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Dutch Christians face opposition over statement on biblical sexuality
Christian leaders in the Netherlands are facing backlash over a statement affirming biblical sexuality, Baptist Press reported late last week. The Nashville Statement, released in 2017 by U.S. evangelicals including the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in part affirms “that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”

In the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage was legalized in 2001, signers of the statement have been threatened with criminal prosecution, BP reported.

Harvest Church to drop lawsuit
Harvest Bible Chapel announced plans to drop a lawsuit against a reporter and a group of bloggers who released reports of mismanagement and poor leadership at the Chicagoland megachurch. Harvest and Pastor James MacDonald claimed defamation when they sued reporter Julie Roys and the team behind “The Elephant’s Debt” last October. Earlier this month, a judge denied the church’s attempt to keep subpoenaed documents private, Christianity Today reported.

MacDonald was scheduled to preach at the 2019 SBC Pastors’ Conference this June, but withdrew in December.

Dockery to lead Missouri university’s theology evaluation
A Southern Baptist university in Missouri will undergo an evaluation to ensure its “theological integrity is intact,” The Christian Post reported Jan. 11. Students at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar have protested the dismissal of Professor Clint Bass, who was fired after expressing concern over some faculty members’ theological views. SBU told The Christian Post it had intended to have conversations on theology in fall of 2019, but Bass’s dismissal and the public fallout moved up the timeline.

The theology review at the university, which is affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, will be led by David Dockery, president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill.

Hurricane relief continues in new year
Disaster Relief efforts in Florida and North Carolina are ongoing, Baptist Press reported Jan. 8, in response to 2018’s Hurricanes Michael and Florence. Teams are continuing to serve in affected areas, and plans are underway for college students to join the response during spring break. More information is available at SendRelief.org/GenSend.

Barna releases new insights on pastors and their work
Almost three-fourths of pastors feel content with their role, Barna reports, but more than half had another career before going into ministry. And a quarter another job in addition to their work as a pastor.

Governor J.B. Pritzker and a slate of other leaders were sworn in today in Springfield, signaling what many supporters have called “a new day” for Illinois. At a prayer service at historic First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, where Abraham Lincoln and his family once worshiped, Pritzker and five other constitutional officers were prayed over by their own spiritual leaders to start their terms of service in Illinois.

Under the church’s towering stained glass windows, faith leaders also read passages from the Bible and the Quran, and talked about the principles held closest by people who practice their faith traditions. They spoke of justice and mercy, ideals Pritzker talked about when discussing his own Jewish faith and upbringing in an interview last summer.

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Rabbi Seth M. Limmer prays for Gov. J.B. Pritzker (right) at a service prior to his inauguration.

They celebrated the leaders who were elected in November, and spoke hopefully of how their service will benefit the people of Illinois. The crowd packed into wooden pews cheered Springfield pastor T. Ray McJunkins’ optimistic message with its refrain of “the best is yet to come.” The prayer service was a good way to start inauguration day, many would say later.

As I sat in the sanctuary, my thoughts turned to people of faith who weren’t represented on the platform. How should members of our Illinois Baptist churches engage with an administration whose views on many issues undoubtedly run counter to their own? We’ll cover that topic in a longer story in the Jan. 21 issue of the Illinois Baptist, but for now, I can say I left the prayer meeting hopeful.

My hope isn’t based on political agendas or the current administration’s position on specific issues—indeed, I disagree with more than I agree with in those areas. Rather, my hope stems from wisdom I heard while reporting on Gov. Pritzker’s inauguration: Real victory doesn’t rely on political victory. As Southeastern Seminary’s Bruce Ashford told me, “We do what we do out of witness and obedience, and not because we have to win.”

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Gov. Pritzker and his family are introduced at the inauguration ceremony in Springfield.

Lieutenant Gov. Juliana Stratton said something similar after her swearing-in today. Community building is done when we put our own self-interests on hold, she said, and commit to working side-by-side. Even when it’s hard.

While I wasn’t necessarily represented on the platform today, I did hear the call to engage the process even when my side isn’t winning. That reminder was a good way to start inauguration day.

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

 

 

Gallup poll finds low expectations for global peace
70% of Americans expect 2019 to be “a troubled year with much international discord,” according to Gallup data collected in December. Hopes are higher for economic prosperity and employment, but the nation’s political system received a gloomy forecast from many respondents. 89% predicted a year of conflict, while only 11% foresaw a year of cooperation.

Bible app gets 1 million subscriptions on New Year’s Day
The YouVersion Bible app’s Bible-reading plans got more than one million new subscriptions to start the new year, The Christian Post reported. The app offers more than 13,000 reading plans, including some offered in 1,000 languages other than English.

Greear launches evangelism emphasis with local associations
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear will work with local associations of Southern Baptist churches to implement a focus on personal evangelism in 2019. “Who’s Your One?” is an initiative to encourage every Southern Baptist to share the gospel with one person this year. Greear will introduce the emphasis to his own local association—Yates Baptist Association—at a Jan. 31 simulcast available to associations across the country. More information is forthcoming at sbcassociations.org.

Third gender option legal in New York City, California
The nation’s most populous city and state now allow people to choose a “third gender,” often designated by X on legal documents. New York City and California join Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington State, and Washington, D.C., as places that allow a non-binary gender option for people who believe they are neither male nor female.

Passion attenders raise money for deaf Bible translations
Young people at this year’s Passion conference gave $450,000 toward translating New Testament stories in sign languages used in 16 countries. The Deaf Bible Society reports only 2% of deaf people around the world have been introduced to the gospel, and that there is no Bible translation for at least 95% of more than 400 unique sign languages used globally.

Two watches

Lisa Misner —  January 3, 2019

WatchesBy Nate Adams

This past year, my sons convinced my wife that I needed a new watch. Frankly, that idea hadn’t occurred to me, because I already have a nice watch, one that has worked well for over 20 years. It’s also meaningful to me because it was a parting gift from friends at one of my previous employers.

In fact, to be honest, I really like my old watch. It’s wound by pendulum action, so it doesn’t need a battery. It has an easy-to-read face, allowing me to glance at it quickly during meetings, or sermons, which most people seem to appreciate. And it has the date right on it. What else would you want from a watch?

What else indeed! My new Apple watch does so much more than tell me the time and date. It reports how many calories I’ve burned that day, how many minutes I’ve exercised, even how many times I’ve stood up. It precisely describes the current weather conditions, and forecasts them for the future, wherever I am. It knows the time the sun will rise and set each day, and all about the latest news events. It displays my favorite photos, and with the press of a button it makes available dozens of other apps connected to my phone or computer.

When I set exercise goals or appointments or reminders, my watch vibrates or beeps and tells me what to do. Sometimes while I am sitting in a meeting it tells me I’ve been sitting too long and should stand up. So I do. When people ask me why, I now just say, “Because I work for my watch.”

These gifts are teaching me to appreciate the past and the present.

My new watch has also presented me with a challenge, however. After replacing my pendulum watch with my fancy new watch for a few days, I discovered that my old watch had stopped, and I couldn’t get it started again. The jeweler who repaired it told me that he couldn’t promise it would keep running, if I kept letting it wind down.

Some people would probably solve that problem by putting the old watch in a drawer and letting it become a relic, a memento of times past. But I’m not ready for my old watch to stop serving me, or reminding me of the people who gave it to me. So now, not every day, but every couple of days or in the evenings, I wear two watches, one on my left wrist and one on my right. It’s become kind of a conversation starter.

Since beginning that routine, I have started to ponder how much my dual watch situation represents an important reality in today’s churches. In practically every church, there is an older generation of leaders who have served well, and who can continue to serve well. And often, though not always, there is also a new generation of leaders with the same core beliefs and dedication to the church, but with new tastes in music, new needs and preferences, new skills in technology, and new ideas about reaching their generation with the gospel.

Wise pastors and mature church leaders learn to value both generations, and all they have to offer today’s churches. They don’t scorn new ideas and methods simply because the old ones still work just fine. But neither do they discard the old ways simply because some new style or preference comes along.

Sadly, that’s not always the case. It seems more churches are unwilling to learn the new than are discarding or devaluing the old. But a healthy church with a bright future will learn to value and utilize both generations, side by side, as I have my two watches.

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

Briefing

China’s church persecution grows
Chinese Communist authorities reportedly raided a children’s Bible class Dec. 15, shutting down one of China’s leading underground church and confiscating 4,000 books. The latest raid became the third prominent Protestant unregistered church to be closed by officials this season. Those arrested are being beaten, tortured and denied food and restroom accommodations according to Southeast Asia’s regional manager for International Christian Concern.

Related:
Many leaders of Early Rain Covenant Church counted the cost and pledged faithfulness in advance of arrests at homes, workplaces and on the streets that have continued since Dec. 9. The church’s pastor and elder wrote letters to their congregation saying, “We will not bend, even if it means jail, even if it means death. We will continue to preserve our faith.”

Pakistan ousts aid groups, World Vision
Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country known for persecuting religious minorities, has expelled 18 aid organizations from its country, including World Vision and other Christian groups. The expulsions will affect more than 11 million aid recipients in the country suffering in healthcare and education, entailing an estimated loss of more than $130 million in annual aid, the Associated Press reported.

Egypt approves 168 churches
Egyptian Christians now have an additional 168 legal church buildings. Prior to a new law passed in August 2016, churches faced an arduous task to secure recognition by the government. On November 30, a cabinet committee approved the requests of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic churches to formally register facilities that have functioned as centers of worship. “I am pleased,” said Andrea Zaki, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt. “The process has been slow in the beginning, but I think going forward it will be better.”

MO town keeps Christmas cross despite atheists’ warning
A town in Christian County, Missouri, has reversed its decision to take down an illuminated cross from its Holiday display at Finley River Park. Many residents voiced their outrage when, under pressure from an atheist legal group, the city of Ozark announced Dec. 11 that it would no longer include the blue-lit cross in its Christmas light display. The town, however, reversed its decision and assured residents the cross will continue to be part of the holiday display as the city looks into the atheist group’s legal claims.

Survey: Americans want more Christ in Christmas
Most Americans want more religious meaning to the Christmas season. A new study from LifeWay Research found 65% of Americans say, “Christmas should be more about Jesus.” However, those looking for more Christ in Christmas this year are significantly fewer than 2014 when LifeWay Research found 79 percent of Americans at that time said Christmas should be more about Jesus.

Sources: Christian Post (2), BP News (3), Christianity Today

Briefing

2018’s top Bible verse
According to the world’s most downloaded Bible app, YouVersion, the most popular Bible verse of 2018 is found in the Old Testament. Isaiah 41:10’s “Do not fear…” verse was shared, bookmarked, and highlighted more than any other passage by hundreds of millions of YouVersion users. 

Congress approves aid for religious minorities
Persecuted religious minorities victimized by Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria are now set to get some relief from the U.S. government. Congress unanimously passed a law designed to provide aid to Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims, and other religious minorities that underwent displacement and genocide at the hands of ISIS.

Evangelical church sees highest giving since 2014
Evangelical churches saw an increase in giving of almost 6% in 2017, the highest increase since 2014, according to a new report by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. ECFA President Dan Busby said in a statement that he was “so pleased to see this increased support for Christ-centered churches and ministries.”

Ill. town cancels trip to Ark after complaints
An Illinois town canceled a trip to KY’s Creation Museum and Ark Encounter after an atheist group filed a complaint. Charleston’s parks and recreation department cancelled the trip for its community after the atheist group argued that the trip violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

School district faces pressure over nativity display
A Michigan civil rights group is threatening to sue the Newaygo Public School District if they do not remove a Wise Men display from an elementary school building, citing it to be a violation of the US Constitution. Most citizens of the small Michigan town, however, support keeping the display, which has been part of Newaygo’s Christmas tradition since the 1940s.

Sources: Christianity Today, World, Christian Post (2), CBN News

Puerto Rico Convention’s annual meeting highlights new churches
Southern Baptists in Puerto Rico celebrated nine new churches gained in the year since Hurricane Maria at their annual meeting in November. The meeting of the Convención de Iglesias Bautistas del Sur de Puerto Rico (Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in Puerto Rico) was the first since 2016. Last year, Hurricane Maria and its aftermath cut church attendance in Puerto Rico by one-third, Baptist Press reported.

With the new churches, there are now about 80 Southern Baptist congregations in Puerto Rico. Illinois Baptists will work with church planters in the U.S. territory through two mission trips planned for 2019.

SBC President issues Lottie Moon challenge
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear pledged to perform a stunt if the 2018 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions reaches $170 million. So far, suggestions on social media include wearing a mullet at the 2019 SBC annual meeting, or arm wrestling newly elected International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood.

At Liberty University, First Lady addresses opioid crisis
First Lady Melania Trump spoke at Liberty University in Virginia Nov. 28 about the country’s opioid crisis. “I know college is a time to build your independence, experience things on your own terms and make decisions on your own behalf,” Trump told students at the Baptist university. “I am here to remind you that some of those decisions, though they may seem minor at the time, could negatively impact you for the rest of your lives.”

Chau assisted by American evangelicals, officials say
New details have emerged in the death of John Allen Chau, the missionary who died last month while trying to share the gospel with people on North Sentinel island in the Bay of Bengal. The Christian Post reports Indian police now say they believe two American evangelicals helped Chau reach the island, where he is believed to have been shot to death by arrows Nov. 17.

Majority of Protestant churchgoers don’t drink, but the number who do is rising
LifeWay Research found 41% of Protestant churchgoers drink alcohol, up from 39% in 2007. And while the vast majority say the Bible teaches against drunkenness, more than half also say Scripture indicates all beverages, including alcohol, can be consumed without sin.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christian Post, LifeWay Research