Archives For Christ

By Nathan Carter

Like a growing number of churches, The Summit Church in Raleigh, N.C., cancelled services the Sunday after Christmas. Pastor J.D. Greear took some heat on social media for the decision, but should he? What’s wrong with skipping a lightly attended service and giving everyone a break after the holidays? What about the growing practice of occasionally cancelling a Sunday service in order to send the people into the community for outreach projects? Should we ever cancel “church”?

In order to answer the question, there are at least two prior questions we must settle in our minds:

First, is a weekly gathering on Sunday commanded by God? Regular Sunday services are a firmly established part of the Christian tradition. There is strong historical warrant for gathering on Sundays, but is it a biblical requirement?

The answer to that question depends largely on whether we believe the Old Testament commandment about Sabbath-keeping teaches an inherent seven-day rhythm to time and the setting aside of one day in seven for special use. Some Christians will point out that the fourth commandment is the only one that is not explicitly repeated in the New Testament. Others will argue that it was never explicitly annulled.

Is it OK to cancel services now and then?

It is clear that Christians are commanded not to forsake assembling together (Heb. 10:25). And there is an assumption throughout the New Testament that believers come together for meetings (see 1 Cor. 11, 14; James 2:2). But where did we get the idea that this expectation applies to every Sunday at the very least?

Well, Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week and met with his gathered disciples that evening (John 20:19) and again on the next Sunday (John 20:26). In Acts 20 we read that Paul was in Troas for seven days and it was on the first day of the week that the believers all gathered together. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 says to collect an offering “on the first day of every week.” Are these examples prescriptive, or merely descriptive? That’s an interpretative decision. Wherever we land, we must at least admit that the case for first day observance cannot be easily dismissed.

The second question we must consider is this: What is the purpose of the Sunday gathering?

We’ve all probably wrestled at some point with whether Sundays are for the saints to be edified or outsiders to be evangelized. I think we must answer, “Both!” Paul envisioned unbelievers having an encounter with God after walking in on Christians worshiping and ministering to each other (1 Cor. 14:23-25).

Even more fundamentally, however, we must reckon with the very essence of what it means to be the church. Most scholars agree that the word “church” (ekklesia) means “assembly.” This would imply that when the church assembles it is being most true to its identity.

So is gathering together simply one (among many) practical means of achieving edification and/or evangelization? Or is holding a public meeting a declaration of what it means to be the church, sinners reconciled to God and each other through the blood of Christ? These are important questions church leaders must resolve in their minds before calling off a corporate gathering.

My conviction is that there is something sacred to Sundays, not as a legalistic box to check to be right with God, but as a time for the church to gather as the people of God and be regularly reminded of what indeed makes us righteous and what alone has the power to save—the work of Christ. If workers need a break, find temporary replacements or schedule a simpler service. Cancel Christmas Eve, but stick with Sundays. And if only two or three show up, his presence is still among us.

Nathan Carter pastors Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.

The gift of presence

Lisa Misner —  December 24, 2018

By Nate Adams

Not long ago, my wife, Beth, and I were discussing whether or not to try and attend a wedding to which we had been invited. It was a considerable distance from our home and required a couple of nights in a hotel, driving and meal expenses, and at least one vacation day.

Though we both wanted to go, and felt we should, I found myself asking, “I wonder if the couple would rather have the money that we would spend on travel as a wedding gift?”

It’s not the first time I’ve asked that kind of question, and it probably won’t be the last. I remember international missionaries once telling me that a church had spent $50,000 to send a large mission team halfway around the world to serve with them for a few days.

They were grateful for the help and encouraged by the fellowship. But they also shared with me candidly, “We couldn’t help but think how much more we could have accomplished here with $50,000 if they had stayed home and just sent the money.”
Experiences like these underscore the sometimes difficult question, “How much is someone’s physical presence worth?” Or, to state it more casually and commonly, “Shall I go, or just send something?”

And of course, when the question presents itself at the time of someone’s death, it often has the additional pressure of urgency, since there is often little advance notice and little time to make a good decision about going. I still remember fondly and with great appreciation the people who traveled distances to attend my dad’s funeral. And I remember a funeral from almost 40 years ago that I still regret missing today.

How much is someone’s physical presence worth? It’s an excellent, spiritual question to ponder during this Advent season. Could Jesus have just “sent” the gift of salvation, without coming personally? Could he have dispatched someone else to the cross, or was it supremely, eternally important that he be there himself?

I think we miss something incredibly important if we celebrate salvation without celebrating incarnation. On that holy night when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he chose not just to be present with us, but to become one of us. Through Jesus, God entered in to our condition not just with sympathy, but with immeasurable sacrifice.

At Christmas, we celebrate God’s love and amazing grace in choosing to become human, in choosing to embrace mortality for the sake of our immortality. How much was the physical presence of Jesus worth? It was worth everything. It was worth our eternal lives.

By the way, eventually my wife and I did decide to attend that distant wedding. We decided to do so after remembering some of the older adults that traveled distances to attend our own wedding. We remembered wondering, at the time, why they went to such trouble. But now, decades later, we remember very few of their wedding gifts. But we still remember their presence.

There’s a worship song that says, in part, “I’ll never know how much it cost, to see my sins upon that cross.” That’s certainly true. And yet I wonder if we don’t reflect more on the gift of salvation than we do the very presence of “God with us” in the incarnation.

As great as the gift of salvation is, that gift is simply an expression of how much God loves us and is willing to sacrifice to be with us, both now on earth and throughout eternity in heaven. The value of his very presence eclipses even the value of his wonderful gift.

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

Sharing Christ at Christmas

Lisa Misner —  December 14, 2018

By Autumn Wall

Christmas. The season of joy. Jesus’s birthday. It’s right around the corner!

As believers, we know the real reason for the season is Jesus. This is the day we celebrate our Savior coming to earth to begin his journey to the cross which will give us freedom from sin and shame eternally. But the chaos of the season can overshadow the real reason we celebrate and distract us from the very thing we were put on this earth to do: tell his story.

This Christmas, will you be intentional to share Jesus everywhere you go? Here are some fresh ideas to keep you focused on the gospel:

• Buy some clear or blank ornaments and decorate them with your favorite Scripture verse. Keep a box of them in your car and give them away to people you encounter—at the gas station, grocery store, your kid’s school program, on a family walk, etc.

• Get a stack of invitation cards from your church (or make some yourself) to invite people to your church’s Christmas Eve service or program. So many people are willing to attend a holiday event who might never go to a “church service.” Who are you inviting?

• Host a neighborhood Christmas tea. Invite your neighbors to stop by your home just to celebrate the season together for a few minutes. Present each attendee with a small gift, card, and/or invitation to your church or small group.

• Take time to train your kids how to tell people about Jesus. It can be as simple as telling their teachers and friends that we celebrate Christmas because God came down to us and made a way for us to know him.

It’s simple in this season to share Jesus, but it’s also simple to forget to share him. How will you share him everywhere you go this Christmas season?

Autumn Wall, online at autumnwall.com, is an author, speaker, worship leader, pastor’s wife, and mom of three in Indianapolis.

A compelling vision

Lisa Misner —  August 23, 2018

MIO Logo 500pxImagine a place in America where people have never heard the gospel. Imagine a growing town with no church to share the Good News of Jesus. That place is Illinois, and that community is Pingree Grove—rather, it was. Now, church planter R.T. Maldaner and City of Joy Church are taking the gospel to Pingree Grove, with the help of IBSA church planting strategists.

People in Pingree Grove are catching a vision of what it would be like to see their community transformed. The spiritual need there, and across Illinois, is at the heart of the 2018 Mission Illinois Offering & Week of Prayer.

Acts 1:8 commissions believers in Christ to share the gospel everywhere, from their home towns to the ends of the earth. Tucked into that call is “Judea,” which modern readers often translate to mean our state. Our Judea is spiritually needy, with millions who don’t know Christ, and at least 200 places in need of a new church.

13 million people call Illinois home. More than 8 million of them do not know Christ.

Baptists have long been people of vision, especially for missions. We give cooperatively to send missionaries to North America’s largest cities, and to remote villages around the world. Here in Illinois, people need the truth of Christ just as desperately. Imagine whole towns and cities transformed. Churches made stronger by members intentionally living out the gospel, and sharing it with their neighbors. Lives changed—for eternity.

The Mission Illinois Offering is a lifeline to vital ministries and missions here. Your MIO offering helps start new churches, strengthen existing congregations, and train people to share the gospel in their neighborhoods and beyond.

In our state of great need, we have a compelling vision—to see the gospel transform lives, churches, towns, and cities.

Many IBSA churches will observe the Mission Illinois Offering & Week of Prayer Sept. 9-16. Your church should have received an offering kit in the mail, and additional resources are available at missionillinois.org.

If your church is planning to collect the offering for the first time, or the first time in a while, the IBSA ministry staff will gladly help you communicate with your church about the vital nature of state missions. Please contact the Church Communications Team at (217) 391-3119 or request a speaker online.

In our state of great need, we have a compelling vision—to see the gospel transform lives, churches, towns, and cities.

The 8 people Americans trust more than their pastor
Less than half of the country—just two out of every five Americans—believe clergy are honest and have high ethical standards, a recent Gallup poll found. Pastors are now seen as less trustworthy than judges (43%), day care providers (46%), police officers (56%), pharmacists (62%), medical doctors (65%), grade school teachers (66%), military officers (71%), and nurses (82%).

The new pro-life generation
High-school students are organizing and engaging in the fight for life, despite sharp opposition from some administrators and peers. Many are members of Students for Life of America, best known for its work with college students, which now has 604 high-school chapters—334 at religiously affiliated schools and 270 at public campuses.

Churches can now get direct FEMA funding after disasters
Houses of worship damaged during natural disasters will be able to rebuild using federal funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Trump administration announced, a shift traditional faith groups have been requesting from presidents for decades without success.

Ancient DNA said to support Bible’s Babel account
A study published Jan. 3 in the journal Nature claims DNA extracted from the remains of an infant girl buried in central Alaska suggests an ancient migration of people from East Asia, across a frozen land bridge, to North America. Nathaniel Jeanson, a Harvard-trained research biologist with Answers in Genesis (AiG), said some details of the find corroborate the account in Genesis 11 of mass human migration following attempted construction of the Tower of Babel.

The salvation of ‘Napalm Girl’
Kim Phuc Phan Thi was the subject of a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph during the Vietnam War in 1972 where she was pictured at age 9, running along a puddled roadway with arms outstretched, naked and screaming, with the dark contour of a napalm cloud billowing in the distance. Kim writes how she came to faith in Christ.

Sources: Christianity Today, World Magazine, Washington Post, Baptist Press, and Wall Street Journal

Beloved camp integral to spiritual growth for current church leaders, and those yet to come

Every summer, Judy Halter takes a busload of elementary schoolers from Anna, Ill., to Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp, where they spend a week learning about Jesus and what it means to tell other people about him.

She even got her commercial driver’s license so she could drive the bus. Halter understands well the value of investing in young lives.

“I was saved when I was six years old,” said Halter, a member of Anna Heights Baptist Church. “But finally, at eight or nine years old, after I came to Lake Sallateeska and the missionaries came and spoke to us, I finally got it. I understood the Great Commission, and that we were called to go, and not just stay when we follow Christ.

“And it was life-changing at that point for me.”

Halter’s “favorite place in the world” turns 75 this year. As Lake Sallateeska marks the milestone anniversary, children and students and adults across Illinois continue to stream to the IBSA-owned retreat. They go for the scenery, the activities, the friendships, and the opportunity to grow closer to Jesus and his mission.

“This place has housed missionaries. This place has birthed missionaries,” Halter said. “And hopefully it will continue to birth tomorrow’s missionaries and send them out into all the world as our Lord commanded.”

Lake Sallateeska dining hall

Volunteers completed much of the work during a recent round of renovations at Lake Sallateeska that included a new façade for the game room.

Transformation place
In 1928, Illinois Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) began holding youth camps at a lake outside of Pinckneyville owned by Dr. F.B. Hiller. In 1942, WMU bought the 40-acre property for $4,800.

The camp was dedicated on July 7 of that year, and later renamed after a visiting missionary from Oklahoma explained the meaning of her name, “Sallateeska.” The word, which means “keep looking up,” gave the camp its name.

Over the past 75 years, the camp has expanded to 163 acres. Cabins on the campground can sleep 200 people, and the Sallateeska Inn, added in 2000, offers 16 rooms of hotel-style lodging. More recent renovations nearly doubled the size of the dining hall, among other improvements.

Lake at Lake Sallateeska

Long-time camp attenders and staff speak of the camp’s value as a retreat, a place to get away from distractions and get closer to God.

“I think the camp is a place where you can get away from your normal routine,” said Mark Lee, pastor of Beaucoup Baptist Church in Pinckneyville and a former manager of Lake Sallateeska. “You just get to come out here, and your thoughts are a little different, because you’re not thinking about everyday pressures, and everything that’s going on around you. And you can focus on the Lord, your relationship with him.

“You generally sit under preaching every night and teaching. There’s singing. There seems to be more freedom to worship sometimes here [for] kids. I think it just gets people away from that normal routine, and gives [them] an opportunity to get closer to God.”

Conference Center

For many campers who experienced a getaway at Sallateeska, the camp is where they first met Christ.

“I remember being a little girl, and for the first time going to camp being really, really nervous,” recalled Lyndee Joe. “That was the year when I was 10 years old that I was saved.”

Joe, who grew up at Chatham Baptist Church, later served at Lake Sallateeska as a counselor, a program manager, and a camp missionary. She guided others as they made the same commitments she made at camp. She remembered one such story of transformation that happened in Sallateeska’s swimming pool. A young girl came up to her and said, “I need Christ in my life.”

“And she was saved at that pool, right there on the spot,” Joe said. “She didn’t care that we were all swimming around and the kids were goofing off around her.”

Nate Adams attended Royal Ambassador (RA) Camp at Lake Sallateeska when he was eight or nine years old. “It was a week of transformation,” said IBSA’s executive director, who credits his church RA leader, Ray, with getting him to go to camp.

“It was all the things we had been talking about week after week—missions and spiritual growth and what it means to be a godly Christian boy and man,” Adams said. “And in that week at Lake Sallateeska, it all came together, and it was a time of spiritual change for me.

“And I think Lake Sallateeska has been a place of spiritual transformation for many, many, many people like that since then.”

Just the beginning
For many campers, the initial commitment to Christ made at camp is just the beginning. Philip Hall has managed Lake Sallateeska since 2008, but his experience with the camp started years ago. The son of an RA leader, Hall grew up going with his dad to take the big kids to camp.

When he became a big kid and camper himself, God used Sallateeska to confirm his call to ministry. Now, he’s deeply invested in running the camp in such a way that the next generation of pastors and missionaries and Sunday school teachers can hear from God while they’re at camp.

Boating

“I don’t get to be the one sharing the gospel every time,” Hall said. “I’m not necessarily the one preaching every time. But our ministry is just to clear the path of distractions. It’s the whole purpose that they come out to the country anyway.”

Lake Sallateeska is hallowed ground for those who have experienced a new understanding of God, and have sensed a call to join him in his mission. Judy Halter’s days as a camper sparked a missions calling that has taken her on short-term trips to Botswana, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. For Lyndee Joe, her time at Sallateeska has helped her come full circle in her walk with Christ—from meeting him, to learning to love his Word, to learning to share it with other people.

“We’re seeing people come from this camp who are giving their life to Christ, giving their life to go on the mission field,” said Joe, who served as an International Mission Board Journeyman missionary to South Africa. “We’re seeing people who are going to this camp as a child, and then turning around, getting to high school age and starting Christian clubs in their schools.

“I think [Lake Sallateeska] is vital in the life of Southern Baptists in the state of Illinois because it’s giving our students a passion for the gospel. And they’re taking that passion and they’re running with it.”

As the Lake Sallateeska team embarks on their next season of ministry, Hall said their goal is to continue the commitment and legacy that started 75 years ago.
“My hope for the future is that we just continue to hear from the Lord [and] be faithful with what we have. It’s a stewardship, a talent,” he said, referencing Jesus’s parable in Matthew 25.

“I truly hope, when my time is over, to pass on a facility and a ministry that’s better than it was when I got it, to the next runner, to carry out this race.”

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