Archives For Commentary

Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer

Lisa Misner —  September 19, 2019

By Cheryl Dorsey

Cheryl DorseyIn a recent prayer meeting with pastors and prayer leaders from Chicago and its suburbs, we were directed to read Matthew 7:7 to launch our prayer time. “Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” Before the prayer leader had finished speaking, the Holy Spirit dropped the chorus of this old Francis Crosby hymn in my heart.

Draw me nearer, nearer
blessed Lord,
To the cross where
Thou hast died;
Draw me nearer, nearer,
nearer blessed Lord,
To Thy precious,
bleeding side.

As those in the room sang with me, that chorus became the opening lines of my prayer, and as I prayed, the Lord revealed that the action of prayer fulfills dual purposes. Spending time in his presence is not only a blessing for those for whom we pray; it also builds and strengthens our relationship with the Lord. Praying draws us nearer to the Lord; he speaks to us through our contemplation of his Word, and through the sweetness of communion with him.

Several passages of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments speak of “drawing near to God.” Psalms 73:7 says, “But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all your works.” James 4:7a says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”

I have found that as I pray for others, the Lord does a work in me—comforting, correcting, enlightening, and perfecting. While we pray, asking God to help someone with “a speck in their eye,” he kindly points out “the beam” in our own, and the wise pray-er will stop, repent, receive forgiveness, and continue in the original focus of their prayer time. Prayer is full of “teachable moments.” As we stretch out on God’s word, he increases our faith and builds up our trust in him.

Specifically, God has taught me to remember and practice these things as I pray:

1. When I “draw near” to him, God places me in alignment with his plans for my life and the lives of others. Through his holy word, the perfect prayer guide, he helps me look at the situation from his perspective. He gives me the “mind of Christ” on the matter. Things that I felt were impossible are simple from his perspective. Prayers from a finite being are surrendered to the Infinite One, the Ancient of Days, the Great I AM.

2. I am not responsible for the answers to prayer. That’s the LORD’s job. My job is to pray, to lift up the needs and issues of others and this world to a Sovereign God. I am not responsible for answering the prayer, and that takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders.

We know from Jeremiah that God has a purpose and a plan, and he responds to our prayers in accordance with his purpose, his plan, and his will. We should not confuse our effort and energy with the outcome of our prayers. The only exception is, as Andrew Murray called it, “the sin of prayerlessness,” where we don’t bother to pray at all, and therefore see no result.

3. Trust and obey. A toddler’s first steps are a little ungainly until practice gives him confidence in his ability to walk across the room. Similarly, as we consistently practice the discipline of prayer, our experiences increase our understanding of and faith in God. Pray-ers learn to trust and obey him more.

There are times when we will offer up a short and sincere prayer and leave it at his feet. Other times, the Lord will have you spend some time praying about an issue. And there may be a time when you are led to turn down your plate and fast a meal or two, spending that time in prayer instead. All of these prayer efforts should be “God-breathed,” meaning the Holy Spirit prompts you in the appropriate avenue to take. It’s not formulaic; the Lord will guide you to the perfect path for the situation.

When I draw near to God in prayer, he aligns me with his plans and reminds me of his sovereignty over all things. As he guides my prayer life, I learn to trust and obey him more. As I draw near to him, he draws near to me.

Cheryl Dorsey is prayer coordinator for Chicago Metro Baptist Association. Her husband, Rick, is pastor of Beacon Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago Heights.

Show and tell

Lisa Misner —  August 29, 2019

By Adron Robinson

Read: Galatians 5:22–23 (ESV)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Tree made of citrus fruits, oranges, lemons, lime and green leavIn elementary school I always loved show-and-tell. It was exciting to see the hobbies, toys, pets, and even parents of my classmates. Well, for the child of God, every day is show and tell. We should show others the fruit of the Spirit and tell others about Jesus.

There is no such thing as hidden fruit. Fruit is always visible. The people around you will either see the fruit of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit. We can talk about how much we love the Lord, but the proof is not in our talk, it’s in our walk. Fruit is always visible.

Not only is fruit visible, but fruit always reflects the character of its source. Apple trees always produce apples. Orange trees always produce oranges. And Christians produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And notice the word fruit is singular, that means that the Holy Spirit produces all of these in every Christian. Some may not use patience much, for we still wrestle with sin, but it’s in you and the more you submit to Christ in every area of your life, the more the Spirit will produce his attributes in us.

Finally, fruit is for the benefit of others. I have never seen an apple tree eating an apple. Trees bear fruit for the benefit of others. Likewise, the Holy Spirit produces Christlike character in the Christian for our benefit, but also for the benefit of others around us. When they see us showing our fruit, they will want to know where this fruit came from. Then we can tell them about Jesus.

Prayer Prompt: Gracious Father, who gives every good and perfect gift, thank you for the fruit of the Spirit. Please help us to submit to your Spirit so that your attributes can be manifest in us, that you may be glorified in our daily walk. Amen.

Adron Robinson pastors Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and is president of IBSA.

By J.D. Greear

Editor’s note: Churches in Illinois baptized more than 700 people during One GRAND Month last April. September 8 is Baptism Sunday across the Southern Baptist Convention.

JD GreearFor several years now, I have been greatly burdened by the declining number of baptisms across the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe the baptism numbers serve as one of the best indicators of evangelism in our churches. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and that means that proclaiming the gospel is the core of who we are—not only as Southern Baptists, but most importantly, as disciples of Jesus Christ.

That’s why I’m challenging every Southern Baptist church to call for baptisms in services on Sept. 8, the date our SBC Executive Committee has designated as “Baptism Day” on the SBC Calendar.

Baptism Sunday will be an opportunity for thousands of people in our churches to take their step of obedience and faith. Many of them already know they should be baptized, and you can schedule baptism celebrations in advance. Other people in your churches may decide on Sept. 8 that God is calling them to those same baptismal waters.

I know conversations about immediate-response baptism services tend to draw some objections, many of which are grounded in healthy concern about encouraging insincere professions of faith. Trust me, I understand the concerns: I have seen dangerous and irresponsible calls for spontaneous baptisms. God forbid that we ever declare someone “saved” when they aren’t. Not only does this give them false assurance, but it also makes them that much more immune to future calls to repent and believe.

On Baptism Sunday, call people to respond to Jesus.

Our fear of extending these invitations wrongly, though, should never make us shy away from making the invitations at all. After all, every single baptism recorded in the New Testament, without exception, is spontaneous and immediate. For New Testament believers, the pattern was alarmingly simple: believe, confess, get baptized. There was never a gap between when a person trusted Christ and when that person was baptized. Not one.

This follows the example of Jesus’ Great Commission: “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is a believer’s first act of discipleship, a step of obedience that stands as a witness that we belong to Christ.

Baptism is like the wedding ring of salvation. I put on my wedding ring at the moment I decided to publicly declare my commitment to my wife. Putting on the ring did not make me married. But the demonstration of my commitment to my wife that the ring represents was a crucial first step in marriage. Had I refused to do it, my wife would have had reason to question my intentions.

In the same way, baptism is an outward symbol of an inward covenant we’ve made in response to Jesus’ offer of salvation.

Every one of our churches ought to do everything in its power to ensure that everyone who comes forward to be baptized understands the gospel and the significance of what they are doing. During baptism services at our church, for instance, we individually counsel every person who comes forward. Those conversations take time—often extending into the next service—and we always end up turning some people away. But that moment is important, because it starts a conversation about what it means to follow Jesus.

Baptism is of tremendous importance, but we need to keep the biblical order in mind: Baptism is the catalyst to spiritual maturity, not the sign of having attained it.

When we invite people to be baptized, we are calling them to make a decision. That’s exactly what so many of our people need. They come to our churches as consumers, going along with Jesus but never deciding for him.

Several years ago, our church chose to hold our first baptism service after we noticed the biblical pattern of spontaneous baptisms while preaching through a series in the book of Acts. Starting with that service, we saw three times more people choose to be baptized that year than we’d ever seen! I believe that’s because our church had been faithful in sharing the gospel, and we chose to be faithful in calling for a response to that good news.

I believe God is preparing a harvest of souls. Let’s faithfully call them to respond by publicly declaring faith through baptism!

J.D. Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. For Baptism Sunday resources, go to namb.net/baptism-sunday-resources.

The witness of weeds

Lisa Misner —  August 15, 2019

By Adron Robinson

Read: Matthew 6:11-12 (ESV)

“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Dandelions in a gardenIt’s summertime and everyone is looking forward to hot weather, cook outs, and a host of other fun outdoor activities. But one thing no one is looking forward to doing this summer is pulling weeds.

My wife and I were just discussing the fact that we hate weeds. But whether we like them or not, weeds are a part of summer. We were in our backyard pulling weeds the other day and it reminded me of the persistent nature of sin. You can pull a weed, but if you don’t pull the root, it will soon return. And sin is the same way in our lives; if we don’t get to the root of it, it will soon return. And just like weeds, if you leave your sins unattended, they will soon multiply and take over your heart.

That’s why Jesus taught the disciples to pray for forgiveness daily. Christians need daily forgiveness, because even Christians sin daily. We need to search our hearts and uproot sin on a daily basis in order to maintain fellowship with God. But if we are negligent and allow sin time to grow in our hearts, we will soon find our hearts growing cold to the things of God and cold toward the love of God. The Lord knows that our hearts need daily maintenance.

So, the next time you’re out in the yard pulling weeds, take a moment to thank God for the witness of weeds. They remind us to cultivate our hearts daily and uproot sin at the source.

Prayer Prompt: Omniscient God, you knew I would need daily sanctification. Thank you for teaching me in the model prayer to cleanse my heart as often as I fill my stomach. Sanctify me, O Lord, that I may be an instrument suitable for your use. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Adron Robinson pastors Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and is president of IBSA.

By Eric Reed

Ben Mandrell held a meeting with the employees at LifeWay last week, the first since he was elected by the LifeWay trustees to serve as CEO of Southern Baptists’ publishing entity. The meeting was invigorating, by all reports, as the Nashville team saw Mandrell’s passion for spreading the gospel and for advancing LifeWay’s mission in a mostly-digital era. Dressed in the jeans and plaid shirt common among church planters, and with his charming wife, Lynley, on stage with him, Mandrell said he had not sought the position, and only accepted when it was made clear to them both that God was leading in his nomination.

Whatever doubts outsiders to the selection process may have concerning the visionary large-church planter’s lack of publishing experience may have been assuaged by his assessment of the issues facing LifeWay—and especially in relation to these challenging times in our culture.

For us Southern Baptists ministering outside the deep South, Mandrell’s apparent understanding that what still works in the Bible Belt doesn’t work as well in the Midwest any longer is encouraging. As a native of Tampico, Illinois (“I will always have a heart for Illinois people! Those are my people,” he told this newspaper in June), his Midwestern background will well inform key decisions leading what was once the Baptist Sunday School Board. Successful ministry as a church planter in Colorado will illuminate further advancement of the gospel in places that are gospel-ignorant and even gospel-averse.

The whole of American culture is moving that way, even in the South. People like Jeff Iorg, from his outpost as a seminary president in San Francisco and now in Los Angeles, have warned us for years that what becomes legal and acceptable in the West (and we would add, the Northeast) is a nascent wave that will sweep the rest of the nation. Certainly we are seeing that in Illinois, with much redoubtable legislation shaking the moral ground beneath our feet.

Perhaps Mandrell can join Iorg and others in sharpening the skills needed by Baptists—Southerners, Midwesterners, and all—to uphold Christ and advance his gospel in an increasingly dystopian world. “Lord,” Mandrell prayed at that team meeting, “give us a servant’s heart and help us to be willing to do whatever we need to do to make LifeWay what it needs to be.”

To that we would say, Amen.

– Eric Reed

By Michael Kramer

Michael-Kramer

Michael Kramer

Three years ago, my job title was changed from adult education pastor to discipleship pastor. I was happy. Discipleship is a trendy term, but no one quite knows how to define discipleship. I realized this a couple months ago at an education conference put on by LifeWay. The presenter made the off-hand comment that discipleship seems to be the fad in evangelicalism. He had my attention.

The presenter explained that there have been several church growth models over the last 50 years, and he thinks discipleship is the current trend. Yet, he lamented, everyone has a different take on discipleship. He then produced a two-page handout offering his own definition. This made me chuckle. Why is discipleship such a tricky term?

I once watched a ministry leader draw a pie chart depicting Sunday school. He then put discipleship as one-sixth of the pie alongside community, shepherding, evangelism, teaching, and service. Discipleship had been relegated to a narrow slice. If I were discipleship, I think I would be offended.

We wrestle with discipleship because it is a relatively new term that is, at best, tenable and, at worst, divisive. First coined over 150 years ago by a well-meaning church educator, the term has come to distinguish the “two wings of the plane” which give flight to evangelicalism. These two wings are evangelism and discipleship. Sadly, this has created a division within disciple making, and we have yet to recover from the schism.

It’s not about ‘me’
Fast forward a century or so, and attempts at wordsmithing are causing confusion. You may wonder if discipleship is a biblical term. Nope, it is not. Jesus made disciples and called us to make disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, but “discipleship” is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. That’s just a little problematic when we seek to define discipleship in a consistent or biblical fashion.

Most church members will say they are involved in discipleship. After all, they participate in youth group, Bible study, women’s ministry, life group, or Sunday school. But this definition of discipleship is about personal growth or finding a niche within community. Reduced even simpler, discipleship is all about the participant. Discipleship at this level is designed to help “me” follow Jesus.

If a pastor refers to discipleship, most likely he has the spiritual maturity of church members in mind, relying generally on programs to foster maturity. Most pastors would say that the sermon, serving in the church, and going on mission trips are vital parts of the process. In some church cultures, discipleship may focus on spiritual disciplines coupled with some degree of intentional accountability. Again, the focus is on “me.”

My job title says it’s what I do, but do I?

At the leadership level, discipleship and disciple making are often used interchangeably, but the terms have dramatically different focuses or applications. While discipleship focuses on the participant, disciple making focuses on reproducing others. As leaders, we need to decide if we are calling people to invest in themselves or replicate others.

Words matter, especially when used by leaders.

So, is discipleship an evil term? No, not really, but it is unfortunate, because the term tends to not move beyond “me” and my walk with Jesus.

Discipleship places emphasis on the Great Commandment, me loving God and others, but misses the intentionality of the Great Commission, me making disciples. Ultimately discipleship is an unfortunate term because it fails to call people clearly to reproduce themselves in the lives of others.

While I doubt my title will change any time soon, as a leader who wants to communicate clearly, I have decided to call people to disciple making, which I believe carries a lot more weight. Disciple making begs the question, “Who or what am I reproducing?” I, for one, want to reproduce disciple makers.

While discipleship will continue to be a moving target, the term disciple making is biblical, offers a clearer vision, and is measured by reproducibility. Maybe we would save ourselves a lot of trouble if we focused less on the wings of the plane and more on the engine that makes the plane soar, disciple making.

Michael Kramer is discipleship pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Benton. He recently completed a Ph.D. in leadership at Southern Seminary.

By Adron Robinson

Read: Colossians 3:1-4

Ask 10 different people to define what it means to be a Christian and you will probably get 10 different answers. The name Christian is often claimed in our culture today, but the corresponding lifestyle is often absent. This disparity has left many confused on what authentic Christianity looks like.

Christianity is an external demonstration of the internal reality that by faith we have been united with Christ and hidden in him. Our position in Christ is the foundation and motivation for our daily walk in the world. That’s what the Apostle Paul wants the church at Colossae to understand; faith must have a function.

We live in a world full of doubt, disagreement, and downright evil. And the only answer to the ills of this world is the transformational power of the gospel.

Our family members, neighbors, co-workers, and friends need to see living displays of the resurrected life. We need to invite them into our homes and our dinner tables and let them see what compassion looks like, what forgiveness looks like, and what love looks like. We need to talk to them and not at them, to listen to their concerns and their struggles. We need to offer them the hope of the gospel along with a loving display of the gospel.

Many of them won’t come to church, so the church needs to go to them and display the resurrected life.

They will never stop cursing people out by their own power. They will never stop gambling away their savings by their own power. They will never stop lusting by their own power. They need the power that is greater than willpower. They need resurrection power! But if we don’t live the resurrected life, how can we expect to resurrect a dead culture?

Prayer Prompt: God, we were born in sin, yet by your grace you made us alive through faith in Christ. Now help us to live in light of the resurrection so that others may believe in you.

Adron Robinson pastors Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and is president of IBSA.