Archives For Christianity

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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.

Priority 17 worship

Priority Conference looks at godly womanhood

“There’s a lot going on in the culture,” Carmen Halsey said. “If Christian women are not going to talk about it, who is?”

Halsey challenged the nearly 600 attenders at the Priority Women’s Conference in Decatur April 28-29, and brought before them speakers who would address tough issues women face today. “Some of the topics (at the conference) sound a bit risky,” she said, “but the culture is talking about it; the culture is who we’re going to have to reach. We are going to have to be brave if we’re going to do it.”

Halsey serves as IBSA Women’s Missions and Ministry director. The two-day conference addressed what it means to be godly women in today’s culture.

The conference took place against a backdrop of women’s marches with pink hats and cat ears, and a resurgence of debate on feminism and abortion. An April march on the state capitol in Springfield came the day of passage of a bill expanding taxpayer-funded abortions in the name of “women’s health care,” and now there is a renewed push for Illinois to become the thirty-seventh state pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Thirty eight are required for the ERA to become part of the U.S. Constitution, although the ten-year period for adoption expired 30 years ago.

How women can hold godly views and live Christ-like lives in such an environment may have been a subtext for the conference, but the admonitions were clear: “God calls us not to just be hearers of the Word, but also to be doers of the Word,” Halsey said.

“How do we create a safe place that we can come ask questions and learn from each other?” Halsey said. She emphasized the need for women to minister to women who don’t know Christ. And she brought to the platform teachers and leaders whose experiences serve as solid examples.

The missionary
Rebecca Epley served as an International Mission Board missionary to Bangladesh until taking voluntary retirement. Epley said its people are 96% Muslim, the rest are Hindu and Buddhist, with less than 1% Christian. “Many have never heard the name of Jesus, and do not know who Jesus is.”

Working with other missionaries, they started the Light of Hope Center to reach poor families. Muslims began threatening Christians who would go to the Christian center for help.

Epley shared, “One mother was told, if your daughter continues to go to this center, we’ll burn your house down.” The strong mother of six replied that the Christians had done much more for her daughter than the Muslims ever had. “She will not stop going to the center,” Epley quoted the woman as saying. “And no, they did not burn her house down.”

Epley also told about girl who visited the center who had gotten pregnant outside marriage. The girl had brought shame on her family, her mother pushed for an abortion. “In Bangladesh, they think until a baby is born it’s just a ball of blood,” said Epley.

“We found a Christian family to adopt that baby. That girl accepted the Lord, but later she was forced to marry a Muslim man. We can’t fix that situation, but we know that Jesus is in her heart.”

Epley encouraged the Illinois women to stand strong in their faith and to follow God’s leadership. “One of the verses God has given me is ‘Be still.’ Stop trying to figure it out. I will be exalted. Keep your eyes on me. He is going to be exalted through those girls in
Bangladesh.”

Church members
What should women do in the church? That’s a question with many answers, especially at a Southern Baptist women’s conference. Nora Allison and Carrie Campbell were the leaders of a breakout discussion on that topic. Allison is Director of Women at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Ky., and teaches at Southern Seminary. Campbell is a member of Sojourn, a student at Southern, and central Illinois native.

In the Bible we first see men and women in Genesis 1:26-28 when God created male and female in his image. In Ephesians 4:14-16 men and women are to work together as part of the church body.

“Peter says men and women alike are co-heirs,” Allison shared. “God gave women specific responsibility to lead and train other women in who they are supposed to be. Men and women are not alike in how they are created, or in how they live out their faith.

“Typically our churches are 60-65% women. We need women to identify their giftedness and then use their gifts in appropriate ways in their church.” Allison suggested doing this by having women teach other women and shepherd women in small groups.

Campbell said it’s important to “know what your church believes regarding women’s roles in the church.” It’s also good to find out if your church studied the biblical text to determine what the roles of women are. “What do you believe about the roles? Have you studied what the Bible says?” she asked.

Most important, Campbell said, “Examine your motives. Where is your heart ? It’s OK and right to push back if things are not biblical. Are you doing this for yourself and your own glory, or for God’s glory and his will to be done?”

Doers
“Feminism is alive and well in our culture and in the church,” or so said the breakout topic assigned to Jeanette Cloyd. A member of the Illinois Baptist Women’s State Advisory Team, Cloyd shared how after the Industrial Revolution, women started to be more involved in churches because they were looking for something worthwhile to do. But some women took it too far and acted as if they were more spiritual than men.

Cloyd said in the last twenty years, many women in evangelical churches have moved toward a more traditional biblical model of womanhood. Women are “having this constant struggle—a lot are quitting their jobs and staying home and raising their children.”

Women have begun looking for mentoring relationships. “We need someone to mentor, and not just younger women,” Cloyd said. “The Bible should be our guide,” she said, pointing to Titus 2. “We’re supposed to be humble and helpful to one another.” And mentoring is really discipleship. “We can’t do if we don’t know. We can’t look different to the world if we’re not doers of the word. That’s where discipleship comes in.”

And that’s the challenge for Baptist women: serving in the way of Christ, as godly women in a declining culture, so the world can see the difference.

-Lisa Misner Sergent

woman w flowers

Almost six months ago, God gave me the greatest gift I’ve ever received besides salvation and an amazing husband: a son.

Sheridan Steele Colter, born at 8 pounds and half an ounce after 30 hours of labor, is truly an answer to innumerable prayers. I’m continually in awe of the miracle of his life each time I whisper my love in his ear, stroke his strawberry-blonde hair, and tickle his tiny toes.

I’ve wanted to be a mom as far back as I can remember. My own mother modeled the role with excellence, and I grew up wanting to be just like her. Early in my marriage, however, God allowed my husband and me to experience the loss of precious life through miscarriage. Years that felt like decades passed, and with each one, we became a little less confident that we would ever become parents to biological children.

Like other holidays, this one can also be stressful.

We were in near disbelief and cautiously elated when a positive result registered on an at-home pregnancy test. We cried tears of joy that were every bit as wet and salty as those we’d shed over our previous losses. Months later, six days after his due date, our precious son arrived, a gift who shines brightly in my life, and all the brighter juxtaposed with the dimness that came before him.

I want to be sure “to forget not all [the Lord’s] benefits” (Psalm 103:2) and to thank God for the graciously sweet gift of a child. Yet, my heart remains bruised for those who approach Mother’s Day with deep sadness. Some have experienced the loss of their own mother. Some have had to bury children. Some have grieved through the pain of miscarriage. And some have watched the dream of parenthood die.

Scripture tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), and on Mother’s Day, we have the opportunity to practice both ends of that command. It seems to me that most of us have an easier time with the rejoicing part, but it’s the bearing one another’s burdens portion that can prove a bit more difficult. Here are just a few thoughts on how we might do that this year:

1. Don’t try to fix it. Only God can administer the “peace which passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Tell hurting friends you are praying for them, and then don’t forget to do it. Consider sending a snail mail card or even a text message to someone after you have prayed, letting them know you did so. Often, that will arrive at just the right moment to encourage your friend’s heart, and they will no doubt be grateful you’ve approached the Lord on their behalf.

2. Create an environment where they are welcomed to rejoice with you in your celebrations. Think less about the fact that it might make you feel awkward that you have been given a blessing they would love to have, and more about the fact that they might love to have something to celebrate along with you, even in the midst of their own pain. Don’t think that just because they are hurting they will not want to share in your times of rejoicing.

3. Give them space. After you have created a welcoming environment for them to join in with you, respect the fact that they might wish to step back for a moment. There is not one single way to grieve—some people might desire a bit of space to themselves as they work through their pain. This is one of those times when sending a card might be the way to go. There is nothing intrusive about an envelope with a note of care being delivered to their mailbox, but it certainly lets your friend know you have thought of them.

4. Don’t do nothing. Horrible grammar, I know. But, truly, this is not one of those if-you-just-ignore-something-it-goes-away things. Your friend is hurting, and even though you cannot take away their pain, you can acknowledge it. Be honest with your friend that you don’t know what to say but you want them to know you are there for them.

As I finish typing this, my son is squealing with delight in his swing next to my rocking chair. He is a beautiful gift and the “joy” that has come in my “morning” (Psalm 30:5). I’ll celebrate being his mom this year, thanking the Lord for his faithfulness in the darkest of times and the brightest. I pray God reveals that faithfulness to those who mourn this Mother’s Day and that my celebration won’t multiply their pain, but instead point to a God whose character is good in the bad times and the pleasant, and whose love is without end.

Sharayah Colter is a writer in Fort Worth, Texas, and owner of Colter & Co. Design.

– From Baptist Press

The Briefing

IBDR flood response teams activated
The heavy rains that fell in late April and early May leaving behind several inches rain have caused major flooding in Southern Illinois and the St. Louis Metro area. Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief (IBDR) has been monitoring the situation and called assessors. Now, multiple IBDR flood response teams are on the ground in Williamson and Franklin Counties in Illinois.

Samford U considers pro-LGBT student group
A recommendation by Samford University’s faculty to approve a pro-homosexual student group could have “serious implications … for the relationship” between the university and the Alabama Baptist State Convention, according to a joint statement by the convention’s president and the executive director of its State Board of Missions.

Americans view of morality studied
Most older Americans say right and wrong never change. Younger Americans — not so much, according to a new study released May 9. The study by LifeWay Research found a significant generation gap in how Americans view morality. More than 6 in 10 of those older than 45 say right and wrong do not change. For those 35 and younger, fewer than 4 in 10 make that claim.

Religious liberty order doesn’t answer evangelicals’ prayers
In his biggest religious liberty push since taking office, President Donald Trump officially laid out in an executive order some of the protections he has promised faithful supporters for months. The move came on the same day that evangelical leaders gathered in Washington for the annual National Day of Prayer. One problem: This is not the executive order many evangelicals had been praying for.

Army secretary nominee bows out over marriage views
President Donald Trump’s nominee to be secretary of the Army has withdrawn from consideration amid criticism of his positions on marriage and gender. Mark Green, a state senator from Tennessee, said in a statement that false and misleading attacks against him made his nomination a distraction.

Sources: Illinois Baptist, Florida Baptist Witness, Baptist Press, Christianity Today, World Magazine

Trump-religious-liberty-EO

President Donald Trump signed an executive order to protect faith beliefs and practice in a ceremony May 4. Screen capture from WhiteHouse.gov. Courtesy Baptist Press

On May 4 – The National Day of Prayer – President Donald Trump, signed an executive order promising to provide churches, non-profit organizations, and Christian-owned business greater religious liberty. Reaction among Christians, especially evangelicals has been mixed. Here’s a round-up of some of those reactions:

Baptists cautious on Trump executive order
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “After years of open hostility toward religious institutions and conscience from the previous administration, this executive order is a welcome change in direction toward people of faith from the White House. Not only that, but many federal agencies are working already to ensure that the executive and administrative violations of religious freedom from the Obama administration are being rolled back.” Read more from Moore and other Southern Baptists.

Concern Trump’s order doesn’t address key issues
Some evangelical voices, like Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation; David French, a lawyer and writer at National Review; and Gregory Baylor with Alliance Defending Freedom had critical words for the president’s religious liberty executive order. They called the order woefully inadequate, weak, and a promise unfulfilled.

What Trump understands about religious liberty in America
There is a war on religious liberty in America – and this war is targeting people of the Christian faith. An Army of militant atheists and LGBT activists are hell-bent on eradicating Christianity from the public marketplace and punishing Christians who follow the teachings of Christ. That’s why President Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty Thursday in the Rose Garden – to protect Americans who have been targeted by a politically correct lynch mob.

Reaction mixed on order targeting birth control, churches, politics
Trump’s executive order targeted the Johnson Amendment, a provision of tax law which prohibits churches from getting directly involved in political campaigns. But it stopped short of his vow to “totally destroy” the amendment, instead instructing the Internal Revenue Service to enforce the law consistent with how it’s done so in the past — allowing speech on political and moral issues as long as it doesn’t advocate the election or defeat of a particular candidate.

Analysis: Trump order unlikely to alter sermonizing
Many Americans want religious leaders to be clear about their values and how those values impact every aspect of life, including politics. And they want churches to be free to practice their faith, which includes discussing politics without any government intervention. But few want their preacher’s advice on which candidate to vote for.

Sources: Baptist Press, World Magazine, Fox News, USA Today, Baptist Press

Michael Allen

In a complete revamp from any year in memory, the 2017 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference features pastors of average-sized SBC churches who will preach through one book of the Bible—Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago and a former president of IBSA’s Pastors’ Conference, is one of 12 pastors who will take the stage in Phoenix June 11-12. The group also includes David Choi, pastor of Chicago’s Church of the Beloved.

Allen spoke with the Illinois Baptist about his upcoming message and what pastors like him contribute to the SBC family:

Q: What passage will you preach in Phoenix?

A: I’ll be preaching Philippians 3:17-21. This passage gives us a reminder of our citizenship in heaven, and helps the church distinguish itself from the world in how we think, act, and live. And then it also reminds us that it is the resurrection power of Christ that changes us both inside and out.

Q: What do you think is unique about what smaller or average-sized churches (and their pastors) add to SBC life?

A: The conference choice of pastors who lead small and medium-sized churches helps the conference attendees better identify and relate to guys just like them. We know that most churches in America, regardless of denomination, are small (less than 100). It also highlights the fact that pastors of smaller churches can effectively handle the Word of God, even in big venues. The Scriptures remind us not to “despise small beginnings” (Zech. 4:10).

Q: The conference this year also is focused on diversity. In your opinion, what is the value of hearing from pastors of different ethnicities and backgrounds?

A: We all have a unique cultural background which colors how we see and experience life. Culture also is a lens through which we see and interpret God’s Word and God himself. So hearing from ethnically diverse preachers in our convention enriches us all, because God made us different and his intentions are that we learn from and complement each other.

Q: You represent both the Midwest and one of the country’s largest cities. What about your ministry experience in Chicago do you want the larger SBC family to hear and understand?

A: The SBC family needs to understand that the world continues to move into ever-growing metropolitan cities, making them more and more diverse—ethnically, socio-economically, religiously, and every other measurement of diversity. Therefore, we have a great opportunity to win the world to Christ without ever boarding a plane.

At the same time [increasing diversity] makes ministry more complex, and more resources are needed to do ministry here. Whatever strategy the International Mission Board is using to reach the world for Christ can and should be prayerfully considered to be employed in America’s rich and diverse urban centers. IMB and the North American Mission Board ought to continue to seek ways they can collaborate with each other for the glory of God in the salvation of souls.

The primary group of preachers at the Pastors’ Conference will be joined by four pastors who will give testimonies of how their lives and ministries have benefited from smaller membership churches:

  • SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis
  • J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
  • Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., and former SBC president
  • Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, and former SBC president

For more information on the Pastors’ Conference, including a full schedule, go to sbcannualmeeting.net.

Open empty tomb. Watercolor painting

The day of Jesus’ resurrection has always been an orienting point for Christians. From the beginning, it was the day for their weekly gatherings. Later it became a pivotal day in the annual Christian calendar.

Prior to Easter each year, we reflect on Jesus’ perfect submission — from His victory over Satan’s temptations in the wilderness to His ultimate act of obedience on the cross. We examine our own devotion and deal intentionally with the temptations and distractions that keep us from full obedience.

Then, on Easter, the commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection pivots us from contemplating the humility of the suffering Lamb to celebrating the power of the risen Lamb; from identifying with the crucified Servant to exalting the victorious Savior.

This shift is rooted in the events that occurred on the very day of Jesus’ resurrection, beginning with the question posed to the women who went to His tomb: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”

Easter posture is not, however, merely standing and facing the resurrected Lord. It is standing and facing our future because of His resurrection.

It is true that the question had something to do with their location at the tomb. Luke reports, however, that the women had “inclined their faces to the ground” and that this posture prompted the messengers’ question. Why? Because early Christians knew they lived in a world governed by the words of Genesis 3:19: “You will eat food by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it; for you are dust, and you will return to dust.” The women’s posture that morning was entirely reasonable in light of these words. Each and every body laid in a tomb would return to the ground, the dust.

A change had occurred that morning, however, that the women’s posture did not reflect. Jesus’ resurrection had brought about a new posture. The women should not be inclined toward the ground looking for Jesus but standing and facing Him as their risen Lord.

Easter posture is not, however, merely standing and facing the resurrected Lord. It is standing and facing our future because of His resurrection.

Forty days prior to Easter, some Christians have ash placed on their foreheads and hear the words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” They are reminded of the brevity of life and the urgency of present obedience.

The question is good for you to hear: Why do you seek for the living among the dead?

If you have been to a funeral this past year, you don’t need an ashen symbol to remind you of the brevity of life or that death still grips creation. As you inclined your face toward the body that was to be placed in the ground, you were confronted with the fact that this is not how God created that person. The eulogies testified to the fact that there is no one in the world who spoke, sang, laughed or loved like the one whose body lay in the casket.

It is at just this point where the women’s lesson is vital for us because the Easter posture is a posture of hope. Death results in the body returning to the ground — for now. Sorrow and grief are real — for now. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, however, we can stand and face our future with hope. The apostle Paul says it this way: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

Are you struggling to face your future? Maybe you have experienced a great tragedy in your life: the death of a friend or family member, a diagnosis of a terminal disease. Maybe the loss of someone or something that has provided security has shaken your confidence in the future: the betrayal of a close friend or spouse, the loss of a job. Maybe anxiety is just your persistent struggle; you struggle to face the future even in the absence of crises.

The question is good for you to hear: Why do you seek for the living among the dead?

Allow the fact of Jesus’ resurrection to give you the confidence to face your future. With His resurrection in mind, stand up and face your future with hope.

Christopher Graham is assistant professor of theology at Criswell College and its program director for the master of divinity degree and master of arts in theological and biblical studies. This article is adapted from the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.