Archives For Christ

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

Andreson-Ponce

Chicago pastor Dave Andreson (left) met Puerto Rican church planters while serving on the island in October, including Jose Ponce, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Resurrección in Isabela.

Arecibo, Puerto Rico | In October, Southern Baptist volunteers began relief efforts in Puerto Rico after the U.S. territory sustained devastating damage from the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The volunteers are working through Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Relief initiative, but their work is unlike other Disaster Relief projects.

“The circumstance is so unusual that we have to take the full responsibility of this response on our own,” said David Melber, president of Send Relief. “That means buying and shipping the food, renting warehouse space, sending the kitchen equipment, and then providing the volunteers to do the cooking. We are forging our entire response by ourselves.”

Chicago church planter Dave Andreson spent a week in Puerto Rico as a trained Disaster Relief chaplain. Andreson, a U.S. Army veteran, couldn’t shake the growing burden he felt for the island. “I had to get there,” said the pastor of Resurrection City Church in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood.

While plans to send volunteers to Puerto Rico were on hold immediately after the storms, Andreson attended a two-day Disaster Relief training at Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp in southern Illinois. One week later, with Baptist volunteers able to get into Puerto Rico, Andreson boarded a flight from Chicago to San Juan.

McKnight

Pastor George McKnight and his wife, Debbie, pause for a photo at Green Island Baptist Church in Puerto Rico, which lost its roof and was flooded during Hurricane Maria’s sweeping destruction.

He served with a Disaster Relief team from Virginia in Arecibo, a city 50 miles west of San Juan in northern Puerto Rico. The team stayed at First Baptist Church there and spent their days cleaning out homes and removing downed trees. Andreson said the teams are working under the leadership of local pastors who understand the people and needs in their communities.

Since the hurricanes, Andreson said, many people are leaving Puerto Rico. Their workplaces are still without power, most schools are still closed, and if you have running water, it’s not safe to drink. FBC Aricebo has already lost about 40 people. One church planter Andreson talked to is worried his young congregation won’t survive.

But the Chicago pastor said he believes Puerto Rico is primed for the gospel. “Physical suffering makes us aware of physical need, and those physical needs always open the door by which the word of God, the gospel proclaimed, makes us aware of our spiritual need,” Andreson said.

“This is a horrible thing that happened, but it’s a good gift from God by which the gospel will go forward. Now more than ever, the church in Puerto Rico, the church of Jesus Christ, has an opportunity to shine the light of Christ.”

The punishing hurricane season has left its mark in other parts of the U.S., including Florida and in Texas, where Illinois teams have served in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. For more information about Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief opportunities and training, go to IBSA.org/dr. To learn more about opportunities in Puerto Rico through Send Relief, go to sendrelief.net.

– Meredith Flynn, with reporting from NAMB

What Baptists have forgotten (or never knew) about our heritage

Dockery text

The Lord blessed me with the wonderful privilege of growing up in a Christian home—a faithful, Baptist home. Sundays for our family included Sunday school, church services, and afternoon choir practice, as well as Bible Drills, Discipleship Training, and Sunday evening after-church fellowship. It was generally a very busy day. Wednesdays included church suppers, prayer meetings, mission organizations, committee meetings, and another choir practice.

During the week there were opportunities for outreach visitation, WMU, and other activities. Summer calendars were built around Vacation Bible School, church camps, and other church-related events. My family planned weeks and seasons around church activities. Our heroes were Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and Bill Wallace of China. But apart from a world history course as a high school student, I do not recall ever hearing stories about the Reformation, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, or other early 16th-century Protestant leaders in any church-related activity.

My guess is that my experience parallels that of many other readers of the Illinois Baptist. Why then should Baptists pay attention to the many events and programs taking place this year to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, for we are not Lutherans, nor Anglicans, nor Presbyterians. Yet, whether we realize it or not, many of our core convictions as Baptists have been influenced or shaped by those 16th-century thinkers.

What was the Reformation?
The Reformation was a wide-ranging movement of theological and spiritual renewal in 16th-century Europe. Many people across Germany and Switzerland over a period of several decades contributed to this movement, but the most visible event, according to tradition, took place on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther (1483-1546), a monk and university professor, nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.

Luther was concerned with papal abuses and the selling of indulgences (essentially a ticket out of purgatory for loved ones) in the Roman Catholic Church, along with what he considered to be faulty understandings of justification by faith, biblical authority, and other important doctrinal matters.

Philip Melancthon, one of Luther’s colleagues who knew him as well as anyone, called Luther “the Elijah of Protestantism” and compared his influence to that of the Apostle Paul in the first century. Martin Luther roused the church from her slumber, reopened the fountain of God’s Holy Word for many people, and was responsible for directing a generation to know Jesus Christ as their Lord.

When one thinks of the Reformation period, one reflects upon the titanic force of Luther, the good sense and preaching ministry of Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) in Zurich, Switzerland, and the biblical exposition and theological articulations of John Calvin (1509-64) in Geneva. Among these three important leaders of the Reformation, there is general agreement that the one with the greatest influence was Martin Luther.

Closing the gap from Luther to Southern Baptists
Many people reading this article have grown up in a home or church with experiences rather similar to those I described earlier. Somehow we had a sense that our parents, grandparents, and pastors had received an understanding of the Christian faith as if it had come directly to them from the 1st-century apostles. We were quite naively unaware of what went on in between then and now. By and large, Baptists do not know very well our heritage, our history, or our theological identity.

The reality is that while we are “a people of the Book,” shaped, formed, and informed by Holy Scripture, we also have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us who stood on the shoulders of others.

Francis Wayland, a most significant Baptist leader in the 19th century, wrote these words in “The Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches” (1861): “I do not believe that any denomination of Christians exists, which, for so long a period as Baptists, has maintained so invariably the truth of their early confession…The theological tenets of the Baptists, both in England and America, may be briefly stated as follows: they are emphatically the doctrines of the Reformation, and they have been held with singular unanimity and consistency.”

With Christians through the centuries, Baptists stand with the Reformers in confessing that there is one and only one living and true God, who is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal being, the creator, redeemer, preserver, and ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections.

Furthermore, our confession as Baptists maintains that God is triune and that there are within the godhead three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can say that God is one in his nature and three in his persons.

More specifically, we confess that there is only one God, but in the unity of the godhead, there are three eternal and equal persons, the same in substance, yet distinct in function.

Baptists are “people of the Book.” With Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and other 16th-century Reformers, Baptists believe it is impossible to define or even describe Christian orthodoxy apart from a commitment to a full-orbed doctrine of Scripture. Baptist theology and spirituality rest on Scripture as the central legitimizing source of Christian faith and doctrine, the clearest window through which the face of Christ may be seen.

The Reformers were also in agreement regarding the truthfulness and authority of Scripture, a belief with very real consequences. Such an understanding of Holy Scripture led to a rejection of the medieval belief and practice concerning papal authority and church tradition.

The Reformers recognized that these matters could no longer be acknowledged as an authority equal with Scripture or as a standard independent of the Bible. Martin Luther summarized well these things when he said, “Everyone indeed, knows that at times the Fathers have erred, as men will; therefore, I am ready to trust them only when they give me evidence for their opinions from Scripture, which has never erred.”

Salvation by grace through faith
The Reformers believed that medieval thinkers had led the church astray by teaching that human effort and good works, as well as moral or ritual action, would earn favor in the eyes of God, enabling sinners to achieve salvation. A serious ongoing study of the teachings of the Apostle Paul, however, led Luther to the conviction that sinners are granted forgiveness as well as full and free pardon only through faith in Jesus Christ.

Sinners are justified by grace through faith, not by their own achievements. The Reformers were in full agreement that justification is a forensic declaration of pardon, which Christ has won through his victory over sin, death, the law, and the devil.

Standing on the shoulders of the Reformers, Baptists believe that justification is accomplished at the cross of Christ (Rom. 5:10), guaranteed by his resurrection (Rom. 4:24-25), and applied to believers when we confess our faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1).

Experientially, we still sin, but God views us as totally righteous, clothed in the robes of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 4:1-8). Because of Christ’s sacrifice, God no longer counts our sins against us (2 Cor. 5:19-21). Thus, justification is even more than pardon, as wonderful as that is; it is the granting of positive favor in God’s sight based on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-26).

It was John Calvin who emphasized the perseverance of the saints, which Baptists sometimes refer to as the doctrine of eternal security. Our salvation is secured in Christ, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (John 10:28-30; Rom. 8:31-39), yet our response to this truth brings our assurance.

About priests and believers
The Reformers were in full agreement in their affirmations of scriptural authority and the essence of the doctrine of salvation. Likewise, they rejected the superiority of the priesthood, of vocational ministry, stressing instead the priesthood of all believers. Not only did this mean that all believers in Christ had access to God (Heb. 10:19-25), but it underscored the Christian dignity of ordinary human callings, including artists, laborers, homemakers, and plowmen. By implication, this elevated the importance of family life, opening the door for clerical marriage.

The Reformers rejected the mediation of Mary and the intercession of all the saints, insisting that Christ alone was our high priest to bear our sin and sympathize with our weaknesses. They rejected the medieval teaching regarding the seven sacraments, insisting that the New Testament only taught two sacraments or ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Reformers unanimously rejected the sacrificial nature of the Lord’s Supper, refuting the church’s teaching regarding transubstantiation. Baptists have emphasized a view of the Lord’s Supper that reflects much of the perspective of Ulrich Zwingli.

The Reformers also departed from the medieval teaching which affirmed that the church was dependent on communion with the papacy. Instead they insisted that the church was called into being by God’s Spirit and was established on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20).

Baptists have shaped their beliefs regarding the triune God, Jesus Christ, Holy Scripture, salvation by grace through faith, the church, the ordinances, Christian service, and the family in recognition of their gratitude for and indebtedness to the courage and conviction of the 16th-century Reformers. Yet, Baptists have chosen not to be content merely with the basic teachings of the Reformers. They have also modified these teachings and moved beyond them in key areas that we often call “Baptist distinctives.”

Baptists shaped their own distinctives
While Baptists are heirs of the 16th-century Reformation (with influence also from the “radical reformers” like Menno Simons, Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and Balthasar Hubmaier), they have moved beyond the Reformers in at least five key areas.

  • Baptists affirm believer’s baptism by immersion, instead of the Reformers’ view of infant baptism.
  • Baptists have contended for a voluntary understanding of the church and congregationalism based on a regenerate church membership, instead of an inherited understanding of church membership connected with infant baptism.
  • Baptists repudiate church-state ties, stressing religious liberty along with the local organization of church life, instead of state control or even denominational control.
  • Baptists believe that the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are to be practiced as matters of obedience and fellowship, rather than as a means of grace.
  • Baptists, more so than any of the 16th-century Reformers, have consistently stressed the priority of the Great Commission and global missions.

We recognize that Baptists are a people committed to the primacy of Scripture, who are heirs of the best of the Reformation. The gospel-focused, scripturally grounded core to which we all must hold has been greatly influenced, both directly and indirectly, by the teachings of the Reformers. It is important for us during this year of commemorating and celebrating the Reformation to clarify our confessional commitments and reappropriate, retrieve, and reclaim the very best of both the Reformation heritage and our Baptist heritage.

We pray that the reminders to which we have pointed in this brief article will enhance our understanding of the gospel and deepen our commitment to Scripture and to our Baptist confessional heritage, bringing renewal to our churches and our shared service as we seek to pass on this heritage in a faithful manner to the next generation, and as we seek to take the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost and needy world.

– David S. Dockery is president of Trinity International University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in metro Chicago. 

White common daisy flower isolatedAs warm weather descended on San Francisco that year, so did the hippies, as many as 100,000 of them. The Haight-Ashbury District became ground zero for a festival that lasted for weeks: young people with flowers in their tresses singing and dancing and cavorting in public spaces, doing a little protesting of the Vietnam War, and smoking a lot of what their mothers wouldn’t approve.

They called it the ‘summer of love.’

Ironically, that summer in 1967 was also marked by fear and terror and rioting, as large sections of Detroit went up in flames just as Watts in Los Angeles had two years earlier. In Detroit, the violence that started after police raided an unlicensed bar ended with 2,000 buildings destroyed, more than 7,000 people arrested, over 1,000 injured, and 43 deaths. Free love on the West Coast, and unrestrained hate in the Midwest.

Here, 50 years later, we have witnessed another season of dichotomy, a tense summer of issues—and people—in conflict. The political tensions and threats of nuclear attack were topped by violent marches in Charlottesville that killed one young woman and revealed the breadth of a racial rift in America that few imagined existed.

As is 1967, the summer of 2017 was on some fronts a summer of hate. But from our vantage point, we can say, too, it was a summer of love.

There were stories in our pages that attested that: mission trips around the world where the love of Christ was shared. In downstate Cairo and Brazil and many other places, people received Christ as Savior. We saw children learn about Jesus at IBSA camps and Vacation Bible Schools everywhere.

And to cap it all, the eclipse. Carbondale was epicenter this time as millions from Oregon to South Carolina looked upward, many seeming to search for something beyond themselves. A famed Chicago weatherman wept on air for the beauty of nature. More important, Baptists in southern Illinois shared Christ, and lost people came to faith.

When they look back on the summer of 2017 to give it a name, no one will look at the protests and nuclear threats and political martial arts and call it ‘the summer of love.’ But seeing the totality of our Christian outreach this season, and the genuine outpouring from God’s heart, maybe we will.

-Eric Reed

Rites of summer: VBS

ib2newseditor —  July 17, 2017
VBS-Rockford

Living Stones Community Church, Rockford

A woman pulling dandelions along the sidewalk in front of her house seems willing, even eager to take a break.

“Well,” she says, “the church is over there about a block,” pointing westward along one of the community’s few streets. “But the marker you’re asking about is right over there, waving a hand holding weeds southward.

“That’s where it really started, so that’s where they put the marker.”

It’s clear that Hopedale, Illinois is still proud of its place in history as the one-horse, no stop-light town that birthed an international movement: Vacation Bible School.

In the late spring of 1894, Mattie Pritchard Miles, wife of Hopedale’s Methodist minister, had a bold idea: take advantage of the summer break to teach otherwise idle children about the Bible. She planned a day of Bible teaching and activities “for all children of whatever church—or no church at all.” From the beginning, VBS has been about outreach. Perhaps that’s why its first organizer took the school outside the walls of her church and denomination.

The meeting place was on the grounds outside the elementary school, where the historical marker stands today, with the park next door.

Some 37 children showed up.

What’s even more remarkable is that Mrs. Miles didn’t hold a one-week VBS, or even two-weeks as some older people may remember. Her Vacation Bible School lasted 26 days over five weeks.

The 1894 school quickly became a model for churches and denominations everywhere. The big stone marker includes a time capsule that is to be opened in 2094, on the 200th anniversary of VBS.

In the meantime, proponents of the summertime discipleship ministry, and Southern Baptists in particular, still see its value for evangelism as well as discipling children (and adults). LifeWay reports that 25% of all baptisms in SBC churches come through VBS.

Consider these other 2015 statistics from LifeWay, which produces VBS curriculum especially for SBC churches.

• Every one person trained in VBS in SBC churches results in 1.1 salvation decisions.
• 10% of people enrolled in SBC VBS are unchurched.
• 2.7 million people enroll in VBS each year.
• 72,925 people each year accept Christ as Lord and Savior.
• 2,666 people commit their lives to church-related vocations through VBS.
• 56,386 people enroll in Sunday School/small group Bible study as a result of attending VBS.

Mrs. Miles lived 55 years after her first month-long experiment. By 1949, VBS was a well-established tradition that continues to reach children and families and to change lives today.

-Eric Reed

David Choi

David Cho

Chicago pastor and church planter David Choi opened the 2017 SBC Pastors Conference with a challenge to his colleagues: don’t rely on yourself or our own accomplishments, rely on Christ. His sermon from Philippians 1:1-11 on Sunday night was the first of 12 from pastors of regular-size churches. The annual pastors’ meeting ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention was focused on average churches, and as promised by Iowa pastor and blogger Dave Miller when he was elected president of the Pastors Conference last year, the 2017 version features few big names.“No smoke. No show. No mood setting. Only a man and his Bible,” tweeted Mike Wilbanks of Mississippi.

Yet, Miller was pleased with the attendance, “blown away” as he tweeted from the platform with a photo of the audience. Miller opened the conference with thanks to all who made the event possible, without naming names for the sake of time. Some of the funds that would usually have gone to fund the event were used to provide “scholarships” for pastors who would not otherwise have been able to attend—62 of the them at $1,000 each.

Unassuming in manner and dress (black-and-white checked shirt and jeans), Choi shared some of the story of planting Church of the Beloved on Chicago’s near west side. The conversion of one man in particular, a Buddhist anesthesiologist whose Christian wife had turned away from the church held the audience’s attention. That man was convinced of the truth of the gospel at the church’s first service. Within 24 hours of receiving Christ as savior he was telling other Buddhists that he had found what they were looking for, pure joy.

The man became a leader in the church, and two years later in a church plant on the West Coast. Choi described a reunion meeting as involving hugging, weeping, and “holy snot.” “You find that you have a love for them that is supernatural,” Choi said, relating his experience to Paul’s love for the Philippian people.

Choi encouraged pastors in their own spiritual walk. “You don’t want to be defined by your performance; that well leads to destruction,” the 39-year-old pastor said, sharing his one-time reliance on personal achievement. Neither does failure. “Pastor, your past does not define you. Christ’s past defines us…. It has nothing to do with you, everything to do with Christ, rest in your gospel identity.”

— Eric Reed in Phoenix

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London | I went to Borough Market on a bright, sunny Friday in late September. The market, which has been in existence in one form or another for about 1,000 years, was filled with people going about their business. Vendor stalls were piled high with fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods, cheeses, fish, and just about anything else you might want to eat. Surrounding the market stalls, the streets were lined with cake shops, restaurants, and pubs. People were enjoying delicious food, celebrating special occasions, and simply having a good time.

I’m sure the scene was much the same that warm Saturday night in early June as people dined in the restaurants and pubs. The vendor stalls would have been closed for the evening, but there was still plenty of food to enjoy and fun to be had. At least until three terrorists plowed a van into people walking on nearby London Bridge, then jumped out of the van, running to the market area, and into the restaurants where they began stabbing people with knives intent on killing them. As they did this, eyewitnesses reported one of the terrorists cried, “This is for Allah!” The terrorists killed seven and injured 48.

London prides itself on being a multicultural city — 37% of its residents come from outside the United Kingdom and one-quarter of its population arrived within the last five years. At least 45% of the population has no religious affiliation. Many Brits view Christianity as “been there, done that.”

The June 3 attacks on London Bridge and in Borough Market, the May 23 Manchester suicide bomber, and the March 22 Westminster bridge attack highlight the need for Christ, not only in London, but the rest of England. The International Mission Board is building missional communities in London using the 280 Tube (underground subway) stops as hubs to organize these communities around.

Still others are working in immigrant communities with Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. These communities isolate themselves keeping their customs and religions. There is a very real danger for those missionaries and those who convert to Christ.

Pray for the English people, that as a nation they will turn back to Christ, reviving their strong Christian heritage. Pray also that immigrants, first, second, and third generations — will find true freedom in Christ. The deception and oppression they endured in their home countries has traveled with them and is spreading. The only way to stop it is the through the Truth of Christ.

Last fall, Lisa Misner Sergent visited London to learn about the International Mission Board’s new strategies.