Archives For April 2019

Briefing

‘Gospel above all’ as theme for SBC Birmingham
Keeping the “Gospel Above All” is Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear’s main goal going into SBC’s annual meeting. Greear noted there will be other issues demanding attention – among them, confronting sexual abuse. Greear also will be promoting the “Who’s Your One?” evangelism campaign in partnership with the North American Mission Board. Other meeting highlights will include racial reconciliation panel discussions and “The Value of Women in God’s Mission.” The annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama is set for June 11-12.

One GRAND April: churches report baptisms
IBSA churches baptized nearly 500 people during the first three weeks of April, according to reports from congregations around the state. The number is expected to increase as churches share their stories from One GRAND Month, a month-long, statewide emphasis on evangelism and baptisms. Pat Pajak, IBSA’s associate executive director of evangelism, encouraged churches to share their baptism reports and add to the statewide celebration.

Churches eager to evangelize, but distractions abound
A 2019 LifeWay Research survey found that despite Protestant churchgoers’ excitement and eagerness about the idea of evangelism, few actually engage in the practice on a regular basis. More than half of churchgoers (55 percent) say they have not shared with someone how to become a Christian in the past six months. A majority (56 percent), however, say they pray for opportunities to tell others about Jesus. In the study, Hispanics (36 percent) and African Americans (29 percent) were more likely to offer those prayers compared to whites (20 percent) or other ethnicities (17 percent).

Christian adoption agency to accommodate LGBT community as part of settlement
The largest Christian adoption and foster agency in the United States, Bethany Christian Services, will begin placing foster children with same-sex couples for the first time after a legal battle in its home state of Michigan. This comes after the agency was sued for refusing to work with same-sex couples. The agency insists that its mission and Christian beliefs have not changed but did announce it will start placing children with LGBT families as part of a settlement with the state, opting to change its longstanding policy rather than lose the opportunity to help find homes for the thousands of vulnerable children who live in the state.

NC governor vetoes ‘born alive’ abortion bill
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would have required doctors to try to preserve the life of any infant born alive during an attempted abortion‘G. Under the proposed law, health care practitioner would be required to preserve the life and health of a child born alive during an abortion attempt. The “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Act” bill was passed by the state April 22. Cooper vetoed the bill for reasons that laws “already protect newborn babies.”

Sources: Baptist Press (2), Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, CNN

Why preach on money?

Lisa Misner —  April 29, 2019

By Nate Adams

A pastor friend of mine recently told his congregation that he has preached on money, either an individual message or an entire series, at least once a year throughout his 30 years of ministry. When asked if he could tell whether it made a difference in giving to the church or not, he had to admit he didn’t really know. After all, that’s not why he did it.

Why does this pastor, and why do many effective pastors, speak regularly on the subject of money? Because money, and the effect it can have on people, is one of the most prominent subjects in the Bible, and one of the most important topics a true disciple of Jesus must consider.

Jesus talked more about stewardship, or the management of resources that God entrusts to us, more than heaven, or hell, or faith, or prayer, or a lot of other things. Over half of Jesus’ parables are about stewardship, and one out of every six verses in the Gospels has to do with stewardship.

Understanding stewardship is one of the keys to understanding the Christian life. If we don’t understand that God owns everything, that we are uniquely created in God’s image to be stewards of his creation, and that how we manage the resources God entrusts to us personally is a test of our faith in him, we will allow those very resources to tempt us into selfishness and even self-destruction. Money and possessions can quickly become the focus and goal of our lives. In fact, as the Bible says, the love of money is the root of all evil.

Generosity is the antidote to materialism.

No wonder The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) speaks so clearly to the biblical doctrine of stewardship in its Article 13:

“God is the source of all blessings, temporal and spiritual; all that we have and are we owe to him. Christians have a spiritual debtorship to the whole world, a holy trusteeship in the gospel, and a binding stewardship in their possessions. They are therefore under obligation to serve him with their time, talents, and material possessions; and should recognize all these as entrusted to them to use for the glory of God and for helping others. According to the Scriptures, Christians should contribute of their means cheerfully, regularly, systematically, proportionately, and liberally for the advancement of the Redeemer’s cause on earth.”

When our boys were young, my wife, Beth, always gave them their weekly allowance on Sunday mornings, along with their church offering envelope. She made sure to give them dollar bills and some loose change, making it easier to calculate a tithe of 10%. As our own parents modeled for us, tithing is best taught at an early age.

One Sunday morning we noticed our youngest son, Ethan, placing all five dollars of his allowance in his offering envelope. “Son, you don’t need to give your entire allowance to the offering,” his mom assured him.

Ethan smiled and said, “I know. But you and Dad always give me everything I need. So this week I thought I’d just give it all.”

Generosity is the antidote to materialism. I think that’s why my pastor friend, and many effective pastors, choose to preach about money regularly. Some people will misunderstand and feel those pastors are simply seeking more money for the church. But avoiding sermons on money for fear of that perception would be a disservice to the congregation. Disciples that are growing to be more and more like Jesus are learning to loosen their grip on money, and thereby money’s grip on them. They are finding in generosity the true freedom from materialism that God desires for his people.

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

By R. Albert Mohler Jr

It began as an assignment. It ended as a milestone in my Christian life. My church history professor assigned the class to memorize the Apostles’ Creed. Obediently, I began to memorize this historic affirmation of the Christian faith word by word, phrase by phrase, truth by truth. Within a few hours I had committed the Apostles’ Creed to memory, ready when called upon in class to recite it. But even at that time I knew that something else had happened.

As a young man I realized that this ancient confession of faith is Christianity. This is what Christians believe—what all Christians believe. The Apostles’ Creed collapses time and space, uniting all true believers in the one, holy, and apostolic faith. This creed is a summary of what the Bible teaches, a narrative of God’s redemptive love, and a concise statement of basic Christianity.

All Christians believe more than is contained in the Apostles’ Creed, but none can believe less.

Ancient Christians honored this creed. Martyrs recited this creed. The Protestant Reformers continued the use of the Apostles’ Creed in worship and the teaching of believers. There is such power in knowing that when we confess the Apostles’ Creed, alone or in corporate worship, we are declaring the truth of the Christian faith with the very words that gave early Christians hope, sent martyrs confidently to their deaths, and have instructed Christ’s church throughout the centuries.

The Apostles’ teaching counteracts counterfeits.

It was the most important class assignment I ever had.

“I believe.” These two words are among the most explosive words any human can utter. They open the door to eternal life and are the foundation of the Christian faith. Belief stands as the very center of Christian faithfulness and is where Christianity begins for the Christian. We enter the faith and find eternal life in Christ by responding to the truth with trust—that is, with belief.

But Christianity is not belief in belief. It is belief in a propositional truth: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and savior of sinners. We do not believe in a Christ of our imagination but in the Christ of Scripture—the Christ believed in by every generation of true Christians. Furthermore, beyond belief in Christ stands belief in everything Jesus taught his disciples. Matthew recorded that Jesus instructed his disciples to teach others to observe all that he had commanded them (Matt. 28:18–20). Therefore, there is no Christianity without belief, without teaching, and without obedience to Christ.

But where do we turn in order to know how to believe and what to believe? We turn first, of course, to the Bible, the very Word of God. The Bible is our only sufficient source and unerring rule of faith, and the Christian reflex to turn to the Bible is always right. The Bible is without error, totally trustworthy and true. It is the verbally inspired Word of God. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. When we read the New Testament, we find the faith handed down from Christ to the apostles, those who were taught by Christ himself. Any form of belief that does not agree with the teaching of Christ to the apostles is false—a religion that cannot save.

The New Testament refers to authentic Christianity as “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Real Christianity is Christianity resting on truth—a faith of definite beliefs cherished by believers throughout the ages and once for all given to the church.

This is one of the great wonders of Christianity and explains why all true Christians hold to the same essential beliefs and have done so for two thousand years: as Christians, we believe what the apostles believed. And we want to hand that same faith to the next generation.

Further, we want to worship like the apostles and preach and teach like them. To do so, we turn first to the Bible, but we also turn to the historic and faithful summaries of the Christian faith, the most honored, historic, and universal of which is the Apostles’ Creed.

From its earliest beginnings, the church has faced the dual challenge of affirming the truth and confronting error. Over the centuries, the church has turned to a series of creeds and confessions of faith in order to define and defend true Christianity. The confession of faith we know as the Apostles’ Creed is one of the most important of these confessions. For long, unbroken centuries, it has stood as one of the most crucial teaching instruments of the Christian faith—along with the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer.

R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and author of the new book “The Apostles’ Creed” (Nelson Books, 2019).

Supreme Court will hear funeral home case
The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will consider whether the country’s job discrimination laws apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. One case they’ll hear concerns a Michigan funeral home sued after firing a transgender employee.

Easter marked by mourning in Sri Lanka
Almost 300 people were killed and hundreds more injured in a series of suicide bombings in Sri Lankan churches and hotels. While no group has yet taken responsibility for the attacks, officials were warned churches could be targeted by a radical Islamist group, Christianity Today reported.

The nation of 21 million people is on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List, which profiles the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians.

Sovereign Grace responds to renewed calls for investigation
A network of churches headquartered in Louisville, Ky., said last week that an outside investigation into whether church leaders covered up sexual abuse would represent a “theological capitulation” that “would ultimately dishonor Christ and harm the cause of the gospel.”

Sovereign Grace Louisville, one of 72 churches in the evangelical network, was referenced by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear in a February report in which he called on the SBC Executive Committee to consider whether 10 churches had dealt appropriately with allegations of sexual abuse. The bylaws workgroup of the Executive Committee later reported that the Sovereign Grace matter merited further inquiry.

Two Southern Baptist seminary presidents have apologized for their support of C.J. Mahaney, former president of the network and current lead pastor of Sovereign Grace Lousiville.

Church membership down nationwide
Half of American adults are members of a church, according to new data from Gallup. The percentage is 20 points lower than it was 20 years ago, and mirrors the trend toward non-affiliation with a religion. Twenty years ago, 8% of Americans said they had no religion, Gallup reported, but the current share is 19%.

Annual study details Americans’ relationship with the Bible
More U.S. adults are engaged with the Word of God, but fewer are Bible-centered, according to Barna’s 2019 State of the Bible survey. While 59% believe the message of the Bible has transformed their lives, 35% of adults report never using it.

Sources: USA Today, The Christian Post, Christianity Today (2), Open Doors USA, Gallup, Barna

New beginnings

Lisa Misner —  April 22, 2019

Streator churches merge for the sake of their town

By Andrew Woodrow

New Start

The members of two Streator churches credit God with uniting their congregations under a new name: New Beginnings.

When Mike Young first laid eyes on Streator in 2016, he saw a small prairie town in the midst of vast farmland. But he also saw a community in great need of the gospel. Young, who moved to town to manage IBSA’s northern Illinois camp facility, soon discovered that much of Streator was still unchurched. He started praying God would raise up a church to fill that void.

Mike Young

Mike Young

When Young started looking for a church to join, there was one that caught his eye every time he’d go into town. “I would pass a church right on the edge of town called Calvary Baptist,” he said. “The building looked rough, and there were bushes growing all around it. It just looked like it was closing down.” Many people in town confirmed what Young had thought—that the church was on its way out.

Still, every time he passed Calvary, something kept tugging at his heart.
Struggling churches

“Calvary Baptist Church was a long-standing church in the community,” said Mike Blakemore. “It goes way back into the ‘50s, I believe.”

Blakemore and his wife started attending Calvary in the early 2000s; he eventually became an elder. “It was a great church, great pastor, great fellowship,” Blakemore said. But after their pastor retired, “that’s when the struggle began.”

The Southern Baptist church went through a series of interims and people just to fill the pulpit, and Calvary’s numbers started dwindling. Soon, wear-and-tear to the church’s building became evident, with mold growing inside the walls and roof.

By the end of 2015, with finances running low and numbers still dropping, the auditorium ceiling caved in after a severe hailstorm. “After much prayer and a lot of discussion, we decided to vacate the building,” Blakemore said.

A few miles away, Streator’s First Baptist Church had its own problems. The Conservative Baptist church was founded not long after Streator was incorporated in 1868. Longtime member Linda Abbot speaks fondly of her church. “I have a great, great grandfather who helped start this church,” she said. “My mother was part of this church. And when I was born, I was brought into it as well. I’ve been here ever since.”

At 13, she dedicated her life to Christ at the church. She brought her childhood sweetheart, Ken, to First Baptist where he, too, came to know Christ and eventually became an elder. The Abbots married at First Baptist and have raised their own children there.

“But in the years that we had been coming here,” Linda Abbot said, “we noticed the numbers steadily declining. And we could just see things falling apart.”
The numbers continued to decline until they were down to almost 20 people, forcing the once large church to close down its main building and move worship into the fellowship hall, a stand-alone, neighboring building.

The move was made to sustain the church, Ken Abbot said, with the knowledge that if finances dwindled to a certain level, the church would dissolve and its Conservative Baptist denomination would take over the building.

Meanwhile, Calvary sat empty for almost a year while worshipers met in homes or rented spaces, praying all the while for direction. “We had just been going from place to place, and the fear that came along with that is, how long is this going to work?” said deacon Mark Martin.

But, he added, the church’s predicament drove them closer to God. “And that’s what it did to everybody that was involved,” Martin said. “Because God doesn’t bring about situations like these to drive you away from him. There might be problems, but they are meant to bring you closer to the Lord.”

Still, the uncertainty was unnerving. After months of worshipping in different places, Calvary gathered for a prayer meeting in a home one Wednesday afternoon, bringing their future and their tattered building to the Lord.

Moving forward

“From the very beginning, once we stacked hands and were ready to move forward with the merger, we very purposefully decided this was going to work,” Calvary Baptist elder Mike Blakemore (center) said of the union between his church and another in their town.

Answered prayer
It was that same Wednesday afternoon when Mike Young, unable to shake the tugging in his heart, decided to finally investigate the rundown church building on the edge of town. He pulled into the church’s parking lot, found a phone number on the door, and called. “I explained who I was and asked if there was anything I could do. I thought maybe they would need help with their building. I could help with that,” said Young, who has facilitated extensive renovations at the camp.

“Right then, they stopped that prayer meeting and they answered the phone,” Young said. “They didn’t have a pastor, they didn’t have a building, but they still had that core group of people.”

The group eventually called Young to serve as interim pastor, sparking a new beginning that would soon include First Baptist. That church was still without a pastor, and wondering what to do with their building. That’s when they heard about Calvary.

“When we heard that Calvary’s roof caved in and they were without a building,” Ken Abbott said, “we started praying for them. And while we didn’t know it at the time, they, in turn, started praying for us too because of our situation.”

“It was a challenging year for all of us,” said Tim Walter, an elder at First Baptist. He and Abbot extended an invitation to Calvary to worship with them.

“We were two churches in need of each other,” Walter said. “They needed a church home. And we had facilities, but we weren’t using them because our building was pretty much all closed up.”

Calvary accepted the invitation, and the two churches held a worship service in First Baptist’s fellowship hall in January 2017. “Over time as we met,” Young said, “worshipping together became so sweet, and the fellowship was just excellent.”

At first, each church collected their own offerings and maintained separate prayer lists and bulletins. Church meetings were held in separate rooms. After a couple months of worshipping together, each church wanted a more long-term plan, and eventually took separate votes on whether to merge. The votes were unanimous—both churches were fully in favor.

Reaching

Pastor Aaron Jackson and his church are on a mission to proclaim Christ to their community.

Prayer, love, and willing hearts
Despite apprehension on each side that the other would want them to conform to their traditions, Blakemore said each church put aside their wants and traditions, focusing instead on God’s desire and Streator’s need for a thriving church.

Some described the experience as a marriage, with two parties making sacrifices toward a greater good. “When both churches came together, each naturally had their own tradition,” Young said. “But like any marriage, you have to give and take. And the two were willing to do that. They were willing to rely on God and trust him for the results. That is the most important part.”

“We had to come together as a new beginning,” Walter said. “The past is gone; First Baptist had to cease, and Calvary had to cease. As Dr. Dan Eddington told us, we had to have two funerals and a wedding for this to work.”

Both churches credit Young and Eddington, director of missions for Three Rivers Baptist Association, for guiding them through the merger. But overall, it was God, through prayer, that gave the churches their success.

“We had to bathe the entire process in prayer,” Blakemore said.

The Abbotts agreed. “From the beginning we were praying for Calvary and, without us even knowing, they were praying for us,” Linda said.

In September 2017, the two churches officially constituted as one, with a new name: New Beginnings Baptist Church. The church affiliated with IBSA last November.

“It’s new beginnings in a lot of different ways,” Martin said. “Not only is it a name for two churches coming together and a new start for a ministry, but it’s a new beginning for a work in Streator, as well as a new beginning to the lost who come here.”

Mike Young continued as interim pastor until the church was able to hire their first full-time pastor. Aaron Jackson has been serving as pastor almost a full year. “We’re already seeing what God is doing through ministries here at New Beginnings,” he said. “This is a very unchurched area and we’re doing as much as we can to get involved in the community.”

The church has moved back into the main building and has seen significant growth. They’re reaching out to Streator through multiple ministries. Walter describes the church as a family with a singular focus on Christ. “What is our mission? To preach the gospel and to proclaim Christ to a lost world. That is why we exist. And that’s our direction for the church: so that everything we do is to glorify him.”

Andrew Woodrow

Passing through Gethsemane

Lisa Misner —  April 18, 2019

By Eric Reed

Garden of Gethsemane.Jerusalem

Garden of Gethsemane.Thousand-year olive trees, JerusalemPassing through Gethsemane

A Baptist pastor said in an article I read recently that Maundy Thursday has become his favorite day of the Easter season. That was surprising, he admitted, since he didn’t grow up observing the day before Good Friday as anything special. Nor do many Baptist churches. But as he was called to pastor a church with a unique Thursday night Lord’s supper service prior to Resurrection Sunday, he took on the observance and came to appreciate it deeply.

I understood his experience. A couple of churches I served added Thursday services to their pre-Easter observance. At first, it was a matter of convenience for those who would travel on Good Friday to spend the weekend with grandma. But eventually we found we ourselves needed more time in the garden before we stood at the foot of the Cross, and ultimately at the vacated tomb.

“Maundy” Thursday may sound mournful, but the name itself comes from the Latin for “mandate.” A new commandment I give you, Jesus told his disciples in the upper room on that night, that you love one another. Maundy is a manmade term, as is the “Good” of Friday, but as for the events that happened that night, they are by God’s design.

After donning the servant’s towel and washing his followers’ feet, then giving them his body and blood in the first Lord’s Supper, Jesus led the crew, minus Judas, to the olive press on the other side of the temple grounds. Calling it Gethsemane, we forget that this was a working vineyard, where the crop was grown and at its maturity harvested, then crushed to release its treasure and fulfill its purpose. (Makes you have new respect for that bottle of oil in the cupboard, doesn’t it?) There, kneeling among the gnarled trees and the stone pressing floor, Jesus appears at his most human: suffering, knowing greater suffering was just ahead, wrestling, and yet willing.

And if we left the account there, we would miss several deep truths that make the events of Thursday night crucial to our understanding of Sunday’s victory. We might be tempted to think of Jesus as somehow less than fully human, that his deity abated his agony, if we did not see him wrestling in prayer while even his closest supporters a few yards away abandoned him in favor of sleep. We might miss a point of deep personal connection to Jesus that we need in our own times of crisis.

For Jesus Gethsemane was no rest. It is the place where one last time, his obedience and his surrender to the plans of his Father were tested. It is the place where God’s purpose and his own mission surpassed a momentary desire for relief from the pain of the night. And, blessedly, it is temporary.

In Gethsemane, the Father prepared the Son for the cross before him. Luke, who diagnosed Jesus’ suffering as bloody even in the garden, also tells us that God sent an angel to minister to Jesus.

The agony won’t last forever, but God knows we need help to get through it. And he sends it by his holy messengers. In our own seasons of crushing, we are lifted with the news that God has a purpose for the suffering he allows, and that it is temporary. God knows we hurt; God sends help; God sets a time limit.

In those times, it helps to know that Jesus suffered too. He cried over Lazarus. He cried out on the cross. And he endured in the garden where any remote possibility that he might put his relief ahead of our need was crushed: Not my will, but Yours be done, he said to the Father. We speak of “The Lord’s Prayer” as our model prayer. It, too, says, “Thy will be done.” But in Gethsemane, the prayer is tested and proven, and Jesus comes out the other side fully committed to finish his mission—at all personal cost to himself.

Finally, Gethsemane points to victory. To know the exhilaration of Jesus’ triumph over Satan and hell and sin and death, we must endure with him in his Gethsemane—and ours. In trial, we can be assured that Jesus has been here before. And though it hurts—a lot—we must not rush past Gethsemane, or we miss the magnitude of the victory, when the darkness of Thursday night surrenders to the brilliance of Sunday morning. And that light you see is the Son.

Eric Reed is editor of Illinois Baptist media. 

Briefing

ERLC voices hope and concern in AI statement
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission unveiled April 11 an evangelical Christian statement on artificial intelligence, expressing both hope and concern regarding the emerging technology. The new statement is designed to help the church think about and engage AI from a biblical perspective. ERLC President Russell Moore said, “What this statement does is to say artificial intelligence is an aspect of creativity and technology that will bring with it many, many good things…. At the same time, we have very real and pressing moral and spiritual questions about the use of AI, the temptation to outsource moral decisions to algorithms, but also what happens when we lose a vision of what humanity actually is.” The statement is available here.

Ohio governor signs heartbeat bill
On April 11, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law a bill protecting unborn babies from abortion from the moment they have a detectable heartbeat – usually around six weeks of gestation. The law passed in both the House and Senate and penalizes anyone performing an abortion on an unborn baby with a detectable heartbeat. North Dakota and Arkansas have also passed heartbeat bills, but federal courts ruled them unconstitutional.

Korea legalizes abortion
In South Korea, the country’s Constitutional Court ruled April 11 that abortion must be legalized by 2020. This comes after a 65-year-old ban the country had on abortion. The ban will remain until the new law is passed. Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, lamented the ruling as the adoption of an erroneous “Western Neo-colonialist notion” that abortion is a woman’s right. “It is a setback for human rights, and a tragedy for those South Koreans whose lives will be lost,” Foster said

Hong Kong pastor facing prison, preaches to courtroom
A Baptist pastor in Hong Kong turned the stands of a Hong Kong courtroom into his pulpit. Chu Yiu-ming, pastor of Chai Wan Baptist Church, quoted Scripture and called for justice in the name of God, after he and eight other activists were convicted April 9 for crimes related to their involvement with pro-democracy protests. “In the words of Jesus, ‘Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; The Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!’” Chu said.

Intercountry adoption hits a new low
The number of foreign children adopted by U.S. families plunged again last year, according to an annual report by the U.S. State Department released in March. Intercountry adoptions declined by 14 percent, from 4,714 children in 2017 to 4,059 in 2018. The 2018 number is down 82 percent from a high of more than 22,000 in 2004.

Sources: Baptist Press (3), Christianity Today, World