Archives For

In all circumstances

Lisa Misner —  December 27, 2018

By Adron Robinson

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, ESV).

We cannot control what happens to us in life, but we can control how we respond to what happens to us. The Apostle Paul knew this to be true, so he gives us three ways to live a thankful life.

First, be joyful. The apostles did not encourage believers to live in denial. We are never to deny the fact that trials, tribulations, and adversities bring us pain and grief, but the child of God must recognize that in the midst of trials, tribulations, and adversities, the presence of God through the power of the Holy Spirit gives us reason for joy.

We can rejoice despite our circumstances because God is in control!

Second, be prayerful. The second command to pray is the foundation for the first command of joy and the last command to be thankful. Paul knows that in order to obey either we have to be praying people. Oftentimes our circumstances can cause us to abandon prayer, but if you don’t feel joy, pray! If you don’t see anything to be thankful about, pray! Let nothing stop you from praying!

Finally, Paul tells us to be thankful. It is the will of God that Christians be thankful, but we aren’t commanded to be thankful for everything, we are commanded to give thanks in everything. We cannot control our circumstances, but whatever the circumstance, we have reasons to thank God.

PRAYER PROMPT: Father, we thank you for your promise never to leave us or forsake us. And because of your presence we can be thankful in all things. Thank you for salvation, thank you for life eternal, and thank you for the gift of today. Help us, Lord, to live thankful lives, being grateful for all that you have given us through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Adron Robinson is pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and president of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

The gift of presence

Lisa Misner —  December 24, 2018

By Nate Adams

Not long ago, my wife, Beth, and I were discussing whether or not to try and attend a wedding to which we had been invited. It was a considerable distance from our home and required a couple of nights in a hotel, driving and meal expenses, and at least one vacation day.

Though we both wanted to go, and felt we should, I found myself asking, “I wonder if the couple would rather have the money that we would spend on travel as a wedding gift?”

It’s not the first time I’ve asked that kind of question, and it probably won’t be the last. I remember international missionaries once telling me that a church had spent $50,000 to send a large mission team halfway around the world to serve with them for a few days.

They were grateful for the help and encouraged by the fellowship. But they also shared with me candidly, “We couldn’t help but think how much more we could have accomplished here with $50,000 if they had stayed home and just sent the money.”
Experiences like these underscore the sometimes difficult question, “How much is someone’s physical presence worth?” Or, to state it more casually and commonly, “Shall I go, or just send something?”

And of course, when the question presents itself at the time of someone’s death, it often has the additional pressure of urgency, since there is often little advance notice and little time to make a good decision about going. I still remember fondly and with great appreciation the people who traveled distances to attend my dad’s funeral. And I remember a funeral from almost 40 years ago that I still regret missing today.

How much is someone’s physical presence worth? It’s an excellent, spiritual question to ponder during this Advent season. Could Jesus have just “sent” the gift of salvation, without coming personally? Could he have dispatched someone else to the cross, or was it supremely, eternally important that he be there himself?

I think we miss something incredibly important if we celebrate salvation without celebrating incarnation. On that holy night when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he chose not just to be present with us, but to become one of us. Through Jesus, God entered in to our condition not just with sympathy, but with immeasurable sacrifice.

At Christmas, we celebrate God’s love and amazing grace in choosing to become human, in choosing to embrace mortality for the sake of our immortality. How much was the physical presence of Jesus worth? It was worth everything. It was worth our eternal lives.

By the way, eventually my wife and I did decide to attend that distant wedding. We decided to do so after remembering some of the older adults that traveled distances to attend our own wedding. We remembered wondering, at the time, why they went to such trouble. But now, decades later, we remember very few of their wedding gifts. But we still remember their presence.

There’s a worship song that says, in part, “I’ll never know how much it cost, to see my sins upon that cross.” That’s certainly true. And yet I wonder if we don’t reflect more on the gift of salvation than we do the very presence of “God with us” in the incarnation.

As great as the gift of salvation is, that gift is simply an expression of how much God loves us and is willing to sacrifice to be with us, both now on earth and throughout eternity in heaven. The value of his very presence eclipses even the value of his wonderful gift.

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

By J.D. Greear

What do we mean when we talk about the “favor of God”?

The house you’ve always wanted goes into foreclosure and you buy it for a steal. Your kids bring their report cards home and it’s straight A’s. You find out that a long lost relative left you a tidy sum of money.

Many people may think that God’s favor is something like that. When life seems to break your way, it’s easy to think, “God is really smiling down on me now. He must really love me.”

When we turn to the New Testament, though, we get a splash of cold water. The favor of God doesn’t always line up with great circumstances. Case in point: Mary.

When the angel Gabriel shows up to announce the first Christmas to Mary in Luke 1, he tells her twice that she has God’s favor. But her situation sure doesn’t look like it.

Gabriel has just told her she is going to be pregnant out of wedlock in a culture where this isn’t just frowned upon but could have been punishable by death. The man she loves, Joseph, is probably not going to understand the situation or believe her bizarre explanation and might leave her. She’s already poor, and if Joseph rejects her, she’ll be destitute. She might have to beg for a living.

So here’s Mary — financially insolvent, with a ruined reputation, her most important relationship in tatters.

Maybe you can relate if you sense no joy or good cheer this Christmas season, but dread. Your life doesn’t look like one “blessed and highly favored.” For you, Christmas only reminds you of all the good you don’t have in your life.

If that’s you, then Mary’s circumstances are particularly relevant, because she supposedly has the favor of God in the midst of all her mess. How?

Because a Son is being born to her — a Son, the angel says, whose name will be “Jesus,” meaning that He will save His people from their sins. Like all of us, Mary’s main problem was a severed relationship with God. Jesus was coming to restore that.

But Jesus was coming to do more than merely save from sin. Gabriel points out that He’ll also rule from the throne of David (Luke 1:32). It’s easy to miss how big that promise is. David’s throne symbolized the restoration of worldwide peace and blessing — a condition called shalom.

Think of the promise in Joel where the prophet says, “I will restore the years that the swarming locusts have eaten.” Not just forgive, but restore. Bodies destroyed by disease will leap and run in perfect health. Reputations that have been ruined will be exonerated. Relationships torn apart by death will be mended, as we see, in Tolkien’s words, “all the sad things come untrue.”

We know that God will do this because He did this with Jesus. At the cross, Jesus went through pain that looked like a defeat. But the Father used that pain for our good. He reversed it and turned the devil’s strongest attack into an opportunity to redeem us and restore the world.

Mary isn’t the only one with a miraculous birth in Luke 1. Her relative Elizabeth also gets a visit from Gabriel, and even though she’s barren, she is promised a child. Barrenness has never been easy, but in those days it would have been devastating, the biggest disappointment a woman could imagine. The lead-up to Jesus’ birth includes an elderly, barren woman getting pregnant because the birth of Jesus is God’s promise to erase our deepest disappointments.

What that means is we don’t have to be frantic if we don’t get to everything on our “bucket list.” Many of us live with such an urgency to experience everything that life becomes worthless if we don’t. It’s not the glib stuff, like not seeing the Grand Canyon, that really leads us to disappointment. It’s not getting married, or having children, or being financially comfortable, or overcoming an illness. What we need to see is that in the resurrection, under the reign of the Son of David, every disappointment will be fulfilled.

We have pain; He will reverse it. We have disappointment; He will erase it. We yearn for justice; He will restore it. When we go through seasons of racial strife in our country, many people start to ask, “Will there ever be justice?” Or maybe the yearning for justice is more personal: You’ve been wronged and just can’t get past it. You want to cry out like the psalmist, “Will the wicked go unpunished?”

Unless we look to God’s perfect justice — instead of our judicial system or our own efforts — we’ll always be bitter. Perfect justice will be restored but only when Jesus rules from David’s throne. That truth gives us the hope to continue working for justice now while enduring the injustice in the world.

In the end, that’s what God’s favor is all about. It’s what Christmas is all about — hope. God’s favor isn’t always easy. Sometimes, as with Mary, it brings with it a lot of difficulties. But it’s always good because it brings us a hope in God’s promises and an assurance that His presence will be with us.

J.D. Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

By Eric Reed

Office hours signWhen I was in seminary in the early Bronze age, there was a lot of talk about how pastoral ministry was changing. The church growth movement had taken hold, and many aspiring pastors seemed called to build great seeker-sensitive churches like one of the two model megachurches in suburban Chicago and near Los Angeles.

The motivational leaders of the day told us how these pastors weren’t shepherds any longer; they were ranchers. In order to build a great church, the lead pastor (also a new term at the time) must give to others the time-consuming work of congregational care while focusing their own attention on leadership, prayer, and preparation of the Word.

That sounded biblical to me.

The first deacons were called so the apostles would be freed for their preaching and teaching ministries (Acts 6:3-4). And Paul was clear in his teaching to the leaders at Ephesus about setting up their ministry: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

It’s time to recover the lost art of pastoral care.

That message found a ready audience among seminary students who envisioned fielding a team of highly skilled deacons or elders to visit the hospitals and console the shut-ins. The saints would do the work; the pastors would prepare the saints and dispatch them. And when the budget allowed, we would all add one or two of those new degreed Christian counselors to the staff with expertise to handle the hard cases.

It was a beautiful picture of how it ought to work. Here’s the problem: It didn’t really work.

A philosophy of ministry that “frees” the pastor from contact with church members in their time of need ignores the model of Jesus himself, and it deprives the pastor of his best opportunity to bring meaningful spiritual help when people are hurting.

Jesus chose the word “shepherd” to describe himself. And in his teaching on “the good shepherd” delivered just before his death, the Lord’s heartfelt concern for his flock and his personal contact with them is clear. Jesus might have chosen other words, but he didn’t declare himself the chief steward or centurion or theologian. He didn’t call himself “lead” anything. He chose the simplest word and the humblest position to describe his personal work—and ours. The word often translated “pastor” is poimen in Greek; it means, literally, shepherd.

In separating the sheep from the goats, the outstanding characteristics of those closest to Jesus and most like him are these: They fed the hungry, clothed the naked, housed the stranger, and visited the sick and imprisoned.

Gone are the days when people stayed in the hospital for a week or two, and the pastor was expected to visit every day. Even major surgeries are outpatient or overnight events. And whether it’s in major metro areas or distant rural places, travel takes time—sometimes several hours roundtrip. People don’t have the same expectations for pastoral care today that they did a generation or two ago—until they really need it.

Even those who say they don’t want the attention will say afterward they were blessed by a visit from the pastor. These days, it’s one of those things you don’t know you need until you need it.

The recent news that Baby Boomers are returning to church is a two-edged sword. Hooray, they’re coming home! But there’s a lot of them, and they’re getting old. All these seniors will need spiritual care, and I think in a lot of cases, the pastorate is out of practice.

We’ve had the church-growth generation of ranchers—skilled in management and motivation. That has given way to a generation marked by a high view of theology, and their role as chief discipler and guardian of truth. What I hope we see next is the return of pastors, the men of God called to be shepherd, who enjoy caring for the sheep.

I remember during my first full-time ministry position, we got a call at the church office. A couple had suffered a miscarriage and they wanted the pastor to come to their house. The pastor was new at that church, a recent seminary graduate, and I was the youth minister. “Come, go with me,” he said. “I’m not sure what to do.”

When we got there, the couple cried. My new-to-ministry co-worker hunted for appropriate Bible verses and offered consoling prayers; I handed them Kleenex. Mostly we just sat there with our sorrowing friends. That’s all they wanted. Just be there.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

Avoiding Christmas letdown

Lisa Misner —  December 17, 2018

After the gifts are opened, what’s left to celebrate?

By Mike Keppler

Simeon

What comes after the waiting is over? Let’s ask Simeon.

Christmas gift-opening for our family is a seasonal experience of merry mayhem! The usual gathering of 16 adults and children is a large-sized event for our family room. We fill up the couches and chairs and use all the floor space as well, but still have to spill over into the dining area to accommodate everyone. I just have to keep remembering that it was my wife, Monique, who wanted this large family. But everyone knows that I, too, consider this one of our greatest blessings.

Monique has tried numerous approaches over the years for this time of giving and receiving. We started out opening only one gift at a time (and still prefer this!), but in these last years we have allowed the grandchildren to open their large Christmas bags of gifts at their own frenzied pace in order to deal with their exuberant impatience. It still seems that after the paper has found its way into the recycling bag, there are some eager ones waiting on the adults who are passing and sharing their gifts with each other. With a pile of unwrapped gifts strewn before them, our “near perfect” grandchildren can be heard pleading and even demanding, “Is that all there is?!”

There is a letdown after the last gifts are opened and all the boxes, wrappings, and bows have been processed. The tree looks lonely without packages teeming under its ornamented boughs. Adults feel relief that it is over but secretly long for the feelings of anticipation they had at the start of the season. The declaration that “Christmas is over” brings a certain disappointment with the acknowledgment.

Luke’s Gospel is rich with details surrounding the first Christmas: angelic announcements to Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds. It is the latter who are blessed to follow the angel’s directives to Bethlehem. After finding Mary and Joseph, these lowly shepherds are the first to see the baby lying in his manger bed. With great joy that night, they return to their fields and flocks glorifying and praising God on their way.

Most families conclude the reading of the Christmas story with the shepherds’ return, but Luke, the historian, is not ready to wrap up his thrilling account. He wants all his readers to wait because the story of Christmas is far from over. The scene shifts to the temple 41 days later and focuses on two saintly seniors who, with hope-filled lives, are waiting for the coming Christ.

One of these is Simeon, who, with prophetic insights that could have only be revealed to him by God himself, sings out this part of the Christmas story to all who are waiting for more. Within this prophecy, there is a musical message of singing praise, stumbling rejection, the all-important message of salvation for everyone, and even a surprising finale of sadness and sorrow.

The Singing: A sight to celebrate
“I have seen the One who was promised!” must have startled many who witnessed the crescendo of praise from the old prophet. How many who heard the old man sing this out could have thought he was a little tipsy in his prophetic merriment? How could anyone see in this vulnerable baby boy, the son of peasant parents, the Promised Deliverer? These young parents could only afford a humble and modest sacrifice at his dedication. Israel was expecting a prominent and proud warrior who would restore glory to the nation once again. Surely, many observers concluded this baby could not be the son of David, the hoped-for Messiah of God.

Simeon was so convinced by what he saw in the child that he was now ready for the next chapter of a peaceful end to his life. The promise of God was fulfilled. He had seen the Messiah.

What would Christmas be like without music? Musical programs abound during the holidays, rekindling Christmas memories. Luke’s Gospel account has even been put to poetic harmonies. Throughout church history, liturgies have been written and chancel choirs have been singing the canticles of Mary’s Magnificat, Zechariah’s Benedictus, the angels’ Gloria and Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis (Latin for “now let your servant depart”). Community and church choral performances at this season become excellent occasions for inviting seekers to experience these Scriptural songs. More importantly, they allow these friends to hear the good news of the Christmas story.

As the mood swings with this old man’s continued prophecy, Simeon now predicts there will be a stumbling resistance in this child’s future.

The Stumbling: Rise and fall
Jesus was a polarizing figure in his time. Some would gladly welcome the Son of Man, and others would vigorously oppose him. Those rejecting him would say he was not their kind of Messiah. He challenged the assumptions of his enemies. They wanted a revolution of power to overthrow their oppressors and establish an earthly kingdom of dominance and glory for Israel. Jesus would come to rule over human hearts, live his life in selfless service, and die on a cross as a sacrificial lamb for the sins of the world. The opposition would declare, “Not my kind of Messiah!”

We live in a culture that speaks about and even practices spiritual things. However, these beliefs are more aligned with eastern religions such as Buddhism that emphasize self-help. Engaging people readily talk about their own ideas of the spiritual realm, but it is increasingly clear that many of them do not really know what Christianity is all about. It seems that too many individuals today want to design a god in their own image. They vigorously defend the need to love, respect, and accept others, but they are repelled by the God who holds them accountable and confronts their sin. More and more will even dare to claim they do not sin and don’t need a savior! Their stumbling over Christ is our cultural challenge in witnessing.

For centuries, Israel hoped for a Messiah who would deliver them from Roman oppression and restore the glory of their nation. Even Jesus’s disciples zealously shared this idea of Messiah. Many who saw in him hope for the future, however, turned against him when he spoke of suffering and death on a cross. They stumbled over what he was accomplishing in their presence. They refused to believe in him.

Simeon’s prophetic song predicted this child would be a light and salvation to the nations. He would expose the darkness of man’s unbelief and futile attempts to live without God. He would challenge assumptions and there would be resistance. But like Simeon, there would be many in the world who would accept Jesus and follow him into eternal life.

On this occasion of happiness and joy at the prophet’s celebrative praising, there follows a surprising prediction of great grief and sorrow for this young mother.

The Sorrowing: A sword
It is almost ironic that a season like Christmas, so full of joy, could also have a mix of grief and sorrow; however, everyone who has lost a loved one to death can say this is true. There is a letdown and sadness for many at this season when loved ones are no longer with us at family gatherings.

Mary must have been taken aback by Simeon’s painful pronouncement. The coming opposition to Jesus would result in a stabbing grief like a sword piercing her own heart. Mary, who had treasured and pondered many things at Jesus’ birth, no doubt would leave the temple that day thinking deeply about the perplexing prophecy of this devoutly righteous man.

It is sad to think, and reflects a very shallow understanding of Christmas, that for many this season is only a time of gift-giving and receiving. The nation’s retailers project the average American will spend around $900 this Christmas on holiday presents and candies. The Christmas season alone has become a $500-billion-dollar juggernaut of sales for the economy. These businesses with accounts in the red count on Christmas profits to put them back into the black.

It is surely time for Christians to say, “Wait a minute! There is more to this season!” The truth must be told that if this season is only about sharing material gifts, we will feel a great letdown after the credit card bills start coming in January. But there’s good news! The baby Jesus came for a greater reason. He came to forgive our sins through his suffering death on the cross and provide salvation for everyone who will put their faith and trust in him. Unless we are convinced of this, we will miss the whole point of Christmas.

The Saving: A revelation
Many of the Jewish faithful saw in the Messiah a hope only for Israel. They had no problem receiving the blessing of God to make of them a great nation. But Simeon’s prophetic song of salvation was more inclusive and offered a broader invitation to all the nations. This salvation would start in Jerusalem, but that would only be the epicenter. From this locale, the gospel would spread to the ends of the earth. The baby whom Simeon held with humble gratitude this day in the temple would grow up to be the Savior of the whole world!

During this season of giving to international missions, those of us who have received Christ know that we have a global missions mandate to share the good news of Christ our Lord with everyone on earth. The annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is a partnership among Southern Baptists to give to make this mandate a reality around our world by funding church planting and the making of disciples. It is projected that there are 2.8 billion in our world who have little or no access to the gospel. For an individual, this task would be impossible, but working and giving together, we can make an everlasting difference in people’s lives.

Some may not see the point of sharing the Christmas story with unchurched family and friends. Yet it remains that when we do get the message and the “reason for the season” to the forefront of our witness sharing, we see that the gospel does impact the lives of those who hear it. Simeon understood what God was doing the moment he saw the infant Jesus. Let’s give the Holy Spirit something to work with in our witness by sharing the good news with someone this season.

Who knows how God will work through an intentional spiritual conversation that simply retells how Simeon had a surprising encounter one day at the temple with a baby boy who would change the world. Through those conversations, we just might convince some friends of the need to accept Christ as Savior. Imagine what they will discover as the Lord blesses and takes charge of their lives each day!

You might find yourself thinking, as you follow Luke’s telling of the Christmas narrative through the part about the shepherds, “It would be hard to top that story!” However, Luke interrupts that thought like a stage manager in a theatre drama and directs the next actor forward to stage right, “Simeon! Tell your story!” And Simeon joyfully sings out, “I can top that! I’ve seen the Sovereign Lord’s Salvation with my own eyes! I’ve experienced him face to face!”

There will not be a Christmas letdown if we who have accepted Christ and do see him at the center of this Christmas season, say to our world, “Wait a minute! There is more to this story! Come. Experience Christ! Worship him! Share him with everyone!”

Mike Keppler served as pastor of Springfield Southern Baptist Church for 26 years. Recently retired, he is enjoying writing and grandfathering.

Sharing Christ at Christmas

Lisa Misner —  December 14, 2018

By Autumn Wall

Christmas. The season of joy. Jesus’s birthday. It’s right around the corner!

As believers, we know the real reason for the season is Jesus. This is the day we celebrate our Savior coming to earth to begin his journey to the cross which will give us freedom from sin and shame eternally. But the chaos of the season can overshadow the real reason we celebrate and distract us from the very thing we were put on this earth to do: tell his story.

This Christmas, will you be intentional to share Jesus everywhere you go? Here are some fresh ideas to keep you focused on the gospel:

• Buy some clear or blank ornaments and decorate them with your favorite Scripture verse. Keep a box of them in your car and give them away to people you encounter—at the gas station, grocery store, your kid’s school program, on a family walk, etc.

• Get a stack of invitation cards from your church (or make some yourself) to invite people to your church’s Christmas Eve service or program. So many people are willing to attend a holiday event who might never go to a “church service.” Who are you inviting?

• Host a neighborhood Christmas tea. Invite your neighbors to stop by your home just to celebrate the season together for a few minutes. Present each attendee with a small gift, card, and/or invitation to your church or small group.

• Take time to train your kids how to tell people about Jesus. It can be as simple as telling their teachers and friends that we celebrate Christmas because God came down to us and made a way for us to know him.

It’s simple in this season to share Jesus, but it’s also simple to forget to share him. How will you share him everywhere you go this Christmas season?

Autumn Wall, online at autumnwall.com, is an author, speaker, worship leader, pastor’s wife, and mom of three in Indianapolis.

Teams wrap up work

Lisa Misner —  December 13, 2018

In states hit by hurricanes

IBDR logo

Just before tornados swept across central Illinois, Disaster Relief volunteers from the state completed a long season of hurricane relief in Florida and North Carolina. Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief (IBDR) volunteers put thousands of miles on the road traveling south and east in the wake of Hurricanes Florence and Michael.

“Illinois saw key partnerships develop during the hurricane season this year,” said IBDR State Coordinator Dwayne Doyle. “We partnered with Missouri in a significant way as we responded together in locations in both North Carolina and Florida. We served with Kentucky Baptists on one of their kitchens in North Carolina. We also served North Carolina Baptists for over two months in Lumberton.”

“We sent 12 or more teams to both North Carolina and to Florida,” Doyle added. “Chaplains, tree cutters, and flood recovery teams served the Lord well. We were happy to rejoice with several who found hope in Jesus as they were served by Southern Baptists.”

Doyle said it was also a significant year for the state’s mass feeding teams. “We were able to mobilize mass feeding teams to both states as well. This is the first time in several years that we participated in mass feeding of survivors.”

Prior to the Dec. 1 Taylorville tornado, IBSA volunteers had worked 16,817 hours responding to the hurricanes, and to flooding in Illinois and Iowa. They recorded 769 gospel presentations, distributed 1,341 gospel tracts and 937 Bibles, and witnessed 15 people accept Christ as Savior.

An IBDR team from the Heartland Baptist Network was the last Illinois team to serve in Lumberton, N.C., completing chainsaw work in early November before work transitioned to the recovery phase. In late November, teams from the Winthrop Harbor area, Heartland Network, and Kaskaskia, Salem South, and Williamson Associations wrapped up IBDR work in Bristol, Fla., for 2018.

Known for the yellow shirts they wear, the Illinois volunteers were joined for the first time by “green shirt” volunteers. Sarah Maddison, granddaughter of IBDR volunteers Don and Jan Kragness, and Andrew Cairel, son of Pastor Derrick and Angie Cairel of Liberty Baptist in Harrisburg, joined recovery teams in Florida in November. The high schoolers completed the required seven hours of training including DR 101.

For more information about Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief, go to IBSA.org/dr.

– Lisa Misner