Archives For Bible

‘Fairness for All’ proposed to increasingly polarized lawmakers
A Utah Congressman introduced the Fairness for All Act Dec. 6, which would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation, but also exempt churches, religious groups, and some small businesses from the anti-discrimination laws.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Stewart faces an uphill battle in Congress, Christianity Today reports, and also among LGBT advocates who oppose the exemptions. Some religious liberty advocates also disagree with the bill. In 2017, a group of evangelical leaders, including Southern Baptists Russell Moore and Albert Mohler, signed a statement opposing any law that would protect gender identity and sexual orientation because such measures “threaten fundamental freedoms.”

Ultrasound law survives legal challenge
The U.S. Supreme Court declined Dec. 9 to hear an appeal of a Kentucky law that requires doctors to perform ultrasounds before abortions. The law, passed in 2017, also requires physicians to show fetal images to patients, and to play an audible heartbeat. In upholding the law earlier this year, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said it provides “relevant information.” Judge John Bush, an appointee of President Donald Trump, wrote, “The information conveyed by an ultrasound image, its description and the audible beating fetal heart gives a patient a greater knowledge of the unborn life inside her.”

The Supreme Court’s refusal to review the lower court’s decision, USA Today reported, leaves the measure in place.

California church stages controversial nativity scene
Claremont United Methodist Church near Los Angeles is making headlines with a nativity display depicting Joseph, Mary, and Jesus as a refugee family made to stay in separate cages. The church’s lead pastor, Karen Clark Ristine, told a local news station one goal of the display is to spark conversation. Ristine’s Facebook post about the scene garnered more than 11,000 comments in two days.

China recognizes church of Baptist pioneer Lottie Moon
Wulin Shenghui Church of Penglai, attended by Southern Baptist missionary Lottie Moon for much of her time in China, has been designated by the country as a protected historical and cultural site. One religious freedom watchdog noted the designation comes at a time of heightened government restrictions on churches. “It’s surely easier to honor a dead evangelist than to grant basic liberties to the living ones,” Massimo Introvigne told Christianity Today.

Year’s most popular Bible verse focused on worry—again
The Bible app YouVersion announced its most shared, highlighted, and bookmarked verse of 2019 is Philippians 4:6. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (NLT). It marks the third consecutive year that worry was the theme of the year’s most popular passage.

Sources: Christianity Today, USA Today, CNN

Only about a third read the Word daily, according to a new survey by Lifeway Research.

Former IMB missionary pleads guilty to assault
Mark Aderholt, a former missionary with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and staff member of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, pleaded guilty July 2 in a plea deal related to the sexual assault of a minor two decades ago. Aderholt’s case was one of several allegations of sexual abuse uncovered in Southern Baptist life prior to February’s extensive report in the Houston Chronicle.

Meeting in Birmingham in June, the SBC condemned sexual abuse and previous lack of care for survivors.

Restriction on wedding officiants blocked by judge—for now
A new law in Tennessee that forbids people ordained online from performing wedding ceremonies was challenged July 3 by a judge who questioned its constitutionality. Federal Judge Waverly Crenshaw said the state’s law, which was set to go into effect July 1, has “serious constitutional issues” and should be considered at a trial before the end of 2019. For now, wedding officiants ordained online can continue to help couples say “I do” in Tennessee.

Liberty professors’ new book presents perspectives on 9 contemporary issues
A book released today presents differing views on topics ranging from sexuality and gender roles to politics and war. “Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues” was edited by Karen Swallow Prior and Joshua Chatraw, both professors at evangelical Liberty University. Prior spoke to The Christian Post about why it was important to present varying viewpoints (all by people who profess to be Christians), and which of the essays she disagrees with.

Christians weigh in on slavery’s ongoing impact
Barna found half of practicing Christians say the effects of slavery continue to be felt today. That’s slightly higher than the percentage of all U.S. adults—46%—who agree.

Sources: LifeWay Research, Baptist Press, Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, The Tennessean, The Christian Post, Barna Research

Supreme Court will hear funeral home case
The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will consider whether the country’s job discrimination laws apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. One case they’ll hear concerns a Michigan funeral home sued after firing a transgender employee.

Easter marked by mourning in Sri Lanka
Almost 300 people were killed and hundreds more injured in a series of suicide bombings in Sri Lankan churches and hotels. While no group has yet taken responsibility for the attacks, officials were warned churches could be targeted by a radical Islamist group, Christianity Today reported.

The nation of 21 million people is on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List, which profiles the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians.

Sovereign Grace responds to renewed calls for investigation
A network of churches headquartered in Louisville, Ky., said last week that an outside investigation into whether church leaders covered up sexual abuse would represent a “theological capitulation” that “would ultimately dishonor Christ and harm the cause of the gospel.”

Sovereign Grace Louisville, one of 72 churches in the evangelical network, was referenced by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear in a February report in which he called on the SBC Executive Committee to consider whether 10 churches had dealt appropriately with allegations of sexual abuse. The bylaws workgroup of the Executive Committee later reported that the Sovereign Grace matter merited further inquiry.

Two Southern Baptist seminary presidents have apologized for their support of C.J. Mahaney, former president of the network and current lead pastor of Sovereign Grace Lousiville.

Church membership down nationwide
Half of American adults are members of a church, according to new data from Gallup. The percentage is 20 points lower than it was 20 years ago, and mirrors the trend toward non-affiliation with a religion. Twenty years ago, 8% of Americans said they had no religion, Gallup reported, but the current share is 19%.

Annual study details Americans’ relationship with the Bible
More U.S. adults are engaged with the Word of God, but fewer are Bible-centered, according to Barna’s 2019 State of the Bible survey. While 59% believe the message of the Bible has transformed their lives, 35% of adults report never using it.

Sources: USA Today, The Christian Post, Christianity Today (2), Open Doors USA, Gallup, Barna

By Mike Keppler

Open Bible

Growing Christians often make commitments to read the Word of God more faithfully each day. Some of that reading is done by reading the “whole of the Word” through a systematic read-the-Bible-through plan. Another way to read the Bible is in “small bites,” using a devotional booklet or app like Our Daily Bread.

Both reading plans are good and balanced. They give us daily exposure to the inspiration and instruction from God’s holy Word.

May I suggest another, less common way to read the Bible? When was the last time you read God’s Word aloud? We know the Bible itself instructs us to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim. 4:13). Worshippers know the value of the public reading of the Bible in responsive readings and liturgies. But the value of using our voices in Bible-reading goes well beyond merely enhancing our participation in corporate worship.

By reading Scripture aloud, I have experienced a deeper blessing personally and corporately for some years now. Privately, I have made a practice of reading my weekly message and Sunday school lessons out loud. At first, I was embarrassed to have anyone hearing me read to myself. I would review the selected text for the week in hushed tones and whispers so as not to invite questions from family members at home or staff members at church.

An ancient practice is changing our Bible study groups for the better.

I soon got over being self-conscious, because I have found a specific benefit to reading the Bible with my voice: I “hear” truths that I miss when I only read a passage silently.

At first, I was surprised by these insights and mistakenly thought that maybe I was just being too careless in hurriedly reviewing the text. However, as I continued this exercise, I saw something deeper in the practice. It was as if God was speaking to me at another level…audibly.

Now, in truth, I have never had God speak to me through his mighty, audible voice, like he must have spoken when the world was created or when he would speak to the prophets of old. But, as I read the Bible to myself, audibly, I hear him “speaking” in new ways. Words that I would have just passed over before come to life with meaning I would not have “heard” in my silent reading. This was both refreshing and insightful as I began to practice reading aloud God’s Word during my private study.

With growing curiosity, I read online about the practice of reading the Bible out loud. There has been considerable research conducted on communal reading. Dr. Brian J. Wright, an author, popular speaker, and blogger who serves as an adjunct professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, has written extensively on how the practice of communal reading dates back to the first century. Dr. Wright says that Justin Martyr, an early church leader, instructed believers during that period to engage in the communal reading of the apostle’s memoirs and prophetic writings on the Lord’s Day.

History tells us the Torah was passed down audibly from generation to generation, preserving Jewish traditions and teachings. Even Scripture itself speaks to the power of hearing the Word of God aloud:

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

I started practicing communal reading during my Wednesday night Bible studies at our church a couple of years back. Our regular attenders seemed to readily take to the exercise and enjoyed it. In recent months, I have been leading our auditorium Sunday school class in the same practice. Not everyone chooses to participate, but those that do have sat up straighter and spoken out louder with more authority and respect as they have joined in the reading.

I am now convinced more than ever that this simple engagement through communal reading of the Word is blessing both study groups. It involves us and inspires us to hear the Bible passage read with our own voices.

I encourage you to make a renewed commitment to read the Bible aloud and try to involve your friends in this practice as well. This refreshing approach to the Word will bless your personal worship and study and enrich your disciple-making ministries. I am convinced that as you read the Word aloud you will discover hidden truths and insights you haven’t “heard” before.

Mike Keppler pastored Springfield Southern Baptist Church for 26 years before
retiring in 2018. You can read his blog at mjkministries.com.

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.

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

By Meredith Flynn

Of all the buzz words floating around churches over the past decade, “community” might be the buzziest. Biblical community is something many churches aspire to now. It can take the shape of small group meetings, monthly dinner gatherings, or a simple encouragement to show hospitality. “Community” can also be used to describe in general the way we want to feel about church. We want community. The Bible tells us we need community. Right?

What about the family who struggles to make it to small group during the week? Or the newcomer who doesn’t feel comfortable sharing personal details with relative strangers. And are “older” forms of community—like Sunday school classes—still a valid expression of the concept?

I’ve felt those tensions in my own life and family. As a single adult, community wasn’t difficult. An evening meeting with people in the same stage of life was a welcome break in the middle of the week. But as a married mother of two preschoolers, it’s often difficult for us to get out of the house on a weeknight, and even harder to arrive in an attitude befitting community as we’ve come to understand it.

Is it a command for all Christians, or just people who are wired for it?

Our current situation begs the question: What is the value of community with fellow Christians, even when a particular set of circumstances or stage of life makes it challenging?

Thankfully for us, the Bible has much to say about community, even if the authors don’t use the term like we do. By exploring how Scripture describes early Christian community, we can start to define the characteristics that ought to mark ours:

1. Community encourages. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul tells the church there that he longs to see them so he can “impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you.” His aim isn’t just one-way encouragement. The apostle says he wants to be encouraged by their faith too.

When we put this in context, we can draw a parallel between their time and ours. Christians in Rome were being persecuted. The level of our persecution now is drastically less severe in most cases, but there is a connection. We as believers can encourage each other to continue in the faith, even when the circumstances of our lives are difficult, or the culture moves farther away from a real understanding of God’s plan for the world.

2. Community shares the load. “Carry one another’s burdens,” Paul tells the church in Galatia. He’s talking about sin burdens, commentaries note, but Charles Spurgeon extended the metaphor this way: “Help your brethren….If they have a heavier burden than they can bear, try to put your shoulder beneath their load, and so lighten it for them.”

Many burdens have been shared in community groups I’ve been a part of over the years. Depression, career disappointment, death of a parent or a sibling or a child. These burdens were shared verbally and then figuratively, as group members prayed for each other and kept in close contact.
Community gives believers an extra shoulder to bear the weight when it’s too heavy to bear alone.

3. Community provokes (in a good way). The writer of Hebrews encourages Christians to “watch out for one another to provoke love and good works.” Whereas the encouragement we see in Romans 1 undergirded the early church, the encouragement referenced in Hebrews 10:24 spurred it forward.

In a recent community group discussion about hospitality, I listened as my fellow group members shared humbly about how God is opening doors to share Jesus, simply because they’re inviting people into their homes. I was encouraged and “provoked” to do the same so that the gospel can go forth.

4. Through community, God builds his church. Acts 2 paints a glorious picture of the church. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer….Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42, 47, CSB).

Living faithfully in the context of community drew people to the truth of Christ. The same thing happens now. At a recent baptism at my church, two couples shared how they came to understand their need for Jesus in the context of their community group.
Scripture’s depiction of biblical community puts the emphasis on God’s graciousness to us. The gifts of community—encouragement, burden-sharing, good works, and the opportunity to see God build his church—are gifts from God himself. It’s far more about him than it is about us.

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist and a member of Delta Church in Springfield.