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The witness of weeds

Lisa Misner —  August 15, 2019 — Leave a comment

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.

By Eric Reed

CloudAn eight-mile trip into the countryside ended at an old barn which had been converted into a restaurant. “The food’s good here,” one of the travelers said as we set out after the Sunday service on winding rural and sometimes gravel roads.

The former feed store set in cornfields was everything Cracker Barrel would hope to be, and just what we expected. What we didn’t expect was the poster taped to the door announcing the crossroads’ first “Drag Show” with three headshots of the lead performers.

“If the Drag Show has reached this place, then times really have changed,” someone in our little church group mumbled. “I guess there’s no going back,” I thought to myself, just a half-hour after preaching on the decline of our public morality in Illinois with the recent actions of the state legislature as my chief examples: legalized marijuana, expanded gambling, and abortion with virtually no limits. And did I mention the gay-pride flag flying for the first time over the state Capitol?

But maybe I was wrong.

A new Harris Poll commissioned by the gay activist group GLAAD shows the LGBT movement is losing ground among Millennials.

That was a surprise, even to the pollsters, who called the flagging support “alarming” and said it signals “a looming social crisis in discrimination.”

The survey shows that among 18- to 34-year-olds, LGBT acceptance dropped from 63% in 2016 to 45% in 2018. As Baptist Press reported, the biggest drop from the previous year happened among young women, from 64% in 2017 to 52% in 2018. “But across all three years, the decline was especially noticeable among young males, dropping from 62% in 2016…(to) 35% in 2018.

Young people also registered a rise in discomfort in several specific scenarios: 39% said they would be “very” or “somewhat” uncomfortable learning that their child had been taught a lesson on LGBT history in school, compared with 27% in 2016. And 33% were uncomfortable with their child having an LGBT teacher, up from 25%.

While LGBT acceptance is almost steady among adults age 35 and older, declining support among Millennials may be like the “fist-sized cloud” on the horizon Elijah pointed out, the signal of change to come that, in the current climate, no one imagined possible.

– Eric Reed

By Steve Playl

Declaration of Independence grunge America map flag

Picnics in the park, cookouts with families, visits to historic places, yardwork, parades down Main Street, extravagant pyrotechnic displays!

These are as American as baseball, hot dogs and apple pie and are appropriate ways to celebrate Independence Day. But while celebrating the Fourth and enjoying our present freedoms, may I suggest that we take a look back, then let’s look to the future.

Look back to July 4, 1776, when Thomas Jefferson, assisted by such patriarchs as Ben Franklin and John Adams, completed the final wording of the document presented to the Second Continental Congress, which evolved into the birth certificate of the United States of America.

That document, the Declaration of Independence, was eventually signed by 56 men who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to secure the opportunity for an experiment in democratic government. And it led to the greatest free nation the world has ever seen.

Although the “self-evident truth that all men are created equal” was not yet understood as meaning that all human beings of both genders and all races are equal in the sight of the Creator, the document has become the capstone of freedom for all Americans.

As we celebrate our freedom, let’s remember that it came at a great cost to those who went before us — and that our freedom from sin’s penalty was paid for by our Savior with His divine sacrifice…

Although the meaning of “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” has been misrepresented at times from many different directions, those rights have been fought for, debated and paraded through the streets of this nation for more than 240 years. Some, in the name of tolerance, have insisted that their rights include forcing others to comply with their wishes. Others, insisting on their understanding of “science,” have argued against the reality of a Creator. Many have added their own desires to the list of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Still the Declaration of Independence is one of the greatest human documents ever created, and it represents a magnanimous vision for all — a “land of the free and home of the brave.”

Four score and seven years later, Abraham Lincoln pointed out in his Gettysburg Address that the nation could possibly perish. That speech was made during the deadliest and most devastating war in America’s history. Many wars before and after have cost us dearly in the blood of our sons and daughters, but most of our conflicts have been with “outsiders” and America has been united in battle. The “Civil” War, on the other hand, divided our nation against itself.

Now, two hundred, two score and three years after the states united to declare independence from Great Britain, we find ourselves divided by politics, policies, power struggles, and pride. Too few of our leaders seem willing to sacrifice personal feelings and ideas for the greater good of the masses. While there will never be unanimous agreement on every conviction, surely we can agree to place far greater priority on negotiating with our fellow Americans than negotiating with our avowed enemies.

My prayer is that our precious grandchildren will grow up in an America somewhat like the one where I grew up. With all its faults, it has been the greatest nation throughout all of history.

But if that future is to become reality, more of us must return to the God of our Fathers in repentance, humility, prayer and commitment. We must again become a nation with common sense. We must use the word tolerance as something more than political rhetoric. We must again practice compassion, even while passionately defending differing points of view. And, yes, we must also stand for truth as revealed by our Creator.

As we celebrate our freedom, let’s remember that it came at a great cost to those who went before us — and, all the more, that our freedom from sin’s penalty was paid for by our Savior with His divine sacrifice on the cross, which calls for the most serious of celebrations.

Steve Playl, a retired Baptist pastor, is a chaplain at a Bristol, Tenn., hospital, a newspaper columnist and college instructor. Reprinted from Baptist Press.

Called to comfort

Lisa Misner —  June 27, 2019

By Adron Robinson

Read: 2 Corinthians 1:3–5, ESV

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

One of the amazing things about God is that in his providence, he never wastes anything. God uses every part of our journey in life to conform us into the image of his Son (Romans 8:28-29).

Paul tells the Corinthians that God uses our afflictions as a means for his ministry in us. The Apostle reminds us that when Christians are afflicted, God comforts us. That truth is a blessing to all who face affliction: the Father of mercies, the God of all comfort has promised to minister to us in the midst of our affliction. Truly he is a good, good Father, for he never leaves us or forsakes us.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He tells us that God’s comfort is not for us to keep to ourselves. Like all of his blessings, God intends for us to share with others that which we have received from him. We are called to comfort others with the comfort we have received from God. (Count the number of times “comfort” appears in the three verses in our focal passage.)

Someone near you is facing an affliction that you have been through. God calls you to comfort them with the comfort you received from God. You didn’t think you would make it, but God gave you strength. You felt like giving up, but God gave you endurance. You almost quit, but God gave you a future and hope. Now, share what God has given you with someone in need. You were comforted to be comforter.

Prayer Prompt: God of all comfort and mercies, thank you for always providing what we need and for always being more than enough. Help us, Father, to reflect your love by comforting others with the comfort we have received from you. Amen.

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