? More importantly, what if that church adjusted all its other priorities with the goal of seeing at least one person baptized by that time?

In fact, what if the church filled its baptistery on that date, no matter what? If no one was ready to be baptized, the church would simply pray in lament over the unstirred waters, and ask the Lord to guide them to a different result next time.

If the core, blocking-and-tackling tasks of the church are to remember the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus, and continue his mission of seeking and saving the lost, then maybe we need to get back to the basics of the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Maybe we need to let them drive our churches’ priorities and resources and schedules more than the things that drive them now.

As the football analysts remind us at this time of year, the closer we get to the end, and the fewer days that remain, the more critical it is to reflect carefully on what it takes to be truly effective in our mission. That careful reflection will almost always lead us back to the basics, and then forward to victory.

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

Dr. Doug Munton, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, IllinoisHaving practiced daily devotions for many years, I spend some time each day (mornings usually work best for me) reading my Bible and praying. I read a certain number of chapters of the Bible, underlining as I go. And I spend time praying by praising and thanking God, confessing sin, asking for my needs and praying for the needs of others.

I will tell you that sometimes I don’t feel much like doing that. But feelings are terribly fickle.

I rarely feel like exercising or eating healthy or all kinds of things that need to be done. I like the phrase “spiritual disciplines.” I am to discipline myself in my devotional life.

But I will also tell you that feelings often follow discipline. I am glad I exercise and eat right when I do. And I feel especially glad that I regularly spend time in God’s Word and in prayer.

The longer I’ve practiced daily devotionals the more I’ve recognized its value, including:

1. It reorders priorities.

It is easy for me to prioritize the wrong things. Getting my relationship with God at the top of my list helps the rest of my list fall into proper alignment. We need to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Spending time with the Lord in His Word and in prayer is a reminder of what matters most and helps all the rest of my life to realign.

2. It promotes truth.

God’s Word is true and it leads us in the way of truth. Listen to enough commercials and you can begin to think the truth is that the world is to revolve around what you want or think you need. The lies of the world are everywhere. We need the truth of what God says. Our time with God helps us to know and remember what is true and real and lasting.

3. It teaches lessons.

By reading the Bible for yourself you begin to take personal responsibility for your spiritual growth. By all means, learn in a Bible-believing church and get in a small group Bible study. But read for yourself. Time alone with God in prayer allows you to learn lessons of faith and thankfulness and dependence upon God.

4. It changes perspectives.

A devotional life helps you to begin to think like Jesus thinks and see life from God’s perspective. It encourages you to see the big picture of faith and to deal with adversity in a proper manner. It discourages self-centered living and promotes greater dependence on the Lord’s strength for life.

5. It deepens our relationship with God.

The more I read God’s Word given to me, the more I see the kind of relationship God wants me to have with Him. I see the beauty of His grace and the riches of the Christian life. The more I pray, the more I connect with the heart of God. We talk to those we love. God talks with us through His Word and the Holy Spirit. We talk with God through prayer.

I want to encourage you to begin or expand a devotional life. Spend some time reading God’s Word. If you haven’t yet read the entire New Testament, start there. Keep a pen and paper handy to underline or note things that especially stand out to you. And then spend some time in prayer. Praise and thank God. Confess sin. Pray for your needs and the needs of others. Consider keeping a prayer list of specific people you are praying for.

Spending time with God makes all the difference in the depth and joy of our spiritual lives.

Doug Munton, online at dougmunton.com, is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., and a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

This article appeared at BPnews.net.

The 8 people Americans trust more than their pastor
Less than half of the country—just two out of every five Americans—believe clergy are honest and have high ethical standards, a recent Gallup poll found. Pastors are now seen as less trustworthy than judges (43%), day care providers (46%), police officers (56%), pharmacists (62%), medical doctors (65%), grade school teachers (66%), military officers (71%), and nurses (82%).

The new pro-life generation
High-school students are organizing and engaging in the fight for life, despite sharp opposition from some administrators and peers. Many are members of Students for Life of America, best known for its work with college students, which now has 604 high-school chapters—334 at religiously affiliated schools and 270 at public campuses.

Churches can now get direct FEMA funding after disasters
Houses of worship damaged during natural disasters will be able to rebuild using federal funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Trump administration announced, a shift traditional faith groups have been requesting from presidents for decades without success.

Ancient DNA said to support Bible’s Babel account
A study published Jan. 3 in the journal Nature claims DNA extracted from the remains of an infant girl buried in central Alaska suggests an ancient migration of people from East Asia, across a frozen land bridge, to North America. Nathaniel Jeanson, a Harvard-trained research biologist with Answers in Genesis (AiG), said some details of the find corroborate the account in Genesis 11 of mass human migration following attempted construction of the Tower of Babel.

The salvation of ‘Napalm Girl’
Kim Phuc Phan Thi was the subject of a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph during the Vietnam War in 1972 where she was pictured at age 9, running along a puddled roadway with arms outstretched, naked and screaming, with the dark contour of a napalm cloud billowing in the distance. Kim writes how she came to faith in Christ.

Sources: Christianity Today, World Magazine, Washington Post, Baptist Press, and Wall Street Journal

Beloved camp integral to spiritual growth for current church leaders, and those yet to come

Every summer, Judy Halter takes a busload of elementary schoolers from Anna, Ill., to Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp, where they spend a week learning about Jesus and what it means to tell other people about him.

She even got her commercial driver’s license so she could drive the bus. Halter understands well the value of investing in young lives.

“I was saved when I was six years old,” said Halter, a member of Anna Heights Baptist Church. “But finally, at eight or nine years old, after I came to Lake Sallateeska and the missionaries came and spoke to us, I finally got it. I understood the Great Commission, and that we were called to go, and not just stay when we follow Christ.

“And it was life-changing at that point for me.”

Halter’s “favorite place in the world” turns 75 this year. As Lake Sallateeska marks the milestone anniversary, children and students and adults across Illinois continue to stream to the IBSA-owned retreat. They go for the scenery, the activities, the friendships, and the opportunity to grow closer to Jesus and his mission.

“This place has housed missionaries. This place has birthed missionaries,” Halter said. “And hopefully it will continue to birth tomorrow’s missionaries and send them out into all the world as our Lord commanded.”

Lake Sallateeska dining hall

Volunteers completed much of the work during a recent round of renovations at Lake Sallateeska that included a new façade for the game room.

Transformation place
In 1928, Illinois Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) began holding youth camps at a lake outside of Pinckneyville owned by Dr. F.B. Hiller. In 1942, WMU bought the 40-acre property for $4,800.

The camp was dedicated on July 7 of that year, and later renamed after a visiting missionary from Oklahoma explained the meaning of her name, “Sallateeska.” The word, which means “keep looking up,” gave the camp its name.

Over the past 75 years, the camp has expanded to 163 acres. Cabins on the campground can sleep 200 people, and the Sallateeska Inn, added in 2000, offers 16 rooms of hotel-style lodging. More recent renovations nearly doubled the size of the dining hall, among other improvements.

Lake at Lake Sallateeska

Long-time camp attenders and staff speak of the camp’s value as a retreat, a place to get away from distractions and get closer to God.

“I think the camp is a place where you can get away from your normal routine,” said Mark Lee, pastor of Beaucoup Baptist Church in Pinckneyville and a former manager of Lake Sallateeska. “You just get to come out here, and your thoughts are a little different, because you’re not thinking about everyday pressures, and everything that’s going on around you. And you can focus on the Lord, your relationship with him.

“You generally sit under preaching every night and teaching. There’s singing. There seems to be more freedom to worship sometimes here [for] kids. I think it just gets people away from that normal routine, and gives [them] an opportunity to get closer to God.”

Conference Center

For many campers who experienced a getaway at Sallateeska, the camp is where they first met Christ.

“I remember being a little girl, and for the first time going to camp being really, really nervous,” recalled Lyndee Joe. “That was the year when I was 10 years old that I was saved.”

Joe, who grew up at Chatham Baptist Church, later served at Lake Sallateeska as a counselor, a program manager, and a camp missionary. She guided others as they made the same commitments she made at camp. She remembered one such story of transformation that happened in Sallateeska’s swimming pool. A young girl came up to her and said, “I need Christ in my life.”

“And she was saved at that pool, right there on the spot,” Joe said. “She didn’t care that we were all swimming around and the kids were goofing off around her.”

Nate Adams attended Royal Ambassador (RA) Camp at Lake Sallateeska when he was eight or nine years old. “It was a week of transformation,” said IBSA’s executive director, who credits his church RA leader, Ray, with getting him to go to camp.

“It was all the things we had been talking about week after week—missions and spiritual growth and what it means to be a godly Christian boy and man,” Adams said. “And in that week at Lake Sallateeska, it all came together, and it was a time of spiritual change for me.

“And I think Lake Sallateeska has been a place of spiritual transformation for many, many, many people like that since then.”

Just the beginning
For many campers, the initial commitment to Christ made at camp is just the beginning. Philip Hall has managed Lake Sallateeska since 2008, but his experience with the camp started years ago. The son of an RA leader, Hall grew up going with his dad to take the big kids to camp.

When he became a big kid and camper himself, God used Sallateeska to confirm his call to ministry. Now, he’s deeply invested in running the camp in such a way that the next generation of pastors and missionaries and Sunday school teachers can hear from God while they’re at camp.

Boating

“I don’t get to be the one sharing the gospel every time,” Hall said. “I’m not necessarily the one preaching every time. But our ministry is just to clear the path of distractions. It’s the whole purpose that they come out to the country anyway.”

Lake Sallateeska is hallowed ground for those who have experienced a new understanding of God, and have sensed a call to join him in his mission. Judy Halter’s days as a camper sparked a missions calling that has taken her on short-term trips to Botswana, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. For Lyndee Joe, her time at Sallateeska has helped her come full circle in her walk with Christ—from meeting him, to learning to love his Word, to learning to share it with other people.

“We’re seeing people come from this camp who are giving their life to Christ, giving their life to go on the mission field,” said Joe, who served as an International Mission Board Journeyman missionary to South Africa. “We’re seeing people who are going to this camp as a child, and then turning around, getting to high school age and starting Christian clubs in their schools.

“I think [Lake Sallateeska] is vital in the life of Southern Baptists in the state of Illinois because it’s giving our students a passion for the gospel. And they’re taking that passion and they’re running with it.”

As the Lake Sallateeska team embarks on their next season of ministry, Hall said their goal is to continue the commitment and legacy that started 75 years ago.
“My hope for the future is that we just continue to hear from the Lord [and] be faithful with what we have. It’s a stewardship, a talent,” he said, referencing Jesus’s parable in Matthew 25.

“I truly hope, when my time is over, to pass on a facility and a ministry that’s better than it was when I got it, to the next runner, to carry out this race.”

Bob-Harrington---BourbonStreet

Famed New Orleans evangelist Bob Harrington, known by many as “the Chaplain of Bourbon Street.”

Forgiveness is a significant theme in God’s Word.

The Bible tells us: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will remember not your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). “He [Jesus] was delivered up because of our offenses, and raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Scripture is clear; God’s forgiveness is for all, but each one of us must receive His forgiveness personally.

Our family has experienced forgiveness in a clear and visible way. My dad, Bob Harrington, was dramatically converted on April 15, 1958, when I was only 6 years old. He attended a revival meeting in his hometown of Sweet Water, Ala., to find some insurance prospects, and instead he found the Lord. During the fifth stanza of “Just As I Am,” Dad was forgiven of his sin and saved by the grace of God.

He preached his first sermon three days later and led his parents to faith in Jesus Christ. My mother, sister and I followed Dad in faith and became active in church. The Lord called my dad to ministry and led him to attend New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

In a chapel service, then-NOBTS President Leo Eddleman presented a challenge to students: “Any pocket of sin is a mission field, and the closest Christian to it is a missionary.” Dad responded to that call and began a ministry in the French Quarter of New Orleans. In 1962, he was proclaimed by the mayor “The Chaplain of Bourbon Street.”

His ministry expanded in the 1960s and 1970s from the second block of Bourbon Street to nationwide crusades and national television. Many people were converted and called to the ministry through his personal soul-winning and powerful preaching. God used Bob Harrington to share His gift of forgiveness with thousands of others.

At the peak of Dad’s ministry, “the devil threw him a pass and he ran for defeat” (drawing from his own words). He left the Lord, left the ministry, left my mother and left our family. What a painful time for each of us.

God immediately spoke to me about forgiveness. I needed to forgive my dad even though he did not ask for forgiveness. Initially I did not want to forgive him, but later I chose to obey God’s clear command. We prayed faithfully for Dad’s restoration for 17 years before he returned to the Lord. What a time of rejoicing for our family! We were a part of his redemption story as Dad sought forgiveness from each of us.

After Dad returned to the Lord, he again had “fun being saved” and became “happy in the Lord.” He was bold in his witness and called to preach to others like him who had left the Lord and needed to get right with Him. He titled his message on prodigals, “Loving the Left Back Right.” What a beautiful picture of forgiveness!

In his later years, Dad had dementia. He was completely at peace in his condition. He spent his days sitting in his big red chair watching television.

As I walked into his little house one afternoon, God gave me a vivid example of total forgiveness. A divorced couple on the Jerry Springer program was screaming at each other. Dad looked up at me and said, “Isn’t it wonderful that no one in our family has ever been divorced? We all love each other.” Wow! Who would have ever thought that such truth could come from a Jerry Springer moment? Dad himself had been divorced twice, but God had forgiven him and taken his sin out of his conscious thoughts. What a perfect picture of forgiveness! When God forgives, our sin is completely removed.

My sister and I rejoice in the forgiveness of God which allowed our family to be reunited and our dad to have joy until his last breath. To our knowledge, Dad had no memory of the time he was away from the Lord. He talked often about our family years ago and remembered many amazing days of ministry. When once asked by a reporter what led him back to the Lord, Dad sincerely replied, “I have never left the Lord. I have always loved Him.” God literally removed his sin and blotted it from his memory, so he remembered it no more. I will always be grateful for being a part of a real-life story of forgiveness!

This article first appeared at BPnews.net.