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Global missions focus is December 3-10

LMCO Moscow.jpg

GROWING NEED – Moscow now has more Muslims than any other European city. Here, thousands gather for Friday prayers at the city’s Grand Mosque.

Every December since 1888, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has empowered Southern Baptists’ international missions work. This year’s Lottie Moon Offering and Week of Prayer feature people doing difficult work around the world—whether they’re reaching out to Muslims in Russia, starting a new church in Japan, or giving hope to refugees.

Reaching the unreached
When most people think of Russia, they may conjure up images of Romanov royalty, a parade of dictators like Stalin and Lenin or Brezhnev, or maybe cultural icons such as Mikhail Baryshnikov or Dostoyevsky. They don’t think of Muslims.

But Islam is part of the fabric of old Russia—it made it there 66 years before Christianity did. As a result, Muslim groups are indigenous to the North Caucasus region, an area between the Black and Caspian Seas situated on northern slopes of the mountain range that generally separates Europe from Asia. These people groups include 45 to 50 subsets of people and even more languages, making them very difficult to reach.

However many of them are moving into Moscow, Russia’s capital, which now has more Muslims than any other European city. Its newly reopened Grand Mosque can hold 10,000 worshippers.

“God says, ‘If you can’t go to them, I’ll bring them to you,’” said Elizabeth*, a Christian worker among Muslims in Moscow. “There’s no better time to be in the former Soviet Union. God is moving Muslims right under our noses.”

Seeing the impossible
International Mission Board missionaries Jared and Tara Jones knew that God could do a lot with something little. But they never imagined just how many doors he would open through their adopted infant son, Ezra.

In the East Asian country, 40,000 children live in orphanages, but parents rarely give up their rights so that a child can be adopted. But the Joneses knew God had placed a baby on their hearts, and they prayed. “We serve a God who makes doors where doors don’t exist,” Jared said. “And this little guy gives us multiple opportunities to talk about the Lord.”

Their son’s pediatrician was the key to another door—a church plant they had been praying about for years. One day, the doctor told Tara out of the blue that she wanted to start a church at her office and asked if Jared could lead it. Tara described it as a divine appointment. The first Sunday 70 people came. They’ve seen hearts changed and people keep coming.

Remembering the forgotten
Don Alan* says he remembers a refugee telling him once that he didn’t feel alive, but he wasn’t dead either—he was somewhere in between.

“Hopelessness is a universal feeling among refugees,” Don said. “They feel forgotten.” That’s why International Mission Board missionaries like Don, who serves in North Africa and the Middle East, and Seth Payton*, who works with refugees in Europe, spend their lives taking hope into those hopeless places.

“Refugees come to Europe looking for a better life, and many times they find nothing,” Seth said. Often, they’ve paid traffickers a high price for a long, miserable trip across the desert and then a dangerous boat ride across the Mediterranean Sea. If they make it alive, then they often can’t get jobs. They spend their days scrounging for food and their nights packed into an apartment with 15 other people.

“We pray that through this time God will open their hearts and draw them into his kingdom through the hope that he offers,” Seth said. “Hundreds of refugees from closed countries are becoming believers in Europe. So there are great things happening in the midst of a heartbreaking situation.”

Go to IMB.org/lottie-moon-christmas-offering for videos, stories, photos, and prayer requests for each day of the Week of Prayer for International Missions.

*Names changed.

– From IMB.org

 

 

Why Chicago?

ib2newseditor —  December 7, 2017 — Leave a comment

chicago-cloud-sculpture

We may not verbalize the “why” question with the persistence of a young child, but we still look for a reason or substantial meaning when called to some action.

Through more than a dozen years in church planting, I’ve heard the “why” question. When a family gave five acres for a new church property to a local association in eastern North Carolina, many in nearby churches asked why, even as their buildings were nowhere near filling their seating capacity.

When I planted a church in Buckeye, Ariz., the North Carolina churches I invited to partner with us often wondered why they should care about planting a church in a community 2,000 or more miles away.

For nearly four years now, I have had the privilege of living in Chicago. During that time, I have mentored, coached and challenged many church planters here. I’ve also invited churches in more than a dozen states to get engaged in supporting church plants here in Chicago with prayer, action and finances.

“Why Chicago?” some ask, jesting, “Why not Hawaii? That would be a great mission trip!”

Yet there are three key answers:

The first reason is biblical. In Luke’s account of the Great Commission in Acts 1:8, Jesus tells His disciples and us, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (CSB).

No matter where you live, major metropolitan areas like Chicago are located between you and “the end of the earth.” And frankly, because of political views and sensationalized news, Chicago in particular is to many in southern Illinois and elsewhere what Samaria was to the Jews: a place and people we’ve been trained or conditioned to dislike or even hate. Yet, even if it is Samaria to Christians, it’s a place and people to which Jesus has sent us to bear witness of Him and His Good News.

The second reason is practical. Cities like Chicago have, from their earliest settlement, become a home for immigrant people groups — many that are identified as “unreached and unengaged” by the International Mission Board.

Because of technology and ease of global travel from America’s major cities, many immigrants maintain a reach to and influence in their homelands. So, effectively evangelizing and discipling people in a city like Chicago gives us a reach into many parts of the world, including most of the peoples in the 10/40 window, a region between the 10th and 40th parallels across Africa and Asia where most of the people who have never heard the Gospel live.

Reaching Chicago and other metropolitan areas with the Gospel could bring a significant advance toward the global evangelization that Jesus promised in Matthew 24:14.

The final answer to “Why Chicago?” is missiological. Chicago is sometimes called the “most segregated city in America.” And while that is changing in some of the neighborhoods of the city, people groups are usually heavily concentrated in certain areas. Poles are heavily concentrated in the northwest neighborhoods and nearby suburbs. Chinatown, as you might guess, is home to mostly Chinese people, many of them still speaking Mandarin or Cantonese. Pakistanis are clustered along Devon Avenue in the northern part of the city. Professional millennials make up two-thirds of the population in the West Loop. Wicker Park is the epicenter of the hipsters.

High concentrations of people groups in a specific place give us a missiological advantage in reaching them. Even if it is a cross-culturally gifted southern boy and his family living among south Asian immigrants, winning one or two to Jesus could result in dozens who live nearby coming to faith in Christ. Given their close proximity to each other, bringing them together to a form a new church can happen very naturally.

While it may not be unique, Chicago is rare in giving us three good reasons to seize the opportunities for the Gospel that lie within our reach.

Dennis Conner directs IBSA church planting efforts in northeast Illinois. Beginning Jan. 1, Conner will transition to planting a church in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood. This article first appeared in the Illinois Baptist and has been republished by Baptist Press.

Editor’s note: The 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation collided with the reality that there are still martyrs today. Ron F. Hale, a former IBSA director of evangelism, examines the Anabaptist movement that catalyzed a second Reformation of sorts, and gives Baptists another piece of their spiritual heritage.

Balthasar_Hubmaier

Dr. Balthasar Hübmaier of Friedberg

On the heels of the Reformation came the Radical Reformers, who questioned everything that didn’t have scriptural authority. Infant baptism and the observance of Mass caused the greatest angst for Anabaptists. And like shooting stars against the backdrop of the Dark Ages, many forces came forth to snuff out these bright lights.

Sixteenth-century Anabaptists were put to death by state-church authorities as they launched the most revolutionary act of the Reformation. Thousands died—burned at the stake, drowned in the rivers of Europe, run through with swords, or starved in putrid prisons.

The wheels of this revolution began turning as young intellectuals gathered around the Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli in serious study of the Greek New Testament. Some of the young theologians became convinced that Zwingli and others lacked sufficient reforms in purifying the church and recovering New Testament practices.

In all this Reformation talk, don’t forget the Anabaptists.

On the evening of Jan. 21, 1525, several men who became known as the Swiss Brethren met without Zwingli in the home of Felix Manz in Zürich. After earnest prayer, George Blaurock (a Catholic priest) begged Conrad Grebel to baptize him with true Christian baptism upon his confession of faith in Jesus.

After Blaurock received his own baptism, he baptized the others as they came humbly, promising God and each other to live separated from the world and to preach the gospel. The next morning, these young men hit the streets preaching and baptizing new believers as they boldly lived out the Great Commission of Jesus.

Thousands executed
The Zurich council vigorously suppressed this movement and established an ordinance that the teaching or preaching of Anabaptism was against the law. The radicals were derisively labeled “re-baptizers.”

Withholding your baby from the baptism font or re-baptizing citizens upon their profession of faith became illegal. Sam Storms, a pastor and former professor at Wheaton College, indicates that more than 5,000 Anabaptists were executed in Switzerland by 1535.

Felix Manz was the first person to be executed from the tiny group that met in his home on that historic night. With the support of Zwingli, Manz was taken from the Wallenberg prison tower on a cold winter day. He was taken to the fish market by the Limmat River to be read his death sentence. He was forced into a boat and escorted to a little hut in the middle of the river by a pastor and his executioner. Felix Manz was shackled and pulled from the top of the fishing hut, disappearing into his watery grave.

George Blaurock, the first to be baptized that fateful night, was later burned at the stake on Sept. 6, 1529, in Klassen (now Austria), after winning and baptizing hundreds to Christ.

The movement continues
The Anabaptist movement would grow to be important beyond the issues of Mass and infant baptism. It became a new paradigm of doing church. The old parish concept of every baby being baptized as a new member of the church was being replaced by a “free church” model where only those mature enough to confess Christ as Lord and follow him in believer’s baptism would be regenerate members of the local church. These members would observe the Lord’s Supper as a memorial meal without sacramental and medieval trappings.

Michael Sattler became important to the movement as the writer of the Seven Articles, the first Anabaptist declaration of faith. The articles, now referred to as the Schleitheim Confession of Faith, became widely circulated and accepted. However, Sattler became a marked man.

On May 20, 1527, he was tortured prior to being burned at the stake. A part of his tongue was cut out, his flesh was burned with red-hot tongs. His faithful wife, Margaretha, was drowned eight days later.

Sola Scriptura…
If biblical authority was the major issue between Magisterial Reformers (those associated with Martin Luther and John Calvin) and the Roman Catholics, believers’ baptism became that between the Anabaptists and the Magisterial Reformers. Anabaptist historian William Estep said, “Believers’ baptism was for the Anabaptists the logical implementation of the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura.”

Dr. Balthasar Hübmaier of Friedberg became the ablest defender of the Anabaptist position on believers-only baptism in the 16th century. Estep called him the Simon Peter of early Anabaptists.

Hübmaier saw that the regenerate nature of the church presupposes a certain degree of maturity, personal faith, and volition. Since infants cannot confess sins and believe, then infant baptism had to be dismissed as unscriptural. Since neither John [the Baptist], Jesus, nor the apostles taught or practiced infant baptism, Hübmaier never tired of denouncing this practice. He saw no saving power in church water. Nor could he find any New Testament evidence of a godfather or spiritual sponsor being able to believe for the infant undergoing baptism.

Hübmaier and his wife were martyred in Vienna in 1528. Baptists owe a debt of gratitude to them and other Anabaptists who stood firmly—even unto death—on Scripture, rather than church tradition, as the final authority on matters of faith and practice.

Ron F. Hale has served as a Southern Baptist pastor, denominational leader, and religion writer. He currently ministers on the pastoral staff of a local SBC congregation in his hometown of Jackson, Tenn.

Thanks for everything on blackboard

There are a few verses that most Christ followers at least sort of know by heart. Verses like John 3:16. Or Hebrews 11:1. Or this one:

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

It’s a strange passage coming from someone like the apostle Paul. He’s been bitten by snakes, shipwrecked, beaten within an inch of his life on numerous occasions, abandoned by his friends on some occasions, maligned by people he cared about on others. And yet, Paul stresses the obedience of joy and thankfulness almost as much as he stresses grace and faith.

And make no mistake—it is an issue of obedience. Often we think of joy and gratitude in the realm of feelings. Either we feel joyful or thankful, or we don’t. When we feel it, we do it. But obedience doesn’t work that way.

Obedience is doing regardless of whether you’re feeling. Thankfully, as we grow in Christ, we find the Lord not only bringing about in us the correct actions but also the correct feelings that come alongside those actions. But until we are made right and whole again, it is left to us to give ourselves to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit by continuing to do, even (and perhaps most especially) when we do not feel.

So, your gratitude—just like mine—is not a question of whether you feel thankful, but whether you are willing to obey this command from the Lord.

But there is another issue here to examine during this season set aside for giving thanks—whether there is a difference between giving thanks IN all circumstances and giving thanks FOR all circumstances.

Gratitude isn’t a matter of how we feel in the moment, but a measure of our obedience.

If there is, it means that no matter what situation you find yourself in, there is always something to be thankful for. You may not be thankful for the suffering, the pain, the hardship or the persecution, but there are other things to lift your heart. When you consider everything that the Lord is, all that he continues to do in the world, and the next world waiting for the believer, there are plenty of reasons to say “thanks,” no matter what happens to be going on.

If there’s not a difference, it means you believe that every circumstance, regardless of how devastating or marvelous, has come from God. And since you know that God is for you, not against you, then you can be thankful for the circumstance, even if you are doing so in faith. You are thankful because you believe that ultimately good will come of it.

I think people love Jesus and believe both of these things. And at the end of the day, both sets of believers are thankful.

In my own life, I have seen how, over time, you become more thankful “for.” Over time, and with perspective, you begin to see the invisible hand of God moving in times that, in the moment, you could not see. You begin to reflect on God’s providential care and love and wisdom even when he may have seemed so significantly absent. You see how he has shaped you and guided you into a deeper experience of Jesus. And so, over time, you become thankful “for.”

To bring it full circle, notice that the command here is to give thanks in all circumstances. That’s what you can do right now, even if you don’t feel like it. You can practice the discipline of gratitude, finding the grace of God, in general and in particular, at work in your life.

But as you do that, think back a bit. Think back to those moments when you thought you would never have another reason to feel thankful again. Think back, and then look and see the redemptive hand of God at work because of those times. And maybe this is the year that you are not only obediently thankful in, but also being thankful for.

Michael Kelley is director of groups ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources. He is on Twitter at @_michaelkelley and online at michaelkelley.com, where this article first appeared.

– From Baptist Press

The real first Thanksgiving

ib2newseditor —  November 22, 2017
The_First_Thanksgiving_Jean_Louis_Gerome_Ferris

The First Thanksgiving Jean Louis Gerome Ferris (Public domain)

Images from the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving Day feast are easy to call to mind—black hats, wide white collars, Native American guests, and an idyllic feast bringing together two very different cultures. But historian Robert Tracy McKenzie—along with others in his field—say that many of those images are, to put it simply, not true.

The Pilgrims often wore bright colors, for example. And while the 1621 feast did include Native Americans, the dynamic between the two groups was likely tense.

McKenzie, chair of the history department at Wheaton College, explores the Pilgrims’ journey from England to Holland to America in his 2013 book “The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History.”

The Pilgrims, he writes, wouldn’t have been given to celebrating very many holy days. This set them apart from the Catholic and Anglican Churches. Aside from a weekly Sabbath, the Pilgrims had two distinct reasons to call for a holy day: a day of humiliation and fasting, and a day of thanksgiving.

Both happened in 1623, as new settlers arrived while the existing colonists were already struggling to survive. Food was scarce, and now there were more mouths to feed. And on top of all that, McKenzie writes, they faced a two-month drought that summer.

The Pilgrims called a day of humiliation “to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer.” They prayed for eight or nine hours, McKenzie writes, during which the sky became overcast. Then, it rained for the next 14 days.

And then the Pilgrims saw reason for another holy day—a day of thanksgiving. McKenzie writes this particular day was very different from what we traditionally think of as the first Thanksgiving, which historians generally consider to have been a kind of harvest festival. The real first Thanksgiving, he says, was “called to acknowledge a very specific, extraordinary blessing from the Lord.”

The current vestiges of Thanksgiving Day celebrations are very different than what the Pilgrims embraced, McKenzie says. “In their view, an annual Thanksgiving taught human conceit and divine predictability and could easily degenerate into a meaningless ritual that reduced God’s provision for human news to his creation of the crop cycle.

“By observing Thanksgiving irregularly, on the other hand…the Pilgrims reminded one another to look with expectancy for God’s ongoing, direct intervention in every aspect of their lives.”

– The First Thanksgiving (IVP Academic, 2013)

Blue abstract background with white spot light, abstract tropica

With less than one-sixth left of 2017, unless there’s a drastic turnaround, the year likely won’t be remembered as one of the country’s best. Devastating hurricanes. Political gridlock. The worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The headlines have only gotten bleaker as the year has worn on. And the year’s not over yet.

A new survey on what Americans fear the most paints a picture of how the year has taken a toll on lots of people. Almost 75% of Americans are afraid or very afraid of corrupt government officials, according to Chapman University’s annual survey. That topped the list last year too, but was the only fear expressed by more than half of respondents. This year, five fears were held by a majority, including the new healthcare plan, pollution, and not having enough money for the future.

Things are difficult, and people are scared. Scanning the headlines or, more likely, scrolling through a news feed, doesn’t help either. The current climate is such that as our team brainstormed how to write about Thanksgiving this year, we couldn’t come up with much of a fresh angle. Certainly, we have a lot to be thankful for; as Americans, we know that’s true. But with the din of the constant news cycle perpetually in our ears, it can be difficult to pinpoint the bright spots in an otherwise dreary year.

Perhaps that’s why a Friday conversation with an Illinois pastor’s wife was so refreshing. Jane Miller and her husband, Larry, have been part of Shiloh Baptist Church in Villa Ridge for nearly 33 years. Jane answered our call that Friday afternoon for information about the church’s recent 200th anniversary, but ended up sharing some unexpected hope too.

She talked about how she and Larry have developed deep friendships with the people in their church over the years. How he has mowed yards when some of their church members haven’t been able to do it themselves. That he keeps the church refrigerator stocked with eggs from the chickens he keeps. Every off-hand reference she made to their church and their ministry told the story of people who have put down roots in a community and are committed to each other.

That’s hopeful.

So, too, is a group of kids waiting—beach towels over their arms—to be baptized at Stonefort Missionary Baptist Church.

Perhaps it’s because the year has been so murky that these bright spots, which might have been overlooked in the past, shine even brighter. As we approach a season focused on giving thanks, may we be grateful for the little things that remind us of God’s goodness and provision, in this year and every other.

-MDF

red leaves church steeple

This past June, Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines put together a task force charged with recommending how we might deal with the alarming decline in baptisms in our Convention. What a daunting task it is. Baptisms have declined precipitously for the past 17 years. We have gone from more than 400,000 baptisms per year, to less than 300,000. The needs in America are greater than ever, but our effectiveness in meeting those needs has plunged. This ought to greatly concern all of us who care about the Great Commission and this land in which we live.

The task force’s first meeting, held at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, was both disquieting and encouraging. We stared the terrible problem of lostness in the teeth. It is daunting. But we prayed long and hard to the God who is greater than our problems. Dr. Paige Patterson, chair of our group, called us to prolonged periods of prayer and seeking the Lord’s guidance. The Lord’s power and direction, after all, is what we most need. These times of prayer were so refreshing to my soul.

We heard from all the members of the task force—and there are some outstanding people on this team. Each member spoke about some aspect of evangelism. I was moved by their passion and insight and clarity. We began the process of thinking through what might be recommended to our churches at the convention next June. Subsequent meetings will begin to hone in on those possible recommendations more directly.

The SBC’s Evangelism Task Force has a big challenge: Helping churches recapture their evangelistic zeal.

Two things have become crystal clear to me. I speak for no one on the task force but myself, but these two things seem obvious to me. First, we have lost our focus on leading people to faith in Jesus Christ. Second, we need a renewed passion for evangelism. I will give my thoughts briefly to each:

1. We have lost our focus on leading people to faith in Jesus Christ. Evangelism is hard. It takes work and effort and intentionality. It doesn’t happen without commitment to it. Evangelism, it seems, is the first thing that goes when a church faces controversy or problems or challenges. It doesn’t happen unless it is a concerted focus in our lives and churches.

Dr. Gaines uses the term “soul winning.” It comes from the Bible passage I learned in the old KJV as a boy: “He that winneth souls is wise.” We don’t hear that term so often anymore. Come to think of it, we don’t hear about evangelism in any form as much anymore. We are far more likely to hear about church planting or discipleship or worship—all good and important things. But evangelism is spoken of less often in our Baptist circles, it seems to me.

I know this in my own life: If sharing the gospel is not high on my radar it is not practiced in my life. I can fill my life with meetings and sermon preparation and dealing with a myriad of problems. And, if I am not conscious about it, I can forget about sharing the gospel with those around me. Somehow, evangelism must again become a focus of my church and your church, of my life and your life.

2. We need a renewed passion for evangelism. Passion is a powerful force. Passion changes our thoughts, our dreams, and our actions. It changes our lives and it changes our churches. Let’s get passionate about sharing the message of the gospel. Let’s get passionate about seeing lost people saved. Let’s be so passionate about evangelism that it changes our thoughts, our dreams, and our actions.

I want more passion for evangelism in my personal life and in my church family. As a pastor, I want my church to know that I am sharing my faith and I want my church members to join me in sharing the gospel. Without evangelistic passion, we will just go about the routine business of the church without doing the primary business of the church!

Perhaps that passion will show itself in strategic decisions or training programs or events. But passion always makes a difference. Let’s pray for more evangelistic passion personally and corporately.

Will you pray for the Evangelism Task Force when you think of it? It will take a work of God to turn our Convention to greater effectiveness. But by God’s power we can see that change made. My prayer is that God will use our group toward that end.

Doug Munton is pastor of First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, and a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.