Archives For Bible

Old Holy Bible and the American Flag

As we approach July 4th, many pastors preach about Christians in America repenting of sin and turning back to the Lord so that He will bless His churches. One text they often use is 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NASB):

“[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Is that an appropriate application of this text?

To be clear, these are God’s words spoken to Solomon, King of Israel. Likewise, the “land” referred to was the land of Israel. When the Israelites sinned against the Lord, He would send the plagues mentioned in verse 13. But if they responded by humbling themselves, praying, seeking God’s face and turning from their wicked ways, God would hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land.

Can Christians in America find any appropriate application from this text?

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB), “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The word “Scripture” in this text referred to Old Testament Scripture. That would include 2 Chronicles 7:14, rightly interpreted.

Likewise, when the apostle Paul cited Old Testament examples of rebellion in Israel’s history that prompted God’s punishment, he noted that they also served as warnings for Christians living under the new covenant. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 (NASB), “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”

Is America Israel? No. Is God an American? No. But can warnings and promises to God’s people in the Old Testament be applied to Christians today? Absolutely.

Regarding 2 Chronicles 7:14, it is very appropriate for any Christian to obey the spirit of this text by endeavoring to humble himself or herself, pray, seek God’s face and turn from wicked ways, trusting that God will hear, forgive and heal.

The apostle Peter, speaking to a group of first-century Christians, said this: “For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God” (1 Peter 2:10 NASB). Today, followers of Jesus are God’s people. Christians are those who are “called by [His] name.” Therefore, it is appropriate that we apply the timeless truths of 2 Chronicles 7:14. How suitable for all Christians in America, and in any other nation, to humble ourselves, pray, seek the Lord’s face and turn from our wicked ways, asking Him to graciously hear from heaven, forgive our sin and bring spiritual healing to the ailing, impotent churches in our land.

In 2 Chronicles 7:14, we note three precepts that are consistently called for by God throughout Scripture: humility, hunger and holiness.

The first requirement for such spiritual healing is humility. “[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves.” It is always good for Christians to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). God will share His glory with no one because God alone can handle His glory. Every redeemed human being should give all glory to Jesus for salvation and every benefit it brings.

Frankly, modern Christianity is marked by far too much arrogance and condescension. For instance, all of us need to use great caution and wise deliberation when posting on social media. The Bible says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29 NASB). The word “unwholesome” is the Greek word sapros, meaning “rotten.” Here it refers to speech that is likened to “garbage” or “trash.” Frankly, there is too much “trash-talk” on social media. Humility is always becoming in any child of God.

The second requirement for spiritual healing is hunger. We see it in 2 Chronicles 7:14 in the words: “(If) My people who are called by My name … pray and seek My face.” Jesus urged His followers to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6 NASB). All Christians in America — and other nations — would do well to increase our hunger for godliness. We should taste and see that the Lord Jesus is good (cf. Psalm 34:8).

The final requirement for spiritual healing is holiness. “[If] My people who are called by My name … turn from their wicked ways.” Holiness comes by means of repenting from sin. Repentance means to confess our sins and turn away from them. That leads to true holiness.

These three emphases from 2 Chronicles 7:14 — humility, hunger and holiness — are much needed among Christians today, whether we live in America or not. Just because 2 Chronicles 7:14 was not written to Americans does not mean that Christians in America cannot benefit from its admonitions by obeying its precepts. Again, “all Scripture is profitable.” The warnings in the Old Testament “were written for our instruction.”

Many Christians in America are praying for a fresh spiritual awakening and revival among those of us who know Jesus Christ. I for one am praying for American Christians to embrace genuine humility, hunger and holiness. I am also praying that the Lord will graciously see fit to hear from heaven, forgive our sin, and send His much-needed healing.

When I think of it that way, I don’t know of a verse in the Bible that serves as a better guide for praying for revival than 2 Chronicles 7:14.

–Steve Gaines is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church. This column originally appeared at BPnews.net.

The Briefing

Immigration raids target Iraqi-American Christians
Chicago’s Iraqi immigrant community is bracing for raids by U.S. immigration officers after witnessing a sweep in Detroit, where federal agents rounded up more than 100 Iraqis, most of them Christians, and sent them to a detention center in Ohio, pending deportation. Federal agents took Detroit’s Iraqi-American community by surprise, showing up at a Chaldean church during Mass, at restaurants frequented by the Iraqi Chaldean community, and at homes bearing orders to arrest and deport residents.

Baptists deny CSB translation is ‘gender neutral’
Conservative Christian groups and intellectuals are rejecting a recent claim that the latest version of the Christian Standard Bible has been edited to be more “gender neutral.” The Atlantic published a piece on Sunday that claimed that the theologically conservative Southern Baptist Convention was embracing a more gender-neutral version of the Bible.

SBC Phoenix wrap-up: Alt-right resolution & evangelism draw focus
Appointment of a task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in evangelism and a resolution decrying “alt-right white supremacy” were among highlights of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix. Attendees of the SBC Pastors’ Conference preceding the annual meeting elected Florida pastor H.B. Charles as the conference’s first black president.

Chicago records 300th homicide
Chicago recorded its 300th homicide over the Father’s Day weekend, just like it did last year. The somber milestone was reached around 2:30 a.m. Monday when a 33-year-old man was gunned down during a burst of violence that saw four people killed and 13 others wounded over just five hours Sunday evening through early Monday, according to data kept by the Tribune.

Catholics launch conversation about female deacons
Several progressive Catholic groups are launching an initiative aimed at giving lay Catholics and clergy across the U.S. a direct say on whether the church should ordain women deacons. Their actions follow the appointment of a panel of experts set up by Pope Francis to consider the controversial question.

Sources: World Magazine, Christian Post, Illinois Baptist, Religion News, Chicago Tribune

The long road to peace

The docudrama, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem,” which follows Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade during the Six Day War, will be shown in theaters one night only, May 23.

Update: Due to a near record turnout in theaters May 23, Fathom Events will bring “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem” back to theaters on June 1. To learn more visit InOurHands1967.com.

Here’s something I never thought I would do—discuss Middle East policy with Gordon Robertson, son of “700 Club” and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson.

I met the younger Robertson, now the CEO of his father’s network, at the recent Evangelical Press Association Conference in Chicagoland. He was there to screen his docudrama, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem,” which follows Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade during the Six Day War as they battled their way into the old city, eventually unifying it under Israeli control.

The film, which is being released prior to the 50th anniversary of the war in June, includes interviews with the soldiers who fought and re-enactments showing how armies from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria joined together to attempt to banish the state of Israel. It highlights the determination of the Israeli people, the tension between them and Arab leaders, how God keeps his promises, and how some of those who fought felt they didn’t really win because they didn’t keep the Temple Mount for Israel.

Robertson was incredibly knowledgeable about the subject, having made several trips to the Middle East and met many of its leaders. My conversation with him, and my viewing of the documentary, felt especially timely in light of current global events—and throws into sharp relief the severe divisions still present in the region.

U.S. President Donald Trump met earlier this month Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, and is likely to visit Israel at the end of May, according to media outlets. The president hopes to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, but many who are knowledgeable about the long-standing conflict between the two have noted the leaders of both appear much less willing to meet in the middle.

In a column for Denver Post, writer Greg Dobbs pointed out that the eight U.S. presidents preceding Trump have all worked in some capacity toward peace between Israel and Palestine—ultimately to no avail. “Some expended more energy and intellect than others. Some came closer than others,” Dobbs wrote. “But ultimately, all failed.”

Taken in the current context, Gordon Robertson’s documentary is an important picture of the complicated struggle that embroils the Middle East, and of the often arduous journey toward any lasting peace. The film will be shown in theaters for one night on May 23; I highly recommend it.

-Lisa Misner Sergent

The Briefing

Christian nation no more?
Most Americans do not believe America is a Christian nation today, even if many say it was in the past. About one-third (35%) of the American public believes the U.S. was a Christian nation in the past and is still a Christian nation today; close to half (45%) say the U.S. was once a Christian nation but no longer remains so; and 14% say the U.S. has never been a Christian nation.

SWBTS apologizes for photo
Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, apologized for a photo of white professors posing as rappers that appeared on Twitter and was instantly deemed racist. The photo featured senior School of Preaching faculty members gesturing and wearing bandannas and chains and was labeled “Notorious S.O.P.” One of them appears to hold a handgun.

Cedarville’s Philippians 4:8 rule
This spring, Cedarville University enacted new curriculum guidelines inspired by Philippians 4:8 and aimed at purifying coursework of erotic and graphic content. The university has spelled out new guidelines officially barring any materials that “may be considered ‘adult’ in nature, that represent immorality, or that may be a stumbling block to students.”

Religious freedom dying in Russia
Russia’s nationwide outlaw of Jehovah’s Witnesses will likely ricochet and strike other religions outside of Russian Orthodoxy there, said Donald Ossewaarde, an independent Baptist missionary forced to shut down his church in that country. He has exhausted his appeals on an August 2016 conviction of operating a church without a permit under the 2016 anti-religion Yarovaya Law. Ossewaarde, who is making plans to return May 8 to his home in Elgin, Ill., said every religion outside Russian Orthodoxy is considered a cult.

Students: Biblical views on sex ‘unChrist-like’
A student club at Seattle Pacific University recently protested against the Christian university because it adheres to biblical views on human sexuality and gender identity.  The club, called SPU Haven, which advocates for gay students, claims that the university’s “Statement on Human Sexuality” is “unethical, unscientific and unChrist-like,” according to College Fix.

Sources: Facts and Trends, Religion News, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, The Christian Post

The Briefing

W.V. Bible class faces legal challenge
For decades Mercer County’s public schools have offered a weekly Bible class during the school day — 30 minutes at the elementary level and 45 minutes in middle school. The program is not mandatory, but almost every child in the district attends. And there is widespread support for the classes: Parents and community members help raise nearly $500,000 a year to pay for the Bible in the Schools program. Now, two county residents with school-age children argue in a lawsuit that the program violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment and the West Virginia constitution.

Baptist Baylor picks first female president
Linda Livingstone succeeds Baylor University’s first non-Baptist president, Kenneth Starr, who was fired last year over the Texas institution’s bungled response to ongoing reports of rape on campus. Livingstone, a former faculty member of Baylor and Pepperdine University, leaves her position as business school dean at George Washington University to become the Waco school’s first female president in its 172-year history.

Porn deemed public health crisis in 5 states
At least five states have officially declared pornography a public health crisis or harmful to the public, and at least one other is considering a similar measure, according to bill updates filed on state legislature websites.

Saudi Arabia elected to UN women’s rights commission
Saudi Arabia was elected to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The addition of the Gulf nation was first flagged by UN Watch, a nongovernmental body that monitors the United Nations. The Commission on the Status of Women’s executive director slammed the election. “Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” Hillel Neuer said.

‘John 3:16’ NFL suicide mystery
It wasn’t a suicide note that former NFL star Aaron Hernandez left in his prison cell when he reportedly hanged himself. Instead, the Massachusetts corrections officers who discovered his body Wednesday morning saw “John 3:16” written across Hernandez’s forehead in red ink. A Bible in the cell lay open to the same verse.

Sources: Washington Post, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, The Hill, STL Today

The surrendered life

ib2newseditor —  April 17, 2017

Surrendered life

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century. He pastored the Westminster Chapel in the heart of London for nearly three decades, and by the end of his ministry he was one of the most influential ministers on earth. But before Lloyd-Jones was a great preacher, he was an accomplished physician. After earning his medical degree, he came under the tutelage of Lord Horder, caregiver to His Majesty, King George V, and enjoyed one of the most promising medical careers in all of England.

In considering God’s call to ministry, Lloyd-Jones wrestled with his “physician’s dilemma”—giving up medicine to pursue preaching. Ultimately, it was a war of desire, and his desire for ministry won out:

“We spend most of our time rendering people fit to go back to their sin! I want to heal souls. If a man has a diseased body and his soul is all right, he is all right to the end; but a man with a healthy body and distressed soul is all right for sixty years or so and then he has to face eternity in Hell.”

From his book, “Discerning Your Call to Ministry,” Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Jason K. Allen offers insight on ministry, calling, and Christian education.

Are you willing to surrender?
A generation ago, “surrendering to ministry” was a common phrase in evangelical churches. It was certainly common in my childhood church. Most every sermon ended with an invitation to surrender to ministry. This immediately followed our pastor’s appeal to follow Christ, be baptized, or join the church.

Like Moses at the burning bush, you can persist in your excuses, or surrender to the call of God on your life.

As a boy, the phrase “surrender to ministry” both mystified and unnerved me. It sounded as though one was embracing an unwanted life, a call to a distant land for an undesired work. It seemed like a call one intuitively resisted—as long as possible—until finally buckling under the Spirit’s pressure and embarking on a life of ministry that, albeit noble, would be marked by sacrifice and hardship.

In hindsight, I do not think that is what my pastor meant, nor do I think that is what the New Testament implies. As I found in my own life, surrendering to ministry is not caving to an unwanted vocation; it is embracing what becomes increasingly irresistible: gospel ministry.

In other words, if by surrendering to ministry we mean engaging in an undesirable work, then jettison that phrase now. But if we mean surrendering to minister as unto the Lord and self-consciously choosing to forgo other life opportunities, conveniences, and ambitions, then surrendering to ministry is a good, healthy phrase. In fact, I am convinced “surrendering to ministry” is a phrase the church needs to recover and ministry-posture the church needs to cultivate. Every faithful ministry begins with a surrendered life, and that submissiveness shapes every aspect of one’s ministry, including why, where, and what one preaches.

What surrender entails
Surrendering to ministry rightly establishes the pastor’s motivation. After all, the pastor’s incentive should not be material gain, the applause of men, or any other earthly enticement. Rather, the preacher should, like the apostle Paul, know in his heart, “If I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).

To surrender to preach the ministry is to be so gripped by God’s call, and so moved for His glory, that one shares Jeremiah’s burden: “If I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it” (Jer. 20:9).

The urgency with which one preaches may ebb and flow based on a multitude of factors, including the receptivity of the congregation, the preacher’s spirituality vitality, and the tenor of the text itself. But, for the man rightly surrendered to ministry, the “why” of the ministry is settled—it is for Christ and His glory.

Additionally, surrendering to ministry includes a determination to follow God’s call wherever it may lead. This may include a willingness to leave family and friends, go to a distant place, and undertake a new work. After all, Jesus reflected, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).

Too many ministers are perfectly willing to follow God’s call as long as it does not lead out of their hometown. Such kingdom restrictiveness is alien to the New Testament and stymies one’s availability to be used by God. Practically speaking, you can know if you are limiting God’s call if you’ve already placed—perhaps even unconsciously—limits on where you are willing to serve Christ.

A willingness to go wherever includes a willingness to minister to whomever. There are churches across the land poised for anything but numerical success. Challenging demographics, an unreceptive audience, or a dilapidated neighborhood might make God’s call unattractive, but if it is God’s call, it is a glorious one—regardless of the zip code. After all, struggling churches and dying communities need ministers, too. God typically calls more to a people than a place. If God calls you to minister to a church in a challenging area, are you willing to go?

Don’t settle for the path of least resistance or the best payout. Seek God’s will and surrender to it.

Surrendering to ministry also means operating under the authority of God’s Word. Most especially, this relates to the act of preaching itself. The role of the preacher is not to cobble together anecdotes with human insights and then sprinkle in a couple of Bible verses to produce a “homily.” The faithful preacher tunes his ear to the Spirit of God, not the critic’s grumble. His finger is on the text, not in the air, gauging the wind. His voice is given to preaching the Word, not peddling shallow sermons for shallow people.

Too many pastors are textual acrobats, contorting their preaching to avoid Scripture’s sharper edges. Such preachers have become adept at explaining away difficult texts and dodging confrontational verses. From the earliest days of ministry you’ll have to guard your heart from pleasing anyone other than the Lord. Fearing combative personalities, overreacting to legitimate criticism, or stubbornly desiring man’s approval can all compromise your message and disorient you from paramount loyalty: loyalty to the One who called you—God Himself.

Two stories of surrender
The Bible offers no better case study of surrendering to ministry than the Old Testament prophet Jonah. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, and preach repentance so the people there might be saved. It’s crystal clear that God was concerned about the why, where, and what of Jonah’s message.

Tragically, Jonah resisted God’s call in spectacular fashion. When God called Jonah, he was in Israel. God instructed him to go to Nineveh, which was about 550 miles east of Jerusalem in what is now modern-day Iraq, but Jonah did the exact opposite. He struck out for Tarshish, located in modern-day Spain, some 2,000 miles in the opposite direction!

Why did Jonah resist God’s call to preach repentance to the Ninevites? The Ninevites were the sworn enemies of the Israelites. The last thing Jonah wanted was to see the Ninevites repent and escape God’s impending judgement. In fact, Jonah actually confessed that he fled to Tarshish because he knew God was “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2).

God’s ministers are not spiritual free agents. We are not ecclesiastical entrepreneurs who strike out on our own and minister in accordance with our own desires. As Jonah’s sin was running from God’s appointed place of ministry, a more common twenty-first-century sin might be running to a preferred place of ministry.

On the contrary, aspire to be like John Piper, who went to Bethlehem Baptist Church in 1980 despite a small, aging congregation in dilapidated facilities located in a transitional neighborhood. He sensed God’s call, followed it, and has been used by God like few others in our generation.

A number of years ago I faced a similarly challenging decision. A church reached out to me about helping them through a season of challenge and transition. I felt God’s leading to serve the church, but several friends sought to dissuade me. I vividly recall one friend telling me, “Stay away. That church will ruin your resume. It’s a troubled congregation in a troubled part of town. Billy Graham couldn’t grow that church. You’ll have plenty of great opportunities in the years ahead. Don’t settle for anything less than God’s best for you.”

Though well intended, that counsel was altogether unhelpful and disorienting. For a while it confused me, until I remembered that God’s will for my life is God’s best for my life. By enlarging my circle of wise counselors, reflecting on the church’s needs, and my wife and I seeking the Lord and gaining His peace, it became clear that God was indeed calling us to that church.

The bottom line is, if you had a million lives to live you could not improve upon the life God has called you to live and the ministry to which He has called you. Don’t settle for second best by choosing the path of least resistance or the ministry that promises the best payout. Seek God’s will and surrender to it.

These days the phrase “surrendering to ministry” seems a vestige of the previous generation of church life. This is more than unfortunate; it is unhealthy, and the church is the big loser.

Surrendering to ministry means you’re willing to go to anyone, anywhere, anytime. But don’t be confused; as you surrender you will enter more fully into God’s joy and blessing. A surrendered life is integral to a healthy ministry.

– Reprinted by permission

Jesus is our great hero

ib2newseditor —  April 14, 2017

Hero

All of my life, I have looked for heroes whom I could love, respect, and follow. There is an old photo of me as a small boy with my brother, standing in the backyard with towels pinned around our necks. We were trying to be like Superman, ready to fight against the bad guys and fight for justice. He was probably the first hero we had as children.

During my teenage years, I played the guitar and wrote songs, so my heroes became famous musicians who displayed their lyric artistry in recordings and concerts. When I entered the ministry, I turned to those pastors and authors whose words had profoundly shaped me. They became my heroes to admire and emulate. Later, when I became a classroom teacher, I loved to read stories about the great teachers and their influence on students.

It seems that no matter what stage of life I was in, I was constantly looking for and looking up to heroes.

I know I am not alone in my search for heroes. It’s something we all do throughout our lives. But what is more intriguing is that no one ever instructs us on the need to find and emulate heroes. In addition, no one ever explains to us the characteristics our heroes should have. We seem to be wired to look for men and women whose lives display something good, beautiful, and noble — something that tastes of glory. Think about the heroes you have admired, and you will see something of those same qualities.

Our hero worship, however wrongly directed, is an understandable longing for what has been tragically lost.

But there is something else even more intriguing. We have all engaged in something that can best be described as hero worship. It’s not just that we love, honor, and respect our heroes. We do something to them akin to worship, putting them on a pedestal and expecting things from them that they cannot possibly give. The disappointment that comes is inevitable, yet we keep hoping for heroes to come and save the day, whether it’s the new church pastor, the new government official, or the new company boss. Our search for and disappointment with our heroes can generate enormous confusion. I know it has for me.

The Bible shines a unique and penetrating light on this confusion. Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, CSB). The idea of falling short is that we are missing something and are now destitute and lacking. What are we missing? The glory of God. We were meant to bathe in that glory and then radiate it out as His image-bearers, but in turning away from Him, we lost the glory and now live in sin and shame. Yet, the longing for glory never leaves us, so when we sense a glimmer of that glory in someone else, however faintly, the draw is magnetic.

Without deliberation or hesitation, we immediately know that this is what humans were meant to be like, what we, in fact, were meant to be like. Our hero worship, however wrongly directed, is an understandable longing for what has been tragically lost. But the Bible’s story of glory doesn’t end there.

He loved and served and gave without expecting anything in return for Himself.

Enter Jesus. John states that he saw the glory of Jesus, the glory of being God’s unique Son, the glory that took on flesh and came to dwell among us. (See John 1:14.) And how did that glory dwell among us? As the hero we have all longed for. Everything Jesus did was heroic.

He spoke the truth, even when it made Him enemies.

He did good works wherever He went, healing the sick, freeing the demon-possessed, and preaching a message of hope. He loved and served and gave without expecting anything in return for Himself.

And in the end, Jesus gave His life away for the sake of the entire world. He chose to take our place by bearing our sin and shame so that we could be set free. He did everything we ask of a hero and so much more. He is not only the King of kings and Lord of lords, but truly the Hero of heroes.

What should our response be to the Savior of our soul? Our misdirected hero worship should rightly reside and remain on Him. He is the great Hero we have all been looking for, the One who perfectly lived in the Father’s glory and radiated it out to all. Our hearts long to find someone to respect, honor, adore, and love. Because of Christ’s defeat over death and sin, we can now place that longing on Him and never again be disappointed. Yet, in the end, He will do something even more marvelous, something with eternal significance: He will turn us into creatures filled with glory like Himself. We will one day feel again the glory we tragically lost — the glory that will move us to our purest worship of Jesus, our Great Hero.

Bill Delvaux, author of Landmarks (B&H) and Divided (Thomas Nelson), leads Landmark Journey Ministries as a speaker, small group coach, and spiritual director. This article first appeared in Mature Living, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources. Learn more at LifeWay.com/magazines.