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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.
BETHLEHEM, ISRAEL - MARCH 6, 2015: The modern fresco of Palm Sun

The modern fresco of Palm Sunday in Syrian orthodox church by artist K. Veniadis (1987).

The crowd is often wrong. Popular opinion frequently misses the truth. And unfortunately, it seems that unrighteousness is usually trending.

From the earliest days of human history that has been so. The crowd was wrong in the days of Noah, as it was in the gathering at Babel. Godliness was often forsaken in the days of the prophets, and the dominant culture was usually wrong in the days of the early church.

But the crowds that gathered as Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday got it gloriously right.

The crowds that gathered in the city just days later would call for the murder of Jesus. Many political and religious leaders would exult in the His crucifixion. But on that first Palm Sunday the gathered people welcomed the Messiah and Savior of the world.

Let’s note three ways the crowd got it right on that first Palm Sunday as we consider our response to Jesus on this Palm Sunday.

The crowd was right to give honor

The people got word that Jesus was entering the city and they immediately stepped forward to honor Him. He entered on a borrowed donkey which both fulfilled Old Testament prophecy and spoke to humility. People rushed to cushion each step by placing palm branches and even their own cloaks on the ground before Him.

We rightly honor Jesus by our care for the things of God. When we care more about the glory of the Lord than our own comfort, we honor Him. When we sacrifice our time and energy and possessions, we honor Him. When we look for ways to bless His work, we honor Him.

I pray you will honor the Lord with your life this Palm Sunday and Easter season. Honor Him by loving the things that matter. Honor Him with your sacrifice for the things that count. Honor Him with a bent knee and a giving heart. On Palm Sunday we remember all that Jesus is and all that He has done. And we honor that memory and that mission as we gather with the crowd.

The crowd was right to worship

The people began a spontaneous worship service as Jesus passed by on the first Palm Sunday. They sang out snatches of the Psalms. Their cries of “Hosanna” — a word of praise from the Hebrew word for “salvation” — rang out above the noise. They sensed the working of God to save mankind from sin and could not contain songs of loudest praise.

I hope you will worship the Lord joyfully this Palm Sunday and Easter season. He is worthy of all your praise. By His death, we can find life. By His work, we can find meaning and purpose in the work of our lives. By His resurrection, we have power over death and the grave. We have ample reason to praise our Messiah, Savior and Lord.

When you gather for worship on Sunday, remember who Jesus is and what He has done. And praise Him from the depth of your heart. Jesus told the skeptical Pharisees who hated this praise that the rocks would cry out if the people didn’t. We have a reason to sing and a reason to shout and Palm Sunday reminds us of this privilege. Let no stone be needed to take your place in worship. Praise His name fully and powerfully.

The crowd was right to proclaim

Matthew’s Gospel tells us the city was shaken by the crowd’s praise. People asked who it was that passed by. The crowd proclaimed, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee!” (Matthew 21:11).

We gather in worship on Palm Sunday and the Easter season to proclaim the message of Jesus. We proclaim the Gospel message that Jesus is God’s only begotten Son, that He died to pay the penalty for our sins, that He was buried but that He rose from the dead on the third day. We proclaim Christ as our Savior and as our King. We proclaim that He is the only hope for the world. We proclaim that He will return one day to claim His own and that those who repent of their sins and place their faith in Him will live for eternity with Him in heaven. This is our proclamation in song and sermon and life.

The crowd got it right on that first Palm Sunday. Let’s gather this week with other believers and all those who will hear and, together, honor and worship and proclaim the name of Jesus. There will be no need for stones to take our place.

— Doug Munton is pastor of First Baptist Church O’Fallon and first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared in Baptist Press.

Illinois-Senate-chambers

Illinois Senate Chambers

An Illinois Senate bill that would have mandated training for clergy has been pulled by its sponsor. The bill had raised concerns regarding First Amendment rights and religious liberty.

Senate Bill 912, the Abused and Neglect Child Training Bill, mandated clergy be required to complete at least four hours of training each year to recognize signs of domestic violence against children and adults. According to Ralph Rivera, a lobbyist for the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), the bill’s sponsor, Senator Melinda Bush (Grayslake), is instead working on a resolution that would urge the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to reach out to clergy and churches through an educational campaign about how to recognize child abuse and domestic violence.

In an e-mail, Rivera credited the bill’s defeat to “quite a number of pastors and citizens who contacted their senators urging them to oppose this government intrusion into the affairs of churches and religious liberties.” This included the Catholic Conference and over 500 people through IFI.

Read the next issue of the Illinois Baptist for additional coverage breaking news.

The BriefingClash of worldviews on defunding Planned Parenthood
Evangelicals have long advocated for the end of government funding of Planned Parenthood. President Trump recently offered to keep the funding in place if Planned Parenthood would agree to stop performing abortions.  Here are two different views on the subject:
– Trump to Planned Parenthood: Halt abortions, receive funds
– Abortion ‘vital’ to Planned Parenthood mission; Southern Baptist leaders respond

Church sued after baptism made public
After a Syrian Muslim man converted to Christianity, he asked to be baptized by First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa. The man said the church promised to keep his baptism quiet, since shari‘ah law demands that converts from Islam be executed. He flew to Syria almost immediately after his baptism to marry his fiancée. A few weeks later, while still in Syria, he was kidnapped by Islamist extremists who said they learned about his conversion from the church’s website.

Married lesbian Baptist co-pastors say all ‘beloved’
Rev. Maria Swearingen stood in the pulpit for the first time as the lesbian co-pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., her wife and fellow co-pastor, the Rev. Sally Sarratt, smiling over her left shoulder as they began their new joint roles. Raised in Southern Baptist households, at one point in their lives they thought the best path for ministry might be to become pastor’s wives. “The spirit works in mysterious ways,” said Swearingen.

How many Americans have a Biblical worldview?
Millions of Americans call themselves Christians, but how does their faith shape their worldview? A new Barna Group study says, “not so much.” Researchers asked American Christians about their views on issues like lying, cheating, the nature of God, and sin. They found that while more than seven out of 10 Americans call themselves Christians, just one out of every 10 were able to answer basic questions about the Bible and the faith.

Islam largest religion by 2070
Pew Research analyzed demographic change among the world’s major religions and found that the world’s population of Muslims will grow by 73% between 2010 and 2050, compared to 35% for Christians, the next fastest-growing faith. The world’s population will grow by 37% over the same period. If those rates of growth continue past 2050, Muslims will outnumber Christians by 2070, the report found.

Sources: Fox News, Baptist Press, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, CBN, The Telegraph (U.K.)

The BriefingGraham urges ‘Beast’ boycott
Franklin Graham has called for a boycott of Disney over the company’s inclusion of a gay character in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast remake. “They’re trying to push the LGBT agenda into the hearts and minds of your children—watch out!” Graham wrote in a Facebook post.

Christian bakers appeal $135K fine
Christian bakers who lost their store and were fined $135,000 for declining to make a cake for a same-sex wedding brought their case before the Oregon Court of Appeals in an attempt to overturn the judgment. Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Oregon, said they simply want the freedom to live by the tenets of their faith.

High court vacates pro-transgender ruling
The U.S. Supreme Court set aside March 6 a ruling in favor of a transgender high school student and returned it to a lower court for reconsideration in light of the Trump administration’s recent withdrawal of a directive issued under President Obama. With the change in administration guidance, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will have to weigh its April 2016 decision that the school board of an eastern Virginia county violated federal law by refusing to permit a transgender high school student — who is a female biologically but identifies as a male — to use the boys’ restroom.

Muslim chaplain to head Army division
After a ceremony this summer, Lt. Col. Khallid Shabazz will become the first Muslim division-level chaplain in the history of the U.S. military. In January, he was offered the job of chaplain for an entire division, an honor for anyone in his field but a milestone in his case – a Muslim spiritual leader for more than 14,000 mostly Christian soldiers.

Americans warm to religious groups—except evangelicals
Fewer Americans say they know an evangelical Christian. Potentially as a result, evangelicals were the one religious group that didn’t experience an increase in warmth among Americans. Pew Research asked Americans to rate their feelings toward major faith groups on a “feeling thermometer,” ranked from zero to 100—the higher the ranking, the more positive the impression. Overall, Jews (67 degrees), Catholics (66 degrees), and mainline Protestants (65 degrees) were rated warmest.

Sources: Time, The Washington Times, Baptist Press, McClatchy DC, Facts and Trends

The old adage says there are three things you should never talk about in polite company—money, religion, and politics. We already break two of those three rules every Sunday in church. Are we ready to break the third—politics?

The Free Speech Fairness Act was introduced the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives Feb. 1. The bill doesn’t repeal the Johnson Amendment, which limits church involvement in politics, but offers what Alliance Defending Freedom calls a “relief valve”—“as you carry out the mission of your church, you would have the right to speak freely on all matters of life, including candidates and elections.” Most importantly it maintains the prohibition against churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations from donating money to candidates and political campaigns.

The Johnson Amendment became part of the U.S. tax code in 1954 when then Senator Lyndon Johnson successfully restricted tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates under penalty of losing their tax-exempt status.

President Donald Trump discussed eliminating the amendment numerous times throughout his campaign and most recently at the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 2. “[Thomas] Jefferson asked, can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God,” Trump said. “Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that, remember.”

The question is, are churches ready for this? The pastor of the small church I grew up in was not shy about sharing his political views. He shared from the pulpit who he was voting for in the presidential election, and told congregants they could vote for whomever they wanted, just go vote. I remember as a middle-schooler being shocked, not so much by his action, but by the person he was voting for on election day. His candidate lost, there was no outcry in the church, and the IRS never came knocking on our church doors.

Not all pastors and congregants want to discuss politics within the church walls, but, if passed, the Free Speech Fairness Act would give those who want to the freedom to do so.

– LMS

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The Briefing‘The Shack’ film stirs debate
A fictional and emotionally destroyed Mack Phillips answers a mysterious invitation to a remote, isolated cabin. There he finds a trinity of fatherly love in a woman named “Papa” whose cohorts teach Phillips forgiveness and the faith to run on water — literally. It’s the synopsis of the movie “The Shack,” based on William Paul Young’s book by the same title, that some described as a biblically sound parable. And as with the book, others are criticizing the movie as a farce that serves to deeply distort rather than affirm biblical truths.

Poll: Decide bathroom access by biological sex
A majority of Americans think bathroom access should be granted according to biological sex, according to a new poll. Of the 545 Americans adults surveyed, 56% disagree with the assertion that people who are transitioning into the appearance of the opposite sex should be legally allowed to use whichever bathrooms they want.

Screening & abortion bringing ‘Down Syndrome-free world’
In the last nine years, no babies with Down Syndrome have been born in Iceland. Holland is following suit, with a heavy push for prenatal screening. Though 74-94% do choose to abort, a large percentage of women there (and in Britain, nearly 1/3) opt out of the prenatal screening, so some babies with Down syndrome are still born in Holland.

Christian families flee Sinai after ISIS threat
Egyptian Christians are fleeing the restive Sinai Peninsula, some with just the clothes on their backs, amid a series of killings and an explicit call by Islamic State for its followers to target the minority group. Most had gone to churches but were being provided government housing Egypt’s state newspaper, Al Ahram, quoted a parliamentary affairs minister as saying.

Tim Keller stepping down as Redeemer pastor
Later this year, Redeemer Presbyterian will no longer be a multi-site megachurch in Manhattan, and Tim Keller, 66, will no longer be its senior pastor. Keller will be stepping down in a move that corresponds with a decades-long plan to transition the single Presbyterian Church in America congregation—which has grown to 5,000 members since it began 28 years ago—into three churches.

Sources: Baptist Press, The Federalist, ForEveryMom.com, Fox News, Christianity Today