Archives For faith and culture

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 BriefingTrump admin. policy change on transgender students
The Trump administration signaled Feb. 10 that it was changing course on the previous administration’s efforts to expand transgender rights. The administration will no longer defend transgender students use of restrooms that do not match their anatomical gender identity. The move by the Justice Department does not change the situation for the nation’s public schools; a federal judge had already put a temporary hold on the guidance as a lawsuit by a dozen states moved through the courts.

Pregnancy resource centers sue Gov. Rauner
Eighteen Illinois women’s health organizations have sued Gov. Bruce Rauner over a law requiring pregnancy centers to tell patients about the benefits of abortion despite conscience-based objections. The measure requiring the dispensing of abortion information changed a 1977 law allowing health care professionals to refuse services they consider morally objectionable. The centers say the law violates the First Amendment.

Chicago restaurants’ Planned Parenthood bake sale
A baker’s dozen of Chicago’s upscale restaurants and bakeries are hosting a cookie sale to benefit Planned Parenthood. Supporters can purchase a box with one cookie each from the 13 restaurants for $75 with 100% of the proceeds directly benefit Planned Parenthood Illinois.

DeVos confirmation leaves Baptists hopeful
With the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as U.S. secretary of education, some Southern Baptists hope that emphases at the Department of Education will parallel themes expressed in Southern Baptist Convention resolutions on education adopted in 2014 and 2006. David Dykes, chairman of the 2014 SBC Resolutions Committee, noted he is “very encouraged by President Trump’s choice of people [for cabinet posts] who are outside the circle of politicians and the status quo for these positions. I think he really wants to shake things up, and I’m in favor of doing that.”

Strobel’s ‘The Case for Christ’ now a movie
Atheist-turned-Christian Lee Strobel’s 1998 best-selling book The Case for Christ heads to the screen April 7, with its first trailer revealed on usatoday.com. Mike Vogel plays Strobel as a Chicago Tribune investigative reporter in 1980, when Strobel begins to investigate Christianity, compelled by his wife Leslie’s (Erika Christensen) newfound faith.

 Sources: Washington Post, News Channel 20, Chicago Tribune, Baptist Press, USA Today

A time for change

ib2newseditor —  December 12, 2016

These final weeks of the year seem to always bring a mixture of emotions, as we gather sentimentally with family and friends for the holidays, and start reflecting on the ups and downs of the past year. Those year-end emotions seem supercharged this year, as the recent election has brought us a dramatic change in Presidential leadership, and with it potential changes in public policy that affect our daily lives.

I won’t go further than that into the politics of our times. Instead, in these days leading up to Christmas, I want to simply observe that this same sense of looming, unknown change that many of us are feeling may have been exactly how many of the faithful felt leading up to that very first Christmas.

I come to the end of this year with a sense that I need Messiah’s presence in a fresh new way.

Those to whom it was revealed that Messiah was near—Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the wise men, eventually the shepherds—all had revelations from God that were fearful, and yet inviting. They were all awestruck with the news that this thing beyond their comprehension or control was about to happen.

And yet these folks all walked forward into the wonder of the incarnation, the wonder of Jesus, the wonder of unpredictable and unprecedented change, with faith-filled obedience and anticipation. They knew things were a mess. They knew that the status quo—Rome and religion and their own sin-sick culture—was not ushering in the Kingdom of God. They knew any discomfort of change under Messiah’s leadership was to be preferred over the best that frail humans had to offer. And so, they walked into the unknown, trusting God.

Of course, not everybody welcomed the change of the first Christmas. King Herod and the religious leaders of Jerusalem were scared to death of whoever Messiah was, and whatever changes he might bring. They held on selfishly and even murderously to their own power and self-determination as long as they could, refusing to know Messiah, much less follow him. Sadly, I did the same until I met Jesus personally.

And so this year, this Christmas, the climate of change and uncertainty and unpredictability that we face—may not be all bad. The people who walked faithfully into that first Christmas knew that change was needed, in their own lives and in their nation, and they knew that trusting God and following his Messiah into the uncertainty was the only path forward. Perhaps we have a similar opportunity.

I leave it to you to determine how this may apply to your own life, or your church’s. Personally, I am coming to the end of this year with a sense that I need Messiah’s presence in my life in a fresh new way, and I need him to bring change. I don’t know what that looks like exactly. But I don’t want things to remain the same. I don’t want to settle for the status quo.

Whoever the President is, whatever shifts are coming in public policy, or in the culture, I want to welcome the changes our sovereign God is bringing, and follow Jesus into them. Some of those changes may come in the form of new challenges, or adversity, or even persecution. I want to follow Jesus there. Some of them may come in the form of new opportunities, or new methods, or a new wave of revival or awakening in our churches, or in our land. I want to follow Jesus there.

The faithful who experienced the first Christmas waited a long time for Messiah to show up in a new way, and to bring change, and to follow him right on through it. I want to be among the faithful this Christmas who will do the same.

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

The BriefingIllinois B&B owners lose another round
A same-sex couple denied access to a central Illinois bed and breakfast while planning their civil union ceremony has won another legal victory in a five-year discrimination case that’s highlighted the conflict between religious freedoms and gay civil rights.

Atheists urge skipping church on Christmas
American Atheists, one of the nation’s largest secular groups, is launching a billboard campaign that encourages Americans to skip church this Christmas. The group is putting billboards up in cities across the country, including Colorado Springs, Colorado; Lynchburg, Virginia; Augusta, Georgia; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Georgetown, South Carolina.

Starbucks stirs up controversy — again
The culture wars come every December, fueled by peppermint mochas and venti soy lattes. The battleground is Starbucks. It’s always Starbucks, isn’t it? No one is complaining that the blue-and-brown holiday cups at Caribou Coffee take the “Christ” out of Christmas. Religion. Politics. The Bill of Rights. They all converge here, in front of a glass case full of cake pops.

Liberty advocates lament loss
Religious freedom advocates have expressed deep disappointment about congressional leaders’ failure to protect the rights of faith-based organizations in a national defense bill. The Russell Amendment was not included in the final version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act which designates nearly $620 billion in spending for the armed services. The amendment would have protected the rights of non-profit religious contractors to maintain hiring practices in keeping with their beliefs.

Docs: Don’t force us to aid suicide
A group of Vermont medical professionals is suing state officials for demanding doctors counsel patients on physician-assisted suicide. The Vermont Board of Medical Practice and Office of Professional Regulation declared the state’s assisted suicide law, enacted in 2013, requires healthcare professionals, regardless of conscience or oath, to inform terminally ill patients that one of their medical options is doctor-prescribed suicide.

Sources: Belleville News-Democrat, Fox News, Washington Post, Baptist Press, World Magazine

Hard issues are heart issues

ib2newseditor —  November 28, 2016

The pulpit is the best place to address difficult topics

Open Bible

I remember a time when I sensed God leading me to go deeper in my preaching, specifically on the topic of racial reconciliation. As I was speaking to the congregation, I felt the level of tension rise almost immediately.

This was confirmed by comments I received later.
­

It’s not easy to preach on difficult topics. The cultural issues of our day can be divisive. They can cause conflict in a church. Pastors tend to know where their people stand on the hard topics, and since they do, many would rather stick to abstract application in order to avoid hitting a nerve with consistent volunteers and faithful tithers. No wonder we tend to shy away.

But we can’t avoid the issues people in our world are navigating every day.

In his seminal work “Christ and Culture,” H. Richard Niebuhr wrestled with how Christians are to relate to contemporary culture. For Niebuhr, the best approach is not to stand against, blend in with, take the best of, or try to sanctify culture. Rather, Christians should aim to transform culture.

There is no doubt that Niebuhr was correct in his assessment. Anyone who has understood the Gospels will affirm our Lord’s purpose and desire to change the heart of man, which invariably leads to a change of culture.

Preaching is an integral part of the process of cultural change. It is during the preaching moment that people are most in tune to the voice of their shepherd, and it is during that moment where the Spirit of God is at work both in the heart of the preacher and in the hearts of those who are listening.

The apostle Paul exemplified this kind of preaching. For him, the gospel removed barriers of race, gender, and religion; it also gave clarity to domestic issues, such as marriage and divorce, as well as matters related to sexual deviance and perversion (Romans 1:18-24; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 7:1-16; Galatians 3:28).

Since the church still contends with these same issues, preachers must continue to proclaim and apply the same gospel.

Three reservations
Some preachers hesitate to deal with cultural issues and difficult subjects because that approach lends itself to topical preaching, and away from a more expository method. However, those of us who preach should understand that some of the most effective preachers in Christian history preached sermons that were not expository in the strictest sense. And even still, one can preach expository sermons while addressing key topics as they arise.

Another reason some preachers neglect these issues is a lack of sensitivity. Pastors preach about and congregations prioritize the things that resonate most with them and the areas in which they are most involved. I know a pastor in Laredo, Texas, near the border of Mexico. He spends the majority of his time ministering to illegal immigrants trying to escape the violence perpetrated by drug cartels. Therefore, his view on whether America should build a wall is much different from someone who lives elsewhere in the U.S. The point being, in order to speak to the issues, pastors must gain some level of familiarity with the issues, if not for themselves, for the sake of those they serve.

Perhaps the most common reason pastors shy away from difficult topics is that preaching on these issues can cause conflict within the congregation. This, of course, is a pastor’s nightmare, one I faced head-on when I felt the tension begin to rise the Sunday I preached on racial reconciliation. But remember, people usually come around.

In our case, after some time had passed and those present had the opportunity to prayerfully consider what was said, their testimonies and changes in behavior demonstrated to me that spiritual growth did occur, enabling several people to move a step closer toward true healing.

Four suggestions
What then are some helpful tips for pastors who want to move forward in preaching on cultural issues and difficult topics? I offer four:

First, be sure to always revert to overarching principles in Scripture, such as love, justice, reconciliation, grace, and forgiveness. In his book “Principle-Centered Leadership,” Steven Covey argues that leaders do better to maintain focus on principles, rather than values. Values change and may differ between people and organizations, while principles remain constant.

The same prescription can be applied to pastoral leadership and preaching. Take for example issues such as abortion, the death penalty, and health care for the elderly. The reality—even in Southern Baptist circles—is that there are differences of opinion when it comes to these issues. However, the overarching principle is the sanctity of human life. Approaching any of those issues from that perspective will remind people that all life is precious in the sight of God—in the womb, the nursing home, and everywhere in between. This is where the preacher is able to deal with the issue while helping people see beyond their personal values, and lead them to submit to a higher theological principle—in this case, God’s value on life.

Second, consider the idea attributed to Karl Barth, that sermons are best prepared with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Pastors must be aware of the conversations taking place. Understand the arguments. The people you preach to on Sunday are looking for answers to the pressing concerns of the day. They are trying to figure out what position is the right position.

If pastors fail to search the Scripture and provide a biblical perspective, there is the risk that church-goers will fix their moral compass on the thoughts and opinions of Sean Hannity, Oprah Winfrey, or the panel of “The View.”

Third, after listening well to the issues, do not be afraid to deviate from a 10-week sermon series you’re currently preaching in order to tackle a difficult topic. When the entire world is talking about human trafficking, a terrorist attack, or protests and issues of race, Christians want to know the heart and mind of God on such issues.

Some are questioning where God is when tragedy strikes, and if your people are not asking these questions for themselves, it is likely they know someone who is. Imagine the witnessing opportunities members of your church will have when you have equipped them with a sound biblical perspective for the discussion that is sure to take place in the cafeteria at work or at the student union on campus.

Finally, use other venues that allow your congregation to hear your voice on crucial matters. In my experience, some of the deepest theological discussions related to culture have taken place during our mid-week gatherings. There are a couple of advantages to using a Sunday evening or Wednesday evening to preach or teach on difficult topics: If the topic is published beforehand, church members who normally do not attend may, and they might even invite a friend who does not attend church at all. And, I have found, difficult topics and current cultural issues often make room for seasons of focused prayer.

If evening or mid-week services are not an option, look for another opportunity, like a written article distributed to your congregation. For example, I wrote an article titled “The Ministry of the Peacemaker” based on Matthew 5:9 in response to violence in Africa, the Middle East, and our own city of Chicago. In the article I challenged the congregation to live incarnationally within their own sphere of influence, allowing the peace of God to emanate from their lives as a means to bring about change.

A close examination of the words of Jesus in John 17 reminds us that to isolate ourselves from culture was never our Lord’s intent. Our responsibility as pastors is to facilitate disciple-making. One way we do this is by equipping the saints to share their faith and make disciples wherever they go.

With the ever-increasing presence and influence of social media, our challenge is a culture that is constantly bombarding those who God has placed in our charge. For their sake, we must be careful not to shy away from difficult topics. Instead, we must speak clearly and authoritatively from the perspective of God’s Word.

Bryan Price pastors Love Fellowship Baptist Church in Romeoville, the congregation he started in 2003. This article was originally printed in the Spring 2017 issue of Resource magazine published by IBSA.

The BriefingAmericans most thankful for family & health
When Americans count their blessings at Thanksgiving, God will get most of the credit. And money might be the last thing on their minds. Most Americans are thankful for family (88%), health (77%), personal freedom (72%) and friends (71%). Fewer give thanks for wealth (32%) or achievements (51%), according to a new study from LifeWay.

Top Bible verse, topics of 2016 election
On Election Day, more people were searching the Bible for topics involving the end times than for praying for government. And the top Bible verse of the 2016 presidential election: 2 Chronicles 7:14.

Christian colleges grapple with election, views on women & minorities
Exit polls suggest 81% of white evangelicals voted for President-elect Donald Trump. But support for him may have been less decisive on Christian college campuses, where most students are also white evangelicals. Internal polls from some Christian colleges before the general election showed weaker Trump support than among the evangelical community at large. At Wheaton College in Illinois, 43% of respondents said they would vote for Clinton.

University: Religious volunteering doesn’t count
Two students are suing a Wisconsin university for denying them mandatory community service credits for work they did with a local church. The university claims their service projects violate a policy excluding hours that involve certain religious activities. The students, who filed a lawsuit in federal court, argue the policy is viewpoint discrimination and unconstitutional.

Protests at FBC Dallas draw spotlight
Protesters picketing First Baptist Church in Dallas will have no effect, pastor Robert Jeffress. “Look, these people, these protesters, aren’t opposing me or our church,” he said of the 50 or so protesters who picketed the church because of the pastor’s apparent public support of Trump during the contentious presidential campaign. “When I see these protesters, it kind of reminds me of a flea striking its hind leg against Mount Everest, saying I’m going to topple you over.

Sources: Facts & Trends, Christianity Today, Religion News, World Magazine, Baptist Press