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THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Christian colleges and schools and other religious institutions–including churches–could face the loss of their tax exempt status if the Supreme Court declares same-sex marriage a constitutional right, writes college chancellor Michael Farris in an editorial for USA Today.

The_Briefing“Christian colleges and churches need to get prepared,” says Farris, chancellor of Patrick Henry College and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association. “We must decide which is more important to us–our tax exemption or our religious convictions.”

Over at The Christian Post, Washington University law professor John Inazu examines the issue with help from a brief filed by a same-sex marriage advocate, who nonetheless outlines potential religious liberty concerns.


Bill would protect Missouri college groups
The Missouri Senate is considering a bill that allows religious student groups on public college campuses to limit membership based on their religious convictions. House Bill 104, the “Student Freedom of Association Act,” comes amidst a string of cases in other states where campus groups came under fire for who they allowed to join or serve as leaders. Last year, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was “derecognized” by the schools in the California State University system because the ministry’s leadership requirements were found to be in conflict with a university policy that required recognized groups to accept all students as potential leaders. Read more about the Missouri measure at ChristianPost.com.


Post-ruling marriage event planned
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission announced this month it will host a church equipping event in Austin, Texas, following the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. “The Gospel and Same-Sex Marriage: Equipping the Church for a Post-Marriage Culture,” is scheduled to be held at Austin Stone Community Church July 29. The event will also be available via free simulcast.


Is your church Google-friendly?
Due to changes at Google, some older church websites may not appear at the top of the list when web users search for churches in their city, Baptist Press reports. At issue is the “mobile friendliness” of your site, which can be tested at Google’s Mobile Friendly Test website.


‘Desperate days’ need uncommon prayer
Texas pastor Jack Graham called for extraordinary and uncommon prayer during the National Day of Prayer gathering in Washington, D.C., May 7. “We are facing a crisis in America. These are desperate days,” said Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church and honorary chairperson of the National Day Of Prayer Task Force. “Uncommon times call for uncommon prayer, and so we cry out to God. We cry out to God.”


Dictionary mulls ‘Mx.’ title
Editors of the Oxford English Dictionary are considering adding a new pre-name title similar to Mr. and Mrs. The new moniker—Mx.—would denote transgender individuals. Mx. is used more commonly in the United Kingdom than in America, “but we are monitoring its development and will be interested to see if it takes root here in the same way it has in the U.K.,” Emily Brewster, an associate editor with Merriam-Webster, Inc., told The Christian Post.

COMMENTARY | Chase Abner

Chase_Abner_callout_April15Recently, I was at an event for church leaders that focused on the state of marriage in America. There were audible gasps and shaking heads as speakers shared statistics indicating the declining support for a traditional view of marriage.

My first reaction was, “How is this news surprising to anyone?” Perhaps I was being a little smug. I forgot that not everyone
has had my experience peering into the worldviews of college students for more than a decade.

And from my days as an undergraduate until now, I’ve witnessed a steady, quickening march towards a new definition of sexual morality, and, yes, marriage.

My experiences as a student, campus minister, and IBSA’s collegiate evangelism strategist have given me a unique perspective on how attitudes and ideas on campus are very predictive of where public opinion is heading. By the time a hot-button issue hits the heartland, it’s already been debated and settled by the opinion makers on campus.

As Christians, and as church leaders, we can’t afford to ignore the fact that worldviews are formed on college campuses. Simply put, recent college graduates are extremely influential in our communities and they, most likely, have been steeping in a culture where Jesus is not honored as king and the Bible is not respected. And relativism isn’t the only obstacle to the gospel. There are absolute truths found on campus—even sacred ones—but they aren’t necessarily truths that Christians can embrace.

Students who are graduating from our colleges and universities go on to lead influential lives. They’re teaching in our schools. They’re being elected to lead our governments. They are lawyers, doctors, and more. They are getting married and raising children.

Campuses are where young, energetic, gifted people are figuring out how they will leave their mark on the world. They are mission fields where the nations are gathering to formulate their worldviews, and training grounds for the next generation of great church leaders.

Shouldn’t reaching college students be a central component of our churches’ mission strategy?

It is nearly impossible to overstate the church’s opportunity to change the world through college ministry. In Illinois, we have more than 200 campuses representing over 900,000 college students. And 43,000 of those are international students.

What potential!

Chase Abner directed the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Southern Illinois University before moving to Springfield to serve as IBSA’s collegiate evangelism strategist.

COMMENTARY | Chase Abner

Note: This article originally appeared on Collegiate Collective, a new resource that features articles, podcasts, and videos designed to equip leaders to advance the gospel on college campuses.

Okay. Here’s my qualification to talk about Halloween on campus: I served as a campus minister for seven years in Carbondale. Beginning in the 1980s, Carbondale became known for its raucous Halloween celebrations. In fact, most folks these days refer to them as “the riots.” Cars got turned over. Store windows were busted. Bottles were thrown at police. After a particularly violent weekend in 2000, city officials closed the bars on “the Strip” each Halloween in hopes that it would discourage the behavior. Instead, students just celebrated a week earlier in what is now infamously “Unofficial Halloween” (or simply “Unofficial” if you’re a cool kid).

Even this year, Unofficial got bonkers and police showed up in riot gear to mace and pepper spray the crowd after a car got turned over just blocks from campus.

Chase_Abner_callout_Oct30I never found an effective way to engage students during Unofficial outside of throwing my own tamer Halloween party. I can’t talk about that or I’ll draw the ire of my more fundamentalist friends. However, I can talk about what I think students’ fascination with Halloween reveals about culture on campus.

The Supernatural
Part of what makes haunted houses and scary movies enticing to people is the notion that there are malicious spirits that walk among us. In some ways, it’s a subtle rejection of the naturalistic worldview that can be common on campus, especially among those immersed in the physical sciences. Even as Dawkins-flavored atheists/agnostics become more vocal, research shows that the majority of Millennials believe in God with “absolute certainty.”

While it may be disconcerting to see students toy with the concept of evil spirits for the sake of entertainment, I encourage you to see it as a bridge to talk about Christ. Christians, of all people, should be ready to affirm the existence of a paranormal reality and to point others to the one who is ultimately victorious over evil.

Community
Research by the National Retail Federation predicts that 67.4% of 18-24-year-olds will spend money on Halloween costumes this year. These young adults predict that they’ll each spend about $40 on their costumes. I guarantee that these students aren’t going to shell out that much cash to get all dressed up and have nowhere to go.

The point of wearing a costume is to join the throngs of costumed students in the campus community – to see and be seen. Halloween reveals, almost as well as athletic events, that students want to be a part of a community rallying around a common purpose. Like all people, they have an innate desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to belong and they want to celebrate.

Our ministries have so much more to offer that desire than Halloween can provide. We can provide ongoing community that is centered around an eternal purpose realized in the mission of God.

Boredom
When I try to figure out what might motivate a college student to don a costume and go make mischief (like tipping a car over or assaulting police officers, cf. “Unofficial” above), one answer that comes to mind is boredom. I think a lot of the trouble students get into at Halloween stems from the extended adolescence that finds fertile ground during college. Without a clear path to make a difference in the world, many students will use their freedom from immediate parental guidance to indulge some of our basest desires simply for lack of something better to do.

One way that our ministries can serve students (even before they know Jesus) is to provide them with opportunities to make a positive impact in the surrounding community. These students may not ever be ready to teach Bible studies, but they can read to underprivileged children, clean up litter, or clean out gutters for the elderly. Imagine the Gospel-centered conversations that could occur between students as they do community projects together. Imagine the good that could be done for your city if you find a way to channel bored students’ talents and energy into a Kingdom-focused alternative.

The Gospel
I know some will accuse me of over-thinking things. “Can’t Halloween just be about fun, Chase?” Of course it can, but even the desire for fun reveals something about the human condition, no? We all chase various things in hopes of being satisfied. So whether students are seeking supernatural affirmation that there’s more to life than what they see…or a sense of belonging with others…or an escape from a routine, meaningless existence…the Gospel of the Kingdom offers more than they could dream.

So, this weekend, I’m not asking you to ruin anyone’s Halloween fun. But as you observe the celebration (and probably mischief) in your campus community, let it freshly awaken you to why you’re there and why collegiate ministry matters.

Chase Abner is collegiate evangelism strategist for the Illinois Baptist State Association.

COMMENTARY | Chase Abner

Note: This article originally appeared on Collegiate Collective, a new resource that features articles, podcasts, and videos designed to equip leaders to advance the gospel on college campuses.

Chase_Abner_calloutI’ve been around collegiate ministry for about eleven years. In those years, I’ve been witness to all sorts of public hubbub on the world stage of evangelicalism. At first, there was the challenge posed by Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Then there was a lot of back-and-forth about the Emergent Church and how post-modernism was going to erode all of Christendom. And that was just a precursor to Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” and the battle for the doctrine of hell. And Mark Driscoll has been the subject of his fair share of controversies. Throw “The Shack” and Calvinism into the mix and you’ve got yourself enough blog fodder to last you until the other side of eternity.

Early on, I somehow got the impression that a big part of my job as a campus minister was to help students be on the “right side” of all these public controversies. I read a lot of blogs and way too many blog comments. I sought out what side my heroes were on. I studied the Bible hard and I tried to provide my students with all the right answers.

However, there was one big problem.

They weren’t even asking the questions. Most of them didn’t even know who Brown or Driscoll or Bell or Calvin was. They were more concerned about passing their biology test or paying tuition in the spring or what they were going to say to their roommate struggling with depression.

So I gave up. I stopped trying to be up-to-date on the controversy of the day. I decided that if it wasn’t something that was directly impacting my students, then I wouldn’t bother with it.

And guess what? I found that I had a lot more time to hear from God, rather than about Him from someone on a podcast. I found that I was freer to hear the questions the students actually had, rather than the ones I forced on them. And I found that it’s a lot easier to follow Jesus when you’re not fighting over Jesus.

So last week, a video of Victoria Osteen made the rounds. If you didn’t know, she is the wife of America’s most famous mega-pastor Joel Osteen. The clip is from a sermon in August wherein Victoria makes some…how do you say…provocative claims about proper motivation for obeying God. (If you haven’t seen it yet, then count yourself blessed and forget I mentioned it.)

Here’s what naïve Chase would’ve probably done in response to this clip if it had come along in my early days of ministry: I would’ve torn the thing to bits, shared all the parody videos, and read every blog that critiques the Osteens’ errant theology. I might’ve even used one of the parody videos in our weekly gathering or taught an entire lesson in response. In other words, I would’ve wasted a lot of time doing battle against something that had virtually zero influence on the people in my care.

Let me suggest this template for responding to public Christian controversies in your collegiate ministry context.

  1. Pray for the individuals caught in sin or espousing false teaching.
    • Example: Pray for the Osteens and those influenced by their teaching ministry.
  2. Examine yourself in light of Scripture.
    • Example: Ask God to show you where you have selfish motives in your obedience to him. Repent as necessary.
  3. Listen to your students. Respond when necessary.
    • Example: If your students aren’t being influenced by the controversy, then press on in your disciple-making as if nothing has happened. If they have questions about it, then address the controversy.

You see, as you focus your energy on developing mature Christians who believe and apply the gospel to all of life, they will be equipped to address the counterfeits on their own. If at times, the controversies catch their attention and your students have questions, then embrace those as teachable moments. But remember, they are just that—moments—and not the normal pattern for your ministry.

Most of all, avoid the temptation to define yourself and your ministry by what you’re against. Is the gospel exclusive? Yes. Does God draw some hard lines in Scripture? Yes. But most clearly, he reveals himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ who gave most of his energy on earth to proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom.

Chase Abner is Collegiate Evangelism Strategist for the Illinois Baptist State Association.

One in five Americans reported experiencing a mental illness in a single year; one in 10 takes an antidepressant.

One in five Americans reported experiencing a mental illness in a single year; one in 10 takes an antidepressant.

“…The day that I’d prayed would never happen, happened.”

In an interview last month with CNN’s Piers Morgan, Rick Warren recalled standing with his wife, Kay, in their son’s driveway in April, waiting for police to confirm their worst fears – Matthew, 27, had committed suicide after a long struggle with mental illness.

“We were sobbing. We were just sobbing,” Warren said.

The interview was the Warrens’ first since their son’s death, but the couple has been vocal on social media and from Saddleback’s pulpit about Matthew’s life and their grief. They’re also speaking out about the long-held stigma against mental illness in the church.

“It’s amazing to me that any other organ in your body can break down and there’s no shame and stigma to it,” Warren said in his first sermon back at Saddleback after a leave of absence. “But if your brain breaks down, you’re supposed to keep it a secret. …If your brain doesn’t work right, why should you be ashamed of that?”

Following Matthew Warren’s death, his parents created a fund in his name, in part to help develop resources for churches to use as they reach out to struggling families in the community and in the congregation.

There are many people in churches suffering from mental health issues, says Hal Trovillion, a former counselor and current pastor of First Baptist Church in Manteno, Ill. “The thing is that those people tend to feel as though others look at them badly, because of whatever their situation,” he says.

“The church needs to just turn that around. What many of them need is simply love and acceptance and a welcoming heart and help to deal with the issues at hand.”

Read the full cover story from latest issue of the Illinois Baptist and access the e-reader edition here.

Wife of Amish schoolhouse shooter shares hope in new book

Marie Monville’s quiet life crumbled violently in 2006, when her husband shot 10 young girls in an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. Her new book, “One Light Still Shines,” tells her story since that day, with a focus on how God sustained her family.

“Within the eye of the storm, the presence of God came and settled upon me,” Monville writes on her blog, whisperandwonder.wordpress.com. “Although I ‘knew’ God all my life, this moment of desperation propelled me to now KNOW him like never before.”

“One Light Still Shines” was released Monday, September 30, by Zondervan. Read more about on CNN’s Belief blog.

Missionary family trapped in Kenyan mall during terrorist attack

When terrorists seized a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, on September 21, a Southern Baptist missionary couple and their five children were inside. Baptist Press reports International Mission Board missionaries Chris and Jamie Suel and their kids had walked into Westgate Shopping Mall shortly before the terrorists. The Suels separated to shop before the attack began, and were reunited after five harrowing hours. The seige lasted three days and resulted in as many as 200 deaths. Read more at BPNews.net.

Jewish prayer book believed to be oldest ever found

The Green Collection, a biblical archive headed by Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, has identified what their scholars say is likely “the oldest Jewish prayer book ever found.” The manuscript is dated circa 840 C.E. and is in its original binding, the Green Collection reported in a press release. The prayer book will eventually be displayed at a Bible museum in Washington, D.C., scheduled to open in 2017. Read more at ChristianityToday.com.

 

Are you religious, spiritual or secular? College students weigh in

A new study found college students are pretty evenly divided on how they describe themselves spiritually, ChristianPost.com reports. The email survey was conducted by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College (Hartford, Conn.), whose researchers asked: “In general, would you describe yourself more as a religious, spiritual or secular person?” 32.4% answered “spiritual;” 31.8% said “religious;” and 28.2% identified themselves as “secular.”

The research is based on the responses of 1,873 students representing 27 states and 38 colleges. Read the full story at ChristianPost.com.